Barcelona is a beautiful city, full of inspiring architecture and enchanting culture. It’s one of the few big cities that has managed to keep its historic Spanish charm without getting lost to a melting pot of cultures. Barcelona is the capital of the autonomous region of Catalunya, which is unique in that the people speak Catalan as opposed to Castellano Spanish, and they are trying to gain their independence from Spain. Barcelona was also the home of Antoni Gaudí, the Catalan architect famous for the great masterpiece La Sagrada Familia.
La Sagrada Familia
La Sagrada Familia is a large Roman Catholic church designed by Antoni Gaudí but never completed. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site that you can tour. Gaudí combined Gothic and Art Nouveau architecture. He dedicated the last three years of his life on this project in 1926, when he had less than a quarter finished. Construction finally passed 50% completion in 2010 and should be fully completed by 2026; you can see cranes working on the basilica today (see the photo above). This is probably the most famous attraction in Barcelona and you must book tickets at least a day in advance to avoid long lines. Tickets to go inside the cathedral are 15€; add 4.50€ for a guide, 4.50€ to visit the towers, or 3.50€ to visit Park Güell (Gaudí House Museum, which you also must book in advance).
Park Güell is a public park of gardens and famous architecture by Gaudí. It’s also Gaudí’s home, now the Gaudí House Museum, and hosts artwork by Gaudí and several of his collaborators. In Park Güell’s buildings you can find the key to the Gaudiesque interaction between nature and architecture. The Park dates back to 1900-1914 and opened as a public park in 1926. Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
La Rambla is the most famous street in Barcelona, located in the Gothic Quarter. It’s a central, tree-lined pedestrian street with vendors, shops, and restaurants. It stretches 1.2 km from the port to Plaça Catalunya. The Gothic Quarter is the center of old Barcelona, stretching from La Rambla to Via Laietana and from the Mediterranean to Ronda de Sant Pere. The Barri Gòtic is a maze of cobblestone pedestrian only walkways with squares, including the Royal Plaza (Plaça Reial) and all kinds of shops. The Cathedral of Barcelona is in the Gothic Quarter.
Cathedral of Barcelona
Also known as the Gothic Cathedral, the Cathedral of Barcelona is in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona. It’s the seat of the Archbishop of Barcelona. The Cathedral dates back to the 13th century. The cloister, pictured above, includes the Well of the Geese. In the 19th century, a new-Gothic façade replaced the previously nondescript outside. The roof is famous for its gargoyles, both animal and mythological.
The Plaça d’Espanya is one of Barcelona’s biggest squares, dating back to 1929. Josep Maria Jujol, one of Gaudí’s collaborators, designed the fountain in the center. Venetian Towers lead the way into the National Museum of Art of Catalunya. The Arenas de Barcelona was historically a bullring built in 1900 in the Moorish Revival style, and is now a shopping center. For 1€ you can ride the elevator to the top of the Arenas for an exceptional panoramic view of Barcelona and the Plaça.
Magic Fountain of Montjuïc
The Magic Fountain is a fountain located below the Palau Nacional on the Montjuïc hill. The fountain dates back to 1929. The first show took place on May 19, 1929, but was badly damaged in the Spanish Civil War and didn’t run again until 1955. Today, the fountain dances with lights to music every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night at 9:00pm and is one of the few free shows you can find in Barcelona.
The Poble Espanyol is an open-air museum and historic village. It’s the fourth most popular tourist attraction in Barcelona. Here, you can discover the architectural diversity of Spain with full-scale replicas of 117 buildings from different parts of the peninsula. You can stroll around typical squares, streets, and gardens from the different Spanish regions, including Andalucía, Santiago, Aragón, Asturias, Cantabria, Castilla La Mancha, Castilla y León, Madrid, Murcia, Navara, País Vasco, Islas Baleares, Galicia, Extremadura, Valencia, and Cataluña. The Plaza Mayor is the host of many cultural events including various festivals, concerts, Flamenco shows, concerts, private celebrations, and more. It costs 12€ to enter and is definitely worth visiting.
Casa Milà is also known as La Pedrera, meaning The Quarry, and designed by Antoni Gaudí between 1906-1910. It’s structurally innovative because of the wavy stone façade, twisting wrought iron balconies and windows, self-supporting stone front and columns, and floors free of load-bearing walls. The underground garage was also innovative in its day. Today, it is headquarters of the Fundació-Catalunya La Pedrera, which manages exhibitions, activities, and public tours. The building is open from 9:00am-8:00pm for 20.50€ (16.50€ for students). Alternatively, for 34€ starting at 9:00pm La Pedrera creates a 3D audiovisual show using lights, sound, and projections.
Casa Batlló, Casa Amatller, Casa Lleó-Morera
Casa Batlló is an iconic landmark and another amazing masterpiece by Gaudí on the Passeig de Gràcia. It is noticeable from afar due to its eye-catching design and color. Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Entrance into the house is 21.50€ (18.50€ for students).
Josep Puig i Cadafalch constructed Casa Amatller in 1898-1900. Together with Casa Batlló and Casa Lleó-Morera, these three important buildings make up the Illa de la Discòrdia (Block of Discord) for the unique modernist buildings.
Designed by modernist architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner, Casa Lleó-Morera is also on Passeig de Gràcia. Together with Casa Amatller and Casa Batlló, the trio of modernist buildings make up the Illa de la Discòrdia (Block of Discord).
Plaça de Catalunya
Catalonia Square, the unofficial city center, is a large square in central Barcelona. It’s the place where the old city and 19th-century city meet. Many streets come together at this square. It’s especially known for its fountains, statues, and flock of pigeons constantly looking for food.
Arc de Triomf
The Arc was built in 1888 as part of the Barcelona World Fair. It’s a reddish brick silhouette built in Neo-Mudéjar style at the end of the Ciutadella Park. The stone sculpture on the front says “Barcelona welcomes the nations.”
The Parc de la Ciutadella dates back to the mid 19th century and is the city’s only green space. The 70-acre grounds include the Barcelona Zoo, the Parliament of Catalonia, a small lake, museums, and a large fountain.
The Barcelona Zoo is the main attraction of the Ciutadella Park, and it became famous because it housed the white gorilla Snowflake until 2004. Currently, it is home to over 7,000 animals. The zoos attractions include a primate house, a terrarium, a “Land of Dragons” featuring Komodo dragons, and an “Aquarama” for dolphin shows.
Barcelona’s most popular and busiest beach is Barceloneta, where you can find sand artists to singing and dancing donut salesmen. The locals think this is the worst, dirtiest beach in Catalunya, but it’s the closest for tourists and cruise drop-offs.
A local recommended Sant Pol de Mar to us, about an hour train ride north of Barcelona. The train tracks run right along the beach all up the coast, so you can watch each beach go by and choose your destination. We chose to go with the local recommendation and traveled all the way to Sant Pol de Mar. It’s a cute, quiet seaside town. There aren’t many touristy places to have lunch or shop, but if a beach is all you want, this is a nice beach. It’s fairly clean with crystal clear water, boats, and a jetty that is easy to climb out on. The water slopes out gently instead of dropping off quick like the Barceloneta beach. It was a nice day on the beach for about an hour until the clouds hid the sun and warmth!