City Orientation Walk II (Self Guided), Barcelona

Barcelona is world renowned for its modernist architectures. On this part two of the two-part city orientation walks, you will visit some of the world famous architectures by Antoni Gaudi and his peers. The modernist architectures visited on this walk include: Casa Amatller, Casa Batllo, Casa Mila (La Pedrera), La Sagrada Familia, among others.
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City Orientation Walk II Map

Guide Name: City Orientation Walk II
Guide Location: Spain » Barcelona (See other walking tours in Barcelona)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 15
Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.2 Km or 3.2 Miles
Author: clare
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Arc de Triomf
  • Church of Sant Pere de les Puelles
  • Palau de la Música Catalana (Palace of Catalan Music)
  • Placa de Catalunya (Catalonia Square)
  • Parroquia de Santa Anna
  • Passeig de Gracia
  • Tivoli Theatre
  • Casa Lleo Morera
  • Casa Amatller
  • Casa Batllo
  • Casa Mila (La Pedrera)
  • Palau Baro de Quadras
  • Casa Comalat
  • Casa Terradas (Casa de les Punxes)
  • La Sagrada Família
1
Arc de Triomf

1) Arc de Triomf (must see)

Marking the inland gateway to Parc de la Ciutadella, this imposing brick structure is the precursor of the architectural marvels awaiting visitors further inside the park. The Arch of Triumph was built for the Universal Exposition of 1888 and initially served as the event's main gate. Years on, the arch still looks impressive, even from a distance.

Its decoration comprises four monumental friezes: the one at the front depicts Barcelona as a woman welcoming world's nations to the Exposition; the one at the back features the same woman giving out the awards; while the side friezes each symbolize respectively the Exposition's main sections, namely: Agriculture, Industry, Trade, and Art.

The arch reflects Mudejar architectural style, the origins of which are distinctively Moorish which, in turn, make it stand out from the crowd of other similar triumphal arches around the world. Also adding to its appeal is the adjacent alley lined with palm trees – reportedly, the most attractive palm-tree species found in Barcelona.

The arch is a popular photo sight with tourists and is just as much loved by the locals too, considering the number of joggers, rollers, or picnickers regularly flocking nearby.

Tip:
The surrounding El Born area abounds in cafés and baking shops catering to the tastes of lovers of cakes and of other delicacies. If you're a sweet tooth yourself, make sure to give your taste buds a good treat!
2
Church of Sant Pere de les Puelles

2) Church of Sant Pere de les Puelles

Set on the side of the quaint Sant Pere Square in the Ribera district, the eponymous Sant Pere de les Puelles church is not very well known outside Barcelona, whereas it is one of the oldest churches in the city with a great deal of history behind. As a matter of fact, it marks the site where the ancient settlement of Barcelona stems from. In the year 985 AD, the invading Muslims attacked and largely destroyed the Sant Pere convent, killing or capturing all its resident nuns.

Although in the course of centuries the church was subsequently rebuilt, certain parts of the original structure, such as the pre-Romanesque Greek-cross floor, the Corinthian columns beneath the 12th-century dome, and the Renaissance vault leading to a side chapel, have remained. Despite its medieval appearance, the high-walled facade of the church is a rather recent, 20th-century remake. One of the original bell towers still in place looks pretty awesome from a photography standpoint. With some luck, you may climb to the top of it for a bird's eye view of the surrounding area.
3
Palau de la Música Catalana (Palace of Catalan Music)

3) Palau de la Música Catalana (Palace of Catalan Music) (must see)

The Palace of Catalan Music, opened in 1908, is a one-of-a-kind concert hall. A UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997, it was designed by architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner and is undoubtedly among the most representative monuments of Catalan Art Nouveau architecture. It is also the only European auditorium lit up entirely with natural light during daylight. Although it seems somewhat overshadowed by the much-acclaimed Gaudi creations, the palace is still deservedly regarded as an architectural treasure, well worth exploring, if only from the outside.

The facade is lavishly adorned with elements of both traditional Spanish and Arab decorative styles. Dominating the building's corner is a sculpture representing popular Catalan song and is very much a song set in stone itself – uplifting and inspiring. Crowning it is an allegorical mosaic featuring busts of famous composers, such as Bach, Beethoven, and, of course, the most popular composer of the early 20th century – Wagner.

Entry to the palace foyer is free, as well as to the courtyard – there, visitors can sit outside with a drink or snack. However, the main attraction is the first-floor auditorium where modernist excesses truly run wild and each decorated surface is the work of fine craftsmanship. The spectacular stained glass ceiling alone is particularly worth checking out; its shape and dimensions are recognized as an engineering miracle of the period. But that's not where all the fantasy ends. Do take care to explore the beautiful three-dimensional muses at the back of the stage that seem to be climbing out of the walls, and then check out the masterpiece proscenium framing the stage, with Valkyries riding across. Truly astounding!

Perhaps the best way to acquaint yourself with the palace is to take a guided tour – these are quite popular, so advance booking is recommended. Alternatively, you may pop in for a coffee or tapas lunch at the foyer bar to sample the atmosphere and see plenty of modernist detail, or, even better, attend one of the concerts. The concert program includes classical music, jazz and sometimes ethnic music as well. The top-notch sound and lighting systems make the entire setting very intimate and fit to render any performance memorable if not the highlight of your Barcelona experience altogether! So, do give it a thought...

Tip:
Be sure to take opera glasses or binoculars and/or to check out the nice café on the ground floor!

Daily Tours:
10am-3:30pm
4
Placa de Catalunya (Catalonia Square)

4) Placa de Catalunya (Catalonia Square) (must see)

As well as being the most connected transit hub for Barcelona's metropolitan area, Plaça de Catalunya is the heart of the city in a wider sense. It is undoubtedly one of the busiest and most interesting places, acting as one of the starting points of Barcelona's main arteries, such as Las Ramblas, Passeig de Gràcia, or the pedestrian street Portal de l'Àngel. It is also the connection point between the Old City and its gridded 19th-century extension known as Eixample, which is home to some of Europe’s most exquisite architecture.

One of the largest squares in Spain, it stands as one of Barcelona's most bustling places due to the endless restaurants, hotels, shops, cafes and entertainment venues found throughout the area. If you look in the middle of the square itself, you will find pavement stones arranged in the shape of a star which, they say, marks the center of the Catalonian capital.

For high fashion, design, jewelry and department stores, the principal shopping axis starts here – so if you're in for some retail therapy, this is the place to go. An initial orientation point for visitors is the white-faced El Corte Inglés, Spain's only surviving department store, an enormous fortress-like behemoth that houses everything you would expect – from books, music and food to high fashion, jewelry, technology, and homeware. The store is famous for its decent customer service, but also the 9th-floor cafeteria where you can get a seat by the window affording a great panoramic view over the square below. On the opposite side is El Triangle, a commercial center that is home to FNAC, a mega media store with several slick floors of books, music and technology.

Plaça de Catalunya is also known for its fountains and statues, attracting flocks of tourists and pigeons in their thousands. As the afternoon proceeds, it gets increasingly crowded and colorful, perfect to get a sense of life in Barcelona as there are always lots and lots of details to observe.

Tip:
The fountains are pretty in the day but the display at night is beautiful, illuminated by alternating colored light.
5
Parroquia de Santa Anna

5) Parroquia de Santa Anna

Tucked away behind the busy shops of Santa Anna, the Parròquia de Santa Anna is an oasis of tranquility in the otherwise hectic metropolis where people come for a leisurely stroll, soaking up the scenery and, ultimately, seizing the moment of peace amid the urban hustle and bustle. Historical records say this temple was once part of an 11th-century convent located beyond the city walls.

A perfect marriage of Romanesque and Gothic styles, it is a marvelous example of period architecture in which 15th-century Gothic cloister and roof blend harmoniously with the Romanesque windows adorned with scenes from the Book of Genesis.

The church's exterior is quite sober, with the bell tower – high and spiky – being the most conspicuous element. The belfry has three bells whose strokes are quite pleasant to an ear. By the tower, within an enclosure, there is a very calm and peaceful yard, with benches for visitors to sit on and enjoy the peacefulness of the lieu.

Inside the church, visitors are free to walk around. All the gathered donations here are used to help the needy, therefore walls of the church are not draped in gold or any excessive decoration. The church welcomes the homeless, feeds them, gives them warmth, as well as access to barbers and computers in a bid to promote their inclusion and friendship.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Sat: 11am–7pm (Aug until 2pm)
Avoid weekends, the time for weddings and Masses
6
Passeig de Gracia

6) Passeig de Gracia

Formerly known as Camí de Jesús (or "Jesus Road"), this wide, tree-lined avenue originally linked the Old City and the former village of Gràcia even before Barcelona's ancient walls were torn down. The urbanization project started around 1820, provided impetus for Passeig de Gràcia to evolve into what it is today. Even by the early 1900s, it was Barcelona's most fashionable street.

Aside from the beautiful wrought-iron street lamps installed in 1906, one can also notice here the greenish-gray pavement tiles designed by Antoni Gaudí, creating an abstract vista of sea creatures which add a great deal of uniqueness to the area.

Delightful for strollers, this boulevard is now home to many of the city’s most elite stores, similar to those found on Paris's Champs-Élysées or New York's 5th Avenue. Eating out here is a bit pricey, but there are quite a few budget-friendly venues down the side streets, with foods ranging from Syrian and Ethiopian to some Asian fusions.

More notably, this is also the top place for Modernist architecture, most of which is clustered on the main street and some of the side streets as well. Buildings, balconies, stained-glass windows and carved doors are all within sight, including major highlights like Gaudí’s La Pedrera and Manzana de la Discordia, as you wander around the area fitted with gems by the world's three top Modernist architects. With the most mansions here belonging to Barcelona's wealthiest citizens of the late 19th – early 20th centuries, there's no shortage of richly and tastefully decorated facades to behold. Day or night, Passeig de Gràcia offers a fantastic opportunity for architecture buffs to crane their necks admiring Barcelona's urbanism.

Tip:
This boulevard is particularly magical in summer when the locals compete between themselves decorating the streets as part of the Gràcia Festival, which, together with the live music played everywhere, makes it a really fun place to be!
7
Tivoli Theatre

7) Tivoli Theatre

One of the oldest in Barcelona, the Tivoli Theatre has a lot of charm, both inside and out. With its sober appearance and white marble stairs, perhaps the most impressive fact about this structure is that it still retains the original form despite the many renovations undertaken since opening in 1915.

Inside, the decor is spectacular, dominated by red and gold – the choice of colors produces a rather regal effect and grand ambiance. From musicals to ballets to the large-format shows of various sorts, the diverse Tivoli program caters to multiple tastes. Some of the daily shows start before 9pm and are thus suitable for youngsters. The acoustics are great, seats are comfortable, and the English speaking staff contribute to the overall pleasant experience. If you fancy music theater, Tivoli is the place!
8
Casa Lleo Morera

8) Casa Lleo Morera

Designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner, Casa Lleó is one of the three Modernist buildings forming Manzana de la Discordia (the “Block of Discord”) on Passeig de Gràcia in Barcelona; the other two being Casa Batlló and Casa Amatller.

Originally built in 1864, it was renovated in 1902 and appears less extravagant, perhaps, than the other two “casas”, but no less opulent when it comes to the richly decorated balconies and facade. The ground floor of the building, altered years ago, has recently been restored to its original beauty and now looks quite impressive.

Casa Lleó Morera is easily distinguishable by its egg top and profusely ornamented round-shape balcony. Also, at a closer look, you can make out on the facade the illustration of the building's name “Lleó Morera”, which means “lion” and “mulberry” in Catalan. Also, there is a depiction of a light bulb and telephone – the newest inventions of the period – that the author felt obliged to reflect on the facade as well.

The first-floor dining room reveals one of Barcelona’s most stunning interiors. The stained-glass windows, wondrous wood and marble work, complete with the eight ceramic mosaic wall panels depicting idyllic country scenes, make this private house very different from the works of Barcelona's other renowned modernist, Antoni Gaudí. The staircase is also quite unusual for European buildings of the period.

Compared to the widely popular and besieged by visitors Amatller and Batlló houses, a visit to Lleó Morera would be comfortably relaxed, but not boring. There are paid guided tours of the building available, so if you're a passionate modernist or architecture buff, you may consider taking one – you won't regret it!
9
Casa Amatller

9) Casa Amatller (must see)

One of Barcelona's most unforgettable pieces of architecture, Casa Amatller seemingly has stepped out from a fairy tale. It was built at the end of the 19th century to the design clearly adhering to the Modernist style which was later followed in a number of buildings throughout the city. The “casa” stands directly next door to Antoni Gaudí's Casa Battló, opposite the prestigious Passeig de Gràcia, and is an architectural masterpiece in its own right modeled by one of Gaudí's main competitors, Josep Puig i Cadafalch.

Initially, it meant to be a family home for the famous chocolatier, Antoni Amatller Costa, who was also a passionate art collector, photographer and traveler. The immediately striking feature of this building is the triangular stepped gable inspired by Dutch urban architecture. The wrought-iron balcony and colorful ceramic tiles on the outer wall contribute to the wonder-like appearance, much as the large doors with stained-glass windows in the lobby.

The house is open for tours to those willing to explore the more curious and extravagant interior, including bedrooms, dressing rooms and bathrooms, dining room, music room, and the scullery – all with their original furnishings. For visitors' convenience, there are audio guides available in a variety of languages.

After visiting the mansion, you are welcome to take a seat at the cafe downstairs for a cup of coffee or light snack – or better yet, enjoy a nice cup of hot chocolate with a soft bread toast. There's plenty of chocolate to choose from, from chocolate bars to chocolate-coated nuts to cute little boxes of chocolate candies and more – a perfect edible souvenir from Barcelona for a sweet-tooth waiting for you back home!

Tip:
You can visit the whole mansion for a fee, or you can just take a seat at the cafe downstairs for a cup of coffee or light snack – or better yet, enjoy a nice cup of hot chocolate with a soft bread toast. There's plenty of chocolate to choose from, from chocolate bars to chocolate-coated nuts to cute little boxes of chocolate candies and more – a perfect edible souvenir from Barcelona for a sweet-tooth waiting for you back home!

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-6pm
10
Casa Batllo

10) Casa Batllo (must see)

Casa Batlló – one of the highlights of Modernism and Catalan Art Nouveau architecture in Barcelona – is largely regarded as the ultimate masterpiece of Antoni Gaudí. Originally built in the 1870s, it was redesigned by Gaudí in 1904 in an astonishing renovation project that turned this relatively ordinary mansion into a work of art. Lovingly referred to by the locals as the “house of bones” for its almost bone-like balconies, or the “house of the dragon” for its roof resembling a dragon’s humped and glossy scaled back, this is certainly one of the weirdest-looking residential buildings of Europe.

There are not many buildings in the world that seem more like a living thing than an inanimate object, yet Casa Batlló achieves exactly that and its design feels almost alive. Any time – day or night, there is a small crowd outside, standing on the pavement staring up the wavy-shaped facade covered in a mosaic of fragmented colored glass and ceramic discs. Gaudí's use of light and color is wonderful, especially in the ceramics, and the curves soften the hard materials quite brilliantly. The building's interior is swirly and curvaceous, but to see it with your own eyes, you'll have to pay an admission fee which is somewhat steep compared to other attractions in Barcelona.

However, if you decide to go in, make sure to take a free audio-guide, as it really helps understand the historical and artistic context of the building. Now that all the rooms are devoid of furniture, this smart guide enables you to imagine what it was like when the original furniture and lighting were in place. As in the case of Casa Milà, Gaudí designed every single bit and piece here, right down to the very door handles, so as to ensure they fit in seamlessly, complementing the entire form and function.

Despite the presence of an elevator, visitors are encouraged to walk up the stairs to the rooftop, so as to soak up the atmosphere with its intricate textures and shapes – glass walls and tiles. At the end, up on the roof, visitors are rewarded with a scenic view of the area, as well as the up-close encounter with the roof itself including, of course, the signature twisted and tiled chimney pots looking as if they were brought in from a land far, far away...

Tip:
For a fee, you can get a photo taken on the small balcony at the front of the building (on your way down from the roof); both a printed copy and e-copy.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am-9pm (last entry: 8pm)
11
Casa Mila (La Pedrera)

11) Casa Mila (La Pedrera) (must see)

Hugging the corner of Passeig de Gràcia, the curvy Casa Milà is yet another fabulous creation of Antoni Gaudí, located just minutes away from his other masterpiece, Casa Batlló. Commissioned by a rich developer who had just married an even richer widow, this apartment block is the most original in the entire city of Barcelona and vividly illustrates how well ahead of his time Gaudí, the designer, really was.

The nickname La Pedrera (“The Quarry”) stems from the building's stony, fortress-like appearance, but Gaudí himself thought of it more as a body covered with skin, where the columns are the building’s skeleton, and the stone – its flesh. It may not look much from a distance, but as you get near, you are gradually drawn in and can't stop staring! The whole structure is so seamlessly sinuous that it looks as if molded rather than built, while the apartments inside resemble eroded cave dwellings.

After being declared the UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984, La Pedrera was acquired by a Catalonian banking foundation and, upon the completion of restoration and cleaning works, some of its original decorations came back into sight. The owners also refurbished the building, adding some new features inside.

Among them is a recreated early 20th century-style apartment on the fourth floor, an elegant model of a well-to-do family's dwelling of the period. Up in the attic, there is a tribute to Gaudi’s life and work presented in the form of scale models and plans, drawings and photographs of all his Barcelona creations. Among other things, the display illustrates the master's inspiration found in natural objects such as pumpkins, seashells, and even python skeletons.

In keeping with the building's facade, the roof terrace maintains the peculiar architectural style in the form of chimneys, ventilation shafts and stairwells without detriment to their functionality. Complementing this is a stunning panoramic view of Barcelona and a nice respite from the street bustle down below. If you plan on getting out on the roof terrace, make sure to come on a fine day, for it is closed when it rains.

Tip:
Do try and book your ticket online in advance to skip the queue and, possibly, come at or after the sunset, when the lights are on, so as to appreciate the surreal audiovisual show. In summer months, jazz and flamenco concerts are often held here, which is quite a treat as well!

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am-8:30pm (March-Oct / Dec 26-Jan 3); 9am-6:30pm (Nov-Feb)

Night Tour:
Daily: 9-11pm (March-Oct / Dec 26-Jan 3); 7-9pm (Nov-Feb);
12
Palau Baro de Quadras

12) Palau Baro de Quadras

Curious as it may be, but the architectural style of the beautifully detailed Palau Baró de Quadras depends largely on the angle you look at it. If you approach it from Avinguda Diagonal, the building appears rather Gothic, reminiscent of the Northern European palaces of the period, noble in character with the intricately carved details. The long, ornate balcony with the busts of eminent Medieval and Renaissance personalities, the gargoyles, toothy fish and sword-wielding knight on the facade, as well as the mansards on the upper floor, are all fully compliant with the medieval theme.

However, if you look at it from the other side, facing Carrer del Rosselló, the building's decoration appears more subdued, but just as lovely, Modernist style, with the floral motifs extending both horizontally and vertically along the three balconies and down the four floors. The mastermind behind the design is Josep Puig i Cadafalch, who originally envisioned this as a mansion. The rear of the building, however, shows that the other purpose of it was to provide apartments for family use.

The interior is also surprising and eclectic, dominated by the Mid Eastern and East Asian themes especially vivid in the wealth of mosaics and polychrome woodwork. Bold Ionic columns, covered with floral and plant motifs, reflect the English Arts and Crafts style, while the hardwood flooring abounds in a variety of geometric designs.

The house museum holds guided tours every Wednesday between 11am and 1pm, where you can visit the multiple rooms and learn about the building's history. The English tour starts at 11, while the Catalan and Spanish ones commence at noon and 1pm, respectively.
13
Casa Comalat

13) Casa Comalat

There is a great misconception even among the locals in Barcelona, that the Casa Comalat was designed by the great Antoni Gaudí, but even though that’s not the case, it is clearly influenced by his genius. A typically Modernist structure with no sharp lines and generously decorated, this “casa” forces everyone to stop and is counted among the best projects that local architect Salvador Valeri has worked on.

Dating to 1911, it was commissioned by señor Comalat, a renowned moneylender at the time, who wanted his home to be a reflection of his power, just like much of the rest of the bourgeoisie. Curiously enough, the building actually has two different facades: formal at the front, more playful at the back. The former has a dozen curvy stone balconies with wrought-iron railing, while the latter features spectacular polychrome ceramics and a number of wooden galleries that add an interesting touch. To be more specific, it almost looks as if a pink and turquoise cake had dropped out of the sky and squashed another building beneath it, its gooey icing oozing off the sides and onto the sidewalk!

Though not open to the public and hidden away from any major road, Casa Comalat is an essential visit for lovers of Modernism; delicious, dreamy, and very photogenic.
14
Casa Terradas (Casa de les Punxes)

14) Casa Terradas (Casa de les Punxes)

Known locally as Casa de les Punxes (the “House of Spikes”) because of its sharply pointed turrets, this apartment block looks like a fairy-tale castle and is the largest work of architect Josep Puig i Cadafalch. Rather controversial in the past due to its almost Northern European appearance, the house is now regarded as one of the greatest landmarks of Catalan Modernism.

As it happens, this grand eccentricity, breaking away from the dominant tradition, is also the only fully detached building in the whole district of Eixample. With six towers and three separate entrances, it was built in 1903 for each of the Terrada family’s daughters – Àngela, Josefa and Rosa, each of whom owned a house around the entire corner of a block. Hence, the architect created a unique project, seamlessly blending three separate buildings into the imposing triangular complex seen today.

Sadly, successive occupants stripped the interior of almost all the original furnishings and adornments. The ground floor now holds a gift shop and a cafe-bar. The self-guided tours of the apartments above start with a multi-media retelling of the legend of St George and the dragon, owing to the fact that the architect crowned one of the facades with the image of Catalonia’s patron saint.

Inside the building, informative panels tell more about architect Cadafalch and his work and, if you then ride an elevator to the roof terrace, you will see the towers up close and be able to scale them at your own pace. The largest tower comprises three levels and opens a privileged view over the city.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-7pm (last entry: 6pm)
15
La Sagrada Família

15) La Sagrada Família (must see)

Gaudí's major Gothic masterpiece is indeed awe-inspiring up close. This mammoth basilica seems to sprout from the ground and keeps rising and rising as far as the eye can see. Gaudí spent a large part of his career on this iconic monument, having dedicated over 43 years to its design. The construction works are still underway and are as much part of the attraction as the building itself.

From the outside, there is much to take in, but the interior is no less extraordinary with the eyes being drawn at once to the walls and the roof. Huge, bright, colorful and vibrant stained-glass windows line the walls, filling the church with natural light and an explosion of color. Supported by countless pillars with strong trunk bases that sprout into branches as they near the ceiling, the temple's roof really looks like a forest canopy.

Simply walking around alone and marveling may work in a regular church, but the Sagrada Família leaves you clueless as a rock if you decide to do the same here. This cathedral is another level and there is so much to know about it that you really shouldn't waste your time without a guide. Luckily, the audio devices they provide at the entrance offer plenty of information whilst allowing sufficient time to wander around. Alternatively, you can book a guided tour in the language of your choice directly at the basilica's website.

When planning a trip, pre-purchasing a ticket online is absolutely recommended and will let you skip the long line upon arrival.

Furthermore, don't forget to make time for the museum below offering a great deal of information, including audiovisual presentation, about the Sagrada Família project's past and future, as well as about Gaudí himself. You may also wish to visit the small school built by Antoni Gaudí for the construction workers' children right on the site.

Tip:
Note that children under 6 cannot go up the towers and a walk down the spiral steps can be a bit daunting for some. Should you decide to go for the climb, ask the staff where the “backside elevator” is, as there are usually fewer people there.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am-8pm (Apr-Sep); 9am-7pm (Mar, Oct); 9am-6pm (Nov-Feb); 9am-2pm (Dec 25/26, Jan 1/6); last entry: 30 mins before closing time

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