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Top Things to See in Barcelona

The Boqueria Market

The oldest market of its kind in Europe, the Boqueria market is a labyrinth of stalls in a Moderniste wrought-iron shell just off La Rambla, selling edibles of every imaginable sort: the must-see source of fish, fowl, meat, fruits, and vegetables for Barcelona’s home kitchens and restaurants.

Casa Batlló and the Manzana de la Discòrdia

The Manzana de la Discòrdia (Apple of Discord) on Passeig de Gràcia is so called for its row of astonishing but utterly uncomplementary buildings by the three most famous Moderniste architects—Domènech i Montaner, Puig i Cadafalch, and Gaudí. Of the three, Gaudí’s Casa Batlló, with its undulating roof, multicolor facade, and skull-and-bones balconies, is the most remarkable.

Gaudí’s Sagrada Família

The city’s best-known landmark, Gaudí’s soaring still-unfinished Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família (Expiatory Temple of the Holy Family) draws lines of visitors around the block. With the completion of the interior in the fall of 2010, the lofty nave and transept have become the city’s premier sight.

Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC)

Atop the stairway leading up from Plaça d'Espanya, MNAC is Barcelona’s answer to Madrid’s Prado. It houses an unmatched collection of Catalonia’s Romanesque art, from altarpieces to frescoes, most of it rescued from Pyrenean churches and monasteries and lovingly restored. Separate galleries display the work of 19th-century masters such as Marià Fortuny, Ramón Casas, and Santiago Rusiñol.

Museu Picasso

Pablo Picasso’s connection to Barcelona, where he spent key formative years and first showed his work in 1900, eventually bore fruit when his manager Jaume Sabartés donated his collection to the city in 1962. Nearly as stunning as the 3,500 Picasso works on display are the five medieval palaces that house them.

Palau de la Música Catalana

Often described as the flagship of Barcelona’s Modernisme, this dizzying tour de force by architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner is a showcase of Art Nouveau crafts and decorative techniques—every detail and motif symbolic of the Catalan cultural identity. Much criticized during the aesthetically somber 1939–75 Franco regime, the city’s longtime prime concert venue is an exciting place to hear music.

Park Güell

Gaudí’s playful park in Gràcia was originally developed as a residential community. Gaudí’s patron and principal investor in the project, Count Eusebi Güell, must have been disappointed when the idea failed to catch on; only two of the houses planned for this whimsical garden were built. What did get built were Moderniste gems: the gingerbread gatehouses, the dazzling central staircase, and the undulating ceramic tile bench around the central square.

Santa Maria del Mar Basilica

For Mediterranean Gothic at its best, Santa Maria del Mar is the Sagrada Família’s opposite. Burned back to its stone shell in a fire at the start of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, it was restored by post-Bauhaus architects who saw the purity of Berenguer de Montagut’s 1329 design and maintained his spare, elegant lines.

Updated: 2014-05-16

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