Gaudi's greatest masterpieces
Soaring above Barcelona's cityscape, the Sagrada Família will be the world's tallest church upon completion. This 130-year labor of love, dreamt up by Antoni Gaudí, is one of the world's most controversial basilicas, but also one of the most visited. Three million tourists descend upon the Sagrada Família each year to gawk at the architectural achievement that has brought nature, light and religion together into one stunning ensemble piece. The interior is like a giant jigsaw puzzle with each new architect's style blending into the rest of Gaudí's vision. Pay attention to how the light dances through space, while the bright colours emote a sense of peaceful celebration. Sadly, it's that innovative vision and design that has rendered the slated completion year of 2026 as yet another unattainable feat. But the Sagrada Família, with its modernista style and conventional gothic themes, is a masterpiece because of its impossibilities. Even Gaudí knew how ambitious his final magnum opus would be, when he said, 'My client is in no hurry.'
It's been described as looking like rising dough, molten lava or a stone lung. Casa Milà (popularly known as La Pedrera, ‘the stone quarry’) is a daring example of Gaudí’s use of stone to create natural features. When La Pedrera, his last civil project, was first commissioned in 1906, the building was a laughing stock for its undulating façade, wrought-iron balconies and vast windows. But Gaudí’s innovative, self-supporting stone exterior has marked the house among today’s most stupendous architectural feats and won it a spot on UNESCO’s World Heritage Site list.
When you first step up to Casa Batlló, it’s the immaculate mosaic work and dragon-like tiles of Gaudí’s greatest construction facelift that will catch your imagination. The whimsical air of the ‘house of bones’ continues once inside with the flowing stonework, ovular windows and nature motifs. Most striking is the atrium in the centre of the house, designed with ombré blue tiles to allow for a constant stream of light and air. This fanciful residence-turned-museum boasts such attention to detail that even the furniture flows with the house. Be sure to leave time for the short film of the house’s folklore story, which explains how the heroic prince saves his princess!
Up in Barcelona's Horta-Guinardó neighbourhood, Park Güell boasts breathtaking hillside views of the whole city. You can enter the park for free, but if you want to get into the 'Monumental zone', you'll pay around €8 to see the iconic mosaic bench and dragon, plus more gems. (Tip: Visit their website to book in advance online and save a euro.) Chock-full of symbolism and nature motifs, this park, belonging to Gaudí’s naturalist phase, will spark anyone’s imaginative side. Once you've taken in the Monumental zone's attractions, make sure to save some time to walk up and explore the surrounding park, which is a must-see in its own right.
Antoni Gaudí’s first great house holds a special place among the architect’s earlier works. Designed with his signature eye for colours and motifs, Casa Vicens marks a distinct period of Moorish influence for the Spanish architect. As of late 2017, after years of restoration that started in 2014, Casa Vicens is once again full of life, not as a private residence but as a house-museum designed to be visited by the public.
A perfect combination of old-fashioned opulence and stylised modernism, Palau Güell will have you picturing yourself rolling up in a horse-drawn carriage. Tucked into a skinny street in the Raval, Palau Güell, designed by Gaudí for his patron, Count Güell, stands today as a symbol for Catalan nationalism. As you explore the house, take note of how the rising levels (from the modest basement to the ostentatiously colourful roof with 20 mosaic chimneys) reflect the motif of wealth.
In late 2013, this one-time private home opened its doors to the public for the first time. Torre Bellesguard gives a sense of a free Gaudí who was inspired by medieval castles and who used Gothic Revival resources to design a work based on straight lines, broken by reliefs of slate skin and small balconies decorated with stained glass on the façade. The architect built in some of his signature religious symbols and allusions to Catalanism.
From 1884 to 1887, Eusebi Güell hired Antoni Gaudí yet again for the construction and renovation of the grounds of his estate. The architect was to relandscape the gardens and construct gatehouses for the estate. Styled with Asian designs and Mudejar influences, Finca Güell is striking because of its colourful tiles and innovative ironwork. But most notable is the mythical dragon protecting its gate.
In contrast to most industrial colonies from the late 1800s, Colònia Güell’s patron, Eusebio Güell, wanted good living conditions for the workers on his compound. His improvements included religious and cultural buildings constructed all in Gaudí’s modernista style. This colony in Santa Coloma de Cervello is an impressive place to study early architectural inspirations for projects like the Sagrada Família.
Although considered to be one of Gaudi’s most conservative early works, Casa Calvet, with its wrought-iron balconies and curved façade, hints at the architect's more opulent modernista works to follow. Built out of stone quarried from Montjuïc, Casa Calvet now houses a restaurant in its lowest level. While you’re sipping your wine, see if you can spot the nods to Pere Màrtir Calvet’s work in the textile industry.
From Incredible Attractions to Incredible Food
When you're out exploring all the best things to do in Barcelona, you're bound to get hungry. And when you're looking for tapas, you'll see menus boasting them just about everywhere you turn in the Catalan capital. The choice can be overwhelming, and nowhere else but Barcelona boasts tapas in such variety – but this can apply to quality as well as the dishes on offer. Here are the restaurants, cafés, bodegas and tapas bars serving the best mini-meals in Barcelona.RECOMMENDED: Patatas bravas: the best in Barcelona