The colors of Barcelona are vivid, the vibe is energetic. It is a sophisticated city hugging the coast of the Mediterranean with a thriving economy, and an excellent quality of life. The creativity and the culture are vibrant and exciting. The weather is suitable with days filled with brilliant sunshine. It is a place uniquely its own, the Capital of Catalonia.
Barcelona ticks several boxes for an ideal vacation. It offers beaches for relaxing, mountains and hills for climbing, a rich history with old world charm for exploring, unique architecture for marveling, a seaport for cruising, a happening night life for partying, and excellent food for dining. No matter how long you stay, there is no chance of running out of things to do.
After two years of limited travel, I could not contain myself in one place any longer. The world is vast and I want to see as much of it as I can. Usually, when I travel, I like to stay as long as possible and spur off from my main destination with day trips to surrounding areas. With today’s restrictions and travel limitations, I decided to take a different type of trip and stay only in one location for a shorter time.
Barcelona has been on my bucket list for quite some time. Spain was open for tourism, so it became my destination of choice. A few years ago, I spent several weeks in Spain, yet denied myself Barcelona. In a way I am glad I did because this trip allowed me to just focus on one place.
There is such a diverse culture in Barcelona, it feels vastly different from most of Spain. Catalan’s have their own language, which enriches their own flavor of art, architecture, music, and dance. You can lose yourself for days exploring the twisted and narrow streets of the Gothic Quarter, or shopping Las Ramblas, the longest main street in Europe. My favorite thing was learning more about the Catalan Renaissance. More specifically, getting to know Gaudi's art and architecture.
Often, when marveling over images of Barcelona, Antoni Gaudi’s architecture is in the picture. While Barcelona is so much more than Gaudi, you can hardly escape him in the city. He left bits of himself everywhere. One place I would love to visit is inside his brilliant mind. I can only imagine how fascinating it must have been. Since that is impossible, the next best thing is to explore his creations, and that is easy. Undoubtedly, his most famous, must be La Sagrada Familia. After going to the temporary Gaudi exhibition at Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, La Sagrada Familia would be my first Gaudi visit.
I have yet to meet a church that I did not like. They amaze and delight me no matter where they fall on the timeline. I started this trip to Barcelona by visiting the historic Barcelona Cathedral because it was right across the square from my hotel. This Gothic cathedral had its groundbreaking in 1298 and its central tower was completed in 1913. Beautiful, imposing, grand, yet familiar. This was a huge contrast to my visit to La Sagrada Familia. It was like nothing I had ever seen before. The basilica was started on March 19, 1882, and the scheduled completion year is 2026, representative for the century of Gaudi’s death.
Every element on the exterior and interior of La Sagrada Familia has symbolic significance. While it felt like I was entering a place of worship it was so overwhelmingly strange and eccentric that I had to catch my breath. Every element is inspired by nature, and every measurement has a mathematical reason that resonates throughout the monument. The soaring ceilings are held up by pillars resembling a canopy of trees in various heights, materials, and circumferences to hold the weight of the structure above. You feel like you are walking through a forest. Colors flood the basilica. I visited in the afternoon, so oranges and yellows were the dominant colors bathing the walls and the floors. The way the patterns formed and covered everything it landed on, including other visitors, it reminded me of a kaleidoscope I had as a child. Visually stunning, spiritually moving and an architectural genius like no other. If you visit in the morning, I am told you see mostly blues and greens. No matter the time of day, it is a must see for anyone visiting this cosmopolitan city.
Next stop Park Güell. This private park is situated on Carmel Hill offering amazing views of the city. The construction started during an urbanization movement during 1900 and was completed in 1913, however it was not officially open until almost a decade later. In 1984 it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The park was originally designed for a master planned community, much like the ones lining Highway 380. The park was never completed but it is still arguably one of the most beautiful parks on the planet. Gaudi abandoned constraints and let his imagination go wherever it wanted to take him. The result was a playful playground for both the body and mind. One of the most beautiful parts of the park is the continuous bench quilted in vividly colorful ceramic shard mosaics. It is surprisingly comfortable and offers an expansive vista of the city. There is a fee to enter the park, but you can stay as long as you like. It is a perfect place for a long walk and soaking up the warm Mediterranean sun.
A trip to Barcelona cannot be complete without a visit to Casa Batlló, located at number 43 on Paseo de Garcia. In 2021, it was named World's Best Landmark. It was a renovation from a previousbuilding built in 1877 it was completed in 1906. Gaudi had the confidence to take on the project and was given full artistic license by the property owner Josep Batlló. Gaudi redesigned everything from the facade to the interior, making it a continuous dialogue of art and function. Gaudi never explained his design, or inspiration for the dwelling. However, the marine-inspired facade is one of the two most popular interpretations. It is easy to get sucked into a jubilant feeling as the light's glow reflects off the vivid ceramic scale like tiles, breathing life and movement onto the urban street. The Inside curves and bends like fluid nature, with each room holding a new surprise, full of disguised function behind color and whimsy. Casa Batlló is also known as The House of the Dragon, because of its interpreted reference to the Legend of St. George, patron saint of Catalonia. It was he who killed the dragon to save the princess. Many see the scales formed by tiles, the ribs in the columns and the sword through the roof. Most people agree that Gaudi never explained so that each individual can draw their own conclusion based on their individual experience inside.
One place I cannot recommend enough is Palau de la Música Catalana. It was completed in 1908, by architect Lluis Domenech i Montaner. It is considered the jewel of Catalan Art Nouveau. There is not another concert hall of this style listed by UNESCO. If you cannot attend a concert, book a tour. Plan to arrive early and visit Cafe Palau, it is absolutely delicious to look at. Have a coffee or a meal but do take time to feast your eyes on this beautiful cafe. After a leisurely coffee, go on a tour. They offer several in English throughout the day. It will give you a complete history of the venue as well as a taste of the acoustics. Have your camera ready, because after you catch your breath, you will want to snap away at the stunning interior auditorium. The skylight is so magical it is hard to believe it can structurally exist at all. It defies gravity as it captures light, spilling over the lavish concert hall below. The whole experience is like entering an enchanted music box. Don't miss this experience.
There are so many other things to do in this captivating city. Get lost in the Gothic Quarter, dunk into charming coffee shops or tapa houses and while the day away. Visit the aquarium and stroll around the marina. Take a Hop-On-Hop-Off bus tour to get an overview of the city. Go to a soccer game and party at the clubs afterward. The options are endless. That is what makes Barcelona a great fit for any traveler. Any time of year is a good time to visit. Soak up some Catalonian sun, experience the culture and really absorb the colors of Barcelona!