Sure, Antoni Gaudí may be Barcelona’s most celebrated architect but let’s face it, his bold style is not to everyone’s liking. If you’re keen on exploring the city’s architectural landscape but would rather leave the likes of the Sagrada Família and Casa Batlló off your list, here are 15 alternative wonders to admire instead.
The Palau de la Música Catalana
At the height of his career, Lluís Domènech i Montaner was one of the leading figures of the Catalan Modernism movement for which Gaudí became so famous. Domènech’s Palau de la Música Catalana is a fantastic example of Modernism as interpreted by someone who wasn’t Gaudí – although inevitably some of the forms and themes are very similar.
The Seu Cathedral
Forget 19th century Modernism and step back in time to the Middle-Ages with Barcelona’s famous Seu cathedral also known as the ‘Gothic Cathedral’. What many ignore is that the facade is actually an 18th century Neo-Gothic addition while the sides of the Cathedral bear the original 13th century Gothic features.
The Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar
Rival of the above mentioned Seu cathedral, the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar is another Gothic masterpiece long considered the church of the common man in Barcelona. Much more modest in appearance, the interior is splendid and boasts incredible stained-glass windows which give an impression of light and spaciousness in stark contrast with its more austere exterior.
Frank Gehry’s The Fish
Come to be a symbol of Barcelona’s post-Olympic splendour, Frank Gehry‘s The Fish monument is a 56 meter high sculpture set in front of the Mapfre tower and Arts hotel alongside the Port Olympic. A scintillating masterpiece made of intertwining stainless steel strips, the Fish catches the sunlight and shimmers just like the scales of a real fish might as it jumps out of the water.
The Montjuïc Castle
Perched atop Montjuïc hill, the castle is an impressive fort with a rather sombre history. The site of many a battle throughout the ages, the castle eventually became a political prison and military base. During the Spanish Civil War and in the subsequent Franco dictatorship there were a number of high-profile executions carried out here. Today though, the castle has become a military museum and remains an important landmark with some exceptional views of the Mediterranean and Barcelona.
The Forum building
A relatively recent addition to Barcelona’s architectural landscape, the Forum building was designed by Swiss architects Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, also responsible for the Tate Modern in London. Inaugurated in 2004, the triangular shaped edifice has been incredibly contentious from the start, costing the local authorities a whopping €144 million – a sum many wonder whether can be justified. Make your own mind up.
Hospital de la Santa Creu i de Sant Pau
Another Modernist marvel by Lluís Domènech i Montaner, the Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau is a superb 20th century building which for most of its life served as a hospital. In fact, only in 2003 were most of the services moved to nearby modern building allowing for much of the edifice to be opened to the public. Together with the Palau de la Música Catalana, the two are designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
The National Palace of Catalonia
Best known today for housing the MNAC, the National Museum of Catalan Art, the National Palace of Catalonia was commissioned for the 1929 Universal Exhibition of Barcelona and the project was awarded by competition to local architects Eugenio Cendoya and Enric Catà. An example of Spanish Renaissance, its design combines traditional elements with the use of more modern techniques and materials. Make sure you visit the gourmet restaurant located in the top floor of the dome.
The Magic Fountain
One of Barcelona’s quirkiest landmarks, the Magic Fountain is an all singing all dancing water fountain which bursts into life for half hour shows of light and music. Over 3,500 water jets are used to create the impression of the fountain ‘dancing’ in front of your eyes as they change colour in harmony with the music. The fountain’s repertoire includes iconic anthems and classic tunes including such things as the Lord of the Rings soundtrack, the Godfather theme tune and more.
The Mies Van Der Rohe Pavillion
Widely considered one of the pioneers of modern architecture, Mies van der Rohe was given the project of designing the German pavilion for the 1929 Universal Exhibition of Barcelona. The design is remarkable for its use of extravagant materials such as marble, onyx and travertine while being essentially minimalist in style.
The Ciutadella Park
One of the most beautiful parks in Barcelona, the Ciutadella park was for a long time in the 19th century the city’s only green space. The park contains the Barcelona Zoo, the Museum of Natural Science and a small lake with a classic water fountain designed by Josep Fontsére. Curiously a young Antoni Gaudí is rumoured to have contributed to its design but you’ll see none of his signature Modernist style here.
Named after the futurist sci-fi novel Walden Two, this utopian apartment block was designed by architect Ricardo Bofil on the outskirts of Barcelona. There are some 18 towers and 14 floors grouped around five courtyards, with numerous bridges and balconies offering spectacular vistas. While Walden 7 is a private apartment block, a walk around the outside is already enough to admire the singularity of its design.
The Agbar Tower
Behind the Agbar Tower’s rather unusual sounding name lies a simple contraction of its main occupier ‘Aiguas de Barcelona’ – Barcelona’s local water company. This 38 floor sky-scraper was designed by French architect Jean Nouvel and is said to be inspired by the nearby Montserrat mountain. If you can, make sure to see it at night when it is illuminated by some 4,500 LED lights.
The Olympic Flame
This modern looking monument which sits atop Montjuïc hill was designed by controversial architect Santiago Calatrava as a communications tower for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. The design is said to represent an athlete holding a flame while also acting as a sundial which projects onto the square beneath it.
The MACBA art museum
A pivotal project in the renewal of the El Raval neighbourhood in Barcelona, the MACBA, Barcelona’s modern art museum is housed within a purpose-made building designed by architect Richard Meier. The architect’s task was to design a space which could showcase a variety of contemporary art works. The result allows for a lot of natural light to pour into the building with a series of bridges and passage-ways connecting the various levels and spaces.
Camp Nou stadium
While not particularly remarkable for its architecture or style, the Camp Nou is however the largest football stadium in Europe – set to become even bigger after upcoming refurbishments. The Camp Nou experience enables visitors to tour the stadium and behind the scenes before finishing at the FC Barcelona museum.