Barcelona is a city dedicated to art and architecture, with so many superb museums that it can be difficult to choose which ones to put on your itinerary. But this being about my favorite museums, I will simply tell you about those, and hope you get inspired.
My chosen favorites are somewhat art-heavy and I have to admit that I always search out contemporary art museums and galleries before all other museums when I am heading to a destination. But in my opinion, art and architecture tell you just as much about a culture and its people as does the local history museum, just in a different way. That is my excuse. And I have added a rather lovely non-art museum for a bit of variety.
So, here are my personal favorite museums in Barcelona, stretching from old masters to modern street art, from quirky architecture to a seriously pretty royal boat.
1. Moco Barcelona
Sister museum of Moco Amsterdam, Moco Barcelona opened its doors in the middle of the pandemic in 2021. It was the new star on the Firmament of Barcelona I had not visited. So, a couple of months ago, when I found myself in Barcelona again, it was my first port of call. Located in a 16th-century city palace, practically next door to the Picasso Museum in the old quarter of El Born (more on that below), Moco Barcelona houses a collection of modern and contemporary art. Before you even enter the exhibition rooms, you’ll walk by a nearly 20-foot-tall wooden KAWS sculpture titled Final Days. It nearly fills the Gothic courtyard, contrasting but also working rather well with its historic surroundings.
Inside, exhibits range from Salvador Dali to Yayoi Kusama, Andy Warhol to Banksy, and Damien Hirst to Takashi Murakami. With rooms downstairs as well as upstairs, it offers a fun and comprehensive look at art from the last century as well as this century.
This being an independent museum, the price of tickets is a little steep, and there is no free entry to be had, but they do offer the occasional discount, so keep an eye out on their website.
2. Museu Nacional D’Art De Catalunya (MNAC)
The Museum of Catalan Art, on the side of the Montjuïc hill visible from nearly everywhere in Barcelona, deserves its lofty and dominant position. After all, this is where 1,000 years of Catalan history is told through art, from the 10th century to the 20th. Split into various departments, there is Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, and Modern art, as well as photography, drawings, prints, posters, and the Catalan numismatic (coins and medals) exhibit.
There may not be many artists you recognize immediately by name, but you will recognize some of the art. The — or my — general ignorance about Catalan art certainly makes visiting this museum a worthwhile learning experience.
Due to the thousands of exhibits and the many rooms, you can easily spend hours here, but if you time it right, you can get in for free and return again at a later stage. Every Saturday after 3 p.m. and every first Sunday of the month, the museum offers free entry. It is also free on February 12, May 18, September 11, and September 24.
3. Museu Picasso
Now, here is a name we all know: Pablo Picasso. Right next to Moco Barcelona, the beautiful historic setting of the Picasso Museum alone is worth the visit. There are some 4,300 exhibits spread over three stories and indeed five adjoining properties, showing you quite how prolific Picasso was throughout his career, with this museum being only one of many. There are others in places such as Paris, Antibes in France, his birthplace of Malaga in Spain, and Munster in Germany. But, together with the Paris one, this is my favorite due to its lovely setting and the sheer volume of works on display.
Picasso himself kept donating works to this museum in his lifetime. Take a close look at his paintings depicting Barcelona as it was when he lived there between 1895 and 1904. He lived in the very neighborhood where the museum is today.
The museum is popular and gets busy, with the best time slot being right after opening. That said, if you are on a budget, entrance is free on the first Sunday of the month and on Thursdays between 6 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.
4. Casa Mila
Architecture and art really work hand in hand, and when it comes to Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi, the lines are extremely blurred with his buildings being really more art than architecture. Take Casa Mila for example. Here, you have a residential building designed for one family, who lived in an enormous apartment within the building, in Barcelona’s prime location on Passeig de Gracia. While it was a residential building with one apartment still being lived in, it is basically a museum, with every corner holding interesting design features.
Looking at the architectural genius of Gaudi — the innovative thinking that went into this building plus the absolutely amazing rooftop (and those chimneys) — makes it worthwhile booking an early access tour, allowing you to linger and look more closely without the crowds.
5. Maritime Museum Of Barcelona
And here is something not related to art. Or is it? The gorgeous Maritime Museum of Barcelona is housed in a former — and very beautifully restored — shipyard steps away from the Columbus Monument, where La Rambla meets the marina. The museum is filled with some absolutely gorgeous examples of ships, many of which come closer to art than engineering. From tiny wooden sailboats to huge royal galleys that were propelled by countless slaves rowing in unison, there are so many models of boats here. Add paintings of ships, details of the Spanish and Catalan maritime history, and lots of shiny instruments, and you can easily have a few hours of fun in here before stepping out and looking at the more modern yachts moored outside.
Pro Tip: Entry is free every Sunday after 3 p.m.
6. Museu D’Art Contemporani De Barcelona (MACBA)
This stunning white minimalist building designed by American architect Richard Meier in the Raval district — steps from Placa de Catalunya and La Boqueria Market — holds a stunning collection, with some permanent but mostly temporary exhibitions, in a great setting. The MACBA shows everything from photography, videography, sculptures, paintings, and mixed media. If you love modern architecture and are open to seeing whatever exhibition is on at the time of your visit, it is a great place.
Personally, I love it, but it is not everybody’s cup of tea, so maybe try it on a free day: Every Saturday after 4 p.m., on International Museum Day (May 18), and on the city’s patron saint day, La Mercè (September 24).
7. Fundació Joan Miró
Spanish painter, sculptor, and ceramicist Joan Miró, born in Barcelona in 1893, is best known for his abstract and at times surreal pieces of art. His pieces were usually colorful and fantastic, in the original definitions of the words. Miró was a contemporary of greats such as Ernest Hemingway and Ezra Pound, whom he hung out with in Paris, and a life-long friend of Picasso and Dali.
He was nearly as prolific as Picasso, having created art from age 7 to his death in 1983. He donated vast quantities of his work to the Miró Foundation in Parc de Montjuïc, making it the most important collection of his work. With Montjuïc an unmissable destination within Barcelona, and the nearby MNCA, the Olympic stadium, the castle, and the fabulous Montjuïc cable car, this is a must-see part of your visit.
Pro Tip: With the Articket, you’ll get access to the Joan Miró Foundation, Picasso Museum, MACBA, MNAC, and others for one ticket, plus a skip-the-line option.