Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia and one of the busiest cities in Spain, has won the hearts of many travelers due to its world-class Spanish food, golden beaches, vibrant bustling neighborhoods, and most importanly the glorious architecture of this city. Antoni Gaudí’s work is a huge attraction in this city, and he might very well be the city’s unofficial architect. While its roots stretch back to the Roman Empire, it was during the Middle Ages that Barcelona really grew into the economic and political center of the Western Europe. The locals consider themselves Catalonian rather than Spanish, you’ll see signs written in Catalan and in Castilian Spanish, and many restaurant menus are in Catalan vs. Spanish, but most locals in the city speak both languages. The combination of Spanish and Catalan cultures and traditions here is part of what makes Barcelona the unique city that it is!
“To travel across Spain and finally to reach Barcelona is like drinking a respectable red wine and finishing up with a bottle of champagne.” — James A. Michener
We are excited to share the details of our trip and our recommendations. Before we get into the details, here are a few pictures of this beautiful city!
What to see?
- La Sagrada Família — Without a doubt, the best-known work of art and most famous of Gaudí’s work is La Sagrada Familia. This iconic masterpiece by Gaudí is the symbol of Barcelona, it is impressive in size, the detail of its facades, the soaring tree-like pillars and multicolored stained-glass windows that make it feel like a kaleidoscopic forest. La Sagrada Familia was built 137 years ago, and it is still under construction, making it the oldest under-construction project of the 21st century in the world. The church is expected to be completed in 2026, the year that marks the centennial of Gaudi’s death. You have the option of climbing the towers that crown the building, with their narrow spiral staircases, which will give you views of the city that will take your breath away. We recommend a guided tour fee to see this incredible piece of architecture or renting the audio guide to learn about the details found in this piece of Gaudí art. In November 2010, Pope Benedict XVI granted the Sagrada Familia the status of basilica.
Gaudí was obsessed with this project and moulded the church with his extraordinary vision.He wanted to make the church an overwhelming figure of revelation and spiritualism, that you’ll notice in the intricate designs that depict chapters from the Bible. Gaudí’s great plans and vision, unfortunately, came to an end when he was hit by a tram in Barcelona’s Gran Via on June 10, 1926, in a tragic accident and succumbed to his death 2 days later. Work continued on the church, although it was slowed down during the the Spanish Civil War. Courtesy of modern, cutting-edge technology, construction has proceeded at a pace never before imagined. We can’t wait to visit again when it is fully completed in 2026.
Roadtrip to Dalí’s museum in Figueres, and hometown of Cadaqués — Salvador Dalí was one of the most interesting and prolific artists to ever have existed. The Dalí museum in Figueres is probably the most unique and strangest museums you’ll ever come across on your travels. Salvador Dalí’s bizarre self-curated collection is the master statement from the famed surrealist. Best known for his unusual paintings of melting clocks and eccentric lifestyle, Dalí’s vision was grand — and the striking red fortress topped with giant eggs paints an intricate picture of the famous artist. Said to be the location of his first publicly exhibited art at age 14, the riveting Theatre-Museum is adorned in Dalí’s personal history. Even casual fans of the artist should pay a visit to the main museum for a true taste of Dalí’s surreal perspective.
Inspired by the eccentric Spaniard’s museum and art, we decided to visit his museum in Figueres and his hometown of Cadaqués, not far from the border with France. This was not part of our original travel plans, so we basically hopped on a car for a road trip not knowing what to expect. The drive was along the scenic costa brava coast, so the drive was just as spectacular as the destination. The museum is housed in what was Dalí’s local childhood movie theater. After the theater was burned to ruins during the Spanish Civil War in the late 1930s, Dalí teamed with the city in the 1960s on a plan to rebuild it into a grand temple to showcase his works. Filling the former theater with some of his most unique works, such as paintings that seem to transform from different vantage points like “Lincoln in Dalívision”, and others which are only visible through secretly placed mirrors, Dalí was able to design his very own museum. The surrealist fun house opened to the public in 1974 and today makes for a worthy day trip. We also visited the Castell de Púbol, a medieval building located near Girona, about 20 miles south of Figueres, which Dalí renovated as a palace for his wife Gala, where he and Gala kept a private coastal residence and workshop.
- Explore Gaudí’s Barcelona — Gaudí is Barcelona’s most famous and creative architect. His unique style, use of nature motifs, and catalog of work is legendary. No visit to the city is complete without a tour of Gaudí’s works. Here are some of the best sights you should not miss when you visit Barcelona.
- Park Güell – Park Güell is a 45-acre garden complex designed and built between 1900 to 1914. It’s since been converted into a municipal garden and is now a World Heritage Site. Park Güell has some of the most unique and photographed places such as the precious salamander fountain on the steps and the benches on the viewpoint, decorated with Gaudí’s famous broken ceramics mosaic.
- Casa Batlló – Casa Batlló is a building restored by Antoni Gaudí in the early 1900s. He spent 2 years on the project completely revamping the building, and it reflects Gaudí’s Art Nouveau style.
- Casa Milà – From 1906 to 1910, Gaudí worked on Casa Mila which is just a couple hundred meters away from Casa Batlló. It’s also known as “La Pedrera” or the Stone Quarry as the building has a facade of limestone. The goal with this design was to evoke the sense of a snowy mountain.
- Palau Güell – Located off La Rambla, Palau Güell or Güell Palace is another Gaudí structures. Built from 1886-88, it was designed for one of Gaudí’s patrons, Eusebi Güell. The home is centered around the main room used to entertain high-society guests
- Montjuïc Castle — Montjuïc Castle is an old military fortress, with roots dating back from 1640, built on top of Montjuïc hill in Barcelona. It currently serves as a Barcelona municipal facility. Standing on a vantage point 173 metres above the port, Montjuïc Castle commands stunning views of the city. The Montjuïc cable car offers you a unique panoramic view of Barcelona. Get a bird’s-eye view of the entire city as you ride up to Montjuïc Castle!
- La Rambla — One of the most pleasant activities in Barcelona is to stroll through its alleys admiring the buildings and architecture of this beautiful city. This is one of my favorite things to in most European cities. The Rambla district is a popular boulevard that’s about 1 mile long, with a walkway in the center. The street is dotted with beautiful buildings, including the Gran Teatre del Liceu, the city’s opera house. Near the theater, you can also see a mosaic by artist Joan Miró. And there are street performers galore here. While this street is ground zero for tourists in the city and gets swamped by crowds it’s worth a stroll down at least once.
Parc del Laberint d’Horta — Parc del Laberint d’Horta is the oldest park in Barcelona. It is a historical garden in the Horta-Guinardó district in Barcelona. Located on the former estate of the Desvalls family, next to the Collserola ridge, the park comprises an 18th-century neoclassical garden and a 19th-century romantic garden. We enjoyed running through the laberynth in the park as it’s quite challenging and beautiful.
- Barri Gotic — Barcelona’s old Gothic Quarter is where you’ll find the oldest parts of the city — including ancient Roman walls and medieval buildings all connected by narrow, winding streets. You can easily spend a few hours getting lost in this district. The area also has numerous attractions worth seeing:
- Barcelona History Museum – Barcelona has an outstanding city history museum. It includes 4,000 square meters of Roman ruins beneath the museum you can walk through that are absolutely stunning.
- The Grand Royal Palace – The Palau Reial Major is almost 700 years old and was the home of Barcelona’s counts and later the kings of Aragon. The palace offers visitors a very detailed history of the city and region through the centuries.
- Chapel of Santa Àgata – This royal chapel was built in 1302 and is part of the Museum of the History of Barcelona. It contains beautiful paintings of religious symbols in the style of the Middle Ages.
- Barcelona Cathedral – Built between the late 13th to early 15th centuries, this is a classic Gothic cathedral with huge spires standing over 174 feet tall, colorful stained glass, and incredible wood carvings.
- La Boquería — La Boqueria is a gastronomic place not to be missed during a stay in Barcelona, it is perhaps the most famous food market in the world. This public market has an amazing array of food stalls and restaurants. It’s been at this location for hundreds of years, in a building with a beautiful iron entrance. The market is right off La Rambla, so it is typically very busy. There’s a wide variety of seafood, nuts, candy, wine, and tapas. You can grab some ham, bread, cheese, and fruit, stroll down the street, and enjoy the scene!
- Barcelona’s Public Art — Gaudí work can be found all over Barcelona. The fountain located in the Parc de la Ciutadella, a tribute to the god Neptune, was designed when he was an architecture student. Other Gaudí works include the lampposts in Plaça Reial and Pla de Palau, and the Miralles gate and wall on Passeig de Manuel Girona. Barcelona native Joan Miró’s work is found throughout the town as well; you can see his famous “Woman and Bird” sculpture at Parc de Joan Miró.
What to eat?
The people of Spain love their food, Barcelona has a huge foodie culture. The succession of cultures that set foot on the Iberian peninsula have each left a lasting mark on the Spanish culture and food, which made Spain a delicious melting pot of cuisines and flavors. The country is located on the Iberian peninsula and is therefore almost entirely surrounded by the waters, so seafood forms one of the pillars of Spain’s gastronomy. The rest of Spain is a diverse terrain made up of mountain ranges, lush pastures, fertile farm grounds, which together provide quite the variety of fresh produce and fruits. With its local Catalan cuisine and Michelin-starred hotspots, there are so many amazing Barcelona restaurants, cafes, and bars to check out.
When in Barcelona, there are some authentic Spanish dishes that you have to try such as tapas, mouth-watering Paella, refreshing Sangria and wines, the best Jamon Iberico, and more! We recommend doing a food tour or taking a food class to learn about Spanish cuisine if your travel permits. Here are the recommendation on places to eat in Barcelona.
- Best Paella — Arosseria Xátiva, Can Solé, Cheriff, 7 Portes, Terraza Martinez
- Best Tapas — El Quim de la Boqueria, Quimet y Quimet, Els 4Gats, Bar Pinotxo
- Best Bars — Paradiso (#3 on the world’s 50 best bars), Dry Martini, Dr. Stravinsky
“A veces perderse no es una perdida de tiempo, i.e., Sometimes getting lost is not a waste of time” — Unknown
Our Barcelona trip covered the main attractions in the city, and we also took the time to explore other parts of Spain — Sometimes getting lost is not a waste of time… We got lost in the beauty of this country, and we had a wonderful time going off the beaten path. Our road trip took us away from the touristy areas of Barcelona, for a breathtaking ride along Costa Brava, where we got to explore the true beauty of Spain! You could squeeze the highlights of Barcelona in 3-4 days, but there is so much to see in Barcelona. Take your time to enjoy all the sights, and the tapas, the Iberian ham, and sangria. Barcelona has something for everyone!
As we always say… Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer!