1. Sagrada Familia
If you have time for only one attraction in Barcelona, make it the Sagrada Familia. The iconic church is an impressive and massive piece of work that could be seen for miles wherever you may be in the Catalan city (on high ground, ie). Designed by the famed architect Antoni Gaudi, the Basilica is characterised by its 100m-tall towers, eight of which are up and still eight more to go. The recently completed interiors are absolutely stunning, from the dome to the arches to the stained glass windows. Started in the 19th century, it is expected to be completed by 2026. Book tours in advance to skip the long queues. A must-visit.
2. The Magic Fountain of Montjuic
From Thursday to Sunday, between 9 to 11.30pm, the huge fountain located at Placa d’Espanya and in front of the majestic Palau Nacional, which houses the Museum National d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC), offers mesmerizing displays of water, light and music. Best of all, it’s free! Worth spending an evening here.
3. Casa Batllo
Once you seen his works, you will understand why every time someone mentioned ‘Barcelona’, it’s always ‘Gaudi this, Gaudi that’. This amazingly, eye-catching apartment building at Passeig de Gracia showcases the visual and architectural talents of the city’s favourite son and his love and brilliant use of ceramic fragments and natural light. Worth the EUR21 admission fee (get a discount by booking one of the city bus tours – highly recommended). Every square feet had a design plan to it – from the balconies to the rooms, the attic to the roof. (The other Gaudi building on the same street, La Pedrera or Casa Mila, is also worth a visit.)
4. Dali Theatre and Museum, Figueres
Okay, this is not exactly in Barcelona but two hours eastwards away in the artist Salvador Dali’s hometown of Figueres but still worth a day trip for. Just like the city’s Picasso Museum, I personally feel that most of Salvador Dali’s best works are elsewhere in the world (New York, Vatican City, Madrid, etc) but the artworks on display here are still stunning and awesome, to say the very least. The collection ranges from quirky installations (eg the Mae West Room) to provocative paintings such as the one below showcasing the nude body of Salvador’s muse Gala but which – if you step back and look again – will also produce an image of former US president Abraham Lincoln. Simply awesome!
5. Park Guell
Back to Gaudi. This man fills the Catalunya air as much as Messi does. Park Guell was a vanity project he did for a businessman, covering 20 hectares of greenland on top of a hill. Among the highlights are two Gothic brick and ceramic buildings at the entrance that leads to the a stairway that features the iconic multi-coloured salamander/lizard/saurian. This is followed by the Hypostyle Hall or Hall of Columns, and then the very popular public square that offers a breathtaking panoramic view of Barcelona, flanked by the wavy benches covered with colourful tile designs. Note the park has 2-hour time slot admissions and only 400 visitors are allowed in each time. So either go early or book online for your preferred slot, though there are lots of other things to see outside the “ticketed” area.
6. Camp Nou – Home of FC Barcelona
If you are a football fan, this place is a must-visit. With a 100,000 capacity, it is arguably the biggest stadium in Europe. Being one of the most popular and most successful teams in recent times, it also means the museum-and-stadium tour is well worth a visit as there is much to see and also very well-run. My only beef was that they didn’t allow us into the home team’s dressing room whereas at the Santiago Bernabau (home of Real Madrid) they did. But then, what really took me by surprise was that in the tunnel just before the players enter the field, there is a small prayer room on the side that houses – wait for this – a replica of the Black Madonna of Montserret, the patron saint of Catalonia, which I had just seen in the monastery in Montserret just days before! Hmm, is this why they have been winning so much of late? You can pre-book tour tickets but walk-in purchases can easily be made.
7. Catalan Culinary Delights
Last but by no means least: eat, drink and be merry in Barcelona. Tapas and paella are delightful here and there are plenty of different styles. Taste is good in most eateries, though bad service can ruined one’s mood and tastebuds. And let’s not forget the alcohol: beer (Estrella Damm), wine (red, wine and cava) and jars and jars of delicious sangria (red or cava). Proper restaurants types open late, only after 8pm, but there are many eateries that offer good dinner fare such as the bar restaurant at Hotel Colon, Sant Anna cafe along Sant Anna street off Plaza Catalunya, and the eateries along the beach at Bogatell. Just take note that you will find more food choices around areas with tourist attractions.
Photos credit: Marguerita Tan Photography. No text or photos can be reproduced without permission.