Barcelona likes to defy the rules. With its complex political landscape, gravity defying skyline of cartoon-like spires and quirky traditions, Catalonia’s capital proudly beats to the sound of its own drum. Beckoning bohemian beach bums to its Mediterranean shore and urbanites to its world-class restaurants and nightlife, Barcelona is a city that never sleeps but is partial to power nap. From the whimsical creations of modernism’s maestro Antonio Gaudí and his street art successors – who are equally as mosaic mad – to the city’s trendy neighbourhoods, which exude the sultry sounds of rapid-fire flamenco at every turn, hot-headed Barcelona is anything but boring. In fact, there is so much to do, we have challenged ourselves to create a (condensed) list of must-sees in Barcelona. Read on to find out more.
La Sagrada Família
You cannot use Barcelona and art in the same sentence without mentioning Antoni Gaudí. One of the few architects to become synonymous with a city, his eccentric mosaics, characterful columns and cobblestone walls have well earned him the title of local legend. But if there were to be just one design that towers above the rest – both figuratively and literally – it would be La Sagrada Família. Considered to be the symbol of Barcelona, and one of the most prominent examples of Catalan Modernism, it is a feat of extraordinary design (an achievement that stands true 140 years on – and still unfinished). Pushing the boundaries of pretty much every architectural style out there, it was Gaudí’s intention to use his trademark style to demonstrate the three phases of Jesus’ life: Nativity, Passion, and Glory in three grand façades. And grand they are – even when covered by the occasional crane.
"The World Begins with Every Kiss" Mural
It’s practically law to visit at least one art exhibit while in Barcelona. The beating heart of Catalonian culture, Barcelona is well verse in its age-old role as an artistic muse. However, despite serving as the inspiration for the likes of Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró and Agustí Puig, it has, in more recent years, found itself as a canvas for the city’s myriad street artists. Joan Fontcuberta’s mural, The World Begins with Every Kiss, is one such example. Designed as a temporary exhibition to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Catalonia Day, the romantically-named piece proved such a hit with locals that it become a permanent resident of the Plaça d’Isidre Nonell in 2014. Made up of 4,000 tiles, each adorned with images of readers of El Periódico in their moments of freedom, together forms an extraordinary 26ft-tall mural of two people kissing with the words “The sound of a kiss isn’t as loud as a cannon, but its echo lasts a great deal longer” etched underneath. No wonder Barcelona’s local government couldn’t bare take it down.
If you think must-sees in Barcelona equates to must-eats in Barcelona, we hear you and know just the place. Once a humble huddle of meat stalls in the 13th century, La Bouquería now proudly stands at the centre of Las Ramblas as the city’s oldest market and shining culinary star. While the enticing scents of freshly fried salty fish and botifarra (Catalan sausage seasoned with spices) are sure to convince you alone, it is the atmosphere that’ll keep you there long after you’ve polished off small plates of calçots (flame-charred vegetables) and padrón peppers. From the continuous echo of excitable merchants flogging gigantic thighs of jamón ibérico (cured ham) to the quirkier and quieter local-only stalls hiding in the back (which – be warned – you may have to shoulder-jostle your way through crowds of snap-happy instagrammers to reach), La Bouquería is a sensory smorgasbord. It’s also thirsty work so we recommend a fruit smoothie halfway round.
Barcelona has long been on a mission to make itself more car free. So, it no surprise that it is home to one of the most famous pedestrianised streets in the world. Squeezing in the Liceu opera house in the north, the Columbus Monument at its foot and the Centro Galego de Barcelona and Miró mosaic in between, Las Ramblas sure does pack a punch (despite being less than a mile long). It’s probably what makes it one of the most marmite landmarks too. Love it or hate it, though, you can’t deny its history or intoxicating fervour, which emanates off its myriad street performers, choirs of flower-sellers and impassioned shop owners who still remember the good old days (but won’t grumble if you spend a couple of euros on their traditional patisseries). And what’s better than a pedestrianised street but a three-mile stretch of undisrupted beach at the end of it. Think of it as Barcelona’s way of confirming its love of a contrast.
Tibidabo is where adults go to release their inner child and children go to prove they’re in no rush to grow up. A park, a theme park, an observatory, and the home of the impressive Temple Expiatori del Sagrat Cor (Temple of the Sacred Heart of Jesus), Tibidabo is the epitome of an adventure playground. All fused together atop the tallest mountain in the Serra de Collserola, you’ll be spoilt for choice by the literal must-sees of Barcelona Tibidabo offers. Flit between the 360° view atop the funfair’s old-fashioned Ferris wheel, the worms-eye view of the basilica’s bronze Jesus statue (which can be reached from the church’s central tower) and the Avió flight simulator, which overhangs the mountain and offers the ultimate birds-eye view. If nature (and authenticity) calls, there is also the surrounding 2,000 acres of lush natural park to relax, bird watch, picnic and hike in.