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A cosmopolitan, Mediterreanean city, Barcelona is the Catalan capital, where Roman remains sit comfortably alongside medieval quarters, and numerous super examples of Avant-garde and Modernist 20th century architecture. UNESCO has had a few good reasons to wave its magic wand over some of the emblematic works of Gaudi and Lluís Doménech i Montaner in Barcelona.
The city is a veritable cup of culture which overfloweth, with amazing offerings all year round. Is there a downside? Not really, apart from what to do and see, and how to do it respectfully and in the time you have.
When there are 1000s of articles and guides about Barcelona, why read this one? Simple, I am gradually collecting some top blogs, articles and guides out there for you, highlighted and linked them here, plus thrown a bit of my own expertise into the cocktail – I’ve lived in Spain since 2003.
Here you’ll find a range of ideas depending on how long you’re staying, and let’s face it, how much you fancy packing into that time. You’ll also get detailed information about these things to see and do, in our relevant sections. Important routes and districts are featured, and lots, lots more..
What is it about Barcelona? It’s sexy if you’re straight, super hip if you’re gay, a cool and funky place for the arty farty amongst us, and pure paradise for foodies….the reality is that the list is almost endless… So whether you’re taking a short or longer trip to Barcelona, you’ll definitely want to get the best out of it.
In its long list of accolades, one of the most important is that Barcelona is the only city worldwide with 9 UNESCO World Heritage sites. These are the Sagrada Família, Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau, Palau Güell, Park Güell, Cripta de la Colònia Güell, Palau de la Música Catalana, Casa Vicens, Casa Batlló and La Pedrera. All of these will be covered in more detail in the relevant sections below.
Look no further, further below are a range of 24+ hour itineraries, from some of the best bloggers and media out there. So if you’re flying in on a weekend break, or you’re here on business, then try to get your first feel and experience of Barcelona, a city which was founded over 2000 years ago, by exploring these emblematic places.
Wander around the old city of Barcelona, which is formed by its Gothic Quarter and the Raval and Ribera neighbourhoods. It’s essential to spend time in the old quarter to be able to absorb its history and wonderful monuments. See its Roman wall, remains of its Jewish quarter, well preserved Gothic buildings, and just soak up the buzzing Mediterranean atmosphere. Read on to discover these neighbourhoods in more detail.
You can’t visit Barcelona without rambling down La Rambla! La Rambla starts by the sea at the Mirador de Colom, and this vibrant fine avenue brings you up to the Plaça de Catalunya. En route you will encounter mime artists, human statues, street musicians, and bird sellers.
Explore the perimeter of the Roman wall, were remains have been discovered in sites such as Plaça Nova, Carrer Tapineria and Plaça Ramon Berenguer. Plaça Nova was where one of the city’s gates used to be, plus the two Towers reveal how pedestrians and carriages used to enter the city here. There is also a modern replica of one of the aqueducts and the Roman Forum, now located at Plaça de Sant Jaume.
Photo by Lynn Padgham
At Carrer Paradís you can see the remains of the communes from the Temple of Augustus. The route suggests a visit to the Barcelona Museum of history (Museu d’Historia de Barcelona) where archaeological evidence of the Barcino Roman colony can be seen. There are also 70 tombs outside the walled precinct at Plaça Villa de Madrid. Head over to the Barcelona Roman Route for more details, how to get to the places and opening hours.
If you are someone who really likes the Medieval period, then the Medieval Barcelona Route is a real treat and you may want to take some time to do it. Start off in what was the nerve centre historically of Barcelona, the Plaça del Rei (King’s Square).
The gorgeous Cathedral competes with other beautiful churches like the wonderful Santa Maria Del Mar and Santa Maria Del Pí.
In the Ribera neighbourhood you’ll find the palaces on Carrer Montcada, a street which is also packed with art galleries and museums. Also down near the waterfront you’ll find more Gothic style civil constructions, which give us clues about the seafaring past during this period. The route is wonderful and have 12 different highlights to take in. To learn more head over to the Medieval Barcelona Route.
Full name: Antoni Gaudí i Cornet (Anton in Catalan)
Otherwise known as God’s Architect & the Father of Catalan Modernism
“Those who look for the laws of Nature as a support for their new works collaborate with the creator.”
Gaudí was born on the 25th June 1852, in Reus in the province of Tarragona, in the autonomous community of Catalonia. His father was a coppersmith and Anton’s interest in architecture surfaced at an early age. When he was 18 he went to Barcelona to study architecture, but military service interrupted his studies and he later graduated in 1878. It wasn’t long after graduating that he started to develop his own style, which we can see today in animated surfaces, with bright ceramic tiles, patterned stones or bricks, or reptilian metalwork. His works are compositions of juxtapositions of geometric masses.
He was filled with passion for religion, nature and of course architecture and this is supremely evident in his works. Additionally his works also encompass strong elements of popular identity and tradition. He was nicknamed God’s Architect because of his intense Roman Catholic faith, which can be seen in his work, and which became even stronger as he became older.
He never married as he totally devoted his life to his work, although he was attracted to Josefa Moreu, a lady teacher, but she didn’t reciprocate the feelings. Every day he would walk to pray and do confession at the Sant Felip Neri church, and on the 7th June 1926, he was struck by a tram.
At this stage of his life he was dressing very frugally, so people assumed that he was a beggar and the unconscious Gaudí was not helped immediately. He got basic care at the Santa Creu Hospital after a policeman took him there, but it wasn’t until the following day that he was recognised by Mosen Gil Parés, the Sagrada Familia chaplain. At this stage his health had deteriorated greatly and couldn’t benefit from further treatment. He died, aged 73, on the 10th June 1926.
Part of the above excerpt is from our feature on UNESCO in Catalonia
There’s also a route here in Catalonia that you can follow, that includes Gaudí, Miró, Casals & Picasso – find out more about the Route of the Four Geniuses.
Starting off in the Eixample district, we can see some of Gaudi’s most important buildings along the Passeig de Gracia. Casa Milà – La Pedrera – is at the corner of Carrer Provença, and further down is the Casa Batlló. From here continue on to the unfinished, incredible Sagrada Familia.
Next head to Park Guell, it’s wonderful Hansel and Gretel gate houses, Palau Guell and the Colonia Guell, where you can see the crypt of the church.
Also in Barcelona along this route you can admire the magnificent casa Vicens, Casa Calvet, Torres Bellesguard and the lesser known Col-legi de les Teresianes.
Aged 54 Gaudi designed La Pedrera, which comprises of two apartment blocks, which share a facade and are connected by interior courtyards. At the peak of his powers, he designed this, his final piece of civil architecture, which marked a break away from how architecture was perceived that time.
The Espai Gaudí Is the attic, which is made up of 270 catanary arches of flat brick. No doubt one of the most distinctive spaces that he designed, it is also home to the only exhibition which is dedicated to his work and life.
The Pedrera period apartment gives us great insight into the way the bourgeoisie of the early 20th century lived.
The Terrace is so far removed from the architecture of that time, with highlights which seemed to shout out Gaudi’s name.
The courtyards were one of his important innovations, providing a show of light, shapes and colours.
Carrer de Provença 261-265
Barcelona Tourist Bus – Pg. La Gracia-La Pedrera stop
Buses – 7, 16, 17, 22, 24, 39 and V17
Metro L3 and L5 Diagonal stop
Trains – Provença stop
Opening hours and official website: https://www.lapedrera.com/en/home
Talk about a display of fantasy and colour! Casa Battló is an expression of total, bold creative freedom. The project was a radical refurbishment of the building which dated to 1875, and Gaudi let his imagination run wild. Between 1904 in 1906 a group of artisans collaborated with him in the stunning decorative work you can see today.
Photo by Llaria
The building is an artistic legend, full of surprises behind a wonderful modernist facade. The plethora of enchanting visual solutions and fascinating details cannot but keep the visitor enthralled.
Passeig de Gracia 43
Barcelona Tourist Bus – Casa Batlló-Fundació Antoni Tàpies
Buses – 7, 22, 24 and V15
Metro L2, L3 and L4 Passeig de Gracia stop
Opening hours and official website: https://www.casabatllo.es/en/
Still unfinished, but however close to completion apparently, is the Sagrada Familia, the genius’ key work. Gaudí devoted himself to this work for 43 years up until his death in 1926. Luckily the drawings and surviving models make it possible for his original plans to be carried out, and currently the due date for completion is 2026.
The first stone of the temple was laid on the 19th March 1882. The original architect for the project was Francisco de Paula del Villar, who resigned from the job apparently because of disagreements with the promoters. This was when it fell to Gaudí.
He worked on the crypt between 1883 and 1889. Donations were flowing in at a steady rate, and then a particularly substantial one arrived, which meant that he was able to propose a grander design. The Nativity facade had its foundations laid in 1892 and later in 1909 he built the provisional school buildings.
From 1914 he decided to concentrate solely on the Sagrada Familia.While he was still alive, God’s architect completed the Nativity facade, and the crypt.
The basis of the architecture lies in Gothic and Byzantine cathedral traditions. However Gaudi’s intention was to transmit Christian belief to the beauty and architecture of the structure. Geometries, forms and structures were inspired by nature, and as common in his work colour and light to play a central role. Christian symbolism is also injected, for example the 18 towers each have a special significance.
Carrer de Mallorca 401
Barcelona Tourist Bus – Sagrada Familia
Buses – 19, 33, 34, 50, 51, B24, H10, V21
Metro L2, L5 Sagrada Familia stop
Opening hours and official website: http://www.sagradafamilia.org/en/
The Hansel and Gretel gate houses welcome you to an enchanting place with amazing sculptures, stunning mosaics, genius archetectonic elements and beautiful gardens. Park Güell is where the surreal somehow becomes real, where a dance and demonstration of Gaudi’s personal style laces its way around pathways and wooded areas.
The project was originally intended to be a miniature city of homes for wealthy people in landscaped grounds. However it didn’t take off commercially and in 1914 it was abandoned. At this stage Gaudí had already created a Plaza, two gate houses, 3 km of walkways and roads, and also steps. The city authorities bought it in 1922 to be used as a public park.
Located in the Gracia district of Barcelona, Park Güell was conceived and designed during Gaudi’s naturalist phase. His already established personal style was being inspired further by organic shapes, and through his analysis of geometry he began to conceive and bring into being new structural solutions. His forms are structurally rich, based on a kind of Baroquism, and are liberated from classic premises and rigidity.
Add into the mix his incredible imagination, creative liberty and genius, Park Güell is where his adoration of natural forms has manifested into this amazing experience that can take your senses on a flight, at least to some extent as Gaudí’s did.
The vision that had been conceived between the two men for the original project encompassed a perfect balance between high quality homes, with the latest mod cons, alongside symbolism, political and religious ideals, with some mythological elements. All of these facets needed to blend harmoniously together, and of course to be finished off with an artistic touch.
Entrepreneur, Count Eusebi Güell, first discovered Anton Gaudí in 1878, at the Universal Exhibition in Paris, where he had planned a window display for a glove retailer. Later that year the entrepreneur commissioned Gaudí to make furniture for his father-in-law for a Pantheon Chapel on the Cantabrian Coast, in a town calle Comillas (which actually translates into – “quotation marks”). The architect of the wonderful Neo-Gothic Chapel, at the Palau de Sobrellano, was Joan Martorell i Montells, whom Gaudí already knew, and regarded as his Master, having worked at his studio.
The work on Park Güell commenced in 1900, at which stage Barcelona was a buzzing has a passion metropolis with more than half a million residents. The walls of the city had been demolished around 50 years earlier and it was thriving because of the industry. From 1860 the Eixmaple district has developed spectacularly under the planning of the engineer, Ildefons Cerdà.
If you want to avoid queues to one (this applies to all of them) of Gaudi’s major works in Barcelona, it’s best to book your tickets online.
Barcelona Tourist Bus – Park Guell
Buses – 24, 92, 116
Opening hours and official website: http://www.parkguell.cat/en/
The Palace is in itself a metaphor, because the patrons humble beginnings are represented in the steer ground floor and basement, and as we go up in the building, so does the feeling of wealth and colour.
A wide range of building materials were used, but with an emphasis on expensive ones, especially marble. The structure is a combination of a Catalan medieval palace with coffered ceilings with exquisite wood. Of course as always we see innovations, in this instance the parabolic arch is the hallmark of this particular work.
Carrer Nou de la Rambla
Buses – 14, 59, 91 and 120
Metro L3, stops either Liceuy or Drassanes
Opening hours and official website: http://www.palauguell.cat/en
23km south-west of Barcelona, in Santa Coloma de Cervello, lies this pioneering industrial village, which was triggered really due to social unrest at the time. The concept was to design an industrial village which would improve the quality of life of the workers. Some of the top modernist architects of the time were involved in the project, and Gaudi designed the church. However in 1914 the family withdrew the funding, which means that the church is known today as the crypt. Once again we see wonderful integration of materials, and the trademark use a broken mosaic tiling. The crypt, like his other work, is just incredible.
Carrer de Claudi Guell
Metro S4/S8/S33-Colònia Güell
Opening hours and official website: http://www.gaudicoloniaguell.org/en
All places have more information in the relevant sections below, plus I have linked the itineraries to the travel bloggers or media who have suggested them.
What To Visit
Park Guell – La Sagrada Family – Las Ramblas – Plaça Reial – Casa Milà L Pedrera – Barcelona Waterfront
Mercat La Boqueria
Read the full post about 24 Hours in Barcelona
What To Visit
La Sagrada Familia – Passieg de Gracia Architecture – La Rambla – Picasso Museum – Gothic Neighbourhood – Bosc de les Fades
Check out their full experience over at 24 hours in Barcelona City Guide