We've had the good fortune to visit Barcelona twice within a year. The first time, Paul and our sons took a father/son trip to Prague and Amsterdam. The boys headed back home and Paul suggested that I meet him in Barcelona. I had never been to Spain and it was high on my list so he flew down from Amsterdam and I flew in from the US. It was early November and we were lucky to have blue skies and temps in the 60's. I had done some research prior to the trip and we knew that we wanted to discover Gaudi's architecture. The second visit was at the tail end of my retirement trip to Scandinavia and Mallorca. We like it more each time we visit!
We like staying in the old section of European cities. The old town of Barcelona is called the Gothic Quarter. It's a maze of charming alleys, shops and small restaurants. We chose the Hotel Colon in a lovely square just opposite the cathedral for both of our visits. The staff couldn't be more accommodating, our rooms both times were very comfortable and the location can't be beat. It also has a small rooftop bar overlooking the square. The view of the cathedral is stunning, especially in the late afternoon.
We often take the Hop-On Hop-Off bus to get a taste of new cities. Once we settled into our hotel we walked a few yards to the hop-on location at the entrance to the square. We rode the entire route to get a feel for the city. We enjoyed seeing the lovely waterfront and while the new city is attractive, it seemed like any big city. We also had our first glimpse of Sagrada Familia, Casa Batlló and Casa Milà, but more about them later!
You can't venture very far in Barcelona without feeling Gaudi's presence. Antoni Gaudi was born in 1852 and died in 1926 at the age of 73. An architect and an important contributor to the Catalan modernism movement in the 19th century, he spent most of his life in Barcelona. He was commissioned to plan a number of residential buildings, but one of his major works is Park Guell. Eusebi Güell i Bacigalupi, a 19th century entrepreneur, commissioned Gaudi to plan a park above the city. Güell was inspired by English parks hence the anglo spelling of Park. It was to have been a combination of natural space and a housing development. The housing development didn't materialize and today only a few houses remain in the 42 acre park.
Paul was under the weather the morning we had reserved to visit it so I took a taxi and spent almost three hours enjoying it. I bought my ticket online before I left the US and I was happy I did. Even though I arrived soon after it opened the crowds were impressive, especially for early November. I was able to enter through a side gate and I got right in.
I'm a sucker for mosaics and gargoyles. The mosaics at Park Guell were beautiful.
The park is on a hill. I don't know how many steps I climbed, but you keep winding your way up and up. The views of the city toward the Mediterranean are beautiful.
Some of the beautiful mosaics.
I never knew what would greet me as I meandered through.
This is one of the few houses in the park that is currently inhabited.
Gaudi lived in the house below in the park for the last 20 years of his life. It's now a museum. The €5 to visit it was well worth it.
Plan to spend a minimum of two hours in the park and wear comfortable walking shoes!
Casa Milà, aka La Pedrera (the Stone Quarry)
Casa Milà is hard to describe without pictures. I guess you could say that about all of Gaudi's structures. In fact, it took quite a bit of persuading Paul that Gaudi wasn't mentally disturbed. From all accounts he was of perfectly sound mind; he was just incredibly creative and an architectural giant of the period.
La Pedrera (both names are used) is the only building in the world, according to their site, that has five distinct uses. It's a cultural center that hosts conferences and exhibitions, it's a residential building with several apartments, it's its own foundation, it has commercial space on the first floor and finally of course, it's a tourist destination.
Gaudi was commissioned by Pere Milà and his wife who were residents of Barcelona, to build a residence. The history is interesting and you can read more about it here.
I had also bought these tickets online. The line to purchase tickets was very long, but the line for those who had tickets was short and I highly recommend buying them beforehand if you can. There are different prices depending on your needs. The ones I bought were good for six months and were €29 each. I also recommend an audio guide if you don't take an organized tour.
The visit starts on the roof. Be aware of your surroundings; there are steps everywhere you turn.
Paul is holding on for dear life; I give him credit for going to the roof since he's not a fan of heights.
It was fun to see the period rooms. The door knob was considered perfectly ergonomic!
Pronounced "Bye yo", this Gaudi masterpiece was an existing structure, build originally in 1877, and like Casa Milà, located on the Pasco de Gracia, a grand boulevard then and now. The house was purchased by Josep Batlló y Casanovas, a textile executive. Batlló commissioned Gaudi to raze the house and start over, but Gaudi chose instead to work with the existing structure between 1904 and 1906. Now owned by another family, the house is open to the public. Tours begin at 9:00 a.m., but I chose the early option at 8:30 for an extra few Euros (39 total) and I was glad I did. As one of the first people admitted, it felt as though I had the house to myself. Now a Unesco World Heritage site, Casa Batlló welcomes over 1 million visitors annually. There wasn't quite as much to see as at Casa Milà, but it was a jewel nevertheless. I love the design of the front of the house and the soft colors.
The view of Pasco de Gracia from the reception room.
Scroll through below for views of the inside
As with Casa Milà, the roof is an integral part of the house.
La Sagrada Familia; the Crown Jewel
You see it from everywhere in the city. Gaudi worked on it from 1883 to his death in 1926. Its history has been one of fits and starts and not without controversy. The continued construction (you can barely take a picture without including cranes) is financed solely by private donations and ticket sales. It's hoped that it will be completed in 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudi's death.
There are currently two facades; the very ornate Nativity facade, celebrating Jesus' birth, and the Passion facade, plainer and angular. Both are captivating. A third, the Glory facade is yet to be constructed. Below is the Nativity facade.
The Passion facade
The inside was also stunning.
Gaudi died in June of 1926, three days after being hit by a tram in Barcelona. He is buried in the crypt below La Sagrada Familia.
The Barcelona Cathedral
The cathedral is located directly across from our hotel. Its full name is Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia. Eulalia was a patron saint of Barcelona who was killed by the Romans in the 4th century. It's a magnificent gothic structure, constructed between the 13th and 15th centuries. The gold inside, even on the side chapels, blew me away.
In the back of the cathedral is a lovely area where I was surprised to find geese being very well tended. As it turns out, there are 13 of them which signifies the age at which St. Eulalia was martyred.
The Gothic Quarter
We enjoyed strolling through the narrow streets of the Gothic Quarter.
More Barcelona wandering...
This is the Ohla Barcelona, a luxury hotel in the middle of Barcelona. I passed it when I was walking to Casa Batlló. The eyes were designed by the artist Frederic Amat.
A Word About Food
If you've read the "About Us" section of this blog, you know that we're not foodies, but we love a good meal and we found three restaurants in Barcelona that we thoroughly enjoyed. We also loved the wonderful, rich Spanish wine and of course, the tapas!
A friend who saw that we were in Barcelona suggested the Café de l'Academia which was just a couple of blocks from us. We took a chance and were able to get a table without a reservation. We both had yummy fish and the atmosphere was warm and cozy.
Another restaurant we enjoyed was Taverna del Bisbe, just across the square from our hotel. Paul had bacalao and I had paella, both of which were delicious. Try a glass of Cava with your Spanish almonds and olives!
We walked down to the area called Barceloneta, a large area due east of our hotel, on the water and an easy 10-minute walk. We didn't wander far into i and stopped for lunch at a boardwalk-type area with restaurants opposite the wharf. We ate at Cal Pinxor 1979, one of the many restaurants along the wharf. We had gazpacho and calamari, both of which were delicious. It's a great spot for people watching!
But the best meal we had by far was in this little gem, El Pintor, which we came upon in the Gothic Quarter, just off the Placa de Sant Jaume. I had salmon with a light cream sauce and caramelized apples; it melted in my mouth! Paul had tapas of cod croquettes and potatoes. It was one of those meals that I didn't want to end! The restaurant is intimate and cozy and the service was excellent. We heartily recommend it!
I have to give honorable mention to the little hole-in-the-wall cafe where we had breakfast almost every morning. We asked the concierge at our hotel for a recommendation and he said the Chocolat-Box was his favorite. It had amazing coffee and yummy pastries; all I need to start my day in Europe! There are several in Barcelona and this one happened to be around the corner from us. Of course, there are also many other options in the Gothic Quarter.
All in all, we had two wonderful visits to Barcelona for a total of about four days. We love the city and we hope we've brought a little of its beauty and charm to our readers!
Here is a parting shot of the beautiful cathedral.
➜ Top Tips
Barcelona is a big city and there are a number of lovely areas to stay, but we truly loved staying in the Gothic Quarter. It's walkable to many of the Gaudi sites as well as Barceloneta. The square in front of the cathedral is lively and fun.
Buy tickets to the Gaudi sites online if you can; it will save a lot of time standing in line.
Summer is hot; wear comfortable clothes and take good walking shoes.
Be sure to try churros con chocolate!
Three or four days in this beautiful city are not too many!