The top 5 Barcelona attractions, and 5 alternatives to avoid the crowds

The top 5 attractions in Barcelona are popular for a reason – there’s really nothing else like them. Or is there? For visitors wanting a unique and memorable Barcelona experience, here are its top 5 attractions, and alternatives for what to see in Barcelona for those who would prefer to avoid the crowds.

The top 5 attraction: La Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Famila, with its unfinished spires against a blue sky and with tour buses in the foreground, is Barcelona's top tourist attraction
Yes, it is impressive, but those are tourist busses

Barcelona’s most popular tourist attraction saw approximately 4.5 million visitors a year before the pandemic, and you can bet that nearing La Sagrada Familia’s (supposed) completion in 2026 that is only set to increase.

Whether you think Antoni Gaudí’s cathedral is a masterpiece or not (George Orwell was famously in the latter camp) it is an impressive sight, which is why it tops so many visitors’ lists of what to see in Barcelona. Just get set for crowds.

Pros: Nothing else like it in the world

Cons: crowds; basic tickets are €26; it’s a church

The alternative: Hospital de Sant Pau

Beautiful tiled roofs at the Recinte Modernista de Sant Pau
Another spectacular Barcelona Modernista masterpiece, minus the thronging tourists

Properly known as the Recinte Modernista de Sant Pau, this historic hospital was designed by one of Gaudí’s contemporaries, Lluís Domènech i Montaner, and built only a few blocks away from La Sagrada Familia

It may as well be another world. 

This utterly spectacular piece of architecture is not only beautiful, but functional too, with innovations such as a central operating theatre with glass roof, tunnels connecting the operating theatre to the wards, and spectacular Modernista details.

Absolutely one of the best – and underrated – things to see in Barcelona.

Pros: Fewer visitors; functional architecture; you can stroll past the exterior of Sagrada Familia for your compulsory Insta snaps

Cons: Nothing, really

The top 5 attraction: Park Güell

The top 15 Google image results when reaching for "Barcelona travel". Ten of them are Park Güell. Little wonder it is one of Barcelona's most-visited tourist attractions
Ten of the first 15 images if you Google “Barcelona travel” are of Park Güell. No wonder it’s busy.

As an attraction, Park Güell has been popular for a long time – local friends tell me they used to visit regularly as kids – but the curse of a World Heritage listing in 1984 was probably what finished that off. These days you purchase a €10 ticket for a particular time, and if you’re half an hour late, you’ve missed out.

The timing is obviously intended to smooth-out the crowds. And there are crowds. 

With green space, views over the city, and some iconic Gaudí architecture like the dragon stairway, it is an Instagrammer’s dream. It started as a residential development – and failed – but now it’s a top 5 Barcelona attraction. Is it a must-see? I’m not convinced.

Pros: Views; architecture

Cons: Crowds; away from the centre of town; overrun with Instagrammers

The alternative: Parc de la Ciudad

The Monumental Fountain at the Parc de la Ciudad in Barcelona is another Gaudí creation
The Monumental Fountain in the Parc de la Ciudad is also a Gaudí creation

Sure, the Parc de la Ciudad is a public park. But if you want your Gaudí fix, you can get it here for free. The monumental fountain in the park was designed by Gaudí as a university student. There are also a number of buildings dating back to the 1888 Barcelona Universal Exposition in various states of repair – some are being restored now – while the Arc de Triumf, which served as the entrance, is an easy stroll away.

More importantly, it’s a place that is full of locals, particularly on a sunny spring day. 

So what you get is a nice park with some interesting architecture, and a slice of local life, as opposed to an attraction full of tourists. 

I know which I prefer.

Pros: Free; interesting architecture; full of locals; easy stroll from El Born

Cons: No views to speak of

The top 5 attraction: Casa Battló 

Tourists queueing for entry at Casa Battlo, one of the top 5 Barcelona tourist attractions
Barcelona’s ‘House of Bones’ is a popular tourist attraction.

Another of Antoni Gaudí’s iconic designs on the lovely Passieg de Gracia, Casa Battló always attracts the crowds. You only have to see the beautiful façade to see why it is one of Barcelona’s top 5 attractions.

That it was a renovation of an existing building by Gaudí does not distract from the impressiveness of this as an attraction, but the sheer number of visitors may – there are times when it is difficult to make your way through the crowds of tourists on the wide footpath out the front. 

The façade itself is worth admiring, especially if you baulk at the €35 entrance fee.

Pros: Beautiful, iconic design, arguably Gaudí’s finest.

Cons: Crowds; cost

The alternative: Palau Güell

The chimneys on the Palau Güell rooftop are an indication of Gaudí's style
There’s plenty of Gaudí colour at Palau Güell, minus the crowds

An earlier Gaudí commission than Casa Battlo, Palau Güell still manages to showcase the architect’s unique vision. Being built from scratch also imparts a wonderful insight into the lives of Barcelona’s wealthiest at the time.

It may be slightly less avant-garde than Casa Battlo, but some of the architect’s unique flourishes point in the direction his future work would take. Not only that, but with furniture in place, you get a real sense of how the building was lived in. Really it is one of the best of Barcelona’s many attractions.

The best bit? You can generally just front-up to purchase a €12 ticket without having to queue.

Pros: A genuine insight into the lives of Barcelona’s wealthiest at the time; seldom crowded

Cons: Slightly dodgy neighbourhood

The top 5 attraction: La Rambla

La Rambla, in the heart of Barcelona, gets a lot of pedestrian traffic, and is one of the city's most popular tourist attractions
La Rambla is a typically pretty tree-lined boulevard in Barcelona, but it does get busy

Who doesn’t like a tree-lined boulevard through the centre of a beautiful city? Certainly not tourists in Barcelona – La Rambla is easily one of Barcelona’s top 5 attractions, and is heaving with tourists most of the time.

Unfortunately, catering to those tourists are tacky souvenir shops, overpriced restaurants serving sickly yellow paella and sangria in beer mugs, and pickpockets looking for easy prey.

Locals tend to avoid La Rambla on all but a few days of the year, and it’s easy to understand why.

Pros: There are a few nice attractions off La Rambla

Cons: Crowds; pickpockets

The alternative: Superblocks

Pedestrians rather than cars on the streets in Carrer del Parlament
People reclaim the streets in a Superblock

A project to pedestrianize some areas of Barcelona has resulted in so-called superblocks, where the roads in the space of nine city blocks carry limited traffic. One of my favourites is in Sant Antoni, particularly as much of the tree-lined Carrer del Parlament – and its lovely stretch of restaurants and bars – is inside one such area.

The advantages include quieter streets, less pollution and more life on the streets in general. Want to sit on the street and have a drink or a bite? Doing so without choking on fumes (or awful yellow paella) is something you can do here.

If you’re visiting Barcelona to get a feel for how people live, rather than checking-off tourist attractions, this is a great way to do so.

Pros: A slice of real Barcelona life; setting standards for other cities to follow

Cons: Nothing

The top 5 attraction: La Boqueria Market

The entrance to La Boqueria Market with tour groups gathered outside. La Boqueria is one of the top 5 tourist attractions in Barcelona
Tour groups gather at the entrance to La Boqueria Market, Barcelona

Having been the site of a market since the middle-ages, and with its pretty structure dating back to the mid 1800s, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria in the heart of the old city is a top 5 Barcelona attraction.

There are restaurants in the market that date back years, and even some stalls that carry produce that can be difficult to find elsewhere. It is a genuine working market.

Unfortunately, it is also largely overrun with tourists. Many of the stalls at the La Rambla main entrance cater solely to tourists, and Instagrammers block the narrow passages for their compulsory ‘look at me’ snaps. 

Pros: Proper working market

Cons: Absurdly crowded at times

The alternative: Mercat de Sant Antoni

The renovated facade of the Mercat de Sant Antoni is just a taste of its attraction

The recently refurbished Mercat de Sant Antoni has almost everything that La Boqueria offers, minus the tourist crowds. Even recommending it here makes me feel guilty. But here’s a thought: wherever you are in Barcelona, there’s certain to be a market nearby.

Santa Caterina in El Born is an excellent example, but there is also a range of neighborhood markets where you’re unlikely to even see another tourist: Mercat de l’Estrella, in Gràcia, and Mercat del Ninot in Eixample are just a couple of examples.

Go there, and do yourself a favor: buy some local produce. You can support the stallholders and take home a tasty memory.

Pros: All the local produce you could want; local flavour

Cons: Opening hours can be limited

Head to our home page to discover more about Barcelona’s best attractions, hotels, bars, and restaurants.

Is Barcelona Ruined by Tourism?

Sticker on the pavement in Barcelona saying "tourism kills the city"

Stephen Burgen argues that Barcelona has been ruined by tourism in a recent Guardian article.

You can’t disagree that the queues for the tourist sites can be long. Nor that La Rambla is an overcrowded mess full of tourist tatt stores. Nor that La Boqueria can be difficult to navigate and is increasingly about ‘juice bars and assorted take-aways.’


If you travel off season, you can generally book tickets to attractions online and completely skip queues. La Rambla may be overwhelmed with tourist crowds, but duck down a side street – particularly in the El Raval direction – you’ll find a community with its own unique culture and feel. There are some decent restaurants on La Rambla, though they are, admittedly, uncommon.

Just by avoiding the main tourist attractions and seeing some alternatives you can have a much better trip, without contributing to the issues of over tourism.

And despite having to fight through the tourist hordes, you can buy excellent fresh fruit, vegetables, seafood, meat and supplies at La Boqueria. I’m assuming fresh rabbits don’t count as ‘assorted take-aways’.

In short, tourism has affected Barcelona and the way people live, but life goes on. Barcelona has not been ruined by tourism.

Be like the locals

Residents have adapted to the tourist onslaught in various ways. Sometimes by posting stickers (above), though most just avoid the crowds. One way is to avoid the major tourist attractions: how frequently do you think Barcelona residents want to visit La Sagrada Familia  or Casa Batlló?

Do Parisians visit the Eiffel Tower on a regular basis, would you think?

Surely the main difference the tourist crowds make is to tourists themselves and traffic flow in the immediate vicinity. If you don’t want to get stuck in queues, don’t go to Casa Batlló : Easy. And if you really need to get a Gaudí fix without the crowds, try some of the less well-known attractions such as Palau Güell.

hoardes of sunbathers on Barcelona beach with the W hotel in the background
Not my idea of paradise either.

The same is true of La Rambla. I do my best to avoid the place, though there are some plant sellers with more range than any other suburban places I’ve found.

La Boqueria is difficult: Going early; avoid the stalls that serve the tourists at the entrance; don’t get in the way of actual shoppers. Head to the back where you’ll find stalls like the amazing Bolets Petràs, specialising in all things mushroom, but also featuring a stunning selection of edible flowers and baby vegetables. This is not a tourist-focused business. And there are plenty more.

Hang around near the La Rambla entrance and you’re likely to want to punch a selfie-stick-weilding tourist – it isn’t great. If this your only experience, you may well think that tourism has ruined Barcelona. But the entrance to Boqueria isn’t Barcelona. Just a small microcosm.

And while paella in ‘a startling shade of chrome yellow’ is a sad reality, the dining scene in Barcelona is otherwise incredible, and arguably the city couldn’t support so many fabulous restaurants without tourism.

Retire the tropes

Burgen argues – or maybe the sub-editor does, it’s hard to know – that Barcelona was one ‘of the coolest destinations in Europe just two decades ago’. This is the standard backpacker trope that any destination was much better before it was ‘discovered’.

The crux of that trope is that we travellers (as opposed to tourists) have secret knowledge and are pioneers out in the big wide world ‘discovering’ new destinations. It rather ignores the fact that people already live in most of those destinations. It was a tired trope before low cost airlines and mass tourism, and it is well past time to retire it.

But I will concede a point. I first visited Barcelona around 30 years ago and did feel a sense of excitement about what I experienced.

The difference? Technology.

Travellers today are slaves to online rankings. Skip the top 10 ‘sights and landmarks’ on TripAdvisor if you want to get a taste of Barcelona without the mank, or at least be prepared to find crowds at these attractions.

Has technology ruined travel?

Unfortunately, the on-line-listicle culture does filter into the less-travelled lane. I started to notice queues forming near a favourite local restaurant (Arume) around its opening time, and it took me a while to figure out what that was going on. Somehow it had managed to take the top spot in TripAdvisor for being the best restaurant in town for paella, and thus the queues.

Compared to the ‘chrome yellow’ mush that passes for paella in most tourists places, Arume’s is actually quite good, but it’s hardly the best paella in town; TripAdvisor contributors are pretty easily led. It’s the other food at Arume that wins it for me. The bright side is that by the standard local 10pm dinnertime most tourists are already heading back to their hotels.

TripAdvisor: Name an attraction, add a photo of another, and a review from yet another. People trust this rubbish

TripAdvisor: Name an attraction, add a photo of another, and a review from yet another. People trust this rubbish

If the culture of unqualified recommendation in the lifestyle media wasn’t already bad enough, TripAdvisor takes it to a whole new level. (There’s a whole other blog post in this).

Behaving badly as a tourist doesn’t help – and Barcelona has more than its fair share of badly-behaved tourists. But despite that onslaught, Barcelona’s character is alive and well; you just need to do what the locals do and navigate away from the tourist crowds to find it.


The lobster rice is popular

Yes, Las Ramblas can be tourist hell. But not everything here is yellow paella and sangria in mugs.

There are no touts on the street tempting you up the stairs to Louro in the Centro Galego, which is the first good sign. The specialty here is Galician fare, in case the locale wasn’t enough of a hint.

The kitchen turns out some dishes of varying sophistication and success. Our last meal included some perfect padron peppers, gratinated scallops that were a little overpowered by the topping, plain steamed mussels that were clearly fresh but would have benefitted from some sauce, and some utterly spectacular smoked anchovies on toast. 

After several previous visits we finally relented and had lobster rice for a main. It seems this dish goes to just about every table in the restaurant, but there’s a reason for that – it is very, very good, and good value too by Barcelona standards at €24 per person (min 2 pers). 

Our waiter was friendly and knowledgeable, and suggested a perfect wine for the occasion as well.

While there’s almost nothing to recommend in Las Ramblas from a dining perspective, Louro stands out by a country mile. We’ll definitely be back.

Tel: 937 308 280


Click here for more of the best dining in Barcelona

Or here for Barcelona’s best hotels

Or here for the best things to see and do in Barcelona