When you think about Barcelona, it might be its sunny streets, stunning architecture or convenient city beach that spring to mind. But the city also has a wealth of exciting museums for the traveller looking for a cultural experience. Among its top museums are institutions that focus on art and science, as well as ones where you can learn more about football, erotica and chocolate.
Constructed for the International Exhibition of 1929, the Palau Nacional of Montjuïc is now home to the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC). It has perhaps the most varied and comprehensive collection of Catalan art in the world, with works ranging from Romanesque murals and religious paintings to examples of Catalan Modernism and photography – not to mention the incredible view of Barcelona from its front steps.
Anyone who knows just how popular Barcelona’s football club – FC Barcelona – is in the city and the world will not be surprised that it has its very own museum, right at the heart of the club’s home: the Camp Nou stadium. Inaugurated in 1984, the museum has been refurbished over the years to keep up to date with the club’s ongoing success, and it attracts over 1.2 million visitors each year. Browse through old photos of the players or admire some of their most impressive trophies as part of the popular Camp Nou Experience.
The Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB) lies in the heart of El Raval. Though it is often overlooked in favour of its more famous neighbour, the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA), it is well worth the visit. Not only does the CCCB offer unique and thought-provoking exhibitions, but it does so in a way that makes contemporary art relevant and engaging to even the most hesitant museum-goers.
Not one for those of a sensitive disposition, Barcelona’s Erotic Museum pays homage to the wonders of human sexuality across the times and throughout civilisations. Located on the famous La Rambla boulevard, the museum is divided into different areas dedicated to diverse aspects of human sexual history – from its appearance in Ancient Rome to the pin-up culture of the 1950s or the often-taboo world of fetishism. There are hundreds of items on display, both old and new, as well as original artwork by local artists and replicas of sexually themed artwork by famous artists.
For sea and land lovers alike, Barcelona’s Museu Marítim underwent a major renovation and reopened to the public in 2014 with not only a large permanent collection but temporary exhibitions as well. As a Mediterranean port city, much of Barcelona’s history is connected to the sea. And although the building that houses this museum is at the end of La Rambla, it was once much closer to the sea and used to build galleys for wartime.
Whether you’re interested in fashion, furniture, graphic design, decorative arts or architecture, the Museu del Disseny de Barcelona (Design Museum) has something to suit. Situated in Plaça de les Glòries Catalanes, the more recent addition to the city’s museum scene is a combination of four previous collections focussing on object and design, all in one grand location. The futuristic building – known as ‘The Stapler’ – sits between two equally impressive architectural neighbours: Torre Agbar (one of the most recent additions to the Barcelona skyline) and Els Encants (a flea market located beneath a mirrored pavilion).
Calling all chocoholics – this is the one place you won’t want to miss in Barcelona! Located inside a former monastery, the Chocolate Museum pays homage to this most delightful of ingredients in all its forms. Looking at the history of chocolate in Europe, from its introduction to the continent in the 15th century to modern advances by chocolatiers, the museum is both educational and fun. For the full experience, book yourself onto a workshop and learn how to make something sweet, from chocolate truffles to lollipops.
This family-friendly science museum reopened in 2004 with permanent exhibits ranging from constellations to rock formations and everything in between. CosmoCaixa may be off the beaten path for the average tourist, but it is beloved by residents and more adventurous tourists alike. With both a 3D Planetarium and a scaled version of the solar system for children, what’s not to like?
If you’re in the mood to see a lot of Joan Miró’s work in the same place, then take a hike up Montjuïc to visit this modern museum building with its equally modern collection. Even though the majority of the artworks outside and inside are by Miró, this expansive space hosts many pieces by other artists, as well as various temporary exhibits.
The consumption of cannabis in private places is legal in Spain, so the country has something of a reputation as a ‘smoker’s paradise’. Indeed, there are over 200 private cannabis clubs in Barcelona alone. The Hash, Marihuana and Hemp Museum pays homage to the Cannabis sativa family, and not just the psychoactive marijuana plant but also its close cousin, the hemp plant, which has been used since the time of the Vikings to build resistant materials such as sails and cloth. The museum contains hundreds of items relating to the production and consumption of the plants, as well as a sizeable collection of artwork.
The Museu Europeu d’Art Modern (MEAM) is located next to the Museu Picasso in the neighbourhood of El Born. Almost all the artists on exhibit in this small but well-curated space are still living and working today, and the majority of them are Spanish or based in Spain. MEAM is a museum with a purpose: to establish a dialogue and find meaning in modern art rather than making metaphorical or literal noise in the art community – and its collection of profound portraits may be doing just that.
The Museu d’Història de Catalunya, next to the port in Barceloneta (one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Barcelona), tells the unique story of the region and is a must-see for anyone who wants to learn more about the heritage and culture of northeastern Spain. Through both temporary and permanent exhibits, this museum encompasses the proud heritage of the region, from Paleolithic findings to life in modern Catalonia.
A turning point in the history of the city, the 1992 Summer Olympics catapulted Barcelona into the international spotlight and prompted it to become the global travel destination it is today. The legacy of this momentous event is remembered in the Joan Antoni Samaranch Olympic and Sports Museum located across from the Lluís Companys Olympic Stadium on Montjuïc. Designed as a centre for the promotion and advancement of sports and sporting technology, it also hosts a number of high-profile sporting events and contains an interactive multimedia area.
One of Barcelona’s most popular museums, the Museu Picasso plays host to some of the artist’s lesser-known works and a well-chronicled history of the time he spent in the city. Born in Málaga, Spain, Picasso moved to Barcelona with his family when he was just 13 years old, and the city played an important role in his artistic development. Though he would relocate throughout his life, he maintained close ties to the Barcelona community; this museum was opened at his express wish after his death.
Casa Milà – more commonly referred to as La Pedrera, ‘The Quarry’ in English – is one of renowned architect Antoni Gaudí’s most famous works in Barcelona. Dominating a street corner on the Passeig de Gràcia, La Pedrera is impossible to miss and has an interior just as impressive. The top floor is a treat for anyone eager to learn more about Gaudí’s designs (including those for La Sagrada Família and Casa Battló). If the rooftop adornments remind you of Storm Trooper helmets in the Star Wars saga, that’s no accident – George Lucas is just one of Gaudí’s many admirers.