On the trail of Picasso in Barcelona, Catalonia’s art-loving capital

Dive deep into Picasso’s Barcelona period  (Getty Images)
Dive deep into Picasso’s Barcelona period (Getty Images)

The revolutionary artist Pablo Picasso might have been born in the sunny Andalusian city of Málaga in 1881, but he spent much of his life elsewhere, including a game-changing decade in Barcelona from 1894 to 1904. The Mediterranean-hugging Catalan capital nurtured and inspired Picasso’s astonishingly early talent, and it was here in 1900 that he held his first solo exhibition – at Els Quatre Gats, the now-famed Modernista cafe-bar in the Barri Gòtic.

From the art-filled medieval halls of the unmissable Museu Picasso to curious neighbourhood buildings he once called home, Picasso’s legacy is still visible across Barcelona, and this year brings a string of exciting new exhibitions as part of the ongoing international “Picasso Year”. Celebrated throughout 2023, the anniversary marks 50 years since the artist’s death aged 91 in Mougins, in France, and explores his work with new-angle expositions at major galleries across Spain and beyond. It has also opened up an important wider conversation about Picasso’s mistreatment of women and cultural appropriation of African art.

Here’s where to dive in if you want to get to know Picasso’s Barcelona chapter and the impact this dazzling city had on the work of the then-emerging artist.

Museu Picasso, El Born

Barcelona’s gateway to all things Picasso is the wonderful Museu Picasso (tickets from €14) on ancient Carrer de Montcada in El Born. In true Barcelona style, the setting itself is part of the magic. Spread across a collection of restored medieval mansions with lofty arches and stone-built staircases, the meandering gallery hosts over 3,500 pieces and focuses in particular on Picasso’s prolific early years, putting a spotlight on his young age when already creating such masterpieces as Science and Charity (painted in 1897 at 15 years old).

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Museu Picasso is your starting point for exploring the artist’s Barcelona chapter (Miquel Coll Molas/Museu Picasso/Barcelona/Sucesión Pablo Picasso/VEGAP/Madrid)
Museu Picasso is your starting point for exploring the artist’s Barcelona chapter (Miquel Coll Molas/Museu Picasso/Barcelona/Sucesión Pablo Picasso/VEGAP/Madrid)

Among many other highlights are Barcelona Rooftops (from 1903) and Woman with a Bonnet (1901), both from the famous Blue Period; Horta de Sant Joan landscapes done in southern Catalonia in 1888-89; the yellow-hued 1896 Barceloneta Beach; and Las Meninas, a 58-painting, 1957 reinterpretation of Diego Velázquez’s 17th-century classic.

From 19 October 2023, the Museu Picasso will host Miró-Picasso, an all-new collaboration with the Fundació Joan Miró (from €14) in Montjuïc, exploring the friendship between the two artists.

La Llotja de Mar, El Born

Looming between El Born and the Port Vell marina, La Llotja de Mar dates from the 14th century and was Barcelona’s Stock Exchange at a time when the city was a major Mediterranean maritime power. Behind an 18th-century neoclassical exterior, there’s a feast of Gothic architecture, with elevated rounded archways and scallop-adorned pillars sweeping across the spectacular Contracting Hall. After becoming the Reial Acadèmia in the late 18th century, the building welcomed not only Picasso as a student, but also his father José Ruiz y Blasco as an art teacher. Open weekends only, by pre-booked guided tour (€16).

It’s been half a century since Pablo Picasso died (Hulton Archive/George Stroud/Getty Images)
It’s been half a century since Pablo Picasso died (Hulton Archive/George Stroud/Getty Images)

Barri Gòtic & El Raval

Start your city-centre Picasso wander with coffee and a fresh croissant, or a glass of Terra Alta wine, at Els Quatre Gats, in the thick of the lively Barri Gòtic. All geometric tilework and red-brick arches, this celebrated cafe-restaurant and art-world gathering spot was designed in 1897 by the Catalan Modernista architect Josep Puig i Cadafalch – the ideal setting for Picasso’s inaugural solo exhibition in early 1900. A few minutes’ stroll south, overlooking Barcelona’s cathedral on Plaça Nova, the Col·legi d’Arquitectes de Catalunya provides the unlikely outdoor canvas for a cartoon-like Picasso sgraffito mural from 1962, devoted to Catalan traditions, festivals and folklore; upon closer inspection, you’ll make out the distinctive shapes of Catalonia’s castells (human towers) and gegants (papier-mâché giants).

On the southern edge of the Barri Gòtic lies the first of Picasso’s many studios. Science and Charity came to light on the top floor of Carrer de la Plata 4; the historical building has now been reborn as the fabulous five-star Serras hotel.

Picasso’s work on the facade of Col·legi d’Arquitectes de Catalunya (Getty Images)
Picasso’s work on the facade of Col·legi d’Arquitectes de Catalunya (Getty Images)

Over in neighbouring El Raval, pop into Bar Marsella, the spirited 1820-founded absinthe house just off La Rambla frequented by early-20th-century artists and intellectuals (Gaudí and Hemingway included) and a rumoured Picasso haunt. Nearby, the building at Carrer Nou de la Rambla 10 is where Picasso kicked off his Blue Period, right opposite Gaudí’s Unesco-listed Palau Güell (€12).

ToursByLocals offers a private 3.5-hour Following the Footsteps of Picasso tour delving into all the key Picasso corners around the historic centre (€311 for up to nine people).

Museu del Disseny, Poblenou

Also joining the global Picasso Year is Barcelona’s Museu del Disseny (entry €6), in the design-forward Poblenou district. From 30 June to 17 September, the exhibition Picasso’s Will: The Ceramics That Inspired the Artist will showcase around 70 ceramic pieces (some crafted by Picasso himself and personally donated to the city’s museums), weaving together their story with Spain’s long, rich ceramic-making tradition. Expect creations such as the 1957 terracotta Mermaid Pitcher. Tickets for the Picasso exhibition can be purchased online and cost €6.

Staying there


Once the location of the young Picasso’s studio, the luxe Serras is a dreamy place to stay, in a chicly converted 19th-century building overlooking the Port Vell. The plant-filled rooftop terrace (open to everyone) serves creative cocktails, local wines and inventive-Catalan bites courtesy of chef Marc Gascons, or pop in for a meal at his excellent in-house restaurant Informal. serrashotel.com

Praktik Rambla

A sensitively reimagined 19th-century Modernista mansion, in the centre of the elegant Eixample neighbourhood, is the setting for a 43-room boutique bolthole with a tempting back terrace, by a reliable Barcelona-born hotel brand. hotelpraktikrambla.com

Room Mate Anna

It’s all moody purples, hot reds and smooth greens at this four-star Eixample outpost of Spain’s popular Room Mate hotels label, with designer Lorenzo Castillo behind the Mediterranean-feel vibe and a dip pool up on the view-drenched rooftop. room-matehotels.com

Getting there

Trying to fly less?

Catch a Eurostar to Paris, from where you can pick up a high-speed direct TGV INOUI train to Barcelona.

Fine with flying?

Ryanair, Vueling, easyJet and British Airways all fly direct from the UK to Barcelona.

More information

For more details about the Picasso Year, visit celebracionpicasso.es

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