Length of stay: 3 days
Visited: August 2022
Barcelona is located along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in Spain. It is best known for its unique architecture. The city is constructed in a grid pattern of equally sized blocks to better integrate shops and restaurants (on the ground floor) with living (on the top floors) and recreational spaces (in the centre). The city also showcases some of the most iconic buildings designed by the famous architect, Antoni Gaudi.
Day 1: Gothic Quarter
We took a train from Madrid and arrived in Barcelona around lunch time. After dropping our bags off at our accommodations (it was still too early to check in), we found a spot nearby to grab a bite to eat. We then headed towards the Gothic Quarter, the historic centre of the oldest part of Barcelona.
We started off at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia, known as the Barcelona Cathedral. It is a Gothic-style church that was built between the 13th and 15th centuries. It was hard to fully appreciate the beauty of the cathedral as there was a large advertisement plastered over the front. Thankfully it’s only supposed to be temporary. The giant sign was fitted over the scaffolding while one of the towers is being renovated. But still. The interior of the cathedral was much more authentic. And we purchased tickets to climb the tower to the rooftop terrace.
We wandered around the Gothic Quarter some more and admired the medieval architecture.
We also passed the Arc de Triomf, an impressive arch that was built as a gateway for the 1888 Barcelona World Fair that leads to Ciutadella Park where the fair was once located.
We returned to our accommodations to officially check in and to take a break. We headed out later in the evening to visit Casa Batllo, a building that was designed by Antoni Gaudi. There are a few different ticket options to choose from. We went with the general ticket, which we thought was already pretty pricey. But, if you’re willing to shell out even more euros, you can visit earlier in the morning with less visitors or later in the evening to see the rooms when it’s dark outside. You can also pay extra to visit some of the additional rooms in the building. Our strategy was to visit later in the evening to avoid the crowds, which somewhat worked, except for the fact that they also offer special tours in the evening.
Our general ticket included an audio guide to learn more about Casa Batllo, which is considered one of Gaudi’s masterpieces. Marvelled for his creativity, innovative ideas, and use of colours and curves, Gaudi is considered a pioneer of the Art Nouveau movement and is known for his modernist architectural style. Much of his work was also inspired by nature. Our ticket provided access to the noble floor, loft, blue tiled spiral staircase and rooftop terrace.
After completing our self-guided tour, we returned our audio guides and headed back to our accommodations.
Day 2: Sagrada Familia
Today we had planned to see more of Gaudi’s architecture, starting with the Sagrada Familia, the most famous of his works. The basilica is considered one of Barcelona’s most iconic landmarks and is famous for its unique design and innovative architecture. It has been under construction since 1882 and still remains unfinished today. It is anticipated to be completed in 2026.
We purchased our tickets weeks in advance for the first time slot available at 9am. From our accommodations it was about a 30 minute walk to get there. Despite arriving early, there was already a line to get in. But at least it was moving fast. Once we entered the complex, we made a beeline for the cathedral.
When completed, the Sagrada Familia will have 18 towers: twelve of the towers will represent the apostles, four for the Evangelists, one for the Virgin Mary and the last, and tallest tower, dedicated to Jesus Christ. At the time of our visit, only nine of the spires have been built, two of which are open to the public. As part of our ticket, we had to choose between visiting the tower on the Nativity facade to the east or the tower on the Passion facade to the west. After consulting the internet, it seemed like the Nativity tower was the more popular choice, so that’s what we went with. And naturally we booked the first time slot available.
The Nativity facade was the first facade to be completed and represents the birth of Jesus. An elevator whisked us to the top of the tower where there’s a narrow platform that provides sweeping views of Barcelona. We took the narrow winding staircase back down to the basilica.
Once we made it back to the ground floor, we explored the interior of the basilica. It was breathtakingly beautiful with all the colourful stained glass windows and geometric forms, all of which were inspired by nature.
Afterwards we went to Palau Guell, a mansion designed by Gaudi for the wealthy Guell family. It was built between 1886 and 1888. It’s not as well known as Gaudi’s other buildings. As such, the tickets weren’t outrageously expensive and it wasn’t very busy. We downloaded the audio guide on our phone and toured through the house at our own pace.
We then went to the Palau de la Musica Catalana, a concert hall that is famous for its architecture. At first glance you might think it was designed by Gaudi because of all the use of colours and curves. But, it was actually designed by Lluis Domenech i Montaner, another Spanish architect who was also very influential to the Art Nouveau and modernist movement. We signed up for a guided tour to learn more about the architecture and use of the building. The concert hall is adorned with shiny floral mosaics, sculptures and stained glass windows, including a giant skylight that resembles the sky.
From there we walked to the Basilica of Santa Maria del Pi, a Gothic-style church that was built in the 14th century. We purchased tickets in advance for the guided climb of the bell tower, which is reputed to provide the best views of the Gothic Quarter. We arrived a few minutes prior to the start of our tour, which gave us some time to first walk around the church. The main feature is the massive rose window above the main entrance.
Our guided tour of the bell tower consisted of walking up a narrow spiral staircase to the top of the roof where six bells are located. Along the way there were a few platforms for us to catch our breath. It was well worth the climb (and money) as the views from the bell tower were spectacular. The weather on the other hand was not. A storm was rolling in and we could hear the thunder from a distance. We didn’t spend too much time on the roof before it started to rain. Our guide led us down to a lower platform to wait out the rain. He then brought us back up to the roof once the rain subsided. But this was of course short lived.
By the time we reached the ground floor it was full out storming outside. We took our time to finish exploring the church and to visit the treasury, museum, garden and crypt, which were included with our ticket. Eventually we would have to face the rain though. We raced back to our accommodations and stopped for dinner along the way.
Day 3: More of Gaudi’s Architecture
We woke up bright and early to visit Parc Guell, one of the largest green spaces in Barcelona. It contains landscaped gardens, various walking paths and architectural elements designed by Gaudi. We read online that entry is free if you arrive between 7 to 9a.m. From our accommodations it was just under an hour walk to reach the park. It was a great way to get the blood pumping first thing in the morning as we had to walk up several steep hills and a series of staircases. We arrived at the main entrance just after 8a.m only to discover that the park is now only free early in the morning for people who live in Barcelona. Cool.
We found a bench to take a break and regroup. We decided to just buy our tickets online. Except the first time slot available wasn’t until 12:30p.m. Given how long it took us to walk here, and we didn’t exactly feel like coming back or waiting around for four hours. We asked the person at the entrance if we could just go in when the gates to the non-locals opened at 9a.m. Sure, no problem.
We were the first people through the gates when they officially opened. We made a beeline for some of the popular points of interest in the park starting with the nature square, a terrace which features a mosaic tile bench. It also overlooks the two pavilions that form the porter’s lodge. The park was initially supposed to be a gated community that contained sixty luxury homes. Gaudi oversaw the construction of the park from 1900 to 1914 for Eusebi Guell (for whom the park is named after), but the project wasn’t successful. Only two houses were ever built, neither of them by Gaudi, before the land became city property and was converted into a park.
Other points of interest in the park include the Hypostyle Room located underneath the nature square, the monumental staircase decorated with more mosaic tiles, the Austria Gardens, three viaducts and the Gaudi House Museum.
After wandering around for about an hour, the park became way too crowded for our liking, so it was time for us to move on. From there it’s about a 20 minute walk to Casa Vicens, which is considered Gaudi’s first major project. The house was built between 1883 and 1885 as a summer house for the Vicens family. We downloaded the audio guide on our phone to learn more about the house, Gaudi’s architectural style and about each of the various rooms covered on our self-guided tour.
After having a late lunch and taking a break at our accommodations, we headed back out later in the afternoon to visit the Picasso Museum. The art museum contains some of Pablo Picasso’s work that he donated to the city from when he lived in Barcelona. The museum showcases how Picasso’s painting style has evolved over time, starting from his younger years.
Since we had some time to kill before dinner, we walked down to the waterfront to check out the marina and one of Barcelona’s famous beaches. This seemed like the place to be on a sunny afternoon. Maybe we should have brought our bathing suits. We didn’t stay long as there wasn’t much shade and it was hot.
After eating dinner, we visited Casa Mila, the last private residence designed by Gaudi. It was built between 1906 and 1912 for Roser Segimon and her husband Pere Mila to serve as their home, as well as a series of other apartments that they could rent out. It is commonly referred to as La Pedrera, which means “stone quarry in Catalan, because of its stony facade.
There are a few different experiences and ticket options at Casa Mila. We went with the general ticket which included access to the tenants’ apartments (which has been recreated to show how a family would have lived like in the 20th century), the attic (which features 270 catenary arches that resemble the skeleton of a whale and contains an exhibit of models, drawings and designs from Gaudi), the rooftop terrace (to get a nice view of the city, along with a close up of the warrior themed stone chimneys), and the two courtyards. We were provided an audio guide with headphones to learn more about the history of the building and about Gaudi.
Once we wrapped up our tour of Casa Mila, we headed back to our accommodations. Tomorrow we planned to take a day trip from Barcelona to spend the last day of our vacation.