It’s no wonder Barcelona is one of the world’s most popular tourism destinations. Barcelona is famous for its Gaudi architecture, modernism, Mediterranean culture, beaches, and food scene – but did you know that it is a leading destination in accessible tourism?
In recent years Catalonia has worked hard to eliminate communicational and architectural barriers in its cities, and it has managed to make its main tourist attractions accessible. Today it has more than 1300 resources for people with disabilities, reduced mobility or special needs.
Hello! I’m Carola and I’ve been lucky enough to live in this city for more than 20 years. In this blog post, I will tell you why you should visit Barcelona, a city full of art and life. And, how accessibility has been integrated into the city’s design, making it one of the most accessible destinations in Europe.
Recently this year, the first international standard on accessible tourism was published. This initiative will hopefully guide tourist destinations in establishing practices to become more accessible, so that all people, regardless of their condition, can enjoy travel on equal terms.
But it is not just about integrating accessibility into the design of cities and leisure experiences, it’s about building more inclusive and sustainable societies.
It is estimated that more than one billion people – approximately 15% of the world’s population – live with some kind of disability, a figure that will increase in the coming years.
For the European Union, this represents a potential market of 80 million people, and if we take into account travel companions, we are talking about more than 130 million people.
It is clear that this is a growing market in Europe and in several other parts of the world. According to the WHO, “almost everyone will experience temporary or permanent disability at some point in their lives”.
But beyond the numbers and business expectations, people with disabilities should experience the world like anyone else. It’s about thinking, feeling and acting to make this world more accessible.
I invite you to visit one of the most cosmopolitan and most-visited cities in Europe and undoubtedly the most popular destination in Spain. Whether you are a traveler with or without disabilities, “Barcelona sempre és bona” (Barcelona is always good) as a popular Catalan song says.
Below, most of the places I recommend have been mapped by me for Wheel The World. Creating this list has been a real pleasure, and I encourage you to discover why Barcelona is one of the most visited cities in Europe. And why it’s a favorite destination for so many foreigners who have made Barcelona a must-see and for others, like me, a place to put down roots.
Here is my list of the 10 must-do accessible activities in Barcelona.
1. Discover Accessible Barcelona Walking Through Neighborhoods, Squares, and Churches
Barcelona has so much to do, despite it not being a very expansive city. The best way to enjoy it, especially thanks to the lucky weather all year round, is walking (or rolling), cycling or public transportation – many of which are adapted for wheelchairs.
The Barrio Gótic, the center of Roman and medieval Barcelona, is the heart of 21st century Barcelona. The past and present of the city coexist in its network of narrow streets and squares.
The Passeig del Born is a charming street that maintains medieval details. It is surrounded by the old Born market and the church of Santa Maria del Mar. It boasts a bohemian atmosphere thanks to its many restaurants, terraces, and trendy bars.
Sant Antoni and Raval neighborhoods are a must visit! Get to know the city’s most diverse and rogue neighborhoods. It’s an area with a life of its own that will not leave you indifferent.
Plaça del Rei, is probably the Gothic corner that best exemplifies the medieval past of the city.
Plaça Sant Jaume – a political center since the beginning of the city’s history. The square is also an open lung to the heart of the Gothic Quarter. The most important buildings for Barcelona and Catalan life, the City Hall and the Palace of the Generalitat, are located in this plaza.
Plaça Sant Felip Neri is romantic with a decadent touch. The square next to the church of the same name, is an essential corner in the walk through the Gothic Quarter. On its baroque but austere façade, we can see the impact of shrapnel, a painful testimony of the Spanish Civil War.
Plaza de Isidre Nonell is home to a contemporary work: a large photomosaic by Joan Fontcuberta, composed of some 4,000 photos taken by people of the city. “El món neix en cada besada” (the world is born with every kiss) will please you both from far and near.
The Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar, known as the “cathedral of the Ribera”, is one of the most perfect examples of Gothic style architecture, for harmony in its proportions and the serene experience of visiting.
Barcelona Cathedral is also a reflection of the passing of generations and architectural styles. The Gothic building must be visited inside to understand its splendor.
Church of Sant Pere de les Puelles and Sant Pau del Camp are two Romanesque wonders full of symbolism that speak of convents of Barcelona’s past.
2. Enjoy the Accessible World Heritage Sites
The Palau de la Música Catalana, the so-called “most Modernist building in the world” is curiously not the work of Gaudí, but of his contemporary Lluís Domènech i Montaner. This concert hall is an artistic monument of exceptional beauty and a musical stage of great prestige.
The Sagrada Família Basilica is Antoni Gaudí’s best known work and has become an undisputed symbol of Barcelona. It has been under construction since 1882, and is expected to be finished around 2026.
The Sant Pau Art Nouveau Site was designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner as a garden city for people who are sick. It was a public hospital for a century, and today, its beautiful rehabilitated pavilions stand out to any visitor.
The Palau Güell, Antoni Gaudí’s youthful work, combines the sumptuousness of the medieval style with the unique extravagance of the architect. The building was the private residence of Gaudí’s patron, Count Güell.
Casa Batlló in the heart of Paseo de Gracia, is a colorful and whimsical building designed by Gaudi. Recently restored, it also hosts concerts on its terrace, which is fully accessible for wheelchair users, and an immersive exhibition with a 6-sided LED by artist Refik Anadol.
Casa Vicens is the first major project that Gaudí was commissioned to design. It stands in the quiet neighborhood of Gràcia, an unique oasis of Moorish architecture.
Casa Milà, popularly known as La Pedrera, is one of the most beloved buildings in the city. It’s full of nods to marine creatures and mythological beings. Besides being a work of art in itself, it also hosts exhibitions, concerts on its terrace, and one of the floors preserves the furniture and decoration from the early 1900s.
3. Eat and Stroll Through the Markets of Accessible Barcelona
Barcelona is one of the few cities in the world that boasts such a big network of markets. It has 40 distributed throughout the city’s neighborhoods. The buildings that house them are a reflection of the history of the city and a representation for life in Barcelona.
Boqueria Market is located on the famous La Rambla paseo. The history of La Rambla is the Boqueria market. It has evolved from a past of street vendors to a modern present full of charm, color and life.
Santa Caterina Market is striking with its colorful, undulating roof. The originality of the building and the treasure of the stalls it houses will not disappoint those who stroll through the neighborhood of Santa Caterina.
Sant Antoni Market is the only one open seven days a week. The modernist market is actually composed of three separate markets: a food market, a flea market and the Sunday market.
Encants Market is a place worth discovering. Located in the surroundings of Plaça de les Glòries, it is a surprising area with many attractions. In addition to the imposing Glòries tower, the Teatre Nacional de Catalunya is also nearby. A must-visit for architecture lovers.
4. Enjoy Barcelona’s Accessible Beaches Year Round
San Sebastian and Barceloneta beaches are linked to the neighborhoods of the same name. Barceloneta is the fishing neighborhood of Barcelona, where the locals are accustomed to tasting fish and seafood tapas. To the west, you’ll find San Sebastian beach, one of the oldest and most traditional beaches in the city.
Nova Icaria beach, adjacent to the Olympic Port, has a famous metal fish designed by architect Frank Gehry as its backdrop. This beach was created with the urbanization of the Vila Olímpica, at the end of the eighties, when Barcelona decided to create an accessible coastline, open to the city.
Mar Bella Beach is a favorite for young people. It also hosts a space dedicated to naturism. It is a meeting point for a diverse and cosmopolitan public, athletes, and students from nearby colleges.
Somorrostro Beach was a neighborhood built largely of shacks until the mid-twentieth century. 15,000 people lived in the neighborhood, and the most famous flamenco dancer of all time, Carmen Amaya, was born there.
5. Parks and the Best Views
Parc del Guinardó. A spiral of circular paths will take you to a lookout with fantastic panoramic views of Barcelona.
The bunkers of Carmel is a viewpoint from which you can see the whole city of Barcelona. They were built as anti-aircraft bunkers in 1938, during the Civil War, and were restored in 2000.
Citadel Park was the only public park in the city for many years. In 1888, it hosted the Universal Exposition of Barcelona. Today, it houses the Parliament of Catalonia, the Barcelona Zoo, among other important buildings.
Park Güell, is not just a park. It’s a work of art in which nature and architecture reach a full and surprising identification. What was initially planned as an English-style garden city – hence the name Park – finally became the most unique public park in Barcelona.
Parc de Montjuïc is one of the city’s green lungs and offers one of its best viewpoints. The small world that embraces history, gardens, museums, cultural facilities, and Olympic installations makes it a unique place. The imposing hill overlooking the port offers a breathtaking view of the city.
Jardí Botànic proposes a different walk for each season of the year through the vegetation of the five regions of the world with Mediterranean climate. It is located on a gentle slope of Montjuïc Park.
Parc de Collserola is a whole natural universe of forests and fields. It’s a protected park where the varied vegetation and Mediterranean fauna make you feel in the middle of nature just fifteen minutes from the big city. Today, it is the great green lung of Barcelona
6. Exploring Culture in Accessible Barcelona: Museums, Galleries, and Camp Nou
Barcelona is home to many well-known museums, but it also has many lesser-known museums that are well worth a visit.
The National Art Museum of Catalonia features fresco paintings, and medieval and modernist art. The museum is located in the Palau Nacional, located in the Parc de Montjuïc.
At the Joan Miró Foundation, you can enjoy more than 140 works of the famous Catalan artist, including drawings, sculptures and his famous paintings.
The Picasso Museum is undoubtedly one of the most important museums in the city. It occupies five medieval palaces that are connected, forming a huge museum.
The Museum of Contemporary Art and Center of Contemporary Culture (MACBA), is the center of modern art in the city of Barcelona. Also important in terms of modernism is the CCCB, another museum that integrates the artistic and cultural core in the neighborhood of El Raval.
The Museum of FC Barcelona is a must for fans and admirers of soccer and especially of “Barça”.
The Tàpies Foundation building is a beautiful example of modernist architecture, with exhibits of paintings and collages from throughout the career of the Catalan artist.
7. Adventure, Sports, Accessible Campsites
If you are looking for a bit of adventure, Catalonia has more than 25 destinations that offer adapted activities. This number is increasing, as the region works to make more and more options and destinations fully accessible.
There are many beaches on the Catalan coast that have the necessary equipment so that everyone can enjoy the sea and its beaches. Of course, you can have fun sailing, diving and adaptive canoeing, horseback riding, cycling, hiking, you can even go paragliding or take a hot air balloon ride.
You can find several campsites inland or on the coast of Catalonia, all with fully accessible facilities. And in the winter you have the opportunity to do adapted skiing. Do you need more ideas to come to Barcelona?
8. Have a Classic Drink in Accessible Barcelona
Heading out for a beer or some vermouth is a classic activity in accessible Barcelona. Barcelona is full of neighborhoods and terraces where you will find many options to enjoy a good craft beer or a vermouth. For years it has been the drink of Sundays with the family; a tradition that is now recovering strongly. I encourage you to visit the small neighborhood wineries and let yourself be surprised by this herbal macerated drink and accompany it with some typical tapas such as patatas bravas and olives (olives).
But undoubtedly, wine and cava are part of Catalan history. In the Penedés region, one of the most important wine regions in Europe, you can find many accessible wineries, such as Sumarroca. I recommend that you plan a day trip and enjoy great wine tourism experiences.
But if you are short on time, just 30 minutes from Barcelona, discover a small family winery located in a valley with exceptional organic wines and cavas while enjoying the breathtaking views over the vineyards and the Mediterranean Sea.
9. Surroundings: Sitges, Montserrat
Sitges is a coastal town in Catalonia, a year-round destination. It’s especially recognized for its nightlife in the old town and surrounding streets, full of stores, restaurants, bars and gay nightclubs.
Montserrat: the mountain, the monastery, the basilica, the sanctuary…
A must visit place! A symbol of Catalonia and a point of pilgrimage for believers and tourists. The mountain in itself already more than justifies leaving Barcelona.
The famous “Moreneta”, patron saint of Catalonia, is a Romanesque carving from the late twelfth century and the color is due to the transformation of the varnish over the centuries, nothing to do with the smoke from the candles. One of the many legends explains that in the year 880, an image of the Virgin was discovered in a cave in the massif and since then the cult of the “Moreneta” began.
In Montserrat, you’ll find the monastery, a Benedictine abbey of great beauty.
In addition to the monks, you’ll also find the choirboys – who form one of the oldest choir groups in Europe – at the monastery.
10. Your next must do – for when you return!
Barcelona has a wide range of guided tours and places to discover. There are routes on how it was in medieval times, in the modernist era or during the Civil War, route of women forgotten by history, LGBTI route, route of architecture and legends, of course they are accessible! Also new neighborhoods to discover such as Paseo de Sant Joan, explore Poble Nou and know the area of Glòries, but not only in Barcelona, but also in Catalonia. …. From the wonderful Costa Brava, the majestic Cathedral of Girona, which has the widest Gothic style nave in the world and was the scene of the mythical Games of Thrones, the Ebro Delta, one of the most important wetlands in Europe and, of course, Tarragona, undoubtedly the heart of the Roman legacy in Catalonia.
I know there are many things left to mention and many others to discover…. but I encourage you to discover it for yourself on your next trip to Barcelona.
Written by Carola Madrid | Consultant | www.carolamadrid.com