When my husband and I arrived in Barcelona in 2017, we had no solid plan and spent our first evening researching what to see. Because we’ve visited many museums, cathedrals, piazzas and castles, we decided the thing that would distinguish Barcelona for us would be to immerse ourselves in Antoni Gaudi’s architecture. Gaudi was a genius and there is nothing like his work anywhere else in Europe.
Our 3-day itinerary explored Gaudi’s works chronologically. Of course, you can move things around or compress this so that it takes less than three days, but if you have the time, I think it’s worth it to relax and truly soak up his delightful art. Whatever plan you make, be sure to get reservations and tickets online ahead of time. During the busy tourist season you will need to make reservations at least a few days in advance, and even earlier if you don’t have a lot of flexibility in your schedule.
Day 1: Casa Batllo and Casa Mila
Begin your introduction to Gaudi at Casa Batllo, built between 1904 and 1906. Here you’ll get a feel for the shapes, colors, ideas and attitude of Gaudi’s work. Make sure you get the audio tour and then take your time. Hang back. Absorb the woodwork in the rooms. Observe the colors, especially the blue shades in the elevator and stairwell shaft.
As you ascend the house, you’ll discover more and more about Gaudi’s genius. Step onto the back deck to see how the house fits into the neighborhood. Get your photo taken on the balcony and pick up (and pay for) your photo before you leave the Casa. And then, when you get to the roof, take it all in. Explore the tilework, especially the “dragon’s tail”.
When you get back to the first floor, you’ll find an excellent gift shop. Bring your tourist money and buy a Gaudi scarf, puzzle, or, of course, refrigerator magnet! Be sure to post your photos while you are at Casa Batllo – they have free wifi!
After your visit to Casa Batllo, get some lunch somewhere on the way to Casa Mila. We found an excellent pastry shop called Pastisseria Mauri where you can find delicious sandwiches and decadent pastries. Grab a table, order a sandwich and drink from your server, and then take turns examining the pastry cases to choose your treat.
Casa Mila, built between 1906 and 1912, is also known as La Pedrera. It is located a few blocks north of Casa Batllo (a walkable distance). While Casa Batllo was built as a single-family home, Casa Mila was designed to provide a home to the owners on the main floor and then they rented out the upper floors as apartments.
Make sure to get the audio guide. There are lockers available at the beginning of the tour. Your tour will take you to the attic, which has displays. The roof is the highlight here – a fascinating roofscape of hiding places, stair steps and spires. Again, take your time, look for photo opportunities, and look out on the city around you. You can see Sagrada Familia in the distance. If you’re lucky you won’t have to maneuver around field trip groups and bus tour groups, but if so, just be patient. You will also visit one of the apartments where the interior furnishings illustrate life in the early twentieth century.
Again, there is an excellent gift shop back on the first floor. And, from what I could tell, the gift shops don’t have the exact same offerings, so it’s worth it to explore each shop.
Day 2: Park Guell
After spending the morning exploring La Rambla and the Cathedral of Barcelona by way of the Rick Steves podcast walking tour, we took a taxi to Park Guell, which was designed by Gaudi. The Park is far enough north of central Barcelona that you will need to either take a taxi or navigate your way by bus.
The park is a little confusing. There is an area that is open to the public and there is a school on the grounds. Your ticket will get you into the Monumental Core, where the Gaudi structures are. You can quickly walk through the porter’s lodge and the Casa del Guarda, and then make your way up the Dragon Stairway (say “hola” to the dragon/ salamandar) to the Hypostyle Room, which was designed to be the community market. Oh, to be a child again and play chase here! Above the Hypostyle Room is Nature Square, where you can rest on a bench and watch the world go by. Look for the Mediterranean in the distance and enjoy the birds bathing in puddles. Be sure to do your best runway walk through the Laundry Room Portico, where America’s Next Top Model held their 2006 final competition.
After taking in the monuments, walk through the park to the Gaudi House Museum. You need a separate ticket for this Museum, which can be purchased on site or online. We made the decision to buy the House ticket once we were there – which might be a good idea so you can gauge your energy and interest. The Museum is worth it – you can see Antoni Gaudi’s simple lifestyle – and make sure you take a stroll through the grounds of the home.
Note: There aren’t many places to eat or get a drink in the area. There are some places to get a meal or snack on Carrer de Larrard. Bring a bottle of water into the park. Also – there is free wifi at Park Guell!
Day 3: Sagrada Familia, Barcelona
The Sagrada Familia is likely the most famous and iconic of Gaudi’s architectural contributions. The cathedral is still under construction, but has come a long way since the 1992 Barcelona Olympics brought crowds and money to the city.
I must first note that when you purchase your tickets online be very careful about how the website refreshes your purchase page. Somehow we wound up with tickets for the day before we meant to tour the Sagrada Familia and we didn’t realize it until the ticket checker’s scanner rejected our tickets! Fortunately, money solved the problem. We found a private tour company representative at the front of the cathedral who was able to put us on their next English speaking tour. We weren’t able to go up the tower, but we did get a tour and then wandered the cathedral until we had our fill.
I’ve been to most of the great cathedrals of Europe. This one is in a category of its own. The cathedral is bright, colorful, and has elements of nature integrated into and alongside bible stories. I don’t know much about art or architecture, but this cathedral seems like the antithesis to Medieval and Renaissance cathedrals. There is no fear or death here, only joy, hope and light. Again, take your time, explore, visit the museum in the basement, and don’t forget your refrigerator magnet! (See update below)
To see how this fit into our Spain trip, check out our itinerary.
We returned to Barcelona in 2023 with the only goal of seeing what progress has been made on the Sagrada Familia. But we ran into Gaudi in a couple of other places too.
Sagrada Familia Update:
Much progress has been made in the construction of the cathedral, including the completion of the tower of the Virgin Mary and completion of the towers of Luke and Mark. The cathedral continues to impress and amaze.
On this visit we finally got to visit the Tower of the Nativity, which is a thrill. Being up close to the towers, seeing the views of the city, seeing how the construction site is managed hundreds of feet above the ground, and listening to a crowd on the street singing Volare at the top of their lungs – all made the time at the tower feel special.
The other fun thing about the tower visit is that, on the way down the spiral staircase, there are opportunities to step aside and see the interior of the cathedral from high above the floor. The perspective is unique and fun. Note: when entering the staircase from the viewing platform outside, it is hard to see in the darkness. Use your phone as a flashlight and stay safe!
We also took an extra moment to visit the Gaudi-designed school that has been preserved and made into a museum. It’s extraordinary that Gaudi designed the school that provided instruction to the children of the workers.
Inspired by a friend’s visit to Casa Vicens, we made the trek to Gaudi’s first masterpiece. During the late nineteenth century the Vicens family hired Antoni Gaudi to design a summer home just outside Barcelona, and the house was completed by 1895. This was Gaudi’s first contract and it provided him with the opportunity to create and complete his nature-inspired designs. This house is especially gaudy from the outside, but the interior is lovely and you can see the early foundations of Gaudi’s greatness.
The museum provides an audio tour in several languages. While earphones would be helpful, it’s also acceptable to listen with the phone up to your ear.
Bathrooms are on the ground floor by the gift shop and there is a cafe in the backyard.
You can easily get to Casa Vicens by taking the metro to the Fontana exit on the L3 line. There are also many bus stops nearby.
Museu National d’Art Catalunya
This museum, located in Montjuic, offers some information about Gaudi and a few examples of his work. Here you can see a piece of the fencing from Casa Vicens and various designs of doors, along with works by Gaudi’s protege, Joseph Jujol. If you happen to visit this museum, this is another opportunity for a dose of Gaudi.
Read about Art Nouveau. Gaudi is an extension of Art Nouveau and it helps to have an understanding of Art Nouveau before you go.
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