Barcelona is an enchanting seaside city with boundless culture, fabled architecture and a world-class drinking and dining scene.
Where to find Barcelona's most beautiful architecture
7 min read — Published Aug 8, 2021
Lonely Planet EditorsWriter
Famed for its architectural treasures, Barcelona is dotted with striking Gothic cathedrals, fantastical Modernisme creations and avant-garde works.
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The Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família (Expiatory Temple of the Holy Family) is considered to be the symbol of Barcelona by many residents, and the one place you shouldn’t miss when you visit the Catalan capital. Initially intended to be a simple Roman Catholic church dedicated to Jesus, Mary and Joseph, the church ultimately became the most prominent example of Catalan Modernism. Pope Benedict XVI declared it a basilica in 2010. Dreamed up by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, the basilica exemplifies Gaudí’s philosophy that nature is the work of God. Gaudí sought to combine Christian speech and biblical allegories with complex natural symbols like organic, geometric shapes which are prominent in every column, pinnacle and stained glass window of the basilica. The end result is an astounding architectural masterpiece which, despite being unfinished and under construction for nearly 140 years, has become one of the most visited monuments in Spain, receiving 4.7 million visitors in 2019. A detailed view of a facade of the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona. ©Yury Dmitrienko/Shutterstock History of the Sagrada Familia The creation and construction of the Sagrada Familia is living history. Local bookseller Josep Maria Bocabella wanted to build an expiatory temple consecrated to the Holy Family. Bocabella initially assigned the project to the architect Francisco de Paula del Villar, who designed a neo-Gothic project, and began construction in 1882. However, because of several disagreements with Bocabella, Antoni Gaudí took over the assignment. Gaudí conceived a groundbreaking design that pushed the boundaries of all known architectural styles. Gaudí’s primary goal was to build a church with facades that highlighted the three phases in the life of Jesus: Nativity, Passion and Glory. The architect’s vision was to incorporate organic symbolism in the architecture, stained glass and design elements in order to tell Jesus’s story as well as highlight some key biblical histories. In 1891, when development of the Nativity facade began, Gaudí realized that the construction of the Sagrada Família was such an ambitious project that he certainly would not see its completion in his lifetime. In fear of the project being stopped after his death and once the church acquired its worship function, Gaudí decided that, instead of building the central nave, he would start on the external part of the church. At the time, Gaudí was also working on Casa Milà (La Pedrera) and when that was completed in 1912, he focused exclusively on the construction of the Sagrada Família. He worked on it until he died in 1926 and was buried inside the crypt. After Gaudi’s death, Domènec Sugrañes i Gras assumed the main role of architect. The temple suffered heavy damage during Spain’s Civil War (1936-39), when a group of anarchists set it on fire, burning a significant part of Gaudí’s workshop. Fortunately, part of his material could be restored. Work resumed in 1954 and it’s been under construction ever since. The stained glass windows of the Sagrada Familia. ©Alessandro Colle/Shutterstock Why is the Sagrada Família not finished and when will be completed? Even with today’s technology, skilled architects and engineers are finding it challenging to decipher and bring to life the complex geometric shapes that compose what is going to be the tallest church in the world (172.5m). In addition, despite its international renown, the Sagrada Família is a project that was promoted by the people for the people, so it has always relied on private donations. There have been times in history when there wasn’t any funding, especially during Spain’s Civil War and the decades that followed. It was only after the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, when the city started to gain an international reputation and the number of visitors increased, that construction accelerated exponentially. The Sagrada Família was expected to be completed in 2026 - for the centenary of Gaudí’s death – but its completion has been postponed because of COVID-19. Work has resumed already but a new completion date hasn’t been announced. Visiting the Sagrada Família The site of the Sagrada Família has four main sections: the basilica, the school building, museum and towers. In the past, each section required its own ticket to visit. However, due to COVID-19, the only portion available to visitors is the basilica. To visit the basilica, an individual ticket with an audio-guide app - available in 16 languages - costs €26. If you prefer visiting it on a guided tour - available in 6 languages - an individual ticket costs €27, which also allows you to visit the site on your own after the 50-minute tour is finished. The Basilica The Basilica is composed of five naves, built in the shape of a Latin cross, the roof of which is supported by the angled pillars. These angled pillars are a treelike column structure that creates the effect of a living forest with dappled light streaming in. Gaudí Museum The Gaudí Museum has a recreation of the architect’s workshop, as well as a set of his materials and mockups. School Building Gaudí designed and built the school building, which was for the workers’ children, in 1909. Its design is similar to that of the Casa Milà. The Towers Four towers representing the 12 apostles ascend from each of the three exterior facades (Nativity, Passion and Glory). Gaudí built the Nativity Facade, and in 2005 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, along with the crypt. On the west side is the controversial Passion Facade, whose architect, Josep Maria Subirachs, has been heavily criticized for being too abstract and not strictly following Gaudí’s model. The unfinished Glory Facade is supposed to be the most gorgeous of the three once it’s complete and crowned with its missing four towers. How to get to the Sagrada Familia The Sagrada Família is in the Eixample district, in Mallorca, 401 street. Metro lines 2 and 5 stop at Sagrada Família station. From Barcelona’s Old City, it’s a 30- to 40-minute walk. When to visit the Sagrada Familia The Basilica is open to visitors every day of the year, subject to change due to special events taking place inside. To avoid the largest crowds, it’s best to visit early weekday mornings. A complete visit takes 2-3 hours. Things to do around the Sagrada Familia The Right Eixample is home to some of Barcelona’s major attractions which can be easily visited after your Sagrada Família tour. An unmissable landmark is Hospital Sant Pau, a building designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner, one of the most influential architects of Catalan Modernism after Gaudí. Monumental, a former but imposing bullfighting arena, is also worth the detour. Finish your Eixample circuit at Barcelona’s triumphal arch, located at Passeig de Lluís Companys, a palm-lined boulevard that leads to Parc de la Ciutadella, the largest park in town. Where to eat near the Sagrada Família Be aware that all restaurants surrounding the Sagrada Família cater to the tourist crowd. However, by walking just a few blocks, you come to a particularly local area of l’Eixample. For Spanish tapas and wine, we recommend Hasta Los Andares. For authentic Spanish tortillas, look for La Granota and, for traditional Catalan food, grab a bite at Olé Mallorca, which tends to get busy at lunch time (2 to 3pm). In the morning, you must stop at Puiggròs, a one hundred year-old patisserie.
Located along the grand, medieval street of Carrer de Montcada, the Museu Picasso is dedicated to one of the world’s greatest artists, Pablo Picasso. Born in the Andalusian city of Málaga in 1881, Picasso moved to Barcelona at age 14, where he spent his adolescence, youth and formative years with his family. Opened in 1963, the “Picasso Museum” not only showcases some of the painter’s earliest works, but it aims to show the strong, emotional bond Picasso had with the city, which was key in discovering, developing and shaping his artistic skills. The museum occupies five Medieval palaces, providing an immense setting for visitors to take in the 4000 or so original works on display. Entrance to the Museu Picasso © csp / Shutterstock History of Museu Picasso Jaume Sabartés was a Catalan writer and Picasso’s close friend and personal secretary. He conceived an idea of creating a museum dedicated to Picasso but wanted to put it in Picasso’s birth city of Málaga. Picasso, however, convinced Sabartés to open it in Barcelona. This was, after all, the city where he’d become a recognized artist, spending his days mixing with intellectuals and visionaries in places like Quatre Gats, a bar in the Gothic Quarter that served as a meeting point for artists. Picasso and Sabartés opened their gallery in 1963, mainly with Sabartés’ private collection, and named it Col.lecció Sabartés. Picasso deliberately omitted his name from the museum to avoid censorship, as the artist’s well known political views opposed the Franco regime. At the beginning, the museum only occupied Aguilar Palace, one of the five current mansions that house the gallery, but, after subsequent donations, including 58 paintings of Las Meninas de Velázquez and 921 of his earliest works, the first expansion was carried out in 1970 by annexing Baró del Castellet Palace. Despite Picasso’s death in 1973, the museum kept expanding and growing over the following decades, eventually becoming one of the most appreciated cultural heritage sites in Barcelona. Two visitors admire the artwork on show at the Museu Picasso © Krzysztof Dydynski / Lonely Planet Museu Picasso collection For potential visitors, it’s worth noting that Picasso’s most famous works are spread out across the globe. Paintings like Guernica, Three Musicians or Family of Saltimbanques, for example, are all displayed in Madrid, New York City and Washington DC, respectively. Museu Picasso, however, is unique in a way that it contains the largest collection of works from the artist’s earliest years, crucial to understanding Picasso’s world and the solid connection he had with the city of Barcelona. Though the collection does include some of his trademark Cubist masterpieces too. The permanent collection is displayed in Palau Aguilar, Palau del Baró de Castellet and Palau Meca. The first few rooms are dedicated to his initial paintings, consisting of complex portraits that already showcase Picasso’s great talent. For that, Aunt Pepa Portrait (1896) is a fine example. The museum also displays several paintings from his well-known Blue-period (1901-1904), when Picasso painted monochromatic paintings in shades of blue. The Rooftops of Barcelona (1903) is a well-known piece from this time. Picasso, however, is more internationally known as one of the pioneers of Cubism, an art movement from the beginning of the 20th century that consisted of elements all fragmented, like in a broken puzzle. The last rooms of the permanent collection contain some excellent Cubist examples, the most acclaimed being his series of Meninas de Velázquez. In these paintings, the artist Picasso represents the work of Diego Velázquez in Cubist style. The remaining two palaces focus on temporary exhibitions. The inner courtyard of Museu Picasso © Marco Rubino / Shutterstock Museu Picasso tickets A general admission ticket to the museum costs €12, which includes the permanent collection and temporary exhibitions. You can also buy a separate ticket for the temporary exhibition for €6.50. Tickets can be purchased online from the museum’s official website. How to enter Museu Picasso for free Entry to the museum is free of charge on Thursday afternoons, from 5pm to 8pm, the first Sunday of each month, and on the following days: February 12, May 18 and September 24. It’s worth noting that capacity is reduced on these days, so booking online in advance is recommended. Museu Picasso Opening Hours Museu Picasso opens Tuesday to Sunday, from 10am to 8pm. On Mondays the museum is closed. The museum is also closed on January 1, May 1, June 24 and December 25. The museum also runs reduced hours on certain days, including January 5 (10am to 5pm), and December 24 and 31 (10am to 2pm). How to get to Museu Picasso Museu Picasso is located on Carrer de Montcada, which dates back to the 12th century and was once the city’s most coveted address. It is located in the Old City, in El Born district. Jaume I (Line 4) is the closest metro station. Restaurants around Museu Picasso El Born is the area with the largest culinary range in Barcelona, with fine-dining restaurants, international eateries and informal tapas spots aplenty. Bar Joan is one of the oldest in the area. They offer market cuisine, serving all the classic Spanish tapas, but also traditional Catalan and Spanish dishes. Tiny Tantarantana is another local restaurant serving delicious tapas, with terrace tables and an informal atmosphere. If you are a fan of Asian dishes, Red Ant is a popular place for noodles and craft beer.
La Rambla is a tree-lined boulevard featuring a wide array of architectural delights, beautifully decorated flower stalls and particularly talented (and certified) human statues. Foodies will definitely enjoy the tapa joints at Mercat de la Boqueria, considered by many to be the best gourmet food market in Europe. It is infamous for the incredible numbers of both pickpockets and tourist-first restaurants serving mediocre paella, but there is plenty to see and appreicate. Linking Plaça de Catalunya, the central square in Barcelona, with the old harbor, strolling La Rambla, or ramblejar, as the local people say, while admiring the imposing facades and doing some people watching, is something everyone should experience when visiting Barcelona. Painter's stand on La Rambla © Krzysztof Dydynski / Lonely Plane History of La Rambla Unlike most landmarks in Barcelona, the history of La Rambla is neither epic nor glamorous. Its name comes from the Arabic word ‘’ramla’’, which translates into ‘’sandy or muddy area’’. Today’s La Rambla used to be an open sewer named Riera d’en Malla, which also served as a natural culvert for the water coming from Collserola, the hills that limit Barcelona to the north. In the 15th century, the Barcelona Council wanted to extend its city walls by including El Raval district. For that, they had to divert the stream, so it could flow outside of the walls. The empty area resulting from the stream diversion became the actual street that was later named La Rambla. Over the following decades, several convents and monasteries were built along La Rambla, but most of them were burnt down during the anti-clerical revolution of 1835. It wasn’t until then, that La Rambla started flourishing. The most visited landmarks like Plaça Reial, Mercat de la Boqueria, Teatre Liceu, and Font de Canaletes were all built in the 19th century on the ground where Catholic buildings used to stand. Very quickly, La Rambla became the center of urban, modern city life in Barcelona. With the arrival of mass tourism, however, La Rambla has turned into the busiest tourist hot spot in the city, losing the local essence that once used to prevail there. Barcelonins are a rare thing to see these days, the reason why this was the area most affected by the consequences of COVID-19. The restaurants along the boulevard initiated a campaign to attract local customers by offering big discounts, but it’s been so long since the arrival of mass tourism, that barcelonins are not used to going there anymore. La Rambla, Barcelona © Nikada / Getty Images La Rambla or Les Rambles? La Rambla or Les Rambles? During your visit, you will probably realize that some locals call it La Rambla, while others say Les Rambles. This can be confusing for first-time visitors, but both terms are accepted. La Rambla refers to the whole pedestrian boulevard, while the plural form of Les Rambles refers to the five different sections into which it is divided. These distinct sections will help you shape your walking tour. Exploring La Rambla La Font de Canaletes on La Rambla © Esme Fox / Lonely Planet The first stretch of the famed boulevard is La Rambla de Canaletes, home to the Font de Canaletes. It is said that whoever tastes the water flowing from this fountain, will certainly come back to Barcelona one day – a local legend that always encourages happy visitors to drink from it. Canaletes is also the place where FC Barcelona fans gather when the football club wins titles. Meander down the road and you will bump into Església de Betlem, a 17th-century baroque church, and one of the few which wasn’t burned down during the anti-clerical revolution. The boulevard’s second stretch is named La Rambla dels Estudis, named after Estudi General de Barcelona, a 16th-century university and the predecessor of Universitat de Barcelona, one of the top public universities in Spain. Mosaïc de Miró on La Rambla © Esme Fox / Lonely Planet Art lovers will enjoy walking through the third stretch called La Rambla de les Flors, which features a big mosaic made by surrealist painter Joan Miró, as well as the neoclassical Virreina Palace. Operating continuously since the 19th century, the flower market can be found in this section too. The newest addition to the sites is a memorial for the victims of the 2017 terrorist attack. Continue rambling down the boulevard until you find La Rambla dels Caputxins, named after a former monastery inhabited by friars from the Capuchin order. This is where you’ll find the acclaimed El Mercat de la Boqueria, a central market offering all the freshest produce in Barcelona. In La Boqueria, look for Pinocho Bar, an award-winning, 75-year-old tapa joint where, despite being consistently packed with visitors, the food quality remains impressive. Don’t miss their calamarcets amb mongetes de Santa Pau (little squid with local white beans). Across the street, pop into the very popular Erotic Museum, thought to be a bit sassy by some, the museum takes you through the fascinating influence of sexuality throughout the history of Barcelona. The last stretch of road belongs to La Rambla de Santa Mònica, also named after one of the monasteries which burned down in 1835. The southern edge of La Rambla leads into the 60m tall Columbus statue, which overlooks the old harbor of Barcelona. A tapas bar in Mercat de la Boqueria, Barcelona © Jon Hicks/ Getty Images How to get to La Rambla Plaça Catalunya metro (Line 1, Line 3 and FGC) is located on the northern edge of La Rambla which is considered the starting point. Liceu and Drassanes metro stations (Line 3), are located in the middle and south end of La Rambla, respectively. Things to do around La Rambla La Rambla is a 1.2km boulevard that goes through the Old City, dividing the Gothic area and El Raval. On El Raval side, the Museum of Contemporary Art is one of the most visited museums in Barcelona. La Rambla del Raval is also gorgeous, much quieter, plus it features a cat statue made by the Colombian artist Botero. The Gothic area doesn’t come up short when it comes to neo-Gothic and Gothic buildings, the Barcelona Cathedral being the most astonishing architectural masterpiece. North of La Rambla and Plaça Catalunya, you have Passeig de Gràcia, a fancy-like street home to the Gaudí-designed buildings of La Pedrera and Casa Batlló. The southern edge of La Rambla links to the wooden dock and promenade, which connects to the beach district of La Barceloneta. Dining outside at Barcelona's 7 Portes © TravelCollection / Alamy Stock Photo Best restaurants near La Rambla Except for some tapa joints in Mercat de la Boqueria, we recommend skipping the restaurants found along La Rambla and instead, exploring the labyrinthine lanes of both El Raval and the Gothic area which are home to several local eateries and restaurants. On the Gothic side, have a meal at Agut, known for its traditional Catalan cuisine. Neri is slightly more expensive, but it’s a good place for getting a taste of what modern Catalan cuisine is like. For classic Spanish tapas, you will never go wrong in Babia. On the Raval side, we recommend Arume for Galician food, a northwestern Spanish region famous for its octopus. For a real Spanish experience, go to Bar Cañete, one of the oldest in the area. Those who need a break from Spanish food can pay a visit to the popular burger joint Buenissimo Burger.
In the top tier of Gaudí's achievements, this madcap Unesco-listed masterpiece, with 33 balconies, was built in 1905–10 as a combined apartment and office block. Formally called Casa Milà, after the businessman who commissioned it, it is better known as La Pedrera (the Quarry) because of its uneven grey stone facade, which ripples around the corner of Carrer de Provença. Gaudí's approach to space and light as well as the blurring of the dividing line between decoration and functionality are astounding. When commissioned to design this apartment building, Gaudí wanted to top anything else done in L’Eixample. Pere Milà had married the older and far richer Roser Guardiola, the widow of Josep Guardiola, and clearly knew how to spend his new wife's money. Milà was one of the city’s first car owners and Gaudí built parking space into this building, itself a first. The natural world was one of the most enduring influences on Gaudí’s work, and the building's undulating grey-stone facade evokes a cliff-face sculpted by waves and wind. The wave effect is emphasised by elaborate wrought-iron balconies that bring to mind seaweed washed up on the shore. The lasting impression is of a building on the verge of motion – a living building. The roof is the most extraordinary element, where Gaudí’s blend of mischievous form with ingenious functionality erupts into chimney pots looking like multicoloured medieval knights. Some are unadorned, others are decorated with trencadís (ceramic fragments) or even broken cava bottles. Short concerts are often staged up here in summer. Gaudí wanted to put a tall statue of the Virgin up here too: when the Milà family said no, fearing it might make the building a target for anarchists, Gaudí resigned from the project in disgust. One floor below the roof, in the attic where you can appreciate Gaudí’s taste for parabolic arches (270 of them), is a modest museum dedicated to his work. The next floor down is the apartment (El Pis de la Pedrera). It is fascinating to wander around this elegantly furnished home, done up in the style a well-to-do family might have enjoyed in the early 20th century. The sensuous curves, rippling distribution and unexpected touches in everything from light fittings to bedsteads, from door handles to balconies, might seem admirable to us today, but not everyone thought so at the time. The story goes that one tenant, a certain Mrs Comes i Abril, had complained that there was no obvious place to put her piano in these wavy rooms. Gaudí’s response was to suggest that she take up the flute. 'Premium' tickets (adult/child €32/14) allow you to skip the queue. Other options include an 'essential and night' ticket (€44/23.50) which includes a guided evening tour. Otherwise, buy tickets online (saving €3 on most ticket types) for opening time to avoid the worst of the crowds.
One of Europe's strangest residential buildings, Casa Batlló (built 1904–6) is Gaudí at his fantastical best. From its playful facade and marine-world inspiration to its revolutionary experiments in light and architectural form (straight lines are few and far between), this apartment block is one of the most beautiful buildings in a city where the architectural stakes soar sky-high. Locals know Casa Batlló variously as the casa dels ossos (house of bones) or casa del drac (house of the dragon). It’s easy enough to see why. The balconies look like the bony jaws of some strange beast and the roof represents Sant Jordi (St George) and the dragon. The latter was built to look like the shape of an animal’s back, with shiny scales – the 'spine' changes colour as you walk around. If you stare long enough at the building, it seems almost to be a living being. Before going inside, take a look at the pavement. Each paving piece carries stylised images of an octopus and a starfish, designs that Gaudí originally cooked up for Casa Batlló. When Gaudí was commissioned to refashion this building, he went to town inside and out. The internal light wells shimmer with tiles of deep-sea blue. Gaudí eschewed the straight line, and so the staircase wafts you up to the 1st (main) floor, where the main salon looks on to Passeig de Gràcia. Everything swirls: the ceiling is twisted into a vortex around its sunlike chandelier; the doors, window and skylights are dreamy waves of wood and coloured glass. The same themes continue in the other rooms and covered terrace. The attic is characterised by Gaudí trademark hyperboloid arches. Twisting, tiled chimney pots add a surreal touch to the roof, while the back terrace feels like a kaleidoscopic fantasy garden in miniature, with flowerpots taking on strange shapes and over 300 pieces of trencadís.
Barcelona’s central place of worship presents a magnificent image. The richly decorated main facade, dotted with gargoyles and the kinds of stone intricacies you would expect of northern European Gothic, sets it quite apart from other Barcelona churches. The facade was actually added from 1887 to 1890. The rest of the building dates to between 1298 and 1460. Its other facades are sparse in decoration, and the octagonal, flat-roofed towers are a clear reminder that, even here, Catalan Gothic architectural principles prevailed. The interior is a broad, soaring space divided into a central nave and two aisles by lines of elegant, slim pillars. The cathedral was one of the few churches in Barcelona spared by the anarchists in the civil war, so its ornamentation, never overly lavish, is intact. In the first chapel (for prayer only) on the right from the main northwest entrance, the main crucifixion figure above the altar is Sant Crist de Lepant; it is said Don Juan’s flagship bore it into battle at Lepanto and that the figure acquired its odd stance by dodging an incoming cannonball. Further along this same wall, past the southwest transept, are the wooden coffins of Count Ramon Berenguer I and his wife Almodis, founders of the 11th-century Romanesque predecessor to the present cathedral. Left from the main entrance is a 1433 marble baptismal font where, according to one story, six native North Americans brought to Europe by Columbus after his first voyage to the Americas were bathed in holy water. In the middle of the central nave is the exquisitely sculpted late 14th-century timber coro (choir stalls; closed during worshipping hours). The coats of arms on the stalls belong to members of the Barcelona chapter of the Order of the Golden Fleece. Emperor Carlos V presided over the order’s meeting here in 1519. Take the time to look at the artisanship up close – the Virgin Mary and Child depicted on the pulpit are especially fine. A broad staircase before the main altar leads you down to the crypt, which contains the 14th-century tomb of Santa Eulàlia, one of Barcelona’s two patron saints and more affectionately known as Laia. The reliefs on the alabaster sarcophagus, executed by Pisan artisans, recount some of her tortures and, along the top strip, the removal of her body to its present resting place. For a bird’s-eye view (mind the poop) of medieval Barcelona, visit the cathedral’s roof and tower by taking the lift (€3; cash only) from the Capella dels Sant Innocents near the northeast transept. From the southwest transept, exit by the partly Romanesque door (one of the few remnants of the present church’s predecessor) to the leafy claustre (cloister), with its fountains and flock of 13 geese. The geese supposedly represent the age of Santa Eulàlia at the time of her martyrdom and have, generation after generation, been squawking here since medieval days. One of the cloister chapels commemorates 930 priests, monks and nuns martyred during the civil war. Along the northern flank of the cloister you can enter the Sala Capitular (Chapter House). Although it’s bathed in rich red carpet and graced with fine timber seating, the few artworks gathered here are of minor interest; among them features a pietà by Bartolomeo Bermejo. Accessed from the northwest corner of the cloister, the Capella de Santa Llúcia is another of the few reminders of Romanesque Barcelona (although the interior is largely Gothic). It was originally the chapel for the adjacent Bishop's Palace and, from the exterior, you can see that, although incorporated into La Catedral, it is actually a separate building. Although technically it's free to go into La Catedral to pray, in practice if you go any time during tourist visiting hours, you'll need to pay. Otherwise, you can enter for free before 12.30pm (2pm on Sunday), though you'll have to pay to visit the choir stalls, Sala Capitular and/or roof.
One of Barcelona's most fascinating museums travels back through the centuries to the very foundations of Roman Barcino. You'll stroll over ruins of the old streets, sewers, laundries, baths and wine- and fish-making factories that flourished here following the town's founding by Emperor Augustus around 10 BCE. Equally impressive is the building itself, which was once part of the Palau Reial Major (Grand Royal Palace) on Plaça del Rei, among the key locations of medieval princely power in Barcelona. Enter through the 16th-century Casa Padellàs, just south of Plaça del Rei. Originally built for a noble family on Carrer dels Mercaders, the grand home was moved here, stone by stone, in the 1930s. It has a courtyard typical of Barcelona’s late-Gothic and baroque mansions, with a graceful external staircase up to the 1st floor. Today it leads to a restored Roman tower and a section of Roman wall (whose exterior faces Plaça Ramon de Berenguer el Gran), as well as a section of the house set aside for temporary exhibitions. Below ground, under Plaça del Rei, lies a remarkable walk through 4 sq km of excavated Roman and Visigothic Barcelona. After a display on the typical Roman domus (villa), with mosaics and murals, you reach a public laundry, then pass dyeing shops, more laundries, fish-preserve stores, a 6th-century public cold-water bath and, as you hit the Cardo Minor (a main street), a factory dedicated to the making of garum (a popular paste across the Roman Empire, made of mashed-up fish intestines, eggs and blood). Next come remnants of a 6th- to 7th-century church and necropolis and episcopal buildings, followed by winemaking stores, with ducts for allowing the must to flow off, and ceramic, round-bottomed dolia for storing and ageing wine. Ramparts then wind around and upward, past remains of the gated patio of a Roman house and the medieval Palau Episcopal (Bishops’ Palace). Don't miss the 14th-century foundations of Barcelona's Gothic cathedral on the way up. You eventually emerge at a hall and ticket office on the north side of Plaça del Rei. To your right is the Saló del Tinell, the banqueting hall of the royal palace and a fine example of Catalan Gothic (built 1359–70). Its broad arches and bare walls give a sense of solemnity that would have made an appropriate setting for Fernando and Isabel to hear Columbus’ first reports of the New World. It's sometimes used for temporary exhibitions. As you leave the saló you come to the 14th-century Capella Reial de Santa Àgata, the palace chapel. Outside, a spindly bell tower rises from the northeast side of Plaça del Rei. Inside, all is bare except for the magnificent techumbre (decorated timber ceiling) and 15th-century altarpiece, considered one of Jaume Huguet’s finest surviving works. Detailed displays are in Catalan, Spanish and English, and audioguides are included. Entry here includes admission to other MUHBA-run sites such as the Domus de Sant Honorat and the MUHBA Refugi 307.
Built off La Rambla in the late 1880s for Gaudí's wealthy patron the industrialist Eusebi Güell, the Palau Güell is a magnificent example of the early days of the architect's fevered architectural imagination. This extraordinary neo-Gothic mansion (one of few major buildings of that era raised in Ciutat Vella) gives an insight into its maker’s prodigious genius, and, though a little sombre compared with some of his later whims, it's a characteristic riot of styles (Gothic, Islamic, art nouveau) and materials. After the civil war the police occupied the Palau and tortured political prisoners in the basement. The building was then abandoned, leading to its long-term disrepair. It was finally reopened in 2012 after several years of refurbishment. Visits begin on the ground floor, in what was once the coach house, and from there head down to the basement, with its squat mushroom-shaped brick pillars; this is where the horses were stabled. Back upstairs you can admire the elaborate wrought iron of the main doors from the splendid vestibule, and the grand staircase lined with sandstone columns. Up on the 1st floor is the main hall; central to the structure is the magnificent music room with its rebuilt organ that is played during opening hours. The hall is a parabolic pyramid – each wall an arch stretching up three floors and coming together to form a dome. Off the music room is the Sala de Visites, with an exquisite artesonado (ceiling of interlaced beams with decorative insertions). Above this main floor are the family rooms, some of which are labyrinthine and dotted with piercings of light, wrought iron arabesques or grand, stained-glass windows. The roof is a tumult of tiled mosaics and fanciful design in the building’s chimney pots. The audio guide is worth a listen not only for the detailed description of the architecture, but for the pieces of music and its photographic illustrations of the Güell family's life. Picasso – who, incidentally, hated Gaudí’s work – began his Blue Period in 1902 in a studio across the street at Carrer Nou de la Rambla 10. Begging to differ with Senyor Picasso, Unesco has declared the Palau, together with Gaudí’s other main works, a World Heritage site.
Barcelona's most central fresh-produce market is one of the greatest sound, smell and colour sensations in Europe. It's housed in a packed-out Modernista-influenced building every bit as impressive, built from 1840 to 1914 under architect Josep Mas i Vila on the site of the former Sant Josep monastery. La Boqueria may have taken a tourist-oriented turn in recent years, but towards the back you'll discover what it's really about: bountiful fruit and vegetables, and seemingly limitless sea critters, cheeses and meats. There is believed to have been a market on this spot since 1217, and as much as La Boqueria has become a modern-day attraction, some barcelonins do still try to shop here (usually early on). What is now known as La Boqueria didn't come to exist until the 19th century, and the iron Modernista gate was constructed in 1914. Many of Barcelona's top restaurateurs also come here for their produce, which vouches for the quality of the market's offerings. Nowadays it’s no easy task to get through the crowds to the slippery slab of sole you’re after, a tempting piece of Asturian goat’s cheese or the huge tubs of fragrant olives, so it's best to arrive early. La Boqueria is dotted with a handful of vibrant, unassuming places to eat, many run by charismatic owners, though most don't open until lunchtime; try the wonderful truites (tortillas) at El Quim or anything at Bar Pinotxo. Whether you eat here or self-cater, it's worth trying some of Catalonia's gastronomical specialities, such as the bacallà salat (dried salted cod) that usually comes in an esqueixada – a tomato, onion and black-olive salad with frisée lettuce; calçots (a cross between a leek and an onion), which are chargrilled and the insides eaten as a messy whole; cargols (snails), a Catalan staple best eaten baked as cargols a la llauna; peus de porc (pig's trotters), which are often stewed with snails; or percebes (goose barnacles), much loved across northern Spain and enjoyed with a garlic-and-parsley sauce.
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