Barcelona is one of my favourite European cities. Clean, organized and easy to get around, with a smorgasbord of art, architecture and design as well as fashion and food, it’s a city for aesthetes and hedonists. I’ve already written about some hipster things to do in Barcelona and about the major museums included in the city’s art card. But on a first visit, it’s logical to want to hit up some of Barcelona’s top artistic things to do, so I’ve thought about which sites awaken my inner artistic child. This is not a list, necessarily, of the most popular tourist attractions but rather they are my six most gorgeous things to see in Barcelona.
The religious masterpiece by Gaudí is unfortunately something of a tourist mecca, but that doesn’t mean it can be struck from your list of things to see. Is it genius or madness that could conceive of a building that breaks with traditional forms, that includes tiny details, that plays with form and light in a personal form of devotion rarely seen in the modern age.
A few tips make the visit more pleasant: if possible, go in the off season, and anyway, try getting there before opening time for a very short line, or in the late afternoon, for thinner crowds and the setting sunlight. As there is lots to see and learn about the great architect’s work, I highly recommend taking a good guided tour like this one from Context Travel.
Gaudí has outdone himself with this private home modeled on a sea monster! A maritime theme is integrated in everything, even the colouring of the courtyard and the shapes of the windows and façade. But besides being highly visual and original, he was very practical, designing features to take advantage of natural light and cool air – vents, flaps, skylights and more. I think I’d like to live here, although it’s a big too large for our small family… (For a longer story about my visit to this home see here.)
I have loved Miró’s playful art ever since I encountered him at the Art Gallery of Ontario when I was very little. One of my favourite museums of all time is the Maeght Foundation in southern France, where there are numerous Miró sculptures placed alongside his contemporaries. Here, it’s a concentrated approach and a great way to learn more about the artist himself. The building was designed by architect and city planner Josep Lluís Sert, who was a close friend of Joan Miró; the artist himself conceived of this museum as a way to make art accessible to all – which my readers may know is actually my personal slogan and the reason I write about art!
Gaudí’s contemporary, Puig i Cadafalch, is the architect responsible for Casa Amattler, the first of three homes on what would come to be called the “block of discord” because it features buildings of vastly differing styles. This one is German Gothic, combined with a playful and colourful Spanish attitude, which makes for crazy patterns on floors and walls with rather heavy furniture. Actually a bit off the tourist track, short visits are available in English at established hours, with a guide, and can be booked online on the foundation’s website.
Casa Milà (La Pedrera)
If you’re not sick of Gaudí yet, it’s worth going to this one too! This apartment building was attentively designed with attention to function and aesthetic pleasure, with so many pleasing details you’ll get snap happy trying to capture them all. I think it would be a dream to live here (maybe not permanently!). In the building’s attic there is an excellent exhibit about the modernista architect’s forms and techniques that I found most informative for learning about how his cathedral was built. As this is one of the more crowded sites in Barcelona, it’s a good idea to book tickets in advance or use the city’s art card, Articket BCN to skip the line.
It wouldn’t be a contemporary art museum without a good acronym so we’re talking about the The Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, housed in a super, light filled and purpose-built structure by Richard Meier. For me, the star of this museum is the building itself; in terms of content, I’d check out what temporary exhibits are on or just stop into the lobby to enjoy the atmosphere and the free wifi. The center is really a contemporary lynchpin, proven by the skaters that congregate on the steps out front!
For other inspiration, check out this Barcelona Holiday Guide from Sunmaster.