Tip: With the exception of Parc Güell, most of Barcelona’s attractions can be easily explored on foot. I recommend parking in a good garage and hitting the streets like a true local. Viva Barcelona!
Basilica de la Sagrada Familia
A masterpiece by Catalan architect Anton Gaudi, Sagrada Familia is another one of Barcelona’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Gaudi didn’t get to complete his work and as a result, the basilica is one of the largest unfinished Roman Catholic churches in the world.
The inside is distinct from any church interior I have ever seen. With its alien disc-like columns and portals, sweeping vault ceilings, brightly colored tilework, and stained glasses, the entire prayer hall is resplendent with warm hues of color. Quite different to the sober atmosphere one would imagine a church to have.
However, if you want to save on both time and money, La Sagrada Familia’s true beauty lies in its spectacular exterior facade. What brilliant architecture!
With its pointed spires reaching to pierce the clouds, the church stands out as an iconic symbol on the Barcelona skyline. Pay particular attention to the basilica’s exquisite three facades: Nativity, Passion and Glory.
I strongly recommend buying entrance tickets ahead of time. La Sagrada Familia is one of Barcelona’s top attractions, and there are always big crowds at any given time of the year. You can buy your tickets on their official website: www.sagradafamilia.org
Lots of tourists also means lots of security, and your bags may be checked before entry. So, I wouldn’t suggest carrying anything big or bulky.
Parc Guell is a public park located in Barcelona’s La Salut neighborhood on Carmel hill. Beware drivers. The roads are not only super narrow, but the incline going uphill can cause problems if you are driving manual.
Finding parking here can be a major headache, especially when you have to keep track of which streets are one-ways. But if you are like me and love free parking, set aside 15-20 minutes and keep at it! 🙂
Now you may wonder why go through all this trouble for a local park in Barcelona? But Parc Guell is not your average community park. Designed by master architect Anton Gaudi, Parc Guell is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site in Barcelona, drawing more than 4 million visitors every year.
It’s a strangely beautiful place, where Gaudi’s fascination with natural forms are combined with modern contours and bright colors. I can equate the experience to walking through a live canvas. There are many shaded trails throughout the park, lined with vendors selling their wares. Some of the unique features of the park include mosaic tilework, fountains, viaducts, Hansel-Gretel houses, colonnaded pathways, giant stonework columns, and animal figures.
While Parc Guell is free for Barcelona locals and tourists, there are entry fees for particular sites and monuments within the park.
One example is the historic Gaudi House Museum. Built by Francesc Berenguer, this house was the home of Anton Gaudi from 1906 to 1926. Several of his original works are still preserved here. In 1969, Barcelona declared the house a Historical Artistic Monument of National Interest.
The Eixample District includes one of Barcelona’s most colorful walking routes. Walking anywhere between Passeig de la Gracia and Manzana de la Discordia is an architecture lover’s paradise.
Eminent architects like Anton Gaudi and Domenech i Montaner have designed many buildings in the area. The buildings exemplify the Modernist style, and foremost of them are the Casa Mila and Casa Batllo.
As you continue walking through the Eixample District, you will eventually reach Placa de Catalunya or “Catalonia Square” in the heart of Barcelona. This is the beginning of La Rambla.
Another favorite with local and tourist walkaholics alike, La Rambla is a tree-lined pedestrian promenade filled with eateries, street performers, souvenir shops, florists and musicians. It can be crowded, so be wary of pickpockets.
One of the first buildings you come across in La Rambla is the Virreina Palace. It was built between 1772 and 1778 for the Viceroy of Peru, and was named after his wife Virreina.
The palace represents a combination of Baroque and Rococo architectural styles. Today, it houses Barcelona’s Culture Institute.
The Palau Guell is another highlight of La Rambla. This mansion is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites celebrating Anton Gaudi’s works.
It was built for industrial tycoon Eusebi Guell and Barcelona’s elite. It is said that guests used to arrive here on horse-drawn carriages, and the owners would have a sneak look at them through the small windows high up on the walls. Given my attire and backpack, I don’t think I quite fit the bill. 🙂
One thing to check out is the La Boqueria market. It is open Monday to Saturday, from 8am to 8:30pm. La Boqueria was closed when I visited, but it is supposed to be food heaven. While there are plenty of cafes and chain stores to eat from, La Boqueria is one of a kind in Barcelona.
La Boqueria dates back to 1217 when the locals sold meat at the city gates. Since then it has survived through different periods of time under many names. Finally, it was named Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria after the Saint Josep monastery in Barcelona.
La Boqueria was officially opened in 1840, and since then has something for everyone. With over 200 stalls, it includes garden fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, dairy, restaurants, take-aways, and tapas bars. So if you are hungry after all that walking, this is the place to be!
Once you reach the southern end of La Rambla, you come upon Port Vell, Barcelona’s old port now largely catering to leisure crafts. Standing tall is the Mirador de Colon or the Christopher Columbus Monument.
The 60 meter tall monument was constructed in honor of Columbus’ first voyage to the Americas. The bronze statue of the explorer atop the column is said to depict Columbus pointing towards the New World.
Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter lies in the center of the old city, not far from La Rambla. Here the streets are like a maze, the alleys with their murals weaving in and out like a never-ending labyrinth. Many of them connect back to La Rambla, so you can easily drift in and out both quarters.
Hidden amidst the jostling buildings is the Santa Maria del Pi. One of the most prominent structures in Barri Gotic, the Santa Maria del Pi dates back to the 14th century. It was originally built in Catalan Gothic, completely devoid of any ornamentation. But the church was set on fire in 1936 by anarchists in Barcelona who wanted to destroy the building.
After much rebuilding, the Santa Maria del Pi stands today with its distinct archway and large rose window. In addition (if you can find it), there is a plaque on the church’s facade dedicated to Saint Joseph, the healer of the deaf and dumb.
But in terms of true Gothic majesty, the Barcelona Cathedral is the one you need to really check out. The neo-Gothic facade with its turrets, arches, portals and spires is an architectural beauty and a sight to behold.
If you look at the rooftop, you will find gargoyles representing both domestic and mythical beasts. Can you find any that catch your eye?
The Barcelona Cathedral is dedicated to Eulalia of Barcelona, the co-patron saint of Barcelona who suffered martyrdom during Roman times. In fact, 13 white geese are kept in a cloister inside, in support of the assertion that Eulalia was 13 when she was martyred.
As observed so far, Barcelona is home to stunning architecture. And the El Palau de la Musica Catalana is no different. Also known as “The Palace of Music”, this exquisite building was designed by Domenech Monater. The concert hall was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with Hospital de Sant Pau (which I didn’t have time to visit but highly recommend you to).
El Palau de la Musica Catalana hosts musical performances all year round, attracting more than a half a million visitors. If you wish to watch a symphonic music choir, jazz concert or Catalan’s Cançó, this is where Barcelona’s music lovers congregate.
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