14 Mar City Crush: Visiting Barcelona
Barcelona has been the undisputed highlight of our Spanish adventures to date. We fell in love with the city’s distinct personality; the alien-like Gaudi buildings and ancient cathedrals, the warren of streets in the Gothic Quarter, the wide open plazas and long sandy beaches. At the same time, I loved the familiarity of Barcelona, which reminded me of London with its crowds of visitors, metro system, museums and red-sightseeing buses – I felt at home there.
Visiting Barcelona in a week
Our week in Barcelona was crammed full of sightseeing, eating and an exciting fiesta, yet I still feel like we barely scratched the surface of this exciting metropolis. We’ve developed a city crush for Barcelona and are already considering returning once our work in English Immersion camps finish in June; for now though, here are the highlights of our first visit.
The Sagrada Família
The Sagrada Família is the impressionist Antoni Gaudí’s most famous piece of architecture. Construction on this huge, ornate cathedral began over 100 years ago but it will still take another 20 for it to be completed. From the outside, the building is immense in size, made up of a series of tall cylindrical spires with a nativity façade at one end depicting the birth of Christ and at the other, a passion façade which represents his death.
I couldn’t have expected what greeted us when we stepped inside the Sagrada Família – mere words don’t do it justice. The cavernous space was filled with tall pillars, stained-glass windows, spiral staircases, swirly balconies and glass lifts. Gaudí was inspired by nature and geometric shapes and the pillars reached up like the trunks and branches of trees, with light filtering through like a forest. Above the altar there was a statue of Jesus surrounded by floating candles, above this the branches reached up to a golden, spiral-edged circle of light.
Though still unfinished, the Sagrada Família was like no other cathedral, or building, I’ve ever visited. We spent hours wandering around with our heads craned upwards, taking photos, listening to our audio guides and watching the sunlight transform the stained glass windows. High winds stopped us from being able to go up the towers, so we’re keen to go back and do this another time, it would also be incredible to visit once the whole thing has been completed.
Park Güell and Gaudí architecture
We made the most of some spring-like weather in Barcelona by visiting another Gaudi attraction, Park Güell. We didn’t pay to see the main architectural area; instead we climbed up to the top of the park, passing some impressive flamenco dancers on the way, to get a view over the city stretching out to the sea. We also visited a few other Gaudí buildings in Barcelona; La Pedrera (also known as Casa Milà) and Casa Batlló.
One of my favourite things to do in Barcelona was just wander around the Old City and the Gothic Quarter; the area just oozes history with its narrow stone streets, tall shuttered apartment blocks, bustling plazas and cathedrals. We took advantage of free admission in the mornings to visit some famous cathedrals: the Santa Maria del Mar and La Seu (Barcelona Cathedral). We also discovered Vegetalia, an incredible veggie restaurant which we loved for its substantial, tasty brunch plate.
This most famous, touristy street in Barcelona leads straight down to the port and is lined with shops, restaurants, street performers, touts and men selling knock-off handbags. While ambling around the Gothic Quarter we often ended up on Las Ramblas and would make our way from there down to the harbour.
Our favourite spot on Las Ramblas was La Boqueria, a big market filled with produce, meat, fish, nuts, food stalls, bars and sweets and treats. We spent hours in this market walking up and down the aisles and taking photos; we bought cheap snacks and a bargain lunch for 11 euros which we ate at the Ciutadella Park, which was filled with people relaxing in the afternoon sun.
Olympic Park and Montjuïc Castle
One day we took the metro to the Plaça D’Espanya, where we got another great view over the city. We checked out the Olympic stadium, which was a lot smaller than I had anticipated, and wandered around the park before walking up to the castle.
The Hospital de la Santa Creu i de Sant Pau
Our visit to Barcelona happened to coincide with the Santa Eulalia fiesta, which I wrote about here, a five-day event of fire dancing, human tower building and giant puppets. On Santa Eulalia day itself we took advantage of the free admission to the Hospital de la Santa Creu i de Sant Pau, another famous modernist set of buildings designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner. The hospital buildings are more like colourful mosques or temples set in a green, peaceful courtyard; designed to speed up the recovery of patients.
Although I generally prefer the city and mountains to beaches, I loved the fact that Barcelona had a harbour and acres of wide sandy beaches right on its doorstep. We spent a few hours one bright afternoon with crowds of people at Barceloneta beach; there were sunbathers and surfers, people eating ice creams and relaxing with a beer.
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Have you been to Barcelona, did you love it as much as we did? What sites did we miss?