Art, Travel & Life in Italy & Europe

6 gorgeous things to see in Barcelona

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.

Sagrada Familia

Gaudì's Sagrada Familia | Photo Gerard Vales on Flickr

Gaudì’s Sagrada Familia | Photo Gerard Vales on Flickr

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.

Casa Batlló

Swirling ceiling and lamp at Casa Batllo

Swirling ceiling and lamp at Casa Batllo

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.)

Miró Foundation

Upper terrace of the Miro museum in Barcelona

Upper terrace of the Miro museum in Barcelona

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!

Casa Amattler

Casa Amattler (L) next to Casa Batllò (R) | Photo RYTC on Flickr

Casa Amattler (L) next to Casa Batllò (R) | Photo RYTC on Flickr

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)

The attic of La Pedrera contains a useful museum about Gaudi

The attic of La Pedrera contains a useful museum about Gaudi

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.

MACBA

The contemporary art museum

The contemporary art museum

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.

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By: arttrav

Alexandra Korey aka ArtTrav is a Florence-based art historian and arts marketing consultant.

  • Andrew Johnson

    Hi,
    I always enjoy your posts, thanks. One request: could you add fine print or a footnote saying whether an attraction is accessible or not to those of us in wheelchairs?
    Sincerely,
    Andrew Johnson

  • http://www.arttrav.com arttrav

    Dear Andrew,
    Thanks for your comment and suggestion.

    Unfortunately, accessibility is not my area of specialty, and so I’m afraid that I would not be able to provide accurate information about it. Within Florence I might be able to evaluate things in person, but my observation will be different than your reality, and I don’t want to tell you something wrong. All I could do is look on the attraction’s website for indications about accessibility, but we know that this would not necessarily provide correct information.

    For Florence and Tuscany, there is a regional accessibility project ( http://open.toscana.it/web/toscana-accessibile) that is unfortunately only in Italian. All the museum websites indicate if they are accessible (and most of them are). I do not know if these places in Barcelona are all accessible.

    There are travel service providers who specialize in accessible Italy, so if you’re planning a trip here, you might choose one who will be able to give you confirmed and up to date information as well as book any extra services you might need.

    Best regards
    Alexandra