While our first couple days in the Barcelona area were spent exploring the Gothic Quarter and the city of Girona, the next two days were spent exclusively in the city of Barcelona, taking in several popular attractions.
Here are a few highlights:
Palau de La Musica or the Palace of Catalan Music – The Palace of Catalan Music is used for concerts and cultural performances all year long. While I’m sure the music is incredible, the building has so much more to offer. The Palace itself is an architectural and artistic wonder (inside and outside). We were first enchanted by the Palace as we approached the building, taking in its amazing facade. The multicolored pillars, ornate arches and detailed sculptures were captivating, and we weren’t even inside yet!
To enter…..you either need to purchase a guided tour, a self-guided tour, or a ticket to an actual concert. General admission with an excellent self-guided audio tour is only around $17 and is extremely worth it. The tour is about 50 minutes and you can start and stop at all of the magical locations to take in every inch of this unique venue. Inside, art lovers will be sure to admire the beautiful stained glass, mosaic tiles, and the integration of multi-faceted artworks all creating a feeling of chaos and peace at the same time (you can easily get that feeling that “there’s so much going on that I don’t even know where to look”).
While there, be sure to take note of the many ornate roses on the ceiling and the enormous, equally ornate stone trees that flank either side of the main stage. We sat in the balcony for several minutes just staring at the ceiling in awe. I can honestly say that this has to be one of the most highly underrated attractions in all of Barcelona. It is a must-see if you like architecture, art and, of course, music!
Sagrada Familia – This is, without question, the most iconic and recognizable feature of Barcelona. Construction of the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia began in 1882. Antoni Gaudi took over construction a year later and is most associated with this historical site (and many other architectural wonders around the city). And for more than 140 years, the Sagrada Familia – a World Heritage Site – has been under construction and is still not fully complete. While walking up to the Basilica, what’s most noticeable are the many, multi-height, towering spires, helping to make it the tallest religious building in Europe (but not taller than the highest hill in Barcelona – Montjuic, more on this below.) When completed, the structure will have 18 towers, 12 representing the apostles of Christ, four for the evangelists, one for the Virgin Mary and the final one for Jesus Christ.
And as you get closer to the building, the three incredible facades now come into view, representing, in artistic detail, the Nativity, the Passion and the Glory. And like the Palau de la Musica, the story and beauty of the Sagrada Familia become even more vibrant on the inside. While inside, viewers should note the intricate symbolism used by Gaudi to represent religious symbols, saints and other disciples of Christ, and even nature.
More specifically, the interior has dozens of columns and several naves that are “forest-like”, featuring trees, animals/bugs and more. Plus, there is an absence of straight lines (that you really can’t find in nature). There is too much symbolism and detail to review in just one post. But know that you can easily spend several hours touring the Basilica and still not see everything (especially because it’s still being built)!
Montjuic – Our final stop on our Barcelona highlights tour included a trek up to Montjuic, the highest hill in Barcelona. To reach the hill, we took the most picturesque route – a cable car up to the top, where we reached our first stop, Montjuic Castle. Although I’m sure this is a hit for some, this was a big miss for me. It seemed more like an abandoned fort than a castle. We walked around the perimeter to take in the views of the city, but after about 20 minutes, we were ready to take the cable car to our next destination – the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (National Museum of Catalan Art).
However, before arriving to the Museum, we had the pleasure of getting somewhat lost along our way and ended up walking through the Archaeology Museum gardens – which were beautiful and a great place to snap a few photos. While on our walk, we also stopped by for a quick view of Olympic Park and the Olympic Ring, a little underwhelming but I’m still glad that I saw it.
Sadly, the museum was also a little disappointing – but I think we’ve been spoiled by the many art museums we’ve been to throughout our travels and even our own Art Institute of Chicago, which I think is one of the best in the world. But still, if art is your thing and you’ve got the time to venture up the hill, the Museum is at least worth an hour of exploring, especially the modern section.
Granja Dulcinea – Although not technically a historic site or monument, Granja Dulcinea is one of the best places to grab Spanish hot chocolate and churros in Barcelona. Luckily, this gem was just a couple blocks away from our hotel in the Gothic Quarter which made it very easy (a little too easy one might say) to stop there on our way back to our room. There are so many delicious treats here, it’s hard to choose (check out their small but mightily display window). If you’re having trouble deciding, you can’t go wrong with a cup of dipping chocolate (easily shareable by two people) and one or two servings of churros. You will leave here wanting more…which is the reason why we stopped here two days in a row.
And that’s all we have time for today! Stay tuned for my final day in the Barcelona area where we ventured outside the city to Montserrat and wine country!