Barcelona, the City of Gaudí

Barcelona. The city of heights and the city of Gaudí. I never expected we'd hike to so many panoramic viewpoints of just one city, and I never imagined one artist's architectural creativity could so dominate a place like Antoni Gaudí has in Barcelona. Gaudí's interpretive genius is the essence of the city, his designs the backbone of its main attractions and hidden away in its side streets. We spent five days in Barcelona and not one went by when we didn't view one of Gaudí's works or face my fear of heights. From climbing to the top of the tallest church of the world to standing beneath a stone cross on a small pedestal overlooking the city (both designed by Gaudí), Barcelona is a city you must see from above in order to appreciate its beauty.

We were lucky enough to in an Airbnb apartment just one block away from Barcelona’s main attraction, La Sagrada Familia. Designed by Gaudí in 1883, Sagrada Familia is a massive Roman Catholic basilica that is still in the process of being built. Once it is finished, it will be the tallest church building in the world. We were completely unprepared to get off at our Metra stop with all of our luggage and quite literally run into the towering structure the moment we emerged from the underground tunnel. La Sagrada is truly breathtaking, with intricate Gothic facades on every side and lofty spires reaching to the sky. 

We tackled the church on our first morning in the city, buying our tickets online the night before. At 9:00 AM, we were the first ones in line, and I’m so happy we went early. By the time we left at 11:00 AM, the basilica was packed. The inside of La Sagrada is one of the most fascinating designs I’ve ever seen, as Gaudí attempted to recreate the feeling of a forest with the columns and the ceiling. Nature was a great influencer on Gaudí’s art, and our trip through the museum inside the church gave us a great idea of his life’s work. 

For a few extra euros, we got to climb to the top of one of the spires in the Nativity façade, which faces the east of the city. The outside of the church will ultimately have three facades: the Nativity, the Passion and the Glory, each depicting a stage in Jesus Christ’s life. Though the climb is by elevator, the descent is extremely steep and takes you through small spiral staircases, as well as netted bridges over which you walk from spire to spire. I kept my hyperventilation to a minimum. Despite my constant nausea, I will admit, the view from the top of Sagrada was breathtaking. 

From La Sagrada, we walked 30 minutes towards the more downtown area of Barcelona to Casa Batlló, another building designed by Gaudí. The walking was definitely the most we've done -- we didn’t rent a scooter until the last two days of our trip and should’ve done it earlier. Barcelona is a very large city and although it’s very tourist friendly, the attractions are pretty spaced out from each other. Casa Batlló's entrance fee was also steep, but the opportunity to see the inside of such a unique building was worth it. (The free audio tour with our ticket purchase helped too!) The house is magnificent, with the outside looking like dragon’s scales and the inside a playground for Gaudí’s imagination.

We also had a chance to stop by another of Gaudí’s homes, Casa Vicens, near the smaller suburb of Gracía. It’s covered in golden flowers because when Gaudí first went to take measurements of the land for construction, it was covered in tiny, yellow flowers. Though our apartment was close to La Sagrada, Gracía is one of two neighborhoods I would stay in the next time we went to Barcelona. Gracía and the Gothic quarter are filled with much more trendy restaurants and shops, with both barrios lending themselves to much quainter strolls through their streets.

Near the Gothic Quarter is La Rambla, a famous 1.2-kilometer street that connects downtown Barcelona to its beaches. In the summer, the street is lined with leafy trees and street merchants, but we only had the latter in January! It is also home to La Boquería, Barcelona’s famous market. We had a chance to see the grounds but unfortunately never made it in time to shop.

We also had the chance to see the Arc de Triomf, an arch that operated as the main gate for the 1888 World Fair, which stood just outside the Gothic quarter, about 20 minutes from our apartment. 

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Inside the Gothic Quarter sits the Cathedral of Barcelona, one of the most breathtaking churches we’ve seen on our Europe trip thus far. Built in the 14th century, the cathedral houses Saint Eulalia’s crypt, the co-patron saint of Barcelona, who is said to have been martyred at the age of thirteen. 

Just a few blocks from the Cathedral of Barcelona sits the Palau de la Música Catalana, or the Palace of Catalan Music. For a few euros, we were able to take a tour of the concert hall and, besides Sagrada Familia, it was my favorite part of Barcelona. The palace is home to the choral society Orfeó Català, though it is also the host of thousands of concerts each year. The concert hall is illuminated entirely by natural light from a breathtaking skylight, and my favorite feature was the busts of 18 muses on the back of its stage.

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We also made our way to Montjuïc hill, which houses the Palau Nacional, the city’s National Palace. The hill was the site for the 1929 World Fair, as well as the 1992 summer Olympics. Its claim to fame is the Magic Fountains of Montjuïc, which cascade from the palace all the way down the hill. Unfortunately, we were not aware that the fountains undergo maintenance during the month of January and missed the show by one day! If you're visiting Europe in the winter, be sure to check the schedules for the attractions you want to see BEFORE you arrive in the city!

While Montjuïc offers a great view of the city, you can find an even better one at Park Güell, a public park designed by Gaudi in the early 1900s. It’s about 20 minutes outside of the downtown area of Barcelona, and its high-point is a cross pedestal with panoramic views of Barcelona. You can see Sagrada Familia towering over the landscape in one of the photos below! We walked to the park from our apartment and should’ve saved it for the days when we had the scooter-- definitely bring your walking shoes as the entire trek through the park can take up to an hour!

In terms of panoramic views, however, Tibidabo-- the tallest mountain overlooking Barcelona-- takes the cake. The site is absolutely magical, as it houses the Sagrat Cor church as well as the Tibidabo Amusement Park on the same summit. Who would’ve thought to stick a Ferris wheel next to a church?! The mountain can be reached by a historical tram or by car in about 30 minutes, but I’m glad we got to experience it on the scooter. There was just something about holding onto my husband, the wind whipping through my hair, as we ascended towards the towering church on the top of the mountain that couldn’t be beat.

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For a few euros, we were also able to take an elevator up to the top of the church. Once we reached the first landing, however, we had to climb up yet another spiral staircase. Let’s just say I lasted under five minutes on the narrow platform looking out over the carnival and the city just under the bronze Jesus.

All in all, we loved our stay in Barcelona. The city offers so many architecturally unique sites, like Tibidabo and Sagrada Familia, and its renown tapas and sangria aren't too shabby either. If you’re like us and prefer not to take underground public transportation in order to get a better feel for the city, I’d definitely recommend renting a scooter to see all the attractions around town. However, if you are going to rent a scooter, be sure to confirm your drop-off time before you head off. We decided to return the bike on our last morning in the city, a few hours before we had to leave for the airport. Using our limited amount of Spanish, we read through Brujula Rent A Scooter's website and thought it opened at 8:00 AM. When we arrived to find the door locked and sign informing us of their 9:30 AM OPENING TIME, we panicked with a looming 9:50 AM flight. Thankfully, God provided an INCREDIBLY kind shop owner around the corner who let us use his phone despite serious conversation breakdowns due to the language barrier. When the calls wouldn’t go through, he agreed to drop off the bike and keys at the shop once it opened so we could hail a cab and race to the airport. With no other options, we agreed and pretty much sweat through our clothes on our sprint through the airport terminals. Thankfully, it all worked out, as both shop owners emailed us a few hours later saying all was well and our deposit would be refunded. THANK YOU BRUJULA! FUN TIMES IN BARCELONA!  

Until next time, friends! Next up, Rome!