Neither Mike nor I had ever visited Barcelona before so we figured we would try to see as much as we could in the week we were there. Here we try to do justice to the many incredible sites we visited.
In addition to the many varied sites in town, we were still able to spend plenty of time wandering the streets and enjoying refreshments. We visited Las Ramblas, El Born, Barrio Gothic, and Garcia neighborhoods to get a feel for the place. We talked about the vibe in Gaudi and Passionate Flamenco Welcome Us to Barcelona.
Sagrada Familia Basilica
The crown jewel of Barcelona is the Sagrada Familia basilica. It isn’t a cathedral because the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia in the Barri Gotic is the seat of the bishop and the archdiocese of Barcelona. We learned that you can only have one cathedral per bishop and Barcelona only has one bishop. Sagrada might be finished in the next 10 years or so depending on how the donations go. It is sand-colored and sparsely adorned with bright fruits and vegetables Gaudi utilized to represent the natural world from the outside. There are 12 spires and the façade looks a little like melting sand. The style is very interesting but somewhat monochromatic from the outside. The inside, however, is simply stunning.
Views of the Church
Gaudi’s unusual design banished the traditional interior chapels to the cloister that rings the outside of the church. So all of the available light comes through the beautiful stained glass windows. As a result, the inside is much brighter than other churches and the light reflected from the stained glass windows is truly unique. The windows on the morning side of the church are colored green and blue and the ones on the afternoon side are red and orange so the reflected light changes colors during the day.
Gaudi also used the natural world as inspiration for the ceiling and the columns making them look like trees. This church probably has the tallest ceiling of any church I have ever seen. Titanium had to be used to support the massive columns, adding to the construction expense and I’m not sure how they would have managed the construction in Gaudi’s time. I can’t say enough about how monumental and unique this church is. If you have a chance to visit Barcelona, don’t miss it.
Another Gaudi building that we visited is Palau Güell, a stately mansion created by the famed architect in 1890 for his wealthy patron, industrialist Eusebi Güell. The outside is intriguing, but the real fireworks are inside and on top. The interiors are strongly stamped with Modernism, Barcelona’s take on the Art Nouveau architecture style popular in France at the time. Natural lines and plant and animal motifs prevail. Liberal use of wrought iron, dark woods, and stone was meant to set a backdrop for equally stylized but colorful furnishings that he also designed. Gaudi’s work is never dull.
The party continues with chimney caps covered whimsically in plaster and colorful, reused tile, on the roof. Gaudi loved to reuse material, especially broken tile. Each chimney cover is unique in shape and color and is a work of art itself. And to think this was one of Gaudi’s early commissions well before Casa Mila and Casa Batllo.
In the Gracia neighborhood lies Parc Güell, another Gaudi undertaking for his patron. You have to hike up a small hill to get there, but the park and views are well worth a visit. From the main open area, with its wavy bench railing covered in broken tile mosaics, you can see all of Barcelona all the way to the Mediterranean. The views are spectacular. Under the main plaza is an open-air pavilion with more tile art on the ceiling. Higher on the hill is a more natural park with walkways and equally spectacular views. However, my favorite part is the natural-looking fountain near the exit (originally the park entrance). There is a fountain featuring a beautiful tile-covered lizard and tiled guardhouses.
The current castle/military fortress began in 1640, with each succeeding empire modifying the fortification for its own purposes. During the Spanish Civil War of 1936-1939, rebels in town were bombarded with heavy guns from the top of the hill by the Fascist forces.
The views from the top are expansive and well worth a visit. On the south side, you can see planes landing at the international airport. West is the commercial port and the sea. North and east have views of Barcelona. To get to the top of the hill we took the subway to a funicular train and then caught a bus. However, on the way back we decided to take a scenic cable car ride back to the top of the funicular.
Joan Miro Foundation
Just below Montjuïc park is a foundation and museum dedicated to Joan Miro, who was born in Barcelona. I have always found Miro’s work to be beautiful and distinctive. The museum displays a wide variety of his works. Even though I don’t understand all of the symbolism, I did enjoy the museum and the more incredible views of the city from the museum.
This Picasso museum covers mostly his early work, while he was still in Spain. Most of the pieces belonged to his nephew’s family and were donated to the city of Barcelona. There are two exhibits of more recent work that I found very interesting. One is a huge series of Las Meninas from around 1957. This is a series of paintings that are Picasso’s take on the great Velasquez painting of the same name. The other interesting series is many studies of pigeons that he had living outside his studio window in the late 1950s. I know we will keep going to Picasso museums wherever we find them but because he was so prolific, they all have their own unusual take on his life and work. This museum wasn’t our favorite.
We often look for a food tour when arriving in a new city. In Barcelona, we picked an Airbnb Experiences tapas tour with about five stops. Before we arrived, we were told about a place called Tapas Street, which is actually Carrer de la Blai. I was hoping the tapas tour would take us there. It turned out that the tour took us to small places just off Carrer de la Blai, which was a super crowded pedestrian area with tables as far as the eye could see.
Our tour group consisted of 9 people, so at each stop, we were ushered to a large table, and dishes of yummy tapas just appeared. A popular local drink is Vermut and we got to try it at our first stop. It is some form of sweet, herbal vermouth with a slice of lemon. Of course, we drank it all, but we probably wouldn’t order it again. At other stops, we had sangria or vino Tinto (red wine).
As for the tapas, our favorites were a small artichoke heart with romesco sauce, a sardine on an eggplant salad, eggplant croquettes, cheese croquettes, and warm chocolate cake with chestnut ice cream. The not-so-great stuff as far as I was concerned was the ever-popular Russian salad. This version had too much mayonnaise and tuna for my taste. I also didn’t care for the ham croquettes or the sheep’s milk ice cream. All in all, we had a great time as we do on all of the food tours that we take. We ate, we drank, and we met nice people. Salut!
Mercat de la Boqueria (the Market)
In every town we visit, we also make a trip to the local market. It turned out that the largest one in Barcelona was just down the street from our hotel. The interesting thing about this market was the bars/restaurants scattered throughout. We saw loads of beautiful fruit, vegetables, and already prepared baked goods like empanadas on our first visit. At first, we thought the empanadas were sandwiches because they were large and not pocket-shaped. They also came with lots of different fillings, we tried the one with the longest line.
Another day we went to the market and we were able to find stools at one of the many crowded bar counters for tapas and a drink. The entire place was visible from our seats so we watched the cooks preparing mussels, garlic shrimp, and patatas. Our choices that day were wonderful: strong sangria Blanca (white sangria), calamari, and garlic prawns with bread to soak up the garlic, mushroom, oil that the prawns were swimming in. Yum, and that was just lunch at about 4 pm.
In a Nutshell
It’s easy to see why Barcelona is near the top in lists of favorite cities. The energy, the art, and the café scene are invigorating. Put it all together and we know we will be returning to drink it all in.
Which of these places do you want to experience for yourself?