While many first timers to Spain usually visit Madrid, its Catalonian counterpart, Barcelona, is just as magnificent. It is incredibly cosmopolitan, packed with interesting sights. There are churches around every corner, beautiful architecture on every street and Gaudí buildings hiding everywhere. It reminds me of a pristine, less compact, New York City.
Here are my Top 10 Must See Sights:
- Plaça de Catalunya, generally considered to be both the city center and the place where the old city and the 19th century-builtEixample meet. Some of the city’s most important streets and avenues meet atPlaçaCatalunya;Passeig deGràcia,Rambla deCatalunya, LaRambla and Portal del’Àngel. The large plaza is especially known for its fountains and statues, its proximity to some of Barcelona’s most popular attractions, and for the flocks of pigeons that gather in the center.
- La Rambla is a street in central Barcelona, popular with tourists and locals alike. Walking on theRambla is perhaps the epitome of the Barcelona experience (but beware of pickpockets!). A tree-lined pedestrian mall, it stretches for 1.2 kilometers, connectingPlaça deCatalunya in the center with the Christopher Columbus Monument at PortVell. LaRambla can be crowded, especially during the height of the tourist season. The Spanish poet FedericoGarcía Lorca once said that LaRambla was “the only street in the world which I wish would never end”.
- Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, (often simply referred to as LaBouqueria), on LasRamblas, a typical market unlike anything you’ve probably seen before. There are hundreds of stalls here, selling fish, meat, cheese, fruits, vegetables, candies, snails, and more, something for everyone!
- La Sagrada Familia, one of the most famous landmarks in Barcelona, the towering, still-unfinished cathedral that stands as one of the most ambitious architectural projects ever attempted, is considered one ofGaudí’s most famous works. Born in themid-1800s,Gaudí’s work culminated in the development of this basilica but it was less than a quarter completed when he died in 1926, and it is still unfinished. The work is just now over half done, with funding coming from private sources, and is expected to be finished by 2026, the centennial ofGaudi’s death at 73. I have visited many churches, cathedrals and basilicas in Europe, but I have never seen anything quite like this, simply breathtaking!
- Parc Güell, another of Gaudí’s beautiful works, and my personal favorite. The park contains amazing stone structures, stunning tiling and fascinating buildings. At the top ofParcGüell is a terraced area where you get a wonderful view of the park and of Barcelona. Finding a seat in the multi-colored tiled mosaic benches can sometimes be tricky, as everyone is sitting down taking in the views, and non-stop picture-taking going on. The vibrant colors of the tiles are truly amazing.
- Casa Batlló, my favoriteGaudí house. This building wasn’t designed byGaudí, but in the restoration he was commissioned to perform,Gaudí made it his own. The locals call it Casa delOssos, or House of Bones. Without any straight lines, CasaBattló is unique and beautiful at the same time. It’s considered by many to be one ofGaudí’s most important works. Make sure you visit the inside as well, it’s truly amazing!
- La Pedrera (aka Casa Milà) This is one ofGaudí’s main residential buildings and one of the most imaginative houses in the history of architecture. Known also as CasaMilà, LaPedrera translates to “The Quarry”, a name it was given due to the extensive use of stone in its construction. What sets this building apart from other Gaudí works is the curtained facade. This building is more a sculpture than a building.
- Passeig de Gràcia, is my favorite main avenue in this city, located in theEixample district. If you’re looking for authentic souvenir shops, you won’t find any here. This picturesque, wide “promenade” houses some of the top designer boutiques, LouisVuitton, Zara, Loewe, Chanel, Mont Blanc, Yves Saint Laurent,Escada andHermès. The avenue is stunning and its beauty is enhanced by its trees and Art Nouveau street lamps, alongside decorated mosaic benches and pedestrian strips laid with hexagonal paving stones. During the 19th Century, this elegant boulevard was a showcase for Barcelona’s bourgeoisie and it also links thePlaçaCatalunya with the district ofGràcia. The presence of the city’s finest modernist buildings makesPasseig deGràcia an authentic open-air museum. It is also home to Gaudí’s LaPedrera and CasaBattló.
- Tibidabo The journey to Tibidabo amusement park starts with a short train ride from the center of Barcelona from there you will take the Tramvia Blau which takes you half way up the mountain. If you wish to go all the way to the top of Tibidabo, where the amusement park is situated, (and I highly recommend this if you’re traveling with kids), you will also need to catch a funicular train from the half way point. Once at the top of the mountain you will have the most magnificent views of Barcelona, a small amusement park for the kids, and the opportunity to visit a beautiful church, Temple Expiatori del Sagrat Cor. Both kids and adults will enjoy the charming little theme park,built in 1889 and a lot of the rides date back to this time, giving the park a whimsical feel.
- Tapa Bar Hopping While this is not technically a favorite “sight”, it was definitely a favorite experience for all of us. Pretty much you can find great food anywhere in Barcelona, however, our favorites were the tapas! There are thousands of tapas bars all throughout the city, and it’s probably a good idea to try as many different ones as you come across. Many locals like to go “tapa bar hopping”, where they can enjoy one or two tapas with a drink, and then move on to another tapas bar. This can go on for a few hours, depending how large your group is. One of our very favorite restaurants was Cervecería Catalana (Calle Mallorca, 236) which does not take reservations, and always has a line halfway around the block. You have to plan your visit there at an off time, but it’s worth it, the food is delicious!
In a nutshell, another one of my favorite large cities in Europe, I’m already looking forward to my next visit! Have you been to Barcelona? If you haven’t, make sure it’s on your travel bucket list, as I’m sure you will be delighted by this fascinating place!