Spain’s second largest city and the capital of Catalonia, Barcelona is the 6th most populated city in the European Union. Barcelona was founded by the Romans as a military camp and later came to be known as the capital of the County of Barcelona during the middle ages. It also remained a flourishing city under the Crown of Aragon and is known for its deeply rooted cultural heritage and is one of the most important tourist centers across Europe. With a cultural history as rich as Barcelona and remarkable historic architecture, the city is one of the most important tourist destinations in the world.
If you’re wondering what to do in Barcelona, and looking for some serious understanding of its historical and architectural character, don’t look further than these 8 must sees that illustrate the unique personality of this awe-inspiring city.
By Rohit Agarwal
Designed by the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, the Sagrada Familia is a large Roman Catholic Church and a minor basilica. The church is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site; despite it being incomplete (expected to be completed by 2026). The church’s design was inspired by the imagination of a bookseller who had visited the Vatican and was star struck with the majesty of St. Peter’s Basilica. The result was a towering structure built in a distinctive Catalan architectural style known as Modernisme which borrows influences from the Late-Gothic and Art Nouveau architectural styles. The original design includes a total of 18 spires in ascending order based on the height of the 12 apostles of Jesus. The central spire (still incomplete) is supposed to represent Christ himself with a giant cross superimposed at the top, making it 170 meters tall. Make sure you visit one of the most iconic monuments in Barcelona to revere its grandeur.
A historic neighborhood in Barcelona, El Raval is closest to the city ports. The area was once prohibited for tourists to meander due to safety issues (infamous for several cabarets, prostitution and crime), but since a government cleanup in 1988, the streets of El Raval once again became a bustling tourist centre and are known for their extravagant nightlife and houses several bars and restaurants. El Raval was encased within the fort walls before they were all demolished in 1859 to allow expansion, and the paved streets and old world architecture are extremely enchanting. This area has a lot of energy and an eccentric vibe. Take up a guided tour to understand the history of El Raval and the significance of the various buildings and monuments.
Also known as the Barcelona Cathedral, the Cathedral of Santa Eulalia is the seat of the Archbishop of Barcelona and was built around the 13th-15th centuries. Built in the Gothic Revival architectural style, the church underwent a reconstruction in the 19th century. This resulted in a Neo-Gothic facade being added to the existing structure with stone gargoyles perched on the roof. The body of Saint Eulalia, the co-patron saint of Barcelona, is also entombed in the crypts of the church. The church also contains a cross from the historic Battle of Lepanto which was believed to have aided the victory over the Ottomans. The crypts also contain the tombs of Saint Raymond of Penyafort and several notable residents of Barcelona and bishops who served at the Cathedral.
The Port of Barcelona serves as the office of the Port of Barcelona built during the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. The area was formerly known as a rundown place with several rail yards, industrial buildings and abandoned warehouses etc. The rebuilding of the area has turned the Port of Barcelona into a sprawling attraction. The main building of the Port of Barcelona is built in striking art deco architecture with neo-gothic influences that is located in the centre of the Port. The area has several cafes, restaurants and a mall with an IMAX theatre.
Facing the Mediterranean Sea, Barcelona enjoys a mild climate throughout the year with warm dry summers and humid and mild winters. The temperatures usually range between 28 degrees to 4 degrees (82 to 39 Fahrenheit) throughout the year with most of the rainfall occurring during the months of August, September and October.
Built in a remarkable Modernist style of architecture, the Casa Milà is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in Barcelona. It was also designed by the Catalan architect, Antoni Gaudí, and was commissioned by Pere Milà i Camps and his wife Roser Segimon i Artells in 1912. The building is an architectural masterpiece with a self-supporting stone façade that provides the building with its characteristic look. Casa Milà is an amalgamation of two different blocks of the same buildings with a central courtyard that provides natural light to the 9 floors. Even the furniture inside the building, along with the various stone motifs, were built to match and complement the building’s exterior.
The National Museum of Art of Catalonia is located in Avinguda de la Reina Maria Cristina at the top of Montjuic inside a 19th century building with striking Italian-esque architecture. The museum is famous for its collection of Catalan art from the late 19th and 20th century as well as its Romanesque church paintings. The building itself itself is admired for its striking architecture. It is enormous, with over 290,000 articles and paintings housed in its various galleries. The galleries of the National Museum of Art of Catalonia house Romanesque paintings, Gothic art, Renaissance art, Baroque art, the Cambó Bequest, the Thyssen Bornemisza Collection and the Carmen Thyssen Bornemisza Collection along with a Modern art collection.
One of the masterpieces of Antoni Gaudí, Casa Batlló is located right in the heart of the city of Barcelona. The house was originally built by Gaudí in 1877 in a plain style totally devoid of the modernist twists which are displayed today. The current look of the house was designed by Gaudí in 1904, which was refurbished over the years to the building we see today. The building displays the Modernisme style of architecture in the most flamboyant of ways and is considered to be Gaudí’s finest work. The roof is designed to resemble the arch on a dragon’s back, and a distinctively Art Nouveau façade decorated with a mosaic made with colorful ceramic tiles.
Park Güell is a public park which contains several historical monuments, archeological sites, and gardens which demonstrate the Catalan architectural style. The construction of the park started in 1900 and continued until 1914. It was opened to the public in 1926 and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984. The park was built on the site of a failed housing development and its restoration as a tourist center was inspired by the garden city movement popularized in England. The park contains several monuments and sculptures all designed keeping the Modernist design in mind. Park Güell is characterized by its columned pathways, tiled mosaics, fountains and the residence of Antoni Gaudí himself known as the Gaudí House Museum. The house contains several pieces of furniture and other articles designed by Gaudí. It also holds various photos and documents that depict the life and times of the iconic architect.
Barcelona has everything to offer to a modern tourist, with its pristine Mediterranean beaches, historical sites and monuments, a scintillating cuisine and a pleasant climate. Most of Barcelona can be covered on foot in two days, thanks to the wonderful public transport services that eliminate the need of hired taxis to get around the town. Make sure you have a look at the places mentioned in this list to get a great insight in the history and culture of Barcelona.
Want to explore Barcelona some more? Make a personalized day-by-day itinerary using your interests and budget in moments at Utrip.com, or check out the Discover Barcelona page to find more restaurants, bars, museums, shopping, and more!
Rohit Agarwal is a contributor for Transindiatravels.com which is one of the best travel websites about India and its incredible travel sites. He is a professional architect and likes to travel around the world in search of the marvels of ancient and modern architecture.