Here at Totally Spain we’ve been planning itineraries to Spain and Portugal for 16 years and thought it was high time we wrote about the amazing architecture in Gaudí’s Barcelona…
Is any trip to Spain complete without experiencing Antoni Gaudí’s architecture? We think the answer is ‘no’ which is why so many of our clients choose to spend a few days in Barcelona. Spain’s most famous architect never disappoints, and each year, more and more visitors seek out and enjoy his wildly imaginative creations. Although many of the most famous sites are located within the city centre, you will thank us for planning your trip well in advance to make the most of your time in the Catalan capital.
How to See Gaudí’s Barcelona in Style
The worst thing you can do is to book your flights and expect to organise everything else on the fly when you get to Barcelona. Not only do we recommend getting a great hotel located centrally, but you’ll also need to pre-book tickets if you want to avoid standing in line for hours to get into the likes of the Sagrada Familia, Park Guell and Casa Milá. And although Barcelona isn’t a massive city, you’ll thank yourself for researching how to get from place to place. If you are only here for a few days, we think you’d rather spend the time in a Gaudí building rather than trying to figure out the bus network or Metro infrastructure.
Although it might seem extravagant if you haven’t done it before, we always recommend taking privately guided tours to help you to really get under the skin of Gaudí. Just like his buildings, he was a very complex individual – often brushed off as simply a wild and crazy architect. He had a firm set of beliefs and shows progression from project to project and a local expert can help identify aspects of his character and personality in the front of your very eyes in a way that an audio guide or guide book simply can’t do. And in case that doesn’t convince you, perhaps the pedigree of our guides might swing it for you. One of our local guides, Ana, is married to a Mila who is directly descended from the family who commissioned Casa Milá. And the great grandfather of another guide, Oriol, was responsible for the construction of Casa Calvet, one of the first apartments designed by Gaudí. As you might imagine, it’s worth planning ahead to have a private guide of this calibre taking you around Barcelona!
Of course, it’s not just the visits that need planning. In addition to a great hotel, you also want to enjoy Barcelona’s gastronomy. Again, the timetable and logistics are key here. After touring the Sagrada Familia, you do not want to be trekking about trying to find a nice place to eat. Research beforehand (or get us to help out) because you didn’t come to Barcelona to starve. If you haven’t been to Spain before, you should know that mealtimes are a little different here. And ordering the best tapas often involves standing around and walking from bar to bar, so leave this until later in the evening when you’ll have time to unwind after the sightseeing. We always recommend a comfortable place for a menu del dia or a la carte lunch in the middle of the day. You might want to consider a gastronomy tour or tapas guide to see the best markets, tascas and taverns while in Barcelona.
How Much Gaudí is Too Much?
If you’ve a soft spot for UNESCO sites, you’ll probably want to visit all seven of the Gaudí properties we recommend below which are on the World Heritage list. They are all located in or near Barcelona and, according to the World Heritage list, they “testify to Gaudí’s exceptional creative contribution to the development of architecture”.
If you are dazzled by the choice you probably want some help identifying the best locations or the “must-sees”. After 16 years of planning itineraries, we’ve mastered the act of knowing how to schedule itineraries and one of our skills is knowing how much is too much. When it comes to Gaudí’s Barcelona, we recommend no more than three different locations for a family or four sites for a small group. Even if you have an insatiable interest in Gaudí, unless you have more than three days in Barcelona, we’d still probably recommend taking on no more than five locations. So here goes – which ones are you going to see?
1 Park Guell 1900-1914
What’s makes this park so special? We love it for its colourful mosaics, its sense of fun and the scale of the development. And the views of the city are amazing from here. That’s probably why we recommend it as one of the first things you see – because you get a great perspective on Gaudí’s Barcelona. The architect was originally commissioned to take on this former housing estate back in 1883. He lived here on site from 1906 until 1925 and you can visit where he lived which is now the Gaudí Museum. When you are here, make sure to see the hypostyle room, the dragon stairway, the Greek Theatre and the Portico. And those benches! You’ll see a lot of the trademark trencadis for which Gaudí is famous. You can read lots more about the park in our post Is it worth paying to see Gaudí’s Park Guell in Barcelona? where you can learn why the Town Hall started charging for access to this park to reduce the numbers and protect the site.
2 Casa Milá 1906-1910
We like to contrast the expanse of a park with one of Gaudí’s private residences and it’s hard to beat the curvy Casa Milá which is nicknamed La Pedrera (The Stone Quarry) after its façade in limestone. You’ll find the building right in the city centre on the Paseo de Gracia in the Eixample district. Completed in 1910, it is another of the iconic symbols of Barcelona and draws over 1 million visitors so the queues are long here. But they are so worthwhile – once you have your ticket, the lines and shapes you encounter here are stunning. It’s more of a sculpture than a building. We love the iron gate at the entrance and the rounded archways and curved interior patio also. And the shapes and figures up on the roof are very special. Nothing about this house is uniform and that’s what makes it so worthwhile.
3 Sagrada Familia 1883- (work continues to this day)
And from a residence to Gaudí’s crazy basilica that is still being completed. This Christian temple was originally commissioned back in 1883. Gaudí worked on it fulltime from 1915 until his death in 1926. He even lived on site in the months before his passing and his remains were buried in the crypt. Ninety years on and it is the most famous and spectacular of Gaudí’s works and the most visited too. The Gothic-inspired structure attracted a whopping 3.7m people in 2015 so you do not want to turn up here without a ticket. Even if you have visited here before, it’s well worth a return trip because so much is changing as the project is finally approach completion – it is hoped to be finished for the centenary of the architect’s passing in 2026. You cannot come to Barcelona and not see this.
4 Casa Battlo 1904-1906
We also like to program a visit to Casa Batllo which attracts just under 1 million visitors a year so you’ll need your tickets pre-booked as with the other locations. The wonderfully elegant balconies set the scene for what is the most organically shaped home you’re likely to see. This is a photographer’s dream house as every angle, every turn is superbly finished. We adore the fittings here and did you know that you can purchase some of these in the store and online? They make for some pretty amazing gifts.
Four sites are probably enough for anybody with a passing curiosity for the architect but if you’ve come to Barcelona purely to see Gaudí – you’ll want a few more….
5 Palau Guell 1886-1889
One of the lesser known sights despite its urban location just off the Ramblas in downtown Barcelona. The highlight of this family residence is perhaps the organ but you’ll also enjoy the private and public sections of this space. Explore the stables, the many wonderful arches and ceilings, and the rooftop. As with many of the other sites, check for live music events and other exhibitions on the Palace’s website and social media channels.
6 The Crypt at Colonia Guell 1898-1917
The Colonia is an industrial development for a textile factory located outside the city of Barcelona so you need to take the train or engage the services of a private driver. We wrote about it in our post on Barcelona Delivers Differently. The crypt is the only element by Gaudí here but you’ll find yourself drawn to many of the other buildings designed by other architects. We love the Ca L’Espinal but there’s plenty more to stop and look at as you walk around the area. Gaudi had a lifelong interest in supporting workers rights and it is to mark this ambition that we think it is worth a visit.
7 Casa Vicens 1883-1888
Opened to the public in November 2017, this house was commissioned by a stockbroker back in 1883. Built between 1883 and 1885 as a summer house for the Vicens family by Gaudí (making it one of his first major commissions, along with the Capricho in Cantabria which we write about below), it was declared Unesco World Heritage in 2005. Quirky fact – did you know that the main gates at Park Guell actually came from Casa Vicens?
Still Want More?
Gaudí’s Earlier Work in Barcelona
Not many people realise but the lampposts in Barcelona’s Plaza Reial was one of Gaudí’s first commissions and they’re bang smack in the centre of city. If you feel the need for some park life in the city centre, check out one of Barcelona’s best loved parks and gaze at the fountain in Park de la Ciutadella which was designed by Josep Fontserè i Mestre who hired an unknown student draughtsman by the name of Gaudí to help out.
Gaudí’s Contemporaries in Barcelona
If you’ve never been to Barcelona, you can get a great flavour of the city here in this great video which outlines lots of the city’s top sights to see and we can help you put together a great program. But if you’re a serious fan of Modernist architecture, you’ll just want to focus on Gaudí and his contemporaries. We always recommend the stunning Palau de la Musica from 1908 designed by modernist Lluís Domènech i Montaner as an excellent example of Catalan modernism. We also love the Palau Nacional by Josep Puig i Cadafalch built for the International Expo of 1929, which is now home of the Museu Nacional d’Art Catalan. We can put together a detailed itinerary of other Modernist structures in the city if this is of interest to you.
Gaudí Outside Catalonia
El Capricho de Gaudí was built in Comillas from 1883-1885 so if you’d like to see another region within Spain and take the opportunity to visit one of Gaudí’s earliest creations, you should take the short internal flight to Santander and visit the Capricho de Gaudí nearby. We’ve explained why we value it in Gaudi in Cantabria – Why Architecture Fans Must Visit El Capricho and highly recommend the English guided tour. For more info on Cantabria, see our posts here.