If you look at a map of Barcelona, or a picture taken from the air, you’ll notice that its peripheral areas, both along the sea and towards the hills that surround it, are made of small and unorganized streets, while the big central area that makes up most of its surface is laid out like a grid. This area is called the Eixample, “the expansion”, and it was built at the turn of the 19th century following the design of Catalan architect and urbanist Ildefons Cerdà. The Eixample is home to many of the city’s most important architectural landmarks, including many of its famous modernist buildings which form the “Ruta del Modernisme” (modernist route). Check out our list of favorite things to do and see in the Eixample below.
Visit the world’s most famous cathedral: La Sagrada Familia
…which is actually a Basilica. Minor confusions on terminology aside, La Sagrada Familia is without a doubt the world’s most famous church building. It is the magnum opus of Catalunya’s foremost son, architect Antoni Gaudí, a magnificent fusion of gothic and modernist architecture, which upon its completion will be the tallest church building in the world at 170m in height. The Sagrada Familia has been under construction for over a century, relying for a long time on private donations to continue growing. It is now close to being finished, with construction scheduled to end in 2026, the centenary of Gaudí’s death. As you can imagine, it is one of the most touristy spots in the entire city, so book your tickets in advance to avoid the long queues, and make sure to go up to the temple’s towers for a magnificent view of the city. More information and tickets for the Sagrada Familia here.
Explore La Casa Batlló, another Gaudí masterpiece
Gaudí’s colorful, mosaic-covered masterpiece on Passeig de Gràcia is one of Barcelona’s most recognizable buildings, dotting the front of thousands of post cards and all sorts of souvenirs people bring home from their stay in the Catalan capital. The inside of the building preserves the décor of an early-twentieth century Catalan bourgeois home, but with a unique Gaudí character that can’t be seen anywhere else. Its curved, quasi-organic tiled roof is meant to resemble the spine of a dragon, and its spire Saint George’s lance, which pierced and killed the beast. As one of the city’s most important attractions, expect long queues unless you book in advance. More information and tickets for Casa Batlló here.
Get to know La Pedrera
La Pedrera, whose proper name is Casa Milà, is another of Antoni Gaudí’s masterpieces. It sits on a corner on Passeig de Gràcia, just a few blocks away from La Casa Batllò, with both being part of what is known as La Ruta del Modernisme – Barcelona’s modernist route. While both buildings share Gaudí’s idiosyncratic taste for rounded, organic, nature-inspired shapes, La Pedrera differs from Casa Batllò in its finishings, with its facade being built from raw, brown stone, giving it a much more natural, unpolished appearance. More information and tickets for Casa Milà here.
Tip from Matthias: For a more unique experience, visit La Pedrera at night. The building takes on a different atmosphere after dark, and you’ll get to sip Cava on the roof.
Go for a walk on Barcelona’s lesser-known Ramblas
Barcelona has another, lesser known street that also goes by “Rambla”– La Rambla Catalunya. Unlike the famous street that leads to the water front from the center, which is always bustling and crowded with thousands of tourists, Rambla Catalunya is more relaxed, dotted with café terraces shaded by the trees that grow along its sidewalk. It’s a nice place to take a walk or a bicycle ride and pause for a coffee, and if you’re heading up to Gràcia neighborhood it’s more pleasant than the crowded Passeig de Gràcia.
Go shopping at Las Arenas: a bullfighting ring turned shopping mall
Las Arenas is Barcelona’s newest and blingiest shopping mall, built inside an old bullfighting ring on Plaza España. The building itself is something worth seeing; the conversion preserved the old exterior wall and raised it up on pillars, and added a 360º viewing deck that offers great views of the city and the possibility to dine on the terrace at one of the mall’s many restaurants. Inside, you’ll find over 100 shops and a multiplex cinema spread over 6 floors.
View interesting modern art at the Fundació Antoni Tapies
The Fundació Antoni Tapies is an art museum and gallery that honors the career of eponymous artist Antoni Tapies, as well as exhibiting works by less-known contemporary artists. Housed in a magnificent late-19th century modernist building, designed by famed local architect Domènech i Montaner, the museum displays a rotating collection of the artist’s work as well as video installations and diverse thematic temporary exhibits. The roof of the building is an art installation in itself – a gigantic sculpture made of wire and metal pipes titled Nuvol i Cadira–Cloud and Chair.
Visit an old bullfighting ring (this one isn’t a shopping mall)
Bullfighting has been banned in Catalunya since 2011, after a very successful citizens’ campaign gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures asking the Catalan parliament to outlaw it. Despite its bloody past, La Monumental is part of Barcelona’s history, and an architectural gem at that, as the only Art Nouveau bullfighting ring in the world. You can visit it for a mere 6€ and walk out onto the central arena, climb to the top of the stands, and explore the building’s guts, including a bullfighting museum that is a testament to a dying tradition.
Go for a stroll along a hidden local favorite street
Carrer d’Enric Granados runs from the Diagonal to just behind the Universitat de Barcelona’s central campus. It’s one of Barcelona’s hidden gems, mostly unknown to tourists, and its atmosphere is evocative of the nostalgic streets of Paris from years past. The street is mostly pedestrian, making it the perfect place to go for a stroll and pause in its many quaint cafés, art galleries, designer boutiques, record stores, restaurants, and others. Since it is not a touristy location, you’ll find it is much quieter and more relaxed than many of Barcelona’s other important avenues.
Visit a beautiful building that fuses Modernist and Neo-gothic
The Palau Baró de Quadras is another of Barcelona’s architectural treasures, and an odd one because its two façades are built in two completely different styles: one is an extravagant, ornate, neo-gothic face, while the other is Catalan modernist. The inside favors the latter style, with decorations that are as eye catching as they are eclectic.
Taste Spanish and Catalan gastronomy on Passeig de Gràcia
El Nacional is a massive, 700 seat gastronomic space on Passeig de Gràcia, with 4 distinct restaurants under a single roof. Stop here for lunch or dinner and choose from tapas, seafood, a brasserie, and casual and contemporary Spanish and Catalan cuisine. There’s also an oyster bar, and bars serving cocktails and local craft beers.
Explore modernist mansion Palau Robert
El Palau Robert is a modernist mansion from the turn of the 19th century, currently serving as a museum and information center. Exhibits vary, ranging from shows on ethical and environmentally sustainable fashion to contemporary art and culture. The Palau’s garden is beautifully landscaped and can be visited for free, making it a perfect place to take a quick break in the shade while following Barcelona’s Ruta del Modernisme.
…and learn more about Catalan modernism at the Museu del Modernisme
If there is one architectural style, one artistic movement that defines Barcelona above all others, it is Modernism – Catalan Art Nouveau. The Museu del Modernisme Català brings it all together, with paintings, sculptures and industrial design from many of Catalunya’s most famed artists and designers from the modernist period. There is more to modernism than Gaudí (and he, too, is represented), so if you want to learn more about the movement that defined Barcelona pay the museum a visit.