But man does not create…he discovers.Antoni Gaudí
It was Gaudí who said, “But man does not create…he discovers.” Gaudí and his contemporaries have made some of the most unique buildings in the world. They thought outside of the box and created extravagant buildings for everyone to enjoy for years to come. The more intricate the patterns and designs, the better.
Here are our top recommendations for Barcelona for a 3-4 day trip. We wish we had a few extra days to see everything else our list, so we’ll have to make sure we return! We’ll be sure to do another Barcelona blog after we see the rest of it. Next blog is TBD ☺
This market opened in 1217 and has not stopped since. It’s a remarkable place and a must-see. Locals often come here to buy fresh seafood, meat, herbs, and fruit, and there are also some amazing food stands scattered throughout. Even if you aren’t hungry, walk around the aisles and take it all in. We went twice and still found new things to see. Click here for the full list of stalls and vendors.
We came across Bar Pinotxo and decided to stop for breakfast. It was delicious. We recommend getting there early if you want a seat because the bar and little tables filled up quickly. Trust us, it’s worth it! The owner was there and he was the sweetest man, wearing an adorable vest and a never-ending smile. At first we weren’t sure what to get, so we started looking around the bar to see what was popular. We could have stayed there for hours eating everything, but we had to choose. We noticed that a lot of people were ordering the xuixo pastry, which had a cream-like filling. Needless to say it was delicious! It was so buttery and wonderfully flaky. Then we started talking to our bar neighbors and asked them what they had. We ended up taking their recommendation for a tripe stew. It was so great and seemed to melt in our mouths with a burst of flavor. Another one of our neighbors told us to get the small squids with garbanzo beans. The combination of sea salt, herbs, and balsamic glaze on top paired so well. Everything we had was so gastronomically impressive. We will be sure to come back and try some other things next time we find ourselves in Barcelona!
Fresh fruit juices were also extremely popular and everyone was selling them. There were a lot of fun combinations to choose from. but our favorite was the mango and coconut. The colors are bold, the flavors refreshing, and the temperature is always chilled. Make sure you get yourself a delightful juice to start your morning, get you through the day, or end your day on a high note.
Sagrada Família is one of the top sights in Barcelona and it was one of the most impressive churches we have ever seen. They hope to have it completed by the 100th year of Gaudí’s death, which would be 2026. Originally, the architect of the building was Francisco de Paula del Villar, but he resigned a year later and Gaudí took on the project. He kept working on the church until he died suddenly in 1926. As a result, they buried him in the crypt for all his dedication and time. Gaudí knew this was a huge undertaking and that he would not be there to see it finished, so instead he made sure that his vision was complete. He made a lot of models and pictures of where everything should go and the symbolism behind it. When people would ask why this project would take so long, he would say, “My client is not in a hurry.”
We recommend getting the audio guide, so you can listen and walk around at your own pace. I could spend a whole post talking about the Sagrada Família, but instead I’ll point out some of the highlights. The exterior of the church will have three facades: the Nativity of Jesus, the Passion of Christ, and the Glory (they are still working on this one). The Nativity portion is on the east, facing the rising sun, and the Passion is on the west with the setting sun. Gaudí’s vision for this church was to have color and light projected inside, so that visitors are awestruck when they step inside. Gaudí also wanted the height of the church to be a little less than the height of Montjuïc Hill because he felt that nothing man made should be taller than what God has created. If you have time, book a tour to go up one of the towers. We were going to go, but it was raining all day and they had to cancel it. It was disappointing, but at least they refunded our amount.
The interior is meant to evoke nature, as if you’re standing outside among the trees. Gaudí felt like you were closer to God when you were out in nature. He also felt that with nature there are no straight lines, so he tried to implement that in all his works.
We took our time and walked all around the Sagrada Família. Once we were done, we wanted someplace where we could grab a snack and talk about what we saw. What better place to do that than Xurreria Sagrada Família? It’s a couple blocks away from Sagrada Família. We sat down and ordered hot tea, which was perfect on the cold and rainy day, churros with a hot chocolate sauce, and a churro with dulce de leche filling (even with the filling it was crispy on the outside). They were both amazing!
The Block of Discord
Along the avenue of Passeig de Gràcia lies the Block of Discord. At the end of the 1800s, there were four well-known architects: Lluís Domènech i Montaner, Antoni Gaudí, Josep Puig i Cadafalch, and Enric Sagnier. There were four families living on that block and each reached out to a separate architect and asked them to make their house the most impressive on the block.
Antoni Gaudí designed the Casa Batlló for Josep Batlló. The house is also called “House of Bones,” with its skeletal features. Batlló gave Gaudí full creative license to design whatever he wanted. Gaudí was inspired by fantasy and nature so we saw a lot of splashes of color. Many people believe the building depicts the legend of Saint George (patron saint of Catalonia), with the tiled roof representing dragon scales, the cross representing the sword going through the dragon’s back, and the skull-shaped balconies representing the dragon’s victims. However, others say the building resembles the aquatic landscape of Monet’s Water Lilies paintings. We encourage you to take a look and decide for yourself.
Lluís Domènech i Montaner designed the Casa Lleó Morera for Francesca Morera Ortiz. The
Lleó Morera family wanted the building to evoke their name. In Catalan, “lleó” means “lion” and “morera” means “mulberry tree.” As a result, there are lions and mulberry flowers all over the balconies. We also noticed four sculptures on the building that were designed by Eusebi Arnau that are supposed to resemble nymphs, each one holding a kind of technology that was modern for the time: a camera, a lightbulb, a phonograph, and a telephone. Arnau also created four busts that represent the four family members: Francesca Morera Ortiz, her uncle Antoni, her son- Albert, and her daughter-in-law Olinta.
Josep Puig i Cadafalch designed the Casa Amatller for Antoni Amatller. The architect wanted the outside to resemble a blend between Romanesque and Catalan Gothic architecture. He also wanted everything to have an asymmetrical feel, but cohesive at the same time. With this building, we saw a lot of sculptures that relate to the family: industry, arts, collections, and the symbol of the name “amatller”: almond branches. The use of patterns and colors also make this building stand out from the rest.
Enric Sagnier designed the Casa Mulleras for Ramon Mulleras. This building has a more neoclassical style with its balconies. The architect also had fun using circular and square shaped windows. We would have to say this was the least impressive one though. The architecture is beautiful, but very common.
All four architects had their own style and brought something completely different and unique to their assigned house. Make sure you take time to walk by these four houses and find out which one you like best.
Off of La Rambla there is a side street where you can find the Palau Güell mansion, designed by Antoni Gaudí. A big industrialist, Eusebi Güell commissioned Gaudí to create an urban palace for him and his family. Gaudí’s work took our breath away. None of his buildings look the same, which makes them such a joy to examine and explore. Supposedly, the way he designed the inside and used light is really unique, keeping the privacy that the family wanted. Unfortunately, it was going through maintenance when we visited, so we were unable to take a tour. We’ll have to go back and take a look another time!
Make sure you save time to go inside and see the Barcelona Cathedral. It was amazing! This cathedral is both spectacular from the outside and the inside. Once you have gotten your fill and feel like you have seen everything you could see, then make your way to the elevator that takes you up to the top of the church. We got a breathtaking view of the city of Barcelona in the midst of the beautifully made Gothic towers.
This church’s official name, translated, means “Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia.” Saint Eulalia is the co-patron saint of Barcelona. Her story unfortunately had a swift end. She met her untimely end at thirteen years old when Emperor Diocletian ordered for all Christians to be killed. You’ll find her crypt at the cathedral and shrines where you can pray and light a candle. There’s also a Gothic cloister that houses thirteen geese, another homage to Saint Eulalia.
Palau de la Generalitat de Catalunya
The Palau de la Generalitat de Catalunya building is not far from the Barcelona Cathedral. You should take a quick second to go to the square and take a look at the palace, right across from the City Hall. This building has been governed by more than 130 Presidents and by the Generalitat de Catalunya. It is a beautiful building that has seen so many important historic discussions.
Take time to also go through the Plaça Nova, where the old city was born and where you can find part of the wall of the original Roman city. If you go on a Thursday, stop by the market where they sell antiques. Depending on the time of the year, they will also have festivals in this area.
Picasso is one of the most unique artists of all time; it’s no wonder he’s so well-known. The Picasso Museum did a great job highlighting some of his works, from his earlier paintings to his later years. We didn’t realize that his first paintings were more classical before he turned to abstract act. The museum really showed us Picasso’s diversity. One of his classical pieces that stood out to us was the “First Communion,” where he played with dark and light colors. Picasso had a lot of memorable abstract paintings, so it’s hard to say which one was our favorite. Each of them intrigued us in their own way.
When you go to Montjuïc Castle, make sure you also pay for a guided tour. You don’t have to be on a tour to walk around, but you can see more of the castle with a guide, including the jails, watchtower, and cistern. For an hour-long tour, it was well worth it and our guide was easy to talk to and knew his history.
One of the first questions we asked was why it was called a castle when it seemed more like a fort. He could not give me an answer, and agreed that it was more of a military fortress. During the Spanish Civil War, they held political prisoners, many of whom were tortured and/or killed. It only became a museum in June 1963.
Port Vell and La Barceloneta
It was a beautiful day for strolling along the port and the beach, and even in January we had a great time. At one point we sat down to look out at the water and enjoy people watching. As we walked along, we noticed a bunch of exquisite sand sculptures. Not only did many of them tell a story, but they had fun interactive elements. One of them was a man spitting out actual water. Another one featured a room with people drinking and sleeping around a fire pit with real fire. Each sculptor clearly put a lot of time into their work and they are constantly thinking of new ideas. They do have a place where you can tip them for their hard work. There were a handful of sculptures in January, but during peak season in the summer, the beach is lined with them. We love that you can enjoy this unique artwork year-round!
After the beach, we headed to lunch at Somorrostro Restaurant. The inside was so cute and cozy and the food was so fresh and delicious. We asked our server for recommendations and ended up choosing the sea urchin. It was our first time trying it and what an experience it was! It even came out with its shell and all. The texture is buttery, not fishy tasting, and it melts in your mouth. Then we had the Iberian ham and flatbread with tomato. It was a simple dish, but the combination was perfect. We ended our meal with a pistachio bar topped with cream cheese and raw skipjack fish. It was very good! They change their menus all the time so ask your server for help and don’t be afraid to be adventurous.
Plaça de Catalunya
It’s hard to miss the Plaça de Catalunya, otherwise known as the Catalonia Square. Walk around and admire the gorgeous fountains and statues. Also, this square is a great central location.
You should visit Font de Canaletes. It is said that if you drink from this fountain, then you will come back to Barcelona. That might be an old wives tale, but why not try it for yourself? Or go admire the ornate fountain that doubles as a light post and a popular site to celebrate FC Barcelona’s victories.
We ate lunch at Vinitus restaurant, a ten minute walk away from the square. A local tour guide recommended it and it did not disappoint! We had six tapas, but two highlights were the patatas bravas and the mejillones al vapor con alino de Modem. The patatas bravas were covered with aioli and spices and came with a nice dipping sauce. The mejillones — mussels — were steamed with balsamic vinegar. We did enjoy all our other dishes, so you cannot go wrong if there is something else that sounds better to you! They had a lot of options to choose from.
The Plaça d’Espanya was originally where public hangings would take place. In 1929, it was turned into an open square and is still that today. Within the square or not far from it, there are a lot of popular buildings. Also, this is where you go to catch the bus to Montjuïc Castle if you don’t want to take the cable car.
The first well-known structure you can’t miss is the Torres Venecianes. Translation: the Venetian Towers. People used to be able to go up the towers, but that has not been allowed now for a while.
The next structure you want to take a look at is The Four Columns. These are four ionic columns that were placed in this area in 1919. However, in 1928 they were destroyed by the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, only to be rebuilt once again in 2010. Throughout history, these columns have been a symbol of Catalanism because they depict the four lines in a Catalan flag.
Nearby is the Magic Fountain of Montjuïc. It was closed when we visited but they often have light and water shows. Check here to see the months and times of the shows. If you have time, then we recommend you try and go. We will be doing the same next time!
Right next to the columns and the fountain is the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. We were short on time and didn’t get a chance to go in, but we hear it is great, especially if you’re a huge art fan. We admired the structure of the building and I’m sure the inside is just as beautiful!
We also noticed the Arenas de Barcelona, which served as a bull fighting arena from 1900 until 1977, when it stopped. They have now transformed it into a shopping mall. The outside was beautiful with its arches and red hue.
If you walk down La Rambla toward the waterfront, you’ll see a large monument dedicated to Christopher Columbus. On top of the moment is a statue of him pointing toward the sea. It was built to commemorate Columbus’ first voyage to the Americas. A man by the name of Antoni Fages i Ferrer wanted to build this monument in 1856, but he didn’t have any support. Finally, after 16 years, he got approval by the mayor. There was a contest held for Spanish artists to show their design of the monument and Gaietà Buigas i Monravà won. Every piece of the monument tells a story, so make sure you take it all in before looking out toward the water that he sailed from many years ago.
Basilica Santa Maria del Mar
The Basilica Santa Maria del Mar is not the most elaborate church in Barcelona, but it’s still worth seeing. The outside is simple, but the inside much more ornate. This church has been through a lot in the years. It was built and consecrated on August 15, 1384 and survived an earthquake in 1428 that caused a lot of causalities and destroyed the rose window. During the Spanish Civil War in 1936, rioters against the clergy sacked the church. It burned for 11 days straight, but survived and is still as grand and beautiful as ever.
After exploring the church, go and enjoy some pastries nearby. We went to two pastry shops recommended online and we now see why! The first one was the Hofmann Pastisseria Pastry Shop. The coffee was great, as were the chocolate croissant and almond croissant. Both had a sugar coating around them and they did not lack in flaky goodness. The almond was our favorite because it had a filling that we’ve never had before.
A few blocks away is Bubo Pastry Shop. We ordered their regular croissant and a croissant with honey and pistachio. These were a little flakier than the other shop, but the filling at the other location with the sugar glazed on top made it the winner. But why not go to both? Bubo also had a lot of different artistic chocolates. We wanted to try some but after four pastries, we were full.
Activities To Do in Barcelona
Spanish Cooking Class
After our cooking class in Sorrento, we knew we had the cooking class bug and decided to try one in Barcelona called Interactive Spanish Cooking Experience in Barcelona. It was so much fun and we got more out of it than we expected. We met up at a bar before heading over to La Boqueria Market, where the chef taught us how to select and purchase fresh seafood. He also suggested we buy one of those fresh juices, which was great. The chef had to leave to bring the seafood to the cooking class, so his partner took over walking us around the market. It was like a mini tour, which was something extra we were not expecting. It took a little bit to get to the class location, but we thought of it as a way to walk off what we were about to eat! It was also a good chance to get to know the city a little bit better with a local guide.
The chef’s partner led us to an unmarked door (no wonder we needed a guide) and we all sat down inside and were given some sangria. Then we went right into learning how to make a tapa. It consisted of a slice of bread, rubbing a tomato on the bread, olive oil, sea salt, cheese, cured meat and a cooked shishito pepper. They were delicious! The ingredients do mean a lot if you want the quality to be superb.
After indulging in tapas and more sangria, we headed to the kitchen where we split off into different groups to speed up the prep for the seafood paella. One group was tasked with cutting cheese and meat, another with cutting the vegetables. Our group tackled the seafood. We were really excited to do this because it was so intimidating and took us out of our comfort zone. We took the whiskers off the shrimp, and focused most of our time on the mussels. First we had to check if any of the shells were open, which meant they were dead and we couldn’t use them. If the shell was a little opened, then we could tap on it to see if it closed. If it did, then it was alive and we could use them. Then we took the beard off and gave them a rinse. We now have a whole new appreciation for the cooks that handle this for us at restaurants! Once everything was in the pan, we had to wait 20 minutes before it was complete. The chef was very personable and funny as he went through the demonstration. He asked if anyone had dietary restrictions and really tried to accommodate everyone as best he could.
The chef watched over the paella while we went to the bar to learn from the assistant how to make sangria. Apparently, sangria was invented as a way to improve bad wine. Spain has greatly improved the quality of its wine since then, but sangria is still the country’s staple. Then it was time to sit down and eat. During the meal, we met two girls from Poland, a couple from Ireland, and a couple that was there on their honeymoon from New York. We had the best time enjoying their company and the food!
A flamenco show is a classic way to enjoy an evening in Spain. There are a lot of different shows to choose from, but we ended up going to the Flamenco Show at Los Tarantos Barcelona. It was great for the price and we could tell the dancers and the musicians were enjoying themselves! Be warned that even though the show is 30 minutes long, it’s not a full 30 minutes of dancing. There are times where you sit back and enjoy the musicians performing for a little bit instead. We both had a great time and it was a perfect ending to our day.
Barcelona Tapas Crawl
We decided to try a Barcelona tapas crawl with the original Barcelona tapas crawl adventure. We got along with everyone and each restaurant had a different vibe, which made for a great experience. Our guide was both nice and very knowledgeable about tapas, traditional foods, and the areas we walked around. Make sure to come hungry because we had so much food! There were a few dishes that some people in our group wouldn’t try or didn’t like, which meant more for us. ☺ That’s one of the things we really like about this tour and tapas: if we didn’t like something, it was okay because there were plenty of other options along the way. One of the things that was unique to us and tasted delicious was the fish soup. It was very warm and the flavors were so well balanced. We also got to try a few different drinks. The company changes up the restaurants and food all the time so our experience might not be the same as yours. However, one constant will be the great tour guide, great company, and some great food!