I was lucky enough to explore Barcelona for a second time this summer. There’s still things I haven’t seen yet. It’s always a bit overwhelming to decide what to do. I’ve come up with my list and hopefully you’ll agree.
First off, I always suggest to people a walking tour and/ or pub crawl to get the most of every city. I did Runner Bean’s Dark History Tour to get the creepy side of Barcelona and I was not disappointed. The tour meets by the Arc de Triomf near Ciutadella Park. The tour doesn’t go through any Gaudi or many major monuments but it does tell a different history of the city than you would get from a traditional tour. What I found very important was the detail that went into explaining the Inquisition. They detail how people were convicted, punished and the basic history of it. It was informative, interactive and of course, creepy.
Other than stories of the Inquisition there were plenty of stories about ghosts of Barcelona. My favorite story from the tour was a little building, easily overlooked. Long ago, it was a little inn. One day a merchant checks into the inn and is very nice to the desk girl. She warns him, “Don’t sleep in the bed tonight.” He thought it was a bit strange but he listened. He pulled the mattress off the bed and slept on the floor. In the middle of the night he heard a BANG! The bed had snapped shut. He would have been crushed. He hid in the closet, fearing for his life; he watched the owner of the inn come into his room, go through his items and leave. He waited for a moment then ran to the police station. The police came and found that there was a lever at reception which triggered the bed and the bodies were actually being sold in butcher shop downstairs.
Another interesting story was more of a local legend. We stopped at a small church. In the olden days, families either wanted to marry off their daughters or send them off to be nuns. This one nun was actually in love with a man that her parents’ disapproved of. Her lover and she came up with a plan where he would get her out of the nunnery and run away into the countryside of Spain to be together forever. So the first night, he goes with a ladder to the square hoping that it would be empty. As he we setting it up to climb up and get his love and a funeral procession suddenly fills the plaza. He quickly falls into line in an attempt to blend in with the crowd. As he enters the church with the procession he looks around and see who is in the coffin. It is him. His eyes widen and he runs out of the chapel. He does attempt to rescue his love one more time but alas as he climbed up the ladder he fell and died.
I also loved how the tour guide pointed out little things in the city I wouldn’t have noticed. For example, there’s little stone cones everywhere and she explained they were olden day speed bumps to slow down quickly turning carriages. Also, she pointed out a carving of a woman’s head. She explained many people didn’t read so signs needed to have a lot of symbolism. In this case the woman’s head marked where large brothels once stood to serve the many sailors coming through the port. One other thing she would point is that many cemeteries were paved over to deal with the influx of people moving to Barcelona. These are all things I couldn’t have gotten from just walking around by myself and gave me a deeper perspective of Barcelona’s history and architecture.
Anton Gaudi is the man that revolutionized architecture with his innovative and visually stunning architectural wonders. It is said when he graduated from Architecture School his teacher said,” I don’t know if I’m giving a degree to a genius or a madman.” It’s a bit overwhelming to see all of the Gaudi. The must-sees are Sangrada Familia, Casa de Batllo and Park Guell.
Sangrada Familia is a long wait but it is worth it. The interior is iconic, don’t skip the inside tour. When he designed the inside he wanted it too look like light peering through the leaves of trees as if you are walking through a forest into the embrace of the Lord. Gaudi became obsessed with designing Sangrada Familia. He abandoned other projects in order to dedicate all of his being to it. However he died in a tragic accident before he could finish the piece. In fact, the building is still under construction.
Casa de Batllo is my personal favorite. It also has the nickname, the house of bones. The balconies all look like little skulls peering out to the street. The roof is shaped like the winding spine of a dragon with mosaic sparkling in the sun like scales. He uses a palette of deep blues and the way the house is designed it almost looks like it is moving like waves of the ocean. It’s definitely one of the more surreal pieces of architecture I’ve seen.
Park Guell is a large park it takes about an hour to quickly walk through all of the viewpoints and features. Originally, Gaudi was designing this park to be an entire neighborhood with houses, markets and chapel. Eusebi Guell, Gaudi’s most beloved patron, purchased the property and hired Gaudi however the project was abandoned in 1914. Gaudi then moved into the only house that was the only completed building. Now it’s a small museum with a small peak into the genius’s home life. There’s a lot to see so I would bring some snacks and your best walking shoes.
If you have time Casa Pedrera or Casa Mila is beautiful with a great view. It’s nickname is the quarry because Gaudi drew inspiration from geology. The building looks like surreal stone desert rock formations. It was originally meant to be an apartment building.
Colonia Guell is a great little town about a half hour outside of Barcelona. The Guell family created the town to house textile factory workers. Eusebi Guell wanted to create a little utopia for his workers. He hired Gaudi as well as a few other architects to create beautiful buildings. Gaudi designed most of the small church. The church is nicknamed The Crypt. Gaudi had killed the project to concentrate on Sangrada Familia. It fuses attributes of Casa Pedrera, Casa Batllo and Sangrada Familia all into one building. It was quiet and I actually got to sit in one of Gaudi’s chairs. You see them on display in every single Gaudi work but finally I got to sit in one. Other than the Gaudi church, Colonia Guell is a lovely little town with gorgeous buildings, stunning plazas and a beautiful wide open parks. It was a lovely, quiet day trip from the hustle and bustle of Barcelona.
- Other Must-See Sights
Parc Cuitadella is an amazing park, try to find the hidden mammoth to take a picture with and the Poseidon Fountain is giant and beautiful. This park is big and green so take some time to enjoy it’s beauty, perhaps pack a picnic or a bring a book.
- Picasso Museum is the must-see museum. The other museums in Barcelona are like every other art museum, history museum etc… But the Picasso Museum gives you an intimate look inside the mind and career of Pablo Picasso. They have some of his very first pieces when he was struggling to find his artistic voice. They also have a whole room of his ceramics, an endeavor he took up in art school but left it in art school as well to concentrate on painting. The museum is pretty small but I would get there early to avoid long lines.
If you have time
The Modern Art Museum has a great collection and wonderful view of the city. The Joan Miro collection is lovely. Though I have not been to the Joan Miro Museum.
Parque del Labrinto de Horta is a stunning park with a small labyrinth and lots of gardens and ponds. It’s a fun activity to do in nice weather.
- The Magic Fountain is in Plaza Catalunya, majority of hotels are in that area. The Fountain has a Las Vegas-like light show every hour after sunset.
From La Rambla to Port Vell there are some vintage markets and little artisanal shops. There’s plenty of restaurants there too.
The only other non-Gaudi architecture sight is Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar, I just walked around the outside to take a look. It’s really pretty but you’ll see a lot of Basilicas in Europe, it’s not very unique.
I would definitely check out some of the markets for cheap, fresh, delicious Spanish food like Mercado de la Boqueria. It got some tapas, fresh juice and produce from the market.
- Skip It
Fundacio Antoni Tapies: It’s a weird modern art museum. The exhibits were subpar but the outside façade is interesting.
Aquarium: They say it’s unique for its extensive collection of Mediterranean fish but it’s really just an average aquarium.
Casa Asia: The most boring of the Gaudi. It simply looks like a house. It’s a big house but it’s just a house designed by Gaudi.
Museo de Martim: There’s one cool ship that’s a giant Spanish cargo ship from the Renaissance and fully restored. Other than that there are small boring exhibits and some small boats to see. It’s not very exciting.
Erotic museum: It’s cheesy.
Wax Museum: It’s just like Madam Tassaud’s.
- There’s lots of random festivals happening through the city so make sure you always look up or ask your accommodation so you don’t miss out. I ran into some random giant puppet parade by La Rambla, a international dance party in a local neighborhood and saw Major Lazer at a nightclub. There’s a lot going so make sure you don’t miss out!
- On Sundays, most museums and other sights are free. Gaudi buildings are not included in this deal.
Plan some beach time the water is clear and beautiful. The beaches are open at night so feel free to bring some beers to the beach before hitting the town.
- Take some time to enjoy the vibrant nightlife. Get your dancing shoes!
- Be very wary of pick pockets especially in places like La Rambla.
- It’s perfectly safe to walk alone at night.
I hope you have fun on all your Spanish adventures!