Enjoy a journey through Barcelona with Gaudi, Modernism’s biggest name.
If you went to Barcelona on your Spain vacation and didn’t spend a few hours basking in the absurd splendour of at least one Gaudi building, well… you really didn’t visit Barcelona!
Alright, that’s a little unfair. There’s still plenty to enjoy in the Catalan capital outside of Gaudi’s creations, but they’re a big part of what makes Barcelona so special, and one of the world’s most visited cities.
Though Antoni Gaudi left numerous architectural gifts to the city, five of his creations stand out as both endearingly popular and open to the public. Unless you’re on an organized tour focused on Gaudi’s work, it can be a mission to fit them all into a single trip. Most also require a pre-booked ticket, allocating you a particular date or timeslot, and budget travellers beware, they’re not cheap! Still, few visitors are disappointed when they stare up at the incredible naves of La Sagrada Familia, or explore the colourful corners and crannies of Park Guell. Gaudi’s creations take what is already one of Europe’s greatest cities and turn it into a truly magical urban playground.
To make sure you don’t miss these unique masterpieces, we’ve put together some tips for visiting. Since an organized tour will often take care of booking and ticketing on your behalf, this advice is geared towards independent and “at leisure” travellers, for whom booking online (or through an agent) is the easiest way to secure your spot, save precious time queuing, and in some cases, knock a few Euros off the price.
Excluding La Sagrada Familia, Casa Batllo is by far the most spectacular of Gaudi’s facades. Its distinctive marine theme cascades down from a bizarre scaled roof, seemingly styled after a dragon. Grinning, skeletal balconies overlook the street below, while decorative first floor windows offer a glimpse of the sun-drenched front sitting room. Abundant natural light is a hallmark of Gaudi’s buildings, and Casa Batllo, an 1877 apartment building renovated by Gaudi for the Batllo family, uses it so well, it can be difficult in some parts to believe you’re still inside.
With that said, it’s the steepest ticket on this list, and independent travellers will have to stand in line for entry, even if they’ve pre-booked. That allows plenty of time to enjoy Casa Batllo’s best view, its facade. Like all the Gaudi interiors, Casa Batllo’s is a triumph of both aesthetics and functionality, but if you have to ‘Sophie’s Choice’ your sightseeing, you can still see the best part of Casa Batllo from the outside, for free.
Reopened in 2011 after a long renovation, this mansion off Las Ramblas is fronted by a somewhat severe looking facade. But many Barcelonans call it their favourite Gaudi building, and it’s hard to argue once you step inside. It isn’t Gaudi’s first big Barcelona project. That honour goes to Casa Vicens, whose interior is off limits to visitors. But Palau Guell shows the master cutting his creative teeth, experimenting with a variety of design elements in both the architecture and furniture. Some of these ideas would eventually be eschewed in favour of nature-inspired designs, while others would endure throughout his future works. Gaudi’s early experiments with light, including an innovative faux ‘night sky’ in the main party room, are also on proud display.
More than just a Gaudi showcase, Palau Guell is an active cultural space, holding concerts, readings, and other events on its exquisitely decorated rooftop. While not everyone is a fan of this slightly more severe Gaudi vision, Palau Guell is an ideal choice for those short on time or funds who still want a taste of the master.
Casa Mila (aka La Pedrera)
Far ahead of its time, Casa Mila got on Barcelona’s bad side before it was even finished. After being derisively nicknamed “La Pedrera” (“The Quarry”) for its undulating facade that eschewed the clean lines of stately Passeig de Gracia, Gaudi’s project wasn’t fully appreciated by its owners either! His clashes with Roser Segimon, the lady of the house, were widely known. In fact, she promptly renovated the couple’s first floor apartment upon Gaudi’s death, doing away with many of the architect’s eccentricities.
It’s fortunate that most of Gaudi’s vision has survived, because like many other misunderstood children, “La Pedrera” has come out on top and is one of Barcelona’s most beloved buildings. Unlike Casa Batllo, you really need to go inside La Pedrera to appreciate its beauty. The linear tour starts on the photogenic rooftop, where the helmet-shaped chimneys have become icons of Barcelona. Here, you can admire the two interior courtyards that flood the apartments below with natural light. You’ll then descend into the attic, a small but fascinating museum that gives you an insight into Gaudi’s techniques and inspirations. Then, explore the top level apartments proper to see these principles at work. Like most of Gaudi’s structures, La Pedrera also is used as a cultural centre in Barcelona, boasting concerts on the roof, and art exhibitions in the Milas’ former apartment. Night and combination tickets are also available for a very different look at this wonderful building.
Gaudi’s imagination wasn’t limited to posh residences for Barcelona’s wealthy. Industrialist and entrepreneur, Eusebi Guell (for whom Gaudi had built Palau Guell) commissioned Gaudi to turn the southern aspect of this park into an ornamental journey that would incorporate elements of religion, mythology, philosophy, and the natural world. The result is as enigmatic as it is beautiful. Visitors immerse themselves in a veritable forest of creativity where oversized mosaic-covered lizards stare out over the city amid decorative columns, terraces, and pavilions.
An entrance fee was controversially slapped on the monumental area in 2013, but Park Guell is still a bargain for those wanting a taste of Gaudi on the cheap, or at the last minute, as wait times for tickets tend to be much shorter than at other attractions. Allocate a few hours to explore not just the ticketed core, but the broader park as well. Real enthusiasts may want to visit Gaudi’s house on the grounds, though what the notoriously irritable architect would have made of the 4D Gaudi Experienca on offer a short walk outside the park, is anyone’s guess.
La Sagrada Familia
Barcelona, and indeed Spain, has the curious distinction of its most famous structure not yet being finished. In fact, it’s been under construction since 1882, and it is both Antoni Gaudi’s final resting place, and his undisputed masterpiece. Though determined to see this mighty cathedral through to completion, Gaudi died in 1926, a full century short of La Sagrada Familia’s estimated completion date. But there’s no denying him some degree of immortality when one admires this building, even from the street. Two of three planned facades are now complete – the Nativity facade, depicting Christ’s birth, and the Passion facade, depicting his sacrifice and crucifixion. Each is a marvel of stonework and sculpture, incorporating many of the same natural and spiritual elements that inform Gaudi’s other work, yet fusing them together in unparalleled detail everywhere you look. That’s before you’ve even stepped inside!
Many tourists bypass an entry ticket on the assumption that La Sagrada Familia’s innovations are only skin deep. That assumption would be wrong. An explosion of vivid colours and unique design elements create a sacred interior unlike any other on earth. A Gaudi museum detailing the master’s life, works, and history in Barcelona occupies the structure’s lower level, and is included in your ticket.
Getting said ticket isn’t difficult, but it does require a little planning. Buying online is the easiest method, guaranteeing timed entry with a small discount. You can even hire the services of a guide for just under an hour for a modest extra fee. Online tickets however are limited, so book at least a week ahead in high season. You can also purchase same-day tickets on site. Just don’t be surprised if joining the early morning queue secures you tickets for late afternoon, they’re strictly limited, and disappointed travellers with only a day or two in Barcelona often leave with no more than a few photos of the facade.
Other Tips and Tricks
- There is limited crossover with points of sale, and currently no single pass that covers multiple Gaudi attractions. Tickets must be bought separately for each.
- Consider a ‘Modernista’ walk if you want an overview of this unique Catalan style of architecture, but aren’t fussed on the interiors. It’s not all about Gaudi, either!
- As is its wont, Barcelona surprised the world in 2013 by opening to the public one more building by Gaudi, Torre Bellesguard – another important residence for a wealthy Barcelona family. While the building has been famous among locals and Gaudi enthusiasts for some time, it remains so far untouched by the legions of tourists that visit Barcelona each year, and is currently open for only a few hours each day. It’s only a matter of time before Bellesguard becomes another popular feature on the Gaudi trail, so now is the time to visit if you’re keen.