The Comprehensive Guide to Barcelona Part II: What to Do

Bienvenidos otra vez lectores! Es tiempo para el siguiente parte de los dos articulos he planeado sobre mi viaje al Barcelona. Hoy voy a cubrir las atracciones, tiendas y vistas tienes que visitar cuando llegas a la ciudad.

As my trip to Spain reaches its final stage, I think it is a good time to give a review of what all you absolutely must do when in Barcelona. This article will rank the different sights I visited as either must see, see if time, or don’t bother. Activities I’ll discuss today include Park Güell, la Sagrada Familia, and Montesserat. Without further delay, let’s get started.

Edit: I’ve actually been home for 3 weeks now, but completely forgot to upload Pt. II after my flight. Some of these photos are phenomenal and it would do them justice to view on your laptop monitor. 

Edit 2: I’m finally posting this, nearly 9 months later. I really want to apologize to you guys because my life got in the way!

Park Güell

At the turn of the 20th century, Barcelona underwent an urban expansion, incorporating six new neighborhoods which required a subsequent home building expansion as well. One such residential district was Park Güell.  The financial backer, Eusebi Guell, hired local architect Antoni Gaudi to design the homes in the new district.

Guadi was a native of Barcelona and a strong proponent of the naturalism movement occurring at this time. In all of his (unconventional) home designs, there is a unique incorporation of nontraditional geometry: rounded corners and wave-like roofs of his houses contrast the traditional Lego-style modular apartments of the city. 

Park Guell skyline
You can clearly tell the boundary of Park Güell from the rest of the city

The residential complex turned park features a ticketed to the “Monumental Core” and non-ticketed section (the rest of the park/neighborhood).  Pre-purchasing tickets is not necessarily needed as there are a certain amount of tickets allocated for purchase at the entrance for each hour of the day. However, the line for these grows quickly (and it gets extremely warm around noon) so while necessary, pre-purchasing definitely makes the excursion smoother. 

Within in the Monumental Core, there are two fully built homes from Gaudi’s designs which have been well preserved to demonstrate the unorthodoxy of his designs.  Built with curving roofs from recycled glass and ceramics, along with curved walls and circular rooms, the homes designed by Gaudi were definitely unique. In my opinion, the homes look like what a gingerbread house might look like in a fairy tale. 

Park Guell house
Does anybody else see snow on the roofs? 

Once done touring the two homes on display at the entrance, you can climb up “the Dragon Stairway” to the Hypostyle Room. Originally meant to be the central market for the neighborhood, the Hypostyle Room is now one of the most photogenic location of the park.  With towering Greco-Roman columns supporting a massive roof which you can climb up to, the room’s vaulted ceiling allows for a great view of the homes below an a teaser of the view of Barcelona from the roof above. 

Park Guell pagoda
The Hypostyle Room from where the lady in the above photo took her photo
Park Guell columns
The Hypostyle Room from within

Climb up another flight of stairs from the Hypostyle Room and you’ll reach the top of the Monumental Core. From here an unrivaled skyline of Barcelona through the Mediterranean Sea can be seen, although you’ll likely have to push through at least a dozen tourists to get to the front. 

Park Guell skyline
A super rare Rana family photo and the Barcelona skyline (very far off) 

Verdict: Must see

The views are phenomenal, the architecture unorthodox, and the crowds are less packed than what you’ll see in other parts of the city; a general admission only costs 7,50 euro (~$10) meaning this is an extremely affordable excursion.  Parks generally aren’t my favorite things in the world, but if you know a little bit of history – say why this neighborhood was built the way it was – then it makes for a great live history lesson. 

Plaza de Catalunya/La Rambla

Lead engineer, Cerda, designed Plaza de Catalunya to be one of the two, large squares around which traffic, shops, and people would flow. La Rambla is a wide, primarily pedestrian street which continues from Plaza de Catalunya to the Mediterranean Sea. It is built in the traditional style of most boulevards in Europe (think Champs-Elysees in Paris or The Mall in London) with tree-lined sides and wide pedestrian sidewalks. However, instead of having the sidewalks flanking a wide driving street, the sidewalk is in the middle and flanked by two one-way streets. 

PHOTOS HERE: Champs-Elysees, The Mall, La Rambla

Much like its counterparts across Europe, La Rambla is home to the premier American/European brands and restaurants in the city. However, the doesn’t necessarily mean they are better than the alternatives (esp. with the restaurants). There is easily a 10-15 euro markup on all the dishes at restaurants/ice cream parlors on La Rambla so after the experience of eating here once/twice wears off, I’d recommend walking to an adjacent street for dinner. 

There is an open-aired market along La Rambla which is definitely a neat place to check out and have a 2 or 3 euro juice at.  The market features local farmers/butchers/juicers (?) stalls and is a great opportunity to use all the vocab you remember from the Spanish II unit on open aired markets.

Pork/ham is probably the most popular meat in Spain
market copy

I have continued taking Spanish throughout university but I will never forget Ms. Brydels having us find a partner and act how an interaction between customer/vendor might go en el mercado del aire libre in freshman Spanish class.

Verdict: See if time

My verdict is a bit biased in that I have been to the Avenue de Champs-Elysees and The Mall. La Rambla doesn’t have the top tier European designer brands flanking the street (think St. Laurent Paris, Gucci, Tom Ford, etc.) like Champs-Elysees, nor does it have the Royal Palace at one end like The Mall. While I love walking through crowded streets and experiencing the traffic of Spain’s wealthiest city, it definitely was not as grand as I’d want it to be. 

If you have an evening to kill and want to walk to the Mediterranean, it is only a 0.75 km walk along La Rambla from Plaza de Catalunya. Otherwise, I wouldn’t worry about it and focus on the less touristy parts of the city. 

El Catedral de Barcelona

barcelona cathedral

Formally known as Cathedral of the Holy Cross and St. Eulalia, the Barcelona Cathedral is the home to the Archbishop of Barcelona and named in honor of Eulalia of Barcelona (290 – 303 AD), one of the city’s patrons.  According to Catholic history, Eulalia suffered 13 tortures at the hands of the Romans for refusing to recant her Christianity, after which she was exposed naked in the city square after her decapitation. It is said that upon her decapitation a dove flew from her body where her head once sat, and that a unlikely snowfall – late in the spring – covered her lifeless body to protect her modesty. 

In order to be Canonized in the Catholic Church, there are four stages one pass post-mortem: Servant of God, Venerable, Blessed, and Saint. The final two require verified miracles in order to pass; however, in the case of martyrs they only require one verified miracle in order for Canonization. For Eulalia, as she died a martyr for Christianity, the miraculous snowfall – verified by then contemporary accounts – was enough to canonize her, and a millennia later have her bishop  honor her with his cathedral.

barcelona cathedral, tomb
The tomb of St. Eulalia
barcelona cathedral, jesus and tomb
Above sits the altar

The style of the cathedral is much different than what you’ll see in most French/Italian churches as most of those were either renovated during or built after the Renaissance introduced the Baroque style.  Prior to the Renaissance, Gothic architecture prevailed in churches throughout Europe as the Church’s first attempt to bring people to God through exaltation rather than intimidation.  For this reason (along with engineering advancements), Gothic architecture focuses on allowing as much light into the building as possible: the side effect of this was buildings growing higher. 

Pointed arches rather than the Roman round arches allow for more efficient weight distribution onto the supporting columns rather than surrounding walls. This allowed for larger widows to line the exterior as collapses grew marginal.  A series of pointed arches coming together is known as a “ribbed vault.” Multiple ribbed vaults often lined the entrance to a Gothic cathedral. 

barcelona cathedral, pillars-2
A series of ribbed vaults
barcelona cathedral, pillars
A pointed arch (foreground) can clearly be seen here
Basilica de Barcelona (reverse)
Reverse side of the Cathedral

The Cathedral is located in the Gothic District of Barcelona. which is bordered on the west by La Rambla.  This portion of Barcelona is almost entirely original from when it was first constructed in its namesake architectural style in the 12-13th centuries.  Many traditional Spanish stores are located in this area, such as the zapaterias which sell espadrilles (or alpargatas as they’re known in Spain). 


I’ve talked a lot about espadrilles in previous spring/summer posts (spring/summer 2018, my Mediterranean themed shoot from last September, and my ethically conscious spring/summer 2017 posts), which really should let you know I really love these shoes.

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One pair cost 15 euro (~$17.00), so it really made no sense for me not to buy a pair. I’ve talked a lot about the history and how they’re made so I’m not going to recover past material, but I do want to let everyone know they are almost everywhere along the Mediterranean in Spain. 

Verdict: Must see

At times, Barcelona can feel like an extremely modern city, not too different than what you’d find in the United States. Taking some time to walk through their premier historical distinct helps remind you that underneath the modernity of four lane motorways, shopping malls, and tourist traps, Barcelona holds some of the most interesting history in Spain. 

La Basilica de la Sagrada Familia

This is it; this is why you come to Barcelona. This is the infamous, forever-constructing cathedral, lead by Gaudi from 1883 – 1926 (his death), with still another 8 years of building to go. The Sagrada Familia is Barcelona’s iconic cathedral that screams religious iconography from every angle inside and out. 

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Three facades depicting the Nativity, Passion, and Glory of Jesus Christ face the city. Along them sit intricate gargoyles depicting these iconic moments.  18 spires, each over 100m tall, split themselves between the facades and center in honor of the most important Christians at the time of Christ: the Twelve Apostles, the Four Evangelists, the Virgin Mary, and Jesus Christ. 

I simply cannot tell you in words how breathtaking this Basilica is. I won’t say anything more and just let you guys see a sliver for yourselves. 

Verdict: Must see

You have no excuse not to do this. Tickets are pricy at 29 euro (~$33) compared to other of Gaudi’s works. But you know this is unlike any of Gaudi’s other works. If you have only one day in the city, see this. 

Museo de arte Catalano/Plaza de España

I don’t have any pictures of inside the Museum of Catalan Art because who really takes pictures of what are essentially painted pictures.  I’m not a huge fan of art museums: I can handle a few hours in one but going from art museum to art museum can get a bit boring for me. Luckily, this view from the front of the museum over the Plaza de España is phenomenal. 

This is one of those things where you go just because people tell you to and because it’s “cultured.” Yes you can see art on every street corner in Europe, but you might as well experience the premier Catalan artists when in Catalonia. 

Placa Espanyol-2
Plaza de España

Verdict: Must see

Montserrat and the Santa María de Montserrat Abbey

Exterior facade built immediately after WWII

Slightly less than 50 km from Barcelona sits one of the most well-known Benedictine Monasteries in Europe: the Santa María de Montserrat Abbey. Not much is known about when the Abbey, except that in the early 11th century a monk arrived to oversee the already existing monastery.  Within the Basilica of Montserrat sits the Black Madonna and her child, a statue which can be dated back to 880 AD when it was first recorded in the Abbey.

The Black Madonna is the icon for the patron saint of Catalonia and holds tremendous significance in Spanish history: it is said Ignatius of Loyola travelled to this monastery and left his sword at the Madonna’s altar, giving up his past life of sin and soldiering to eventually form the Jesuit Order. 

This is an absolutely incredible feat of Medieval engineering  (building a monastery atop a mountain!) that is only 2 or so hours outside of Barcelona by train. The view of Catalonia from atop the peak of Montserrat is breathtaking and worth the climb from the monastery.

Verdict: Must see

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