145 Best Sights in Barcelona, Spain

Santa Maria del Mar

Fodor's choice
Ceiling, Santa Maria del Mar, Barcelona, Spain
© Halie Cousineau/ Fodor’s Travel

An example of early Catalan Gothic architecture, Santa Maria del Mar is extraordinary for its unbroken lines and elegance. At what was then the water's edge, the church was built by stonemasons who chose, fitted, and carved each stone hauled down from the same Montjuïc quarry that provided the sandstone for the 4th-century Roman walls. The medieval numerological symbol for the Virgin Mary, the number eight (or multiples thereof), runs through every element: the 16 octagonal pillars are 2 meters in diameter and spread out into rib vaulting arches at a height of 16 meters; the painted keystones at the apex of the arches are 32 meters from the floor; and the central nave is twice as wide as the lateral naves (8 meters each).

The church survived the fury of anarchists who, in 1936, burned nearly all of Barcelona's churches as a reprisal against the alliance of army, church, and oligarchy during the military rebellion. The basilica, then filled with ornate side chapels and choir stalls, burned for 11 days, nearly crumbling. Restored after the Civil War by a series of Bauhaus-trained architects, the church is now an architectural gem.

The paintings in the keystones overhead represent the Coronation of the Virgin, the Nativity, the Annunciation, the equestrian figure of the father of Pedro IV, King Alfons, and the Barcelona coat of arms. The 34 lateral chapels are dedicated to different saints and images. The first chapel to the left of the altar (No. 20) is the Capella del Santo Cristo (Chapel of the Holy Christ), its stained-glass window an allegory of Barcelona's 1992 Olympic Games. An engraved stone riser beside the door onto Carrer Sombrerers commemorates where San Ignacio de Loyola, founder of the Jesuit Order, begged for alms in 1524 and 1525.

Set aside at least a half-hour to see Santa Maria del Mar, and be sure to check out La Catedral del Mar (The Cathedral of the Sea), by Ildefonso Falcons, which chronicles the construction of the basilica and 14th-century life in Barcelona. Consider joining a guided tour to climb the towers for magnificent rooftop views or to access the crypt. Die-hard enthusiasts will want to sign up for the Santa Maria del Mar at Dusk Tour, an exclusive, 1½-hour experience for small groups that not only lets you visit spaces normally closed to the public, but also enables you to fully appreciate the lighting of the building in addition to its silence and enormity.

Scan weekly magazines to see if there are any concerts being held in the basilica during your visit. The setting and the acoustics make performances here truly memorable.

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Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família

Fodor's choice
Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família, Barcelona, Spain
(c) Achimhb | Dreamstime.com

Barcelona's most emblematic architectural icon, Antoni Gaudí's Sagrada Família, is still under construction close to 140 years after it was begun. This striking and surreal creation was conceived as nothing short of a Bible in stone, a gigantic representation of the entire history of Christianity, and it continues to cause responses from surprise to consternation to wonder. Plan to spend at least a few hours here to take it all in. However long your visit, it's a good idea to bring binoculars.

Looming over Barcelona like a magical mid-city massif of needles and peaks, the Sagrada Família can at first seem like piles of caves and grottoes heaped on a labyrinth of stalactites, stalagmites, and flora and fauna of every stripe and sort. The sheer immensity of the site and the energy flowing from it are staggering. The scale alone is daunting: the current lateral facades will one day be dwarfed by the main Glory facade and central spire—the Torre del Salvador (Tower of the Savior), which will be crowned by an illuminated polychrome ceramic cross and soar to a final height 1 yard shorter than Montjuïc (564 feet) guarding the entrance to the port (Gaudí felt it improper for the work of man to surpass that of God). You can take an elevator skyward to the top of the bell towers for some spectacular views (choose the "Top Views" ticket). Back on the ground, visit the museum, which displays Gaudí's scale models, photographs showing the progress of construction, and images of the vast outpouring at Gaudí's funeral; the architect is buried under the basilica, to the left of the altar in the crypt.

Soaring skyward in intricately detailed and twisted carvings and sculptures, part of the Nativity facade is made of stone from Montserrat, Barcelona's cherished mountain sanctuary and home of Catalonia's patron saint, La Moreneta, the Black Virgin of Montserrat. Gaudí himself was fond of comparing the Sagrada Família to the shapes of the sawtooth massif 50 km (30 miles) west of the city; a plaque in one of Montserrat's caverns reads "Lloc d'inspiració de Gaudí" ("Place of inspiration for Gaudí").

"My client is not in a hurry," Gaudí was fond of replying to anyone curious about the timetable for the completion of his mammoth project. The Sagrada Família was begun in 1882 under architect Francisco de Paula del Villar, passed on in 1883 to Gaudí (who worked on the project until his death in 1926). After the church's neo-Gothic beginnings, Gaudí added Art Nouveau touches to the crypt (the floral capitals) and in 1891 went on to begin the Nativity facade of a new and vastly ambitious project. At the time of his death in 1926, however, only one tower of the Nativity facade had been completed.

Gaudí's plans called for three immense facades, the Nativity and Passion facades on the northeast and southwest sides of the church, and the even larger Glory facade designed as the building's main entry, facing east over Carrer de Mallorca. The four bell towers over each facade would together represent the 12 apostles. The first bell tower, in honor of Barnabas and the only one Gaudí lived to see, was completed in 1925. The towers of Barnabas, Simon, Judas, and Matthias (from left to right) stand over the Nativity facade, with James, Bartholomew, Thomas, and Phillip over the Passion facade. The four larger towers around the central Tower of the Savior will represent the evangelists Mark, Matthew, John, and Luke. Between the central tower and the reredos at the northwestern end of the nave rises the 18th and second-highest tower, crowned with a star, in honor of the Virgin Mary. The naves are not supported by buttresses but by treelike helicoidal (spiraling) columns.

Reading the existing facades is a challenging course in Bible studies. The three doors on the Nativity facade are named for Charity in the center, Faith on the right, and Hope on the left. (Gaudí often described the symbolism of his work to visitors, but because he never wrote any of it down much of the interpretation owes to oral tradition.) In the Nativity facade Gaudí addresses nothing less than the fundamental mystery of Christianity: why does God the Creator become, through Jesus Christ, a mortal creature? The answer, as Gaudí explained it in stone, is that God did this to free man from the slavery of selfishness, symbolized by the iron fence around the serpent of evil at the base of the central column of the Portal of Charity. The column is covered with the genealogy of Christ going back to Abraham. Above the central column is a portrayal of the birth of Christ; above that, the Annunciation is flanked by a grotto-like arch of water. Overhead are the constellations in the Christmas sky at Bethlehem.

To the right, the Portal of Faith chronicles scenes of Christ's youth: Jesus preaching at the age of 13, and Zacharias prophetically writing the name of John. Higher up are grapes and wheat, symbols of the Eucharist, and a sculpture of a hand and an eye, symbols of divine providence.

The left-hand Portal of Hope begins at the bottom with flora and fauna from the Nile; the slaughter of the innocents; the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt; Joseph surrounded by his carpenter's tools, contemplating his son; and the marriage of Joseph and Mary. Above this is a sculpted boat with an anchor, representing the Church, piloted by St. Joseph assisted by the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove.

Gaudí planned these slender towers to house a system of tubular bells (still to be created and installed) capable of playing more complete and complex music than standard bell-ringing changes had previously been able to perform. At a height of one-third of the bell tower are the seated figures of the apostles.

The Passion facade on the Sagrada Família's southwestern side, over Carrer Sardenya and the Plaça de la Sagrada Família, is a dramatic contrast to the Nativity facade. In 1986, sculptor Josep Maria Subirachs was chosen by project director Jordi Bonet to finish the Passion facade. Subirachs was picked for his starkly realistic, almost geometrical sculptural style, which many visitors and devotees of Gaudí find gratingly off the mark. Subirachs pays double homage to the great Moderniste master in the Passion facade: Gaudí himself appears over the left side of the main entry, making notes or drawings, while the Roman soldiers farther out and above are modeled on Gaudí's helmeted warriors from the roof of La Pedrera. Art critic Robert Hughes calls the homage "sincere in the way that only the worst art can be: which is to say, utterly so."

Following an S-shape path across the Passion facade, the scenes represented begin at the lower left with the Last Supper. The faces of the disciples are contorted in confusion and dismay, especially that of Judas, clutching his bag of money behind his back. The next sculptural group to the right represents the prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane and Peter awakening, followed by the kiss of Judas.

In the center, Jesus is lashed to a pillar during his flagellation. Note the column's top stone is out of kilter, reminder of the stone soon to be removed from Christ's sepulcher. To the right of the door is a rooster, as well as Peter, who is lamenting his third denial of Christ: "ere the cock crows." Farther to the right are Pilate and Jesus with the crown of thorns, while just above, starting back to the left, Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus with the cross after his first fall.

Over the center is the representation of Jesus consoling the women of Jerusalem and a faceless St. Veronica (because her story is considered legendary, not historical fact), with the veil she gave Christ to wipe his face with on the way to Calvary. To the left is the likeness of Gaudí taking notes, and farther to the left is the equestrian figure of a centurion piercing the side of the church with his spear, the church representing the body of Christ. Above are the soldiers rolling dice for Christ's clothing and the naked, crucified Christ at the center. To the right are Peter and Mary at the sepulcher. At Christ's feet is a figure with a furrowed brow, thought to be a self-portrait of Subirachs, characterized by the sculptor's giant hand and an "S" on his right arm.

Over the door will be the church's 16 prophets and patriarchs under the cross of salvation. Apostles James, Bartholomew, Thomas, and Phillip appear at a height of 148 feet on their respective bell towers. Thomas, the apostle who demanded proof of Christ's resurrection (hence the expression "doubting Thomas"), is visible pointing to the palm of his hand, asking to inspect Christ's wounds. Bartholomew, on the left, is turning his face upward toward the culminating element in the Passion facade, the 26-foot-tall gold metallic representation of the resurrected Christ on a bridge between the four bell towers at a height of 198 feet.

The apse of the basilica, consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI in November 2010, has space for close to 15,000 people and a choir loft for 1,500. The towers still to be completed over the apse include those dedicated to the four evangelists—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—and the highest of all, dedicated to Christ the Savior. In 2021, the Tower of the Virgin Mary was inaugurated, complete with a star made of textured glass and stainless steel, weighing 5.5 tons. Once completed, the great central tower and dome, resting on four immense columns of Iranian porphyry, considered the hardest of all stones, will soar to a height of 564 feet, making the Sagrada Família Barcelona's tallest building. Prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Sagrada Familia was due to be completed by 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudí's death, after 144 years of construction. A new official date is yet to be announced. 

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Torre Bellesguard

Fodor's choice

For an extraordinary Gaudí experience, visit this private residence. It was built between 1900 and 1909 over the ruins of the summer palace of the last of the sovereign count-kings of the Catalan-Aragonese realm, Martí I l'Humà (Martin I the Humane), whose reign ended in 1410. In homage to this medieval history, Gaudí endowed the house with a tower, gargoyles, and crenellated battlements. The rest—the catenary arches, the trencadís (pieces of polychromatic ceramic tile) in the facade, the stained-glass windows—is pure Art Nouveau.

Look for the red and gold Catalan senyera (banner) on the tower, topped by the four-armed Greek cross Gaudí often used. Over the front door is the inscription "Sens pecat fou concebuda" ("Without sin was she conceived"), referring to the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. On either side of the front door are benches with trencadís of playful fish bearing the crimson quatre barres (four bars) of the Catalan flag as well as the Corona d'Aragó (Crown of Aragón).

Guided tours in English available every day at 11 am and 1 pm. The visit includes access to the roof, which Gaudí designed to resemble a dragon, along with the gardens, patio, and stables. 

Reservations are required for the highly recommended guided tour ([email protected]).

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Ajuntament de Barcelona

The 15th-century city hall on Plaça Sant Jaume faces the Palau de la Generalitat, with its mid-18th-century neoclassical facade, across the square once occupied by the Roman Forum. The Ajuntament is a rich repository of sculpture and painting by the great Catalan masters, from Marès to Gargallo to Clarà, from Subirachs to Miró and Llimona. Inside is the famous Saló de Cent, from which the Consell de Cent, Europe's oldest democratic parliament, governed Barcelona between 1373 and 1714. The Saló de les Croniques (Hall of Chronicles) is decorated with Josep Maria Sert's immense black-and-burnished-gold murals (1928) depicting the early-14th-century Catalan campaign in Byzantium and Greece under the command of Roger de Flor. The city hall is open to visitors on Sunday, with self-guided visits in English hosted at 10am (reserve online). Virtual 360° tours are available at any time. 

Arc de Triomf

This exposed-redbrick arch was built by Josep Vilaseca as the grand entrance for the 1888 Universal Exhibition. Similar in size and sense to the traditional triumphal arches of ancient Rome, this one refers to no specific military triumph anyone can recall. In fact, Catalonia's last military triumph of note may have been Jaume I el Conqueridor's 1229 conquest of the Moors in Mallorca—as suggested by the bats (always part of Jaume I's coat of arms) on either side of the arch itself. The Josep Reynés sculptures adorning the structure represent Barcelona hosting visitors to the exhibition on the western side (front), while the Josep Llimona sculptures on the eastern side depict the prizes being given to its outstanding contributors.

Baixada de Santa Eulàlia

Down Carrer Sant Sever from the side door of the cathedral cloister, past Carrer Salomó ben Adret and the Esglèsia de Sant Sever, is a tiny shrine, in an alcove overhead, dedicated to the 4th-century martyr Santa Eulàlia, former patron saint of the city (before she was replaced by current patron saint Mare de Deu de la Mercè). Down this hill, or baixada (descent), Eulàlia was rolled in a barrel filled with—as the Jacint Verdaguer verse in ceramic tile on the wall reads—glavis i ganivets de dos talls (swords and double-edged knives), the final of the 13 tortures to which she was subjected before her crucifixion at Plaça del Pedró.

Basílica de Santa Maria del Pi

Barri Gòtic

Sister church to Santa Maria del Mar and to Santa Maria de Pedralbes, this early Catalan Gothic structure is perhaps the most fortresslike of all three: hulking, dark, and massive, and perforated only by the main entryway and the mammoth rose window, said to be the world's largest. Try to see the window from inside in the late afternoon to get the best view of the colors. The church was named for the lone pi (pine tree) that stood in what was a marshy lowland outside the 4th-century Roman walls. An early church dating back to the 10th century preceded the present Santa Maria del Pi, which was begun in 1319 and finally consecrated in 1453. The interior compares poorly with the clean and lofty lightness of Santa Maria del Mar, but there are two interesting things to see: the original wooden choir loft, and the Ramón Amadeu painting La Mare de Deu dels Desamparats (Our Lady of the Helpless), in which the artist reportedly used his wife and children as models for the Virgin and children. The church is a regular venue for classical guitar concerts by well-known soloists. Tours of the basilica and bell tower are available in English, by reservation. The adjoining squares, Plaça del Pi and Plaça de Sant Josep Oriol, are two of the liveliest and most appealing spaces in the Ciutat Vella, filled with much-frequented outdoor cafés and used as a venue for markets selling natural products or paintings, or as an impromptu concert hall for musicians. The handsome entryway and courtyard at No. 4 Plaça de Sant Josep Oriol across from the lateral facade of Santa Maria del Pi is the Palau Fivaller, now seat of the Agricultural Institute, an interesting patio to have a look through. Placeta del Pi, tucked in behind the church, has outdoor tables and is convenient for a coffee or tapas.

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Pl. del Pi 7, Barcelona, 08002, Spain
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Rate Includes: €5 (€10 with bell tower access)

Biblioteca Francesca Bonnemaison

Sant Pere

Barcelona's (and probably the world's) first library established exclusively for women, the Biblioteca Popular de la Dona was founded in 1909, evidence of the city's early-20th-century progressive attitudes and tendencies. Over the opulently coffered main reading room, the stained-glass skylight reads "Tota dona val mes quan letra apren" (Any woman's worth more when she learns how to read), the first line of a ballad by the 13th-century Catalan troubadour Severí de Girona.

Once Franco's Spain composed of church, army, and oligarchy had restored law and order after the Spanish Civil War, the center was taken over by Spain's one legal political party, the Falange, and women's activities were reoriented toward more domestic pursuits such as sewing and cooking. Today, the library is open to all genders, and the complex includes a small theater that has a program of theatrical and cultural events.

Café Zurich

La Rambla

This traditional café and rendezvous point at the top of the Rambla, over the metro station, has an elegant, high-ceilinged interior. The terrace is one of the city's prime people-watching spots—but keep a sharp eye on your bags and valuables.

Capella d'en Marcús

This Romanesque hermitage looks as if it had been left behind by some remote order of hermit-monks who meant to take it on a picnic in the Pyrenees. The tiny chapel, possibly—along with Sant Llàtzer—Barcelona's smallest religious structure, and certainly one of its oldest, was originally built in the 12th century on the main Roman road into Barcelona, the one that would become Cardo Maximo just a few hundred yards away as it passed through the walls at Portal de l'Àngel.

Bernat Marcús, a wealthy merchant concerned with public welfare and social issues, built a hospital here for poor travelers; the hospital chapel that bears his name was dedicated to the Mare de Déu de la Guia (Our Lady of the Guide). As a result of its affiliation, combined with its location on the edge of town, the chapel eventually became the headquarters of the Confraria del Correus a Cavall (Brotherhood of the Pony Express), also known as the troters (trotters), that made Barcelona the key link in overland mail between the Iberian Peninsula and France.

Carders 2 (Placeta d'en Marcús), 08003, Spain

Carrer dels Escudellers

Named for the terrissaires (earthenware potters) who worked here making escudellas (bowls or stew pots), this colorful loop is an interesting subtrip off La Rambla. Go left at Plaça del Teatre and you'll pass the landmark Grill Room at No. 8, an Art Nouveau saloon with graceful wooden decor and an ornate oak bar; next is La Fonda Escudellers, another lovely, glass- and stone-encased dining emporium. (Alas, the food is not especially good at either.)

At Nos. 23–25 is Barcelona's most comprehensive ceramics display, Art Escudellers. Farther down, on the right, is Los Caracoles, once among the most traditional of Barcelona's restaurants and now mainly the choice of tourists with deep pockets. Still, the bar and the walk-through kitchen on the way in are picturesque, as are the dining rooms and the warren of little stairways between them. Another 100 yards down Carrer Escudellers is Plaça George Orwell, named for the author of Homage to Catalonia, a space created to bring light and air into this somewhat sketchy neighborhood. The little flea market that hums along on Saturday is a great place to browse.

Take a right on the narrow Carrer de la Carabassa—a street best known in days past for its houses of ill fame, and one of the few remaining streets in the city still entirely paved with cobblestones. It is arched over with two graceful bridges that once connected the houses with their adjacent gardens. At the end of the street, looming atop her own basilica, is Nostra Senyora de la Mercè (Our Lady of Mercy). This giant representation of Barcelona's patron saint is a 20th-century (1940) addition to the 18th-century Església de la Mercè; the view of La Mercè gleaming in the sunlight, babe in arms, is one of the Barcelona waterfront's most impressive sights.

As you arrive at Carrer Ample, note the 15th-century door with a winged Sant Miquel Archangel delivering a backhand blow to a scaly Lucifer. It's from the Sant Miquel church, formerly part of City Hall, torn down in the early 19th century. From the Mercè, a walk out Carrer Ample (to the right) leads back to the bottom of La Rambla. 

Carrer dels Escudellers, 08002, Spain

Carrer Flassaders

Named for the weavers and blanket makers to whom this street belonged in medieval times, Carrer Flassaders is best approached from Carrer Montcada, at El Xampanyet, one of La Ribera's most popular bars for tapas and cava. Duck into the short, dark Carrer Arc de Sant Vicenç. At the end, you'll find yourself face to face with La Seca, what used to be the Royal Mint (officially, the Reial Fàbrica de la Moneda de la Corona d'Aragó), where money was manufactured until the mid-19th century. Coins bearing the inscription, in Castilian, "Principado de Cataluña" (Principality of Catalonia) were made here as late as 1836.

Turn left on Carrer de la Seca to Carrer de la Cirera. Overhead to the left is the image of Santa Maria de Cervelló, one of the patron saints of the Catalan fleet, on the back of the Palau Cervelló on Carrer Montcada. Turn right on Carrer de la Cirera, and arrive at the corner of Carrer dels Flassaders. Walk left past several shops. Wander down Flassaders through a gauntlet of elegant clothing, furnishings, and jewelry design boutiques, and you'll pass the main entry to Escenari Joan Brossa at Number 40, with the gigantic Bourbon coat of arms over the imposing archway.

Look up to your right at the corner of the gated Carrer de les Mosques, famous as Barcelona's narrowest street. The mustachioed countenance peering down at you was once a medieval advertisement for a brothel. Pasteleria Hofmann, at Number 44, is the excellent pastry shop (don't pass up the mascarpone croissants) of famous Barcelona chef, the late Mey Hofmann, whose cooking school is over on nearby Carrer Argenteria. A right on Passeig del Born will take you back to Santa Maria del Mar.

Carrer Petritxol

Just steps from La Rambla, Carrer Petritxol is one of Barcelona's most popular streets. Lined with art galleries, xocolaterías (chocolate shops), and stationers, this narrow passageway dates from the 15th century, when it was used as a shortcut through the backyard of a local property owner.

Working up Petritxol from Plaça del Pi, stop to admire the late-17th-century sgraffito design (mural ornamentation made by scratching away a plaster surface), some of the city's best, on the facade over the Ganiveteria Roca knife store, the place for cutlery in Barcelona. Next on the right, at Petritxol 2 is the 200-year-old Dulcinea, with a portrait of the great Catalan playwright Àngel Guimerà (1847–1924) over the fireplace. Drop in for the house specialty, the suizo ("Swiss" hot chocolate and whipped cream). 

Note the plaque to Àngel Guimerà over No. 4 and Sala Parès at No. 5, founded in 1840, the dean of Barcelona's art galleries, where major figures like Isidre Nonell, Santiago Rusiñol, and Picasso have shown their work, and its affiliated Galeria Trama, which shows more contemporary work. Look carefully at the "curtains" carved into the wooden door at No. 11 and the floral ornamentation around the edges of the ceiling inside; the store is Granja la Pallaresa, yet another enclave of chocolate and ensaimada (a light-looking but deadly sweet Mallorcan pastry, with confectioner's sugar dusted on top). 

Carrer Petrixol, 08002, Spain

Carrer Sant Carles No. 6


The last Barceloneta house left standing in its original 1755 two-story entirety, this low, boxlike structure was planned as a single-family dwelling with shop and storage space on the ground floor and the living space above. Overcrowding soon produced split houses and even quartered houses, with workers and their families living in tiny spaces. After nearly a century of living under Madrid-based military jurisdiction, Barceloneta homeowners were given permission to expand vertically, and houses of as many as five stories began to tower over the lowly original dwellings. The house is not open to the public.

Casa Amatller

The neo-Gothic Casa Amatller was built by Josep Puig i Cadafalch in 1900, when the architect was 33 years old. Eighteen years younger than Domènech i Montaner and 15 years younger than Gaudí, Puig i Cadafalch was one of the leading statesmen of his generation, once the mayor of Barcelona, and in 1917, president of Catalonia's first home-rule government since 1714. Puig i Cadafalch's architectural historicism sought to recover Catalonia's proud past, in combination with eclectic elements from Flemish and Dutch architectural motifs. Note the Eusebi Arnau sculptures—especially his St. George and the Dragon, and the figures of a drummer with his dancing bear. The flowing-haired "Princesa" is thought to be Amatller's daughter; the animals above the motif are depicted pouring chocolate, a reference to the source of the Amatller family fortune. The first-floor apartment, where the Amatller family lived, is a museum, with original furniture and decor; self-guided tours are available with an English audioguide. A quick visit will give you a sense of what the rest of the building is like and a chance to buy some chocolate de la casa at the boutique.

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Passeig de Gràcia 41, 08007, Spain
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Rate Includes: From €19, 15% admission discount if you book online or with Barcelona Card

Casa Bruno Cuadros

Like something out of an amusement park, this former umbrella shop was whimsically designed (assembled is more like it) by Josep Vilaseca in 1885. A Chinese dragon with a parasol, Egyptian balconies and galleries, and a Peking lantern all reflect the Eastern style that was very much in vogue at the time of the Universal Exposition of 1888. Now housing a branch office of the Banco Bilbao Vizcaya Artentaria (BBVA), this prankster of a building is much in keeping with Art Nouveau's eclectic playfulness, though it has never been taken very seriously as an expression of Modernisme and is generally omitted from most studies of Art Nouveau architecture.

Casa Calvet

This exquisite but more conventional town house (for Gaudí, anyway) was the architect's first commission in the Eixample (the second was the dragon-like Casa Batlló, and the third, and last—he was never asked to do another—was the stone quarry–esque Casa Milà). Peaked with baroque scroll gables over the unadorned (no ceramics, no color, no sculpted ripples) Montjuïc sandstone facade, Casa Calvet compensates for its structural conservatism with its Moderniste details, from the door handles to the benches, chairs, vestibule, and spectacular glass-and-wood elevator. Built between 1898 and 1900 for the textile baron Pere Calvet, the house includes symbolic elements on the facade, ranging from the owner's stylized letter "C" over the door to the cypress, symbol of hospitality, above. The wild mushrooms on the main (second) floor reflect Pere Calvet's (and perhaps Gaudí's) passion for mycology, while the busts at the top of the facade represent St. Peter, the owner's patron saint, and St. Genis of Arles and St. Genis of Rome, patron saints of Vilassar, the Calvet family's hometown in the coastal Maresme north of Barcelona. Note that the only part of the building accessible to visitors is the ground-floor China Crown restaurant, originally the suite of offices for Calvet's textile company, with its exuberant Moderniste decor.

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Carrer Casp 48, 08010, Spain
93-315 8095-(China Crown restaurant)

Casa Comalat


Located at the bottom of Gràcia, this often overlooked Moderniste house (not open to the public) is worth stopping by to view the exterior—especially from the Carrer Còrsega side of the building, at the corner of Carrer de Pau Claris. Built in 1911, the Salvador Valeri i Pupurull creation is one of Barcelona's most interesting Moderniste houses, with its undulating balconies, Gaudí-on-steroids stone arches, and polychrome ceramic-tiled facade

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Av. Diagonal 442, Barcelona, 08036, Spain
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Rate Includes: Only viewable from the exterior.

Casa de l'Ardiaca

The interior of this 15th-century building, home of the Municipal Archives (upstairs), has superb views of the remains of the 4th-century Roman watchtowers and walls. Look at the Montjuïc sandstone carefully, and you will see blocks taken from other buildings carved and beveled into decorative shapes, proof of the haste of the Romans to fortify the site as the Visigoths approached from the north, when the Pax Romana collapsed. The marble letter box by the front entrance was designed in 1895 by Lluís Domènech i Montaner for the Lawyer's Professional Association; as the story goes, it was meant to symbolize, in the images of the doves, the lofty flight to the heights of justice and, in the images of the turtles, the plodding pace of administrative procedures. In the center of the lovely courtyard here, across from the Santa Llúcia chapel, is a fountain; on the day of Corpus Christi in June the fountain impressively supports l'ou com balla, or "the dancing egg," a Barcelona tradition in which eggs are set to bobbing atop jets of water in various places around the city.

Casa de la Caritat–Pati Manning

El Raval

This house occupies what were once the grounds and buildings of a 14th-century Carthusian convent—though the convent itself is long gone. The present building dates to 1749; it was renovated in 1929 in Catalan Moderniste style, abandoned for a time, and then remodeled in 1980 as part of a large-scale urban improvement project for El Raval, with much of the impressive tile work, brick vaulted arches and stone pillars preserved intact. It now houses the Centre d'Estudis i Recursos Culturals de la Diputació (Center for Cultural Studies and Resources of the Provincial Council) and the Centre de Cultura Contemporània de Barcelona (CCCB: the Centre for Contemporary Culture), in the Pati Manning Espai Cultural—a two-story cloister around a central courtyard (pati means patio or courtyard) with lovely Tuscan arches. The Pati Manning (named for a benefactor of the one-time almshouse) includes a library, a lecture hall and auditorium, and exhibition galleries, and organizes a wide range of cultural and artistic initiatives.

Casa de la Misericòrdia

El Raval

With its charming ivy-covered and palm-shaded courtyard, this property was once a vocational school and a home for the children of the destitute. Founded in 1581 by theologian Don Diego Pérez de Valdivia, it functioned throughout the 19th and much of the 20th century as an orphanage for girls. The excellent bookstore La Central del Raval, next door at Carrer Elisabets 6, was formerly the institution's chapel. Around the corner (or through the bookstore) on Carrer dels Ramelleres at No. 17, a ring of wood in the wall just above waist level is all that remains of the ancient torno, or turntable, standard in early orphanages and cloistered convents. Alms, groceries, and unwanted babies alike were placed in this opening slot, to be spun anonymously into the hands of the convent staff. The building now houses an archive of historical documents—the oldest of which date to the 14th century.

Casa de la Papallona


This extraordinary apartment house crowned with an enormous yellow butterfly (papallona) made of trencadís (broken ceramic chips used by the Modernistes to add color to curved surfaces) was built in 1912 by Josep Graner i Prat. Next to Plaça de Espanya, directly overlooking the Arenes de Barcelona (the former bullring, now a multilevel shopping mall), the building displays lines of a routine, late-19th-century design—that is, until you reach the top of the facade.

Casa de la Sang

Barri Gòtic

Just adjacent to the church of Santa Maria del Pi is the seat of the 14th-century religious brotherhood charged with the preparation of the last rites, spiritual comfort, and burial of criminals condemned to death. In the famous Ramon Casas painting Garrote Vil (1894)—depicting the execution of the anarchist who bombed the Liceu Opera House (the painting can be seen in Barcelona's Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya)—the penitent monks dressed in long black cassocks and conical headgear are from this order, the Casa de la Congregació de la Puríssima Sang (House of the Congregation of the Purest Blood). The house was purportedly built in 1542 (the historical evidence is not clear) and renovated in 1613 and 1789.

Pl. del Pi 1, Barcelona, 08002, Spain
Sight Details
Rate Includes: Interior closed to the public

Casa de les Punxes

Also known as Casa Terrades for the family that owned the house and commissioned Puig i Cadafalch to build it, this extraordinary cluster of six conical towers ending in impossibly sharp needles is another of Puig i Cadafalch's inspirations, this one rooted in the Gothic architecture of northern European countries. One of the few freestanding Eixample buildings, visible from 360 degrees, this ersatz Bavarian or Danish castle in downtown Barcelona is composed entirely of private apartments, some of them built into the conical towers themselves on three circular levels, connected by spiral stairways. Casa de les Punxes currently functions as a co-working space and is not open to visitors.

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Casa Domènech i Estapà


This less radical example of Eixample Art Nouveau architecture, now an apartment building, is interesting for its balconies and curved lines on the facade, for its handsome doors and vestibule, and for the lovely etched designs on the glass of the entryway. Built by and for the architect Domènech i Estapà in 1908–09, eight years before his death, this building represents a more conservative interpretation of the aesthetic canons of the epoch, revealing the architect's hostility to the Art Nouveau movement. Domènech i Estapà built more civil projects than any other architect of his time (Reial Acadèmia de Cièncias y Artes, Palacio de Justicia, Sociedad Catalana de Gas y Electricidad, Hospital Clínico, Observatorio Fabra) and was the creator of the Carcel Modelo (Model Prison), considered a state-of-the-art example of penitentiary design when it was built in 1913.

Casa Golferichs

Gaudí disciple Joan Rubió i Bellver built this extraordinary house, known as El Xalet (The Chalet), for the Golferichs family when he was only 30. The rambling wooden eaves and gables of the exterior enclose a cozy and comfortable dark-wood-lined interior with a pronounced verticality. The top floor, with its rich wood beams and cerulean walls, is often used for intimate concerts; the ground floor exhibits paintings and photographs. The building serves now as the quarters of the Golferichs Centre Civic, which offers local residents a range of conferences and discussions, exhibitions and adult education courses, and organizes various thematic walking tours of the city.

Casa Macaya


This graceful Puig i Cadafalch building constructed in 1901 was the former seat of the Obra Social "la Caixa," a deep-pocketed, far-reaching cultural and social welfare organization funded by Spain's major (and most civic-minded) savings bank. It now houses the foundation's Espai Caixa cultural center, organizing a range of conferences, discussion forums, and presentations on current social and political issues. Look for the Eusebi Arnau sculptures over the door depicting, somewhat cryptically, a man mounted on a donkey and another on a bicycle, reminiscent of the similar Arnau sculptures on the facade of Puig i Cadafalch's Casa Amatller on Passeig de Gràcia.

Casa Martí—Els Quatre Gats

Built by Josep Puig i Cadafalch for the Martí family, this Art Nouveau house was the fountainhead of bohemianism in Barcelona. It was here in 1897 that four friends, notable dandies all—Ramon Casas, Pere Romeu, Santiago Rusiñol, and Miguel Utrillo—started a café called the Quatre Gats (Four Cats), meaning to make it the place for artists and art lovers to gather. (One of their wisest decisions was to mount a show, in February 1900, for an up-and-coming young painter named Pablo Picasso.) The exterior was decorated with figures by sculptor Eusebi Arnau (1864–1934). The clientele may be somewhat tourist-heavy these days but the interior of Els Quatre Gats hasn't changed one iota: pride of place goes to the Casas self-portrait, smoking his pipe, comically teamed up on a tandem bicycle with Romeu. Drop in for a café con leche and you just might end up seated in Picasso's chair. Venture to the dining room in back, with its unusual gallery seating upstairs; this room where Miró used to produce puppet theater is charming, but the food is nothing to rave about. Quatre gats in Catalan is a euphemism for "hardly anybody," but the four founders were each definitely somebody.

Casa Roviralta–El Frare Blanc

La Bonanova

Gaudí disciple Joan Rubió i Bellver, creator of the Gran Via's Casa Golferichs, won the Barcelona architecture prize of 1913 with this extravagant interplay of decorative brick and white surfaces. The house is traditionally known as El Frare Blanc (The White Monk) for the masía (Catalan country house) that previously occupied the spot and served as home to a community of Dominican monks who wore white habits. Floodlit at night, the building resembles nothing so much as a fairy-tale Andalusian castle. It is not simply a sight to behold: It is also a restaurant, the Asador de Aranda—the venue in Barcelona for oven-roasted milk-fed baby lamb. It was built at the behest of Theodor Roviralta, who made his fortune in the Spanish colonies.

Casa-Museu Gaudí

Up the steps of Park Güell and to the right is the whimsical Alice-in-Wonderland-esque house where Gaudí lived with his niece from 1906 until 1925. Now a small museum, exhibits include Gaudí-designed furniture and decorations, drawings, and portraits and busts of the architect. Stop by if you are in the park, but the museum is not worth traveling far for. Note that the museum is not included in the admission fee for Park Güell.

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