There are so many tourist sights in Barcelona that the four days we spent in the city were not enough to enjoy all of them! However, I did compile two lists: one for the main sights that we were able to complete and one that went off the beaten path. Sometimes you just need a break from all the congested areas of the city and find a place that allows you to really see the city without feeling claustrophobic. This particular post outlines the main attractions while the more local activities can be found here.
LA SAGRADA FAMÍLIA
Regarded as Antoni Gaudí’s magnum opus, this is one attraction that everyone must see when visiting Barcelona. Gaudí’s work can be seen all throughout the city but this particular glory is most unique in that it is still under construction and has been since 1882! When you go downstairs, there is a small museum and a room that shows a video about the design, structure, inspiration, and the history of the basilica. One of the main reasons as to why the construction is taking so long (and what also made Gaudí such a fascinating architect and designer) is that his vision was so beyond his time that the technology to bring this beauty to life just didn’t exist! As a result, it is a structure that has a foot both in the past and in the future.
La Sagrada Família Basic Entrance Fee: €15
La Sagrada Família Entrance Fee + Tower: €29
You can purchase tickets online in advance here
The basilica is split into three parts: Nativity, Passion, and Glory. The Nativity side is a lot more ornate and detailed, depicting the Nativity scene that we all know from the Bible. In stark contrast, the Passion façade is simpler and more raw – the harsh lines representing the crucifixion of Christ truly captures the suffering of Christ and the sins of man. The Glory façade, the largest and most striking of them all, however, is still under construction. They are the seven porticos that tower over the building and will represent the Seven Deadly Sins at the base of the columns and the Seven Heavenly Virtues at the very top.
Remember that this is still a house of worship so please be respectful when entering the basilica. There are certain areas where photography is not allowed as people are sitting down and praying.
Once we entered the church, I was honestly blown away. It wasn’t just the stained glass windows and the never-ending symmetry – it was how the structure was designed and built. A deeply religious man, Gaudí believed that because nature was the closest to God, it embodied perfection. Therefore, to create a house of worship that is truly worthy of God, he incorporated nature into his designs, which you can see in the interior columns as they look like trees branching out into the ceiling. Even when you walk down the stairs inside the tower, as you look down, the winding staircase looks like the Golden Ratio. It’s honestly one of the most unique experiences I’ve ever had and a visit I cannot recommend enough – you can spend a few hours in here without even realizing it!
If you choose to pay more for tower entrance, the Nativity tower is recommended as it has a more unobstructed view than the Passion tower (which is still under construction). It is a timed entry so do not be late! (Note: They also provide lockers for you to leave your belongings as bags are not allowed).
Gaudí’s designs can be seen all throughout Barcelona. His main patron was the wealthy businessman Eusebi Güell (whose net worth at the time would make him a billionaire in our current economy) who met him at the 1878 World’s Fair in Paris and was the first person to understand his vision and innovation. As a result, Güell began to commission him for buildings around the city – of which one of the earlier works was Palau Güell.
Palau Güell Entrance Fee: €12
You can purchase tickets online in advance here
You can pick up a free audioguide at the entrance and learn about the history of the relationship between Güell and Gaudí. It also explains the design of the house – how it is centered around the main room for entertaining high society guests (which, by the way, has an amazing ceiling) and the front area where guests entered in horse-drawn carriages through the iron gates.
I would actually recommend visiting this site so that you can see and understand the progression and innovation of Gaudí’s designs over time. It gets a little pricey to visit all of the Gaudí buildings so I would place Palau Güell quite high on the list to see.
One of the iconic areas in Barcelona, Parc Güell started out as a housing development for the wealthy that ultimately proved to be unsuccessful and ended up as a municipal garden. Here is where you can see the notable multi-colored mosaic salamander called El Drac on the stairs – just be warned that unless you go extremely early in the morning before the park officially opens, it is very likely that you won’t be able to take a good photo without all the tourists swarming around in it.
Park Güell Entrance Fee: €7,50
It is cheaper to purchase the tickets online than in person. You can purchase them in advance here
Most of the park is free to roam around but to go up to the Monumental Zone, you do need to purchase a ticket to enter. The ticket also allows entry into the Gaudí House Museum. It is highly advised to purchase a ticket in advance as they tend to sell out quickly (the park limits the amount of visitors to decrease the impact of foot traffic).
DID YOU KNOW?:
The Hypostyle Room Interior has a ceiling formed with small domes using the Catalan vault technique that appears to be a prelude to the surrealist movement
Tibidabo is a mountain overlooking Barcelona with a fantastic view of the Mediterranean. The summit of the mountain has a gorgeous church called Sagrat Cor and next to it is one of the oldest, functioning amusement parks in Europe called Tibidabo Amusement Park. There are a few ways to get to the park but I recommend taking the funiculare to the top for an unobstructed view.
HOW TO GET THERE:
Take the S1 or S2 from Plaça de Catalunya to Peu del Funicular, change to Vallvidrera Funicular and afterwards continue on Bus 111
Duration: 1 h
We skipped the amusement park because it’s really for children but “Red Aeroplane” is almost 100 years old and still one of the most popular rides to experience there so if anything, that would be the one ride to go on. What we ended up doing was going up Sagrat Cor to take in the view of the city. Entrance to the church itself is free but to get to the first viewing platform, you have to purchase a ticket. Once you get to the first viewing platform, you can continue to climb the stairs to get all the way to the top!
Sagrat Cor Lift Fee: €3,50
Barcelona Cathedral is a Gothic cathedral that dates as far back as the 13th century, steeped in rich history, and is one of the most impressive sites to see in the city. Entrance is free and it is still an operating church so there is still mass – please be respectful of the actual congregants and refrain from taking photos while service is taking place. Your shoulders must also be covered and please make sure to cover your knees.
The most famous street in Barcelona, La Rambla is a tree-lined pedestrian street that is packed with shops, boutiques, flower markets, and street mosaics. You can find the Christopher Columbus monument at one end of La Rambla (depends on where you start your stroll) and you can also stop by Palau de la Virreina, which hosts temporary art exhibits. While you are walking through the street, you can visit El Bosc de Les Fades (Forest of the Fairies), which is right next to the Wax Museum. It’s a great place to take pictures and relax by enjoying sangria and cocktails.
Obviously, if you are walking on La Rambla, you will most certainly walk past La Boqueria. It is the largest – and one of the oldest – food market in all of Europe and has plenty of stalls selling cheese, ham, sweets, fruits, spices, and more. The food can be a hit or miss but it’s a great way of trying interesting fruits (like dragonfruit) for really cheap and you can purchase authentic saffron for an affordable price here.
Casa Milà, known as La Pedrera, was designed by Gaudí in the early 1900s and is a prime example of not just Gaudí’s famed work but of prime modernist architecture. What makes this building so unique is that it is still operating as a private residence! There is a separate entrance for residents of La Pedrera so it is a very interesting juxtaposition to tour the museum portion as well as the rooftop while there are still people living there. It is definitely worth going all the way to the top to see the “Garden of Warriors”, which refers to the chimneys as they look like they’re protecting the whole building.
General Entrance Fee: €22
Another Gaudí masterpiece, this building is worth seeing alone for its stunning amazing technicolor. One of the most popular features in the entire house is the roof terrace that has a famous dragon back design. But then again, all of Gaudí’s work have amazing rooftops. For some unique photography, some great subjects are the blue lightwell, the catenary arches (the loft has sixty!) and if you have a telescopic lens, the ceiling and the stained glass windows (they make for some incredible photos).
General Entrance Fee: €28,50
Tickets are €4 cheaper if purchased online – you can buy them in advance here
OTHER TIPS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
- Gothic Quarter (located right by Barcelona Cathedral)
- Picasso Museum (on Sundays, entrance is free)
- Arco de Triunfo (Barcelona’s version of Arc de Triomf)