Beautiful Barcelona: City of Modernism

by Gray Cargill on June 14, 2011

Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Familia

I don’t know about you, but one of the things I enjoy doing when I travel is wander the streets of a city and check out its architecture and public art. It’s free (on the outside), it’s good exercise, and it gives me a feel for the personality of the place. I like to do this with or without company, but as a solo, I know I can take my time without worrying about whether or not my travel companion is bored. Each year, scores of tourists are drawn to Barcelona for the same reason, as the city is well-known for its architecture, heavily influenced by Catalan Modernism.

I’m woefully undereducated on this topic, so I’ll stick to what little I know in an attempt not to embarrass myself and let my photos do the rest of the talking for me. You can read more about Catalan Modernism at Wikipedia. The most well-known Modernist architecture in Barcelona is the handiwork of Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926), and after seeing his work in person, I’m convinced this man was a truly gifted and visionary architect. During my time in Barcelona, I purposefully hit the highlights of Gaudi’s works and also saw the works of some other gifted architects. I absolutely fell in love with the distinctive architecture of Barcelona.

Here are some examples of Catalan Modernism to be found in the city:

Sagrada Familia interior

La Sagrada Familia interior

La Sagrada Familia

(Location: Carrer Mallorca 401. Metro: Sagrada Familia. Admission is 12.50 Euros and the audioguide is another 4.) This is Antoni Gaudi’s masterpiece, although it still isn’t finished, long after his death. (Kudos to the craftsmen and construction workers who have contributed to this stunning work.) You can enjoy the exterior of the cathedral from the street for free, but I highly recommend you fork over the admission fee. If you think the outside is impressive, wait until you get a look at what’s going on inside. When I entered, I literally gasped in wonder at what I was seeing. It is the most beautiful and unique cathedral I’ve ever seen. Not to get too geeky on you, but I thought, “If there had been a church scene in the Lord of the Rings, it would have been modeled after this.” Try to get there 1st thing when it opens (9am) or late in the afternoon. But even if you have to wait in a long line (as I did), it’s worth it. I purchased the audio guide, though to be honest, I barely paid attention to it, as the visual overwhelmed the audio.

To see my full gallery of photos of Sagrada Familia, click here.

Parc Guell

Parc Guell

Parc Guell

(Location: Carrer d’Olot, 3. Metro: Lesseps, but it is still a long walk from there. Admission is free.) The first site I visited in Barcelona was Parc Guell, which is itself lovely, but also commands some great views of Barcelona (not as good as Montjuic, but good). This is another work of Gaudi’s. You can take the metro and then a bus to Parc Guell, or make the walk from the metro (a bit far); I took the hop-on, hop-off bus and it was a doable uphill climb to get there. I think a taxi in this case would be worth it.

Parc Guell unfolds in levels. Every time I walked up another level, I thought I was at the top, but no, there was yet another level to climb. I never did make it to the top before giving up. There are lovely wildflowers and structures and views; there are living statues and flamenco dancers and people selling trinkets. I thought it was pretty cool that the restrooms and cafe kitchen were built into the side of the hill in caves.  There is a patio here with tables and umbrellas overlooking a dirt plaza where you can enjoy a cold drink and a bite to eat while people-watching. The bathroom leaves a lot to be desired, but what can you expect? Bring toilet paper and something to dry your hands with.

To see my full gallery of photos of Parc Guell, click here.

Casa Mila

Casa Mila aka La Pedrera

Casa Mila (a.k.a. La Pedrera)

(Location: Passeig de Gracia #92. Metro: Diagonal. Admission: 11 Euros.) This is one of two spectacular Gaudi buildings along the Passeig de Gracia. There are metro stops along this lovely avenue, but I walked it, and I would recommend that to anyone in reasonably good health if the weather is nice. I started at Placa Catalunya and walked up to La Pedrera and back. You can tour La Pedrera and now I wish I had, but I was running out of time to visit La Ramblas and the port, so I just enjoyed the exterior of the building.

Casa Batllo

Casa Batllo

Casa Batllo

(Location: Passeig de Gracia #43. Metro: Passeig de Gracia. Admission: A whopping 17 Euros, which includes audio guide.) I expected to like La Pedrera more than Casa Batllo, but when I saw them in person, it was the other way around. This building is just endlessly fascinating to look at. The windows look like eye sockets in a skull, and there are skinny extrusions that look like leg bones coming down over them. Given the price of admission, though, I admired it from the outside of the building.

Casa Amatller

Casa Amatller

Casa Amatller

(Location: Passeig de Gracia 41, next to Casa Batllo. I cannot say what the admission is, as my cursory Internet research turned up a slew of contradictory information from free to 10 Euros.) This building is the handiwork of architect Josep Puig i Cadafalch. The clash of architectural styles between this and Gaudi’s building next door is striking. Both are beautiful in their own ways, and both are within the style of Modernism, but they are very, very different.

Palau de la Musica

Palau de la Musica

The Palau de la Musica Catalunya

(Location: Carrer Palau de la Musica 4-6, just off Via Laietana in the Barri Gotic section of Barcelona. Metro: Urquinaona. Admission: 12 Euros) This masterpiece was designed by Domenech i Montaner and is a UNESCO world cultural heritage site. I didn’t seek out the Music Palace, but happened to be walking past on Via Laietana on my way to and from the Picasso and City History Museums and saw this gorgeous building (read: shiny object) on a side street that drew me in. It nearly defies full building shots because the street is so narrow, and I didn’t have a wide angle lens on my DSLR. I’m disappointed that I didn’t take the time to tour the building, as I’ve heard it’s even more stunning inside.  One way to see the building is to attend a concert here.

Not all the remarkable architecture in Barcelona is Catalan Modernism, of course. Here are two more striking buildings:

Hugo Boss building

Hugo Boss building

The Hugo Boss building

(Location: Passeig de Gracia 83.) This super-cool looking building on Passeig de Gracia is not an example of Modernism but was designed by contemporary Japanese architect Toyo Ito. It is said he was influenced by Gaudi’s La Pedrera (which is across the street). There’s a two-story Hugo Boss store in this building, and I gather the upper floors are luxury apartments.

Torre Agbar

Torre Agbar

Torre Agbar

(Location: Avinguda Diagonal 209-211. Metro: Station Glories.) This uniquely-shaped building is so prominent on the Barcelona skyline that you really can’t ignore it. By all reports, the architect was aiming to evoke the sense of a water fountain with this building, but every time I saw it, I thought “Oh yes, there’s the giant penis again.” The building, which houses the Barcelona water company, is illuminated with color at night. I believe you can go inside but perhaps not up the tower.

To view my full Barcelona architectural gallery, click here.

Have you been to Barcelona? What’s your favorite architectural highlight of the city?

Gray July 8, 2011 at 6:03 am

Thank you. Yes, that is a very cool building.

GRRRL TRAVELER July 8, 2011 at 2:00 am

Beautiful photos and way to capture it all! Barcelona’s got some wonderfully funky architecture. I like the Hugo Boss building. Pretty cool.

Gray Cargill June 20, 2011 at 11:01 am

I’m so glad you liked it, Renee! If you like these photos, then yes, I think you’d love Barcelona.

Renee June 20, 2011 at 9:33 am

Wow….ok, I’ve put my eyes back into my head now….I am bowled over by this architecture. Gray, you and I definitely have similar tastes when it comes to sightseeing….these are gorgeous!! Now I have even more reasons to visit Barcelona…thanks for introducing me to Antoni Gaudi!

Gray June 20, 2011 at 5:57 am

Good to hear from you, Sebastian. I enjoyed both areas as well.

Sebastian June 19, 2011 at 2:09 pm

I love Barcelona. It’s such a great city! Especially I love to walk over the Rambla or chillax at the Maremagnum.

Gray June 17, 2011 at 11:29 am

@Juno and @Jenna – Thanks you guys! You’re so sweet to say so. I highly recommend everyone Barcelona who hasn’t. It’s a beautiful city with lots to do. I did, Jenna, get in lots of non-protest sightseeing, thanks. 🙂

Jenna Vandenberg June 17, 2011 at 12:42 am

Your post and pictures (stunning, as usual) make me want to visit Barcelona. Soon. Casa Mila looks especially cool. I hope you got in some non-protest sightseeing.

Juno June 17, 2011 at 12:08 am

Wow Gray, this is great! Amazing! Some of them look like pop out from children’s story book! And gorgeous 🙂

Gray Cargill June 16, 2011 at 6:22 am

No, Kris, but it IS an interesting coincidence.

Kris June 14, 2011 at 9:22 pm

I love Barcelona!! Note that Gaudi is the artist who gave us the adjective “gaudy” 🙂

Gray June 14, 2011 at 8:17 pm

@ehalvey – That sounds divine for December! I was in Las Vegas then, and it was really cold, like in the 40s. Sounds like I’d have been better off in Barcelona.
@JeffB – Yes, that sounds like me: Walking until you can’t walk any more. 🙂 Thanks for the tips on the Music Palace!

BarbC June 14, 2011 at 8:12 pm

Your wonderful reviews of Spain keep making me move it up higher on my bucket list… The only solo traveling that I have done has been London… I wonder how I’d manage in Spain since I speak no Spanish. My appetite for adventure grows…

Jeff B June 14, 2011 at 8:01 pm

Barcelona is the best city that I have visited for walking around and admiring the architecture. I usually walked every day until I could not walk any more! The Gaudi buildings are in incredible and I can not get enough of them. Casa Batillo is fantastic on the inside. Next time you go do not miss it.

The Palau de la Musica was also amazing. For those who are planning to visit you usually have to book the tour a couple of days ahead of time. You can also see a concert there which often cost less than the tour. They do not let you take picture inside but if you are sneaky you can snap off a couple.

It might be time to start planning another trip!

ehalvey June 14, 2011 at 7:43 pm

It was really mild, maybe close to 60? It was drizzly on our last day, but it was a nice change from snow covered, deep freeze Ireland at Christmas. It was nice because the crowds were thinner for the holidays.

Gray June 14, 2011 at 5:16 pm

I want to go back, too, @ehalvey. What was the weather like in December?

ehalvey June 14, 2011 at 2:42 pm

We loved walking around Barcelona this past December. We only had a short amount of time, so I didn’t get to see all of the Gaudi works. I could have stayed for years to just stare at the architecture. Definitely a city I want to come back and see more in depth!

Gray June 14, 2011 at 11:50 am

@Kent – Yes! Barcelona is the perfect city for just wandering. There’s so much to look at and do.
@Andi – It is. I’m convinced now. 🙂
@Barbara – I can see why Gaudi might not be everyone’s taste, but I found his style so creative, that I just couldn’t resist it.

Barbara June 14, 2011 at 11:25 am

Will visit Barcelona this summer and am looking forward to this. The architecture by Gaudi is visually surprising but, in photos I have seen, I find it a little gaudy to use a play on his name. I may change my mind when I see the buildings in person.

Andi of My Beautiful Adventures June 14, 2011 at 10:04 am

Absolutely one of the best cities in the world!

Kent @NVR Guys June 14, 2011 at 7:48 am

We loved Barcelona. One of our favorite activities is roaming the streets where ever we are. Barcelona is so ideal for this. We were blown away by La Sagrada Familia.

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