For some travellers, the Catalan capital is synonymous with the work of architect Antoni Gaudí who gave the city some of its most defining landmarks. Yet Barcelona has a lot more to offer than just its unusual architecture, and there are plenty of reasons to include more than just Gaudí on your travel checklist.
For starters, Gaudí may be the city’s most famous Modernist architect, but by no means its only one. The dazzling Palau de la Música Catalan was designed by Gaudí contemporary Lluís Domenech i Montaner and remains one of the most stunning buildings in the city.
What many forget is that Gaudí was an incredibly modest man during his lifetime. In fact, he was left to die after being hit by a tram because passers-by mistook him for a pauper due to his unsophisticated clothing. His design for the Sagrada Família made sure the highest spire was shorter than the nearby Montjuïc hill, as he did not want man’s work to be taller than God’s.
The city of Barcelona was an architectural wonder long before the times of Antoni Gaudí. The so-called Gothic Quarter is a fine example of Southern European Gothic style with its ribbed vaults and vaulted arches. The narrow, winding streets open up onto charming squares and hidden courtyards that are centuries old.
Starting in the 1980s, Barcelona has seen a number of remarkable buildings designed by some of the leading contemporary architects of the world such as Jean Lenouvel, Ricardo Bofil, Frank Gehry and Richard Meier. These masterpieces include the Walden 7 apartment block on the outskirts of the city, the MACBA contemporary art museum and the Torre Glòries (formerly Torre Agbar).
When it comes to architecture, Gaudí usually steals the limelight, but remember that Barcelona is also home to some of greatest works by leading artists such as Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, Antoni Tapiés and many more. The Miró Foundation on Montjuïc has the largest public collection of the artist’s work, while the MACBA art museum houses remarkable contemporary art by national and international artists.
A city with a long artistic history, having welcomed the likes of Picasso, Miró and Dali, these days some of the best art in Barcelona can be found on its streets. The street art scene in Barcelona has attracted artists from across Europe and the world, given rise to street art tours and generally brought new life to the city’s streets and public spaces.
If the Sagrada Família is the city’s most visited landmark, many of the city’s other most popular buildings were not designed by Antoni Gaudí. The La Seu cathedral is a Gothic and neo-Gothic masterpiece designed by Miguel Girona i Agrafel, while the Palau Nacional or National which presides over Plaça d’Espanya was designed by Eugenio Cendoya and Enric Catà.
Aside from its fantastic architecture and edgy art scene, Barcelona is also the Catalan capital and as such offers a taste of the unique local culture, from its food to its music and folklore. The locals are incredibly proud of their cultural heritage and there are festivities throughout the year that show off the best of Catalan identity and culture.
From traditional tapas bars to cutting edge fine-dining restaurants, the food scene in Barcelona is one of the best in Europe. What’s more, the price of eating out in the city is considerably cheaper than in other major European cities such as London, Paris or Copenhagen.
The Catalan capital is of course the home of the eponymous FC Barcelona, known by fans simply as Barça. The football club’s home stadium, the Camp Nou, is the largest of its kind in Europe and is open to members of the public when games are not in place. The Camp Nou experience includes a tour of the FC Barcelona museum which contains hundreds of pieces of club memorabilia and important trophies.
Once you’ve admired the architecture, soaked up the culture and indulged in the food scene, make sure you leave a little time for some shopping. Barcelona has everything from designer boutiques to independent artisan workshops, as well as all the high-street brands you know and love.