Barcelona is a great Mediterranean city with its own identity, which is quite different from the rest of Spain. It’s a major tourist destination. The European youth goes to the nearby Costa Brava for their summer holidays and spring breaks. For everybody else, it’s a destination to enjoy great food, sunny weather, Gaudi and much more. So, join their ranks and visit this city. The best time to go is in the Spring and Autumn. Then the crowds are a bit thinner and the weather is nice but not too hot the walk around all day.
There is a lot to do in Barcelona, so stay for a minimum of 2 days to get a good impression of the city. In 3 days you should be able to see most of it. Stay a bit longer if you want to enjoy the beaches, have a day trip to nearby Tarragona or visit the Dali museum in Figueres.
Day 1 Montjuïc, museums and views
We like to walk to counterbalance the extra eating and drinking we usually do on a holiday. But alternatively, Barcelona has an excellent public transport system to get you to all the major sites.
Placa Espanya Former bull ring
Start the day on Place Espanya, here you’ll find the former bullfighting arena. This is a good example of the difference between Catalunya and Spain, as opposed to in the rest of Spain, bullfighting is banned in Catalunya. So, the former bull ring is turned into a shopping mall which offers some good vistas of the city from the upper deck for free.
Access to Montjuïc
Make your way towards the hill of Montjuïc. Here you’ll find great museums, nice parks, a castle and great viewpoints of the city and the harbour.
Caixa Forum Barcelona
Check out the website of the Caixa Forum Barcelona, this art centre hosts a variety of art exhibition, theatre and much more. It’s not so expensive and there are major exhibitions from time to time.
National Art Museum of Catalonia
As you climb the steps weaving through the traders and the tourists, you’ll get increasingly better views of the city. Once you’re at the top of the stairs you are in front of the National Art Museum of Catalonia. Although I can understand that this museum is not to everyone’s taste, I can’t recommend it enough. The museum houses an outstanding collection of Medieval Art. Inside the museum you’ll find rebuilt churches with original Romanesque frescos, a lot of crucifixes, iconography and reliquary art. The building itself is also beautiful, especially the large hall.
Fundacio Joan Miro
A little further up the hill lies the Fundacio Joan Miro. This modern art museum was started by the artist himself and has a big collection of his works. The museum is housed in a nice modern building with beautiful views of the city. The naïve style of Joan Miro may not be for everyone, but the broad range of paintings owned by the museum gives a good insight into the artistic development of Miro. This, in turn, gives the viewer a better understanding of the art and may even convert some of you.
Further up the hill lies the Montjuïc Castle. This castle was built in the 17th century to control the city as Catalunya had fallen under Spanish rule. The fortress was used to bombed the city on several occasion and was the place of executions during the Spanish civil war. Now it’s a good place to relax and walk around and it has great views of both the city and the nearby harbour.
Funicular de Montjuïc
You can walk down or use the Funicular de Montjuïc.
Eglasia de Sant Pau del Camp
Near the end of the Funicular, you’ll find the Sant Pau del Camp church. This is the oldest church of Barcelona, the current church replaced an earlier church which Muslim troops destroyed in 985.
Centre de Cultura Contemporania de Barcelona
If you have some energy left, go to the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona. It’s open until 19.30 so it can entertain you while you have to wait for the Spanish dinner time to arrive.
Eat something at the Carrer dels Tallers or the nearby Rambla.
Day 2 Gaudi
The theme of this day is Gaudi. Although there is much more to Barcelona than Gaudi, he is an important reason for the popularity of the city. So today we will visit the best sites. The enormous popularity of Gaudi has led to a highly inflated entrance price to most of the buildings associated with him. Therefore it’s best to pick some sites and view the rest from outside unless you’re a mega fan.
Palau Güell is one of the first works of Gaudi in Barcelona. It was commissioned by the same Güell family who would later ask Gaudi to design the famous Park Güell. The house was finished in 1890 at was the home of the Güell family until they moved to the Park Güell. Highlights are the huge central hall with its staircase and the rooftop with its eccentric chimneys. This is also the cheapest house designed by Gaudi in Barcelona to visit.
Illa de la Discòrdia
This city block on Passeig de Gràcia has a nice concentration of modernist buildings, the Casa Batlló and the Casa Amatller are both here.
After his work on the Park Güell, Josep Batlló hired Gaudi to remodel his home. Gaudi did this in a spectacular way. The front of the house looks like it belongs in a fairytale. There are almost no straight lines in sight. Much of the interior has just recently been restored back to the original state. The best rooms in the house are on the noble floor with its beautiful windows onto the Passeig de Gràcia. There are several different tickets available, including ones where you can visit the house with fewer visitors at a premium price.
Although not designed by Gaudi, this modernist building designed by Josep Puig i Cadafalch lies next to Gaudi’s Casa Batllo and is part of the so-called Illa de la Discòrdia (Block of discord) of several modernist buildings. This city block provides a good opportunity to compare the different modernist architects.
Fundació Antoni Tàpies
Around the corner lies the Fundació Antoni Tàpies. This museum is dedicated to the work of Antoni Tàpies, a modern Spanish painter. The museum usually has works by Antoni Tàpies on display, together with exhibitions of works by other contemporary artists.
La Pedrera / Casa Mila
A bit further to the north, along the Passeig de Gràcia lies the Casa Milà or La Pedrera as it is also known. This is the last private residence designed by Gaudi, who finished his work here in 1912. It was not received well when it was finished, hence its nickname la Pedrera, the stone quarry. Soon after it was built the Mila family, dissatisfied with much of Gaudi’s work sold the furniture and redid the walls. The building deteriorated after their death and only in the 1980s were efforts made to restore the building back to its original state. This is another Gaudi building with premium access tickets.
The most famous of all Gaudi buildings is the Sagrada Familia. This neo-gothic church is still not finished and is already being restored. This is another of Gaudi’s buildings which divides opinions. I’m personally on the side of George Orwell who called it “one of the most hideous buildings in the world”. But I understand the attraction it holds to people.
That said, the entrance price is ridiculously high for a church and I would advise people to just walk around the building. This gives a perfect impression of what the building looks like and saves you money for dinner later.
It’s only fitting to end the day back at another Güell assignment. This time Güell asked Gaudi to design a whole housing development. It was a complete failure and only two houses were built, one of which Gaudi bought himself as it was not getting sold.
The park has two parts, a part which you can enjoy for free. Here you can walk around in the shade, enjoy the little quirks designed by Gaudi and enjoy the views over the city from one of the many vistas the park offers. The other part comprises of Gaudi’s house and the pavilion, this area is only accessible with a ticket. Ticket prices are a bit more reasonable here, so if you haven’t had enough of Gaudi give it a try and enjoy some more of his creations up close.
Day 3 Ancient Barcelona
After all this modernist architecture you would think Barcelona is foremost a modern city, but it also has a very old historic heart. The Barri Gothic, or the gothic district, is the old city centre with medieval alleyways and buildings dating all the way back to Roman times.
Cathedral of Santa Eulalia
In the heart of this district lies the Cathedral of Santa Eulalia. This cathedral was consecrated in 1339, but the façade was not finished until the 19th century. In the next-door historical museum, you can see the foundations of the earlier Visigoth church.
MUHB Plaça del Rei
To see some of the Roman and Visigoth remains, visit the Museu d’Historia de Barcelona (MUHB) at Plaça del Rei. Here you’ll find the remains of the Roman town, it’s shops and industries and the finds associated with those activities. Additionally, there are also Visigoth remains of a church and a cloister. It’s a great museum to get an idea of the early origins of the city. The museum also includes the Chapel of Santa Àgata from 1302.
Musee Frederic Mares
If you like ancient and medieval sculptures, visit the Musee Frederic Mares. It has a good collection of sculptures up to the 14th century. Frederic Mares was a collector of many things, which becomes obvious if you see his collector’s cabinets. This is an enormous random collection of antiques and curiosities spread out over 17 halls.
Temple of Augustus
South of the cathedral stand four remaining Corinthian columns of the temple of Augustus. This shrine to the imperial cult has been incorporated into the surrounding buildings and can be visited for free.
Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar
A bit further towards the sea lies the Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar. This gothic church was built in the 14th century. Much of its interior decoration has been lost due to extensive fires during the Spanish Civil war.
Pablo Picasso moved to Barcelona with his family when he was thirteen. Here he followed some classes at the art academy before he moved to Madrid and later Paris. This museum has an excellent collection of his earliest work and gives a great impression of his development as an artist. Sadly, the collection lacks good pieces from his later work, but the insight into his early development still makes it a must-see for Picasso fans.