Barcelona is a stunning seaside city and the capital of the Catalonia region in northeast Spain. Breathtaking architecture, excellent cultural attractions and the Mediterranean climate are just a few of the reasons why Barcelona is such a great destination. We have put together a list of the top 10 reasons why you are going to enjoy this city.
LA SAGRADA FAMÍLIA
Antoni Gaudí was commissioned in 1883 to design the Basilica de La Sagrada Família as a neo-Gothic church. What he created is a signature example of his famous surrealist Art Nouveau architecture but it is still unfinished.
Originally forecast to take 15 years, Gaudí dedicated over 43 years of his life to the project. It has already been under construction for over 100 years, and has a pending completion date of 2026 – the 100th anniversary of Gaudí’s death.
Open at the same timings as the church, the Museu Gaudí is in the semi-basement under the Passion facade. It includes material on Gaudí’s life and other works, as well as models and photos of La Sagrada Família.
One of Europe’s most unconventional churches, this spectacular basilica (cathedral) is the most famous sight in Barcelona and the most visited monument in Spain. Do book ahead as this place is extremely popular, and take the audio guide so you can explore independently.
Barcelona’s old town Gothic Quarter (Barri Gòtic) is a fascinating area for strolling. The narrow cobbled streets are traffic-free and the concentration of Gothic architecture is impressive. The history goes back even further as the area dates back to Roman times and some of the old city wall can still be seen.
The highest building is the medieval Gothic-style Barcelona Cathedral on Monte Tabor, but you’ll also discover many cafés with outdoor seating plus quaint courtyards and squares. This is a great place for wine, tapas and people watching.
It’s also fantastic for shopping as there are plenty of independent stores and don’t forget the Mercat Gòtic flea market on Thursdays for antiques and unique gifts.
Located within the Latin Quarter (see above) the Museu Picasso houses one of the most extensive collections of artworks by this 20th-century Spanish artist.
On display is over 4,000 of Picasso’s early works in sculpture, paint and engraving up to 1904. As a young artist, Pablo Picasso was apprenticed in Barcelona so it seems fitting that the works to be seen here cover Picasso’s earliest years.
The area is so rich with history it’s not just the artworks inside that are are appealing. The museum has five adjoining medieval stone mansions with preserved pretty courtyards and staircases making this a real delight to visit.
Next to the Latin Quarter (see above) is La Rambla, a mile-long pedestrian boulevard lined with trees on both sides. Appreciated by locals and visitors, La Rambla has shops selling flowers and souvenirs, and there are usually plenty of street entertainers throughout the day.
During the day, the trees provide shade for this wide avenue that runs through the heart of the city from Plaça de Catalunya down to Port Vell, dividing the Old Town into two parts. In the evening, it’s a popular choice for a stroll with friends or family, and for dinner at one of the many outdoor cafés and restaurants along the promenade.
Do stop at the colourful Boqueria market (Mercat de la Boqueria) – where locals buy fruit, vegetables and other food products – and at the Plaça Reial – a pleasant palm-fringed square enclosed by historic houses. These elegant buildings have arcades filled with shops, cafés and restaurants.
People watching is another excellent pastime here but do keep your valuables safe as pickpockets have been known to take advantage of careless tourists.
Gaudí features again at the centre of La Rambla as he designed the Fountain of the Three Graces, and at the Palau Güell – an ostentatious mansion designed by Gaudí and owned by Eusebi Güell, a great patron of the arts (see below).
The jewel in Barcelona’s modernist crown is Parc Güell, an architectural park designed by Gaudí in 1900. Count Eusebi Güell bought a 50-acre tree-covered hillside (then outside Barcelona) and commissioned Gaudí to create a miniature city of houses for the wealthy in landscaped grounds.
By 1914, the project was abandoned but Gaudí had already created 3km of roads and walks, steps, a plaza and two gatehouses in this marvellous surrealist park. In 1922 the city bought the estate for use as a public park.
Today it is a magical place, filled with mosaics, sculptures and flower gardens. Columns shoot up like tree trunks, arches are jagged like cave openings, and fountains are guarded by giant lizards with scales fashioned out of multicoloured mosaic tiles. Gaudí loved this area of the city and the Casa Museu Gaudí is in the house where Gaudi lived.
Do book tickets in advance as the park allows only a limited number of visitors each hour.
Casa Milà, better known as La Pedrera (The Quarry) because of its uneven grey stone facade, was the last civil project Gaudí completed and represents the pinnacle of his career.
Built around 1910 for Pere Milà, the flamboyant avant-garde dwelling resembles a work of sculpture more than a functional building. Straight lines have been replaced by undulating curves, rounded windows and metal balcony railings twining around in plant-like shapes.
The roof is even more extraordinary with its giant chimney pots looking like multicoloured medieval knights. Visitors can go up to the roof terrace for the views, and short concerts are often staged up here in summer. You can also enter the elegantly furnished apartment (El Pis de la Pedrera) to admire the sensuous curves and unexpected touches in everything from light fittings to bedsteads.
Do consider booking the Premium ticket, which includes an audio guide, and you won’t have to wait in line. La Pedrera is also open daily in the evening to see light projections and an audiovisual show on the roof terrace.
Yet another of Gaudí’s masterpieces in Barcelona, Casa Batlló is one of the strangest residential buildings in Europe. Built in 1904-1906 for the textile manufacturer Josep Batlló i Casanovas, this surreal fairy tale castle is another UNESCO site in the city.
Locals know it as the casa dels ossos (house of bones) or casa del drac (house of the dragon) and it’s easy to see why. The balconies look like the bony jaws of some strange beast and the roof represents St George (Sant Jordi) and the dragon. It’s built in the shape of the animal’s back, with shiny mosaic tile scales that appear to change colour as you walk around. The twisting, tiled chimney pots add a further surreal touch to the roof.
The interior is just as crazy with swirling ceilings and coloured glass skylights. The internal light wells shimmer with tiles of deep blue.
To visit without the crowds there is an 8.30am slot for just 20 guests which is worth booking ahead for. Or visit in the evening and then dine at the elegant Michelin starred Moments restaurant nearby at 38 Passeig de Gràcia.
MUSEU NACIONAL D’ART DE CATALUNYA (MNAC)
The Museu Nacional D’Art de Catalunya (National Museum of Catalan Art) is housed in the Palau Nacional of Montjuïc, a huge, neo-Baroque, Italian-style building constructed for the International Exposition of 1929. Restored in 2005, the museum covers a thousand years of Catalan art, from the 10th to the 20th centuries, through its four permanent collections: Romanesque and Gothic art, Renaissance and Baroque art, Modern art, photography, drawings, prints and posters and the Catalan Numismatic Department.
While the Baroque and Renaissance masterpieces on display are impressive, the high point is the collection of extraordinary Romanesque frescoes. This is one of the most exhaustive collections in the world and chronicles the pre-Gothic beginnings of religious art in Catalonia.
Rescued from neglected country churches across northern Catalonia in the early 20th century, the collection consists of 21 frescoes, woodcarvings and painted altar frontals. The insides of several churches have been recreated and the frescoes – in some cases fragmentary, in others extraordinarily complete and alive with colour – have been placed as they were when in situ. Do be sure to seek out the biblical fresco Apse of Sant Climent de Taüll as it is considered the crown jewel of the collection.
MUSEU D’HISTÒRIA DE BARCELONA
One of Barcelona’s most fascinating museums, Museu d’Història de Barcelona (Barcelona City History Museum) features artifacts from the Romans times to today. Located in the Gothic Quarter (see above), the museum building was once part of the medieval Palau Reial Major (Grand Royal Palace) on Plaça del Rei.
The museum has several heritage sites across the city. Most are archaeological sites displaying remains of the ancient Roman city, called Barcino. Others are medieval, including the Jewish quarter, or old industrial buildings and sites related to Antoni Gaudí and the Spanish Civil War.
A MUHBA combined entrance ticket gives visitors a 21% discount on tickets to Park Güell (see above). The museum also offers free entry every Sunday after 3pm.
FUNDACIÓ JOAN MIRÓ
Perched on Montjuïc, Fundació Joan Miró is a modern art museum dedicated to Joan Miró. The Catalan artist created the foundation with works from his private collection and it now has more than 10,000 of his masterpieces, from the early Surrealist paintings to the late Dada-inspired works.
The building is as stunning as the artworks inside. It was designed by architect Josep Lluís Sert who was a close friend of Miró and also built his Mallorca studios. It’s an incredible, gleaming white building with courtyards and terraces displaying some of Miró’s large sculptures.
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