For centuries, Montjuïc, meaning "Jew's Hill," served as the Barcelona's defense hub, rising 590 feet above sea level and protecting the city from possible invasion. Now, the natural hill (referred to as a mountain by some) is home to several of Barcelona's most exciting museums, including the Miró Foundation and Poble Espanyol, a full-size Spanish model village. It's also the home of the Olympic Stadium and Montjuïc Palace, and some of Barcelona's best views. Take the cable car to the top to get an eagle-eye view of the city's beaches, parks, and gardens. Plus, once you head to the top of the hill, you'll uncover plenty of other things to do in this unique neighborhood.
The Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya (also called MNAC) has astounding collections covering everything from Romanesque frescoes saved from deteriorating Pyrenean churches to works by masters such as Velázquez and Rubens right up to the 20th century and the Catalan modernists and impressionists. The building itself is a landmark, constructed in 1929 as the main pavilion for the World Exhibition.
One of Spain's finest collections of contemporary art is stored at the Fundació Joan Miró on Montjuïc. The artist, Miró himself, created the foundation as a means to further contemporary art research and disseminate works from his own collection. Josep Lluís Sert's beautiful minimalist building now houses hundreds of paintings, sculptures, and ceramics from the icon.
Poble Espanyol, which literally means "Spanish town," is an open-air museum in the style of a village showing different architectural aspects of Spain. Like the Catalonia National Art Museum's building, Poble Espanyol was built as part of Barcelona's international exposition in 1929. The streets are filled with various types of Spanish architecture, ranging from Romanesque, Gothic, Mudejar, Renaissance and Baroque. There are more than 115 different buildings, including a Galician townhouse, a Jerez-style wine cellar, and a monastery.
Watch a Performance at the Magic Fountain of Montjuïc
Something spectacular happens to the plaza fountains in Plaça Espanya in the evening. At sunset, the fountain performs an impressive show, a combination of color, light, and music. Like many other constructions in the area, designer Carles Buigas built the fountain as part of the 1929's exposition. More than 3,000 workers constructed the project during less than a year's time. The half-hour performance occurs every Thursday through Sunday during the summer and each Friday and Saturday during the winter. The fountain's located just behind the MNAC.
Formally referred to as the Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys, Barcelona's Olympic Stadium was built in 1927 and was set to host the Olympics in 1936 before the event was canceled due to the Spanish Civil War. Finally, the stadium was renovated in 1989 for the 1992 games. Now, the Olympic Stadium is adjacent to a museum, which tells the story of the games alongside interesting artifacts and interactive exhibitions. Next to the gallery is the fantastic Palau Sant Jordi, Japanese architect Arata Isozaki's futuristic indoor exhibition hall, which hosts big concerts year-round. Famed architect Santiago Calatrava's Telecommunications Tower is another well-known landmark of the complex.
This much-battered and sieged 17th-century castle has seen more than its fair share of action. Catalan patriots were tortured and shot by fascists here after the Civil War in the 1930s, but in the century before that, it was captured by Napoleon's troops. Today, the castle's gardens are a joy, and there are beautiful views over the Mediterranean Sea. There's also a fascinating museum with military artifacts and dungeons were prisoners were held.
Look at Modern Art at CaixaForum
Montjuïc's CaixaForum, which opened in 2002, is a modern art gallery, sponsored by the Barcelona bank la Caixa (hence the name). The forum, housed in the old Casaramona textile factory, has a portal designed by Japanese architect Arato Isozaki and showcases nearly 1,000 works from various artists, including Joseph Beuys, Anish Kapoor, Tony Cragg, Juan Uslé, and more. The museum also includes a permanent exhibition dedicated to Catalan Modernism and the factory's history.
The Museu d'Arqueologia de Catalunya is a portal into Catalonia's distant past, with a fascinating glimpse into Megalithic Spain and important remains of Greek Civilization on the Catalan coast from the ruins at the Greco-Roman city of Empúries. While the museum's main collection is in the former Palace of Graphic Arts, an Art Deco building constructed for the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition, the entire collection consists of various venues and a few different archaeological sites throughout the region. Visit the Iberian settlement of Ullastret or the monuments of Olèrdola for a glimpse into the region's unique history.
Take the Cable Car to the Top of the Hill
Located south of Parallel and Plaça Espanya, Montjuïc is southwest of Las Ramblas and El Raval. You can get to Montjuïc by walking from Plaça Espanya up to the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, but the most fun way to reach the top is the cable car from Barceloneta or the funicular railway from Parallel. (Barceloneta, just north of Montjuïc, is also the city's Gothic Quarter, where you'll find Palau Guell, the Picasso Museum, and other city attractions.) Once you get to the top of the hill, there is a second cable car that goes to the castle at the top of this 755-foot hill. This is a leisurely 20-minute ride to the top with nice views along the way.