Barcelona is a city of sandy beaches and soaring architecture, satisfying day trips and sizzling nightlife. More cosmopolitan than Madrid and not as overwhelming as Rome, it's become the first choice among summer and fall destination cities in southern Europe for many northern Europeans and North Americans.

Amazing architecture

Buildings in Barcelona date to Roman and medieval times, but the best-known are the flamboyant creations of Catalan Modernist architects — especially Antoni Gaudí's Sagrada Familia, one of the world's most iconic buildings even though it's unfinished. Work began in 1882 and completion is expected in 2026. Tours of the unique Gothic/Art Nouveau basilica are madly popular. Six other Gaudi architectural treasures in the city are also named as UNESCO Heritage Sites.

Magnificent museums

The National Museum of Art of Catalonia is the most palatial of several major museums in the city. Others showcase the works of Picasso and Barcelona surrealist Joan Miró, contemporary art, Catalonian history, Catalonian archaeology and shipbuilding. Conveniently, most are located within walking distance of the towering, 14th-century Barcelona Cathedral, which is also well worth a visit.

Beautiful beaches

Barcelona's three miles of Mediterranean beaches, interrupted only by the port and marina along the waterfront, have been rated among the best in the world. The people-watching at all Barcelona beaches is magnífico, and on warm-weather weekend nights, some become parties on the sand, complete with local DJs.

Sports & recreation

Even if you're too young to remember that the city hosted the 1992 Summer Olympics, you've probably heard of FC Barcelona, which plays soccer in a 100,000-seat stadium and reigns as one of the world's most valuable sports teams. Each year, the FC Barcelona Museum attracts about the same number of visitors as the city's other most popular museum, the Picasso Museum. Visitors learn about the team's 117-year history —including an entire section devoted to superstar Lionel Messi — and get to peek inside the stadium and visiting team locker room. In addition to soccer, Formula One racing, cycling, running and swimming are also wildly popular spectator and participant sports in Barcelona.

On the mountain

Much of the sports action — both spectator and participant — takes place at Montjuic, the hilltop complex of parks, stadiums, botanical gardens and museums easiest reached from the city center via cable car and funicular railway. The highlight is Montjuic Castle, a fortress with a panoramic view of the city.

La Rambla

When they tire of touring, Barcelona visitors head to La Rambla to eat, drink and shop. Along the wide, tree-lined boulevard, which passes through the city center and Gothic Quarter to the waterfront, are Palau Guell (a Gaudi-designed palace with free tours), the Barcelona opera house, the sprawling Boqueria food market, and countless shops, bars, cafes and Catalan-cuisine restaurants.

Practicalities

Barcelona's mild Mediterranean climate — seldom dipping below 55 degrees in winter or rising above 85 degrees in summer — make it an attractive destination in any month. And since the Euro nearly matches the U.S. dollar in value right now, the city is more affordable than it's been in decades. Adding to the affordability is the fact that renting a car is unnecessary; Barcelona is among Europe's most walkable cities.

If you go

United Airlines has seasonal nonstop service to Barcelona from Washington-Dulles International Airport through October 29 on Boeing 767 aircraft. Visit united.com or use the United app to plan your trip.