Project Description

Barcelona, capital of Catalonia, is a Mediterranean and cosmopolitan city with Roman remains, medieval districts and the most beautiful monuments of modernism, as well as avant-garde elements of the 20th century. UNESCO has also listed as World Heritage Sites the most remarkable buildings of Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi and Lluis Domenech i Montaner. Of Roman origin, centuries of history and a remarkable economic dynamism bequeathed to Barcelona an extraordinary cultural heritage, which finds its expression in a historical and rich artistic legacy and in the development of innovative artistic trends. Visitors will enjoy a very dense cultural program that will guide them through museums, exhibitions, outdoor sculptures, as well as a varied offer in the fields of music, theater and dance!

In recent years, I have had the opportunity to visit the city several times, each time for a short period. I’ve been lucky enough to also spend some time outside of its walls and exploring some of the pretty towns nearby. But like Madrid, Barcelona is easily reachable from Switzerland and I intend to enjoy a next beautiful summer to go back there, as I still have a lot of thing to see!

  • Hostel well situated, 10 minutes walk from Plaza Catalunya and close proximity to the Metro station Urquinaona.
  • Single bed in a dormitory including curtain outlet, reading lamp and security locker (padlock can be bought there).
  • Open 24/7, good level of security, great wifi, kitchen available.
  • Shared bathroom left in a very bad state in the evening, better get there just after cleaning or early morning.
  • Some extra not included, such as bed linen and towels.
  • Slightly noisy with the window opened, take earplugs with you because there is traffic day and night!

Barcelona, a true outdoor museum

Let’s start this short visit of Barcelona by getting up at dawn (as usual), followed by a walk towards the main cathedral of the city, located at the site on an ancient Christian basilica. Construction began during the Romanesque period, but was not completed until the Gothic period, which is today the predominant style of the building (my favorite one with the Renaissance style). The exterior is very sober, but still adorned with beautiful vertical buttresses. The door of San Ivo is an example of Gothic-called “Catalan” and the interior naves are practically at the same height, giving the feeling of being in a single enclosure. The side chapels are covered with an upper gallery giving the whole greater brightness and a feeling of fullness that I enjoy very much! You might think that all churches are alike, but I think that each of them has a little something of its own and though I’m not a believer, I admire these centuries-old buildings, knowing that they were built without any form of modern technology! Respect!

Having visited the inside, I take advantage of the shy rising sun outside to walk in the Gothic district, also known as “El Barri Gotic” in Spanish. This is the center of the ancient Roman city of which one can still see the remains such as those of the Roman Temple of Augustus or the former wall. Therefore, the original nucleus of the Roman and medieval Barcelona is still the heart of of today’s Barcelona, a perfect blend of style and period. In a maze of alleyways and squares, I discover the richness of the history and present times of the city. Here, in the Gothic district, one can admire the palace of the Town Hall and the Generalitat, the Cathedral and other Gothic churches such as the Santa Maria del Pi, Sant Just and Sant Pastor. In this same area, Plaça del Rei (King’s Square) show with pride all what formed the royal dependencies of the Catalan-Aragonese crown. In the basement of that place, I recommend you to follow the tourist route into the impressive archaeological Roman ruins, interesting and entertaining at the same time.

After a long walk, I enter to the Ribera district. Many artists wanted to install their workshops here in order to inherit of the past time of the place where once lived the artisans. Many street names also recall these old crafts that are glazier, hatter, treasurer, etc. From the 13th century, Barcelona has expanded beyond its walls and from this, a suburb is born, which over time became the district of merchant and families among the richest of Barcelona. Carrer Montcada, current core spot of art galleries and major museums such as the Museu Picasso, is the center of this district where I stroll with interest for an hour or two.

The medieval palaces spread around recall very well the past of the city. Nowadays, among the ancient stones of Ribera, restaurants, night bars and fashion boutiques are giving a second life to this old neighborhood. Also located close by, the magnificent Cathedral of St. Mary of the Sea is a Catalan Gothic masterpiece. Highlighting this particular architectural style, the interior of the building literally enchants me and it is not a surprise me to learn that it is as admired as the main cathedral of Barcelona!

I walk, I explore, I discover the area and I finally reach the heart of the Park of the Citadel (Parques de la Ciutadella), true urban “lung” of 18 hectares located in the middle of Barcelona. Far from being a simple park like any other, it was created by the architect Josep Fontseré as part of the Universal Exposition of 1888. Today, one can still admire part of the exhibition which remains here such as the Castle of the three dragons (Castel del Tres dragons), the elegant Umbracle and Hivernacle greenhouses, or the waterfall and the lake, works by Fontseré himself and my favorite place in this pleasant area!

The place is very quiet and a walk in the morning without seeing hordes of tourists at each intersection is a most enjoyable experience! Also know that the park sees influx of students and other local youngsters during hot summer days, so expect to see people around then. Leaving the park from one of the 10 outputs, I quickly reach the “Arc de Triomphe” which was built as a gateway to the Universal Exposition of 1888. It is a monument of classic form and proportions (quite huge in fact!), but with carved and decorated finishes, symbolizing the allegory of respect for Barcelona towards nations and provinces participating in the Exposition. The combination of the use of brick and all of friezes surrounding the arc make it a singularly beautiful and elegant set that we willingly takes pictures of, as I’ve just did!

A subway ride then takes me to one of the most known building in Barcelona and probably the one which holds the record number of annual visits: the Basilica of the Sagrada Familia. The project of Gaudí was the following: a large church with a basilica plan including five naves with a transept, shapping the whole set in the form of a Latin cross. This church was to be accompanied by steeples, whose highest was to represent Jesus. This great tower was to be surrounded by four towers, which were to symbolize the four Evangelists, and behind them as well as above the apse, another tower was to be erected, dedicated to the Mother of God. Four more towers were to crown the facades of Glory, the Nativity and the Passion, which together were to symbolize the twelve apostles. You got it all? Damn, you’re good! Of course, you probably understood that Gaudi was rather ambitious, and we can only regret that he died before finishing his greatest work… Currently, you can visit two of the three built facades, the naves, the apse and the museum that allow to understand the past, present and future of the building through models, photographs, drawings, decorative objects and audiovisual systems.

To summarize, this is in my opinion a visit not to be missed. Except the entry price somewhat expensive (but remember that the building process depends of entries and donations), we discover an interior like no other, a unique sanctuary in the world where the decor could make the most imaginative of us think that they’re inside a spaceship! Fortunately, stained glass, mystical frescoes and the plethora of religious symbols are there to remind us that we are on Earth, in one of the most original buildings that I’ve seen so far. For the visit, my advice is for you to buy your “cut-the-line” tickets in advance on the Internet, except if staying in line for 2 to 3 hours doesn’t bother you, but I doubt it. And if you thought getting there early would avoid you to do any queuing, forget it: you’ll end up with hundreds of people who surprisingly had the same idea!

And since we are to admire the architectural wonders of Gaudí, not to go to Park Güell minutes from here would be a big mistake! Indeed, if there is a work by the artist in which nature and architecture reach a surprising symbiosis, it is definitely there. What was at first an English public park project eventually became the most singular park of Barcelona. Park Güell results from the creation of an ambitious real estate project launched by Eusebi Güell, Gaudí’s patron. The property on uneven terrain of 15 hectares and a set of 40 individual houses were to be constructed there. In the end, only two houses were built, one of which was occupied by Gaudí himself and which is today his House Museum. From 1900 to 1914, the architect worked on development works, projecting its planning investigations in the construction of roads, viaducts and porches, all fully integrated into the nature of Barcelona.

The boundless imagination of Gaudí’s work is quite evident to see in the different elements that surprise me today as a visitor of the park. Entrance pavilions, originally intended for the concierge, currently houses the Park Güell Interpretation Centre. The staircase with its famous colored gecko gives access to the pillared hall, an impressive space which consists of 86 columns supporting the heavy weight of the square above. Corrugated bench that runs the perimeter of the square is the work of Jujol, one of Gaudí collaborators. This place is for me like a kind of “living fairy tale” where each tile, fresco, mosaic and column seems to be endowed with a conscience, besides being interpreted in different ways depending on everyone’s imagination… “Hold on, would that be two gingerbread houses that I see at the foot of the stairs? I wonder if Hansel and Gretel went through here…”

Also in the “Gaudí” series of works but more “downtown” oriented, is Casa Batllo, located on Passeig de Gràcia and a must-see! Listed as well as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, it is a myth of art, architecture and Modernism, more than just a building standing out from others by its style and colors. It is a place where light, color and form combine with wood, iron, glass, ceramics and sandstone, in the most fantastic and surprising way ever, as it is also the case with all works of Gaudí. Although the entrance price is a bit expensive, don’t hesitate to get an audio guide and walk through the twenty points of explanation. And it starts from the splendid vestibule facing the impressive main staircase!

Visitors can then discover the many details difficult to perceive at first glance, metaphors and representations of nature, especially the marine world, which are all elements of inspiration and stimulate senses and emotions. And if you prefer, you can rent the innovative video guide with augmented reality, a wonder of technology that will transport you to a magical world hidden from the view of ordinary visitors. You will visit the legendary piano nobile, the former residence of the Batlló family, attics that served as storage and wash houses, roofs, chimneys and fantastic mythical skylights, and finally, an old staircase of privileged neighbors.

In short, a truely magical place in which you will escape in an idyllic fantasy world, so bright and colorful, a world which only Gaudí had the most accurate understanding!

In the middle of Passeig de Gràcia, one can also discover Casa Mila o Pedrera, a union between fantasy and functionally converting this architectural work in an essential visit. This is where Antoni Gaudí culminated her career by designing a modern building and adapted to new social needs, without forgetting his main source of inspiration: nature and organic forms. Père Milà commanded Gaudí the building of Casa Mila, an apartment building and it gave an opportunity for the artist to embody one of his most complex works, between 1906 and 1912.

It is a building of surprising modernism that the architect built and which occupies an entire corner of Passeig de Gràcia in the Eixample district. It is organized around two courtyards that provide ventilation and light to the apartments. The curves and sinuous shapes of the more commonly known as La Pedrera can be seen both outside and inside. The facade of the Casa Mila represents the moving sea where the waves are playing with algae wrought iron gates that serve as balconies. Large stone blocks are a kind of skin covering the skeleton of a building walls released from any load.

La Pedrera, the “quarry” in English, is actually the mocking nickname that people of Barcelona gave it, even if they remained in awe when admiring modern forms created by the architect. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1984, Casa Mila allows the visit of three areas: attics structured on catenary arches of local stone, the roof where the chimneys recall warriors silhouettes in the dunes of the desert and finally, an apartment in which I’d see myself living!

After a quick walk on La Rambla, the famous avenue of Barcelona crowded with souvenir, ice cream and pancakes stalls, surrounded by numerous restaurants and shops, and at all times covered by dozens of annoying hawkers, I then discover a huge steel structure covering the Boqueria, a covered market that dates back to a meeting place for street vendors. Today, the complex operates both as a mercantile and tourist spot in a modern and captivating setting, and offers locals and visitors a show full of color and life. Moreover, the market can be seen as the metaphor of the everyday life of Barcelona, a kind of human river which is sometimes calm and fluid, and sometimes restless and uncontrollable. This is kind of the “Barcelona” version of the Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid!

The history of the place dates back to the early 13th on the Rambla where, on the current market location, street vendors were selling their meat. This is the Marquis de Campo Sagrado, Captain General of Catalonia, which developed in 1836 a regulation for which was a street market in a large wasteland. Over time, the Boqueria market has turned into a large modern facility: gas lighting was installed and the place was covered by a metal roof in 1914. The latter, in addition to protect food, sellers and buyers, gives the place its unique character. Currently, these are the third and fourth generations of vendors who show with pride the oldest and most complete food market in Barcelona, offering vegetables, meat, fish and thousands of other products in a place of great charm. The Boqueria is a living space full of history and architecture of unquestionable value. Not to be missed!

Another itinerary, that I tried out during another day, took  me to the discovery of a different part of the town. It all starts on Plaza de España, one of the largest squares in Barcelona. Josep Maria Puig Cadafalch was chosen to design it, and the place was built for the Universal Exposition of 1929 held at the foot of Montjuïc. It is a lively area that is located just outside the city center, where cross many major roads of Barcelona such as Gran Via, Parallel, Avinguda Reina Maria Cristina, Carrer Tarragona and Carrer Creu de la Coberta.

One of the main sites to see around is the Palau Nacional, the Catalan Art Museum which stands regally on the side of Montjuïc. It is quite amazing and locals say that there is no better time to see it but when it is lit at night with the Magic Fountain of Montjuic (light and music show) in front of it. You can also see around one of the best museums of Catalonia, the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC), designed by Josep Amargós. There is also the old Bullring of Barcelona, built in 1900 in the style of Renaissance Moor, which has now been converted into a shopping and leisure complex. During the process, the external appearance of the arena has been preserved, making it a mall with quite an unusual style. At the entrance next to Avinguda Maria Cristina, two towers guard the site of the Exhibition. These are replicas of St Mark’s Campanile in Venice (have you noticed?). After a tour of the area, I head to the top of the hill of Montjuïc.

Barcelona has experimented a magical time that it will never forget. With the celebration of the 1992 Olympics, the city became the capital of the world for a few days, days that will remain forever in the collective memory. The Olympic Ring of Montjuïc, where I am walking right now, was the nerve center of the festival. Today it is much more than a place of remembrance of the emotions experienced because it brings together a series of installations used daily by locals and are still admired by visitors. However, it remains a place where very few visitors stop, so you will be quiet at all hours of the day, but if you are in Barcelona for a short time, this place has very little interest and can surely be replaced by the Mirador de Montjuïc, a few hundred meters away.

Next to the imposing presence of the Lluís Companys Olympic Stadium and the Palau Sant Jordi, we cannot miss the communications tower built by the engineer and Valencian architect Santiago Calatrava. This is a steel tower 136 meters high with a structural form that is not based on a vertical but inclined trunk. Its silhouette reminds the body of an athlete and its base is covered with “trencadís”, a clear reference to one of Gaudí’s design characteristics. In addition, the orientation of the tower actually makes it a sundial when it casts the shadow of its central needle on neighboring Europa square. The pools Bernat Picornell are a common meeting point for locals who want to stay fit and just next door is the university sports center, the seat of the INEFC (National Institute of Physical Education of Catalonia), designed by Ricard Bofill which reveals the taste of the architect for classical forms, columns and triangular friezes.

An attraction that, in my opinion, is worth more the visit is the Spanish Village or “El Poble Espanyol.” Also located on the hill of Montjuïc, it is one of the biggest attractions of the city, thanks to its unique combination of architecture, contemporary art, craft, commerce and gastronomy in a pleasant environment, without cars and ideal for the whole family! Built in 1929 for the Universal Exposition, it consists of a village with 177 copies of buildings from different Spanish regions. In the same group are the typical Andalusian district and examples of Romanesque monastic architecture, among others.

The set is also a unique shopping center, open 365 days a year, where 20 craftsmen are working every day to develop unique ceramic, glass, leather, jewelry, etc. Another attraction is the Fran Daurel museum which hosts about 300 key works of authors of contemporary art such as Picasso, Dalí and Miró. Entrance to the museum is already included in the entrance to the Poble Espanyol (yes, entrance isn’t free). Finally, a wide range of bars and restaurants allows visitors to discover the variety and richness of Spanish gastronomy. And if you’re up for it, do like me and make yourself comfortable on one of its pleasant terraces to sip a refreshing drink!

Now, on my way towards the Mirador of the Alcalde, a “panoramic balcony” which offers a simply spectacular 180° panoramic view of the harbor and the city. From there, you can try to identify the most emblematic buildings of Barcelona, like it was a huge model (something I love to do in this kind of place). This is the ideal place to discover the city because here and there, one can see the tallest and best known buildings and in the meantime, one can admire the sea, the harbor and beaches. All terraces on different levels are composed of an attractive set of gardens and ornamental fountains.

A curious recycled glass fragments based mosaic adorns the floor of the different platforms that make up the Mirador. In the upper part, the fountain created by Carles Buigas refreshes the place. There are also two remarkable sculptures: “The Barcelona Homenatge” by the sculptor Josep Maria Subirachs, and the popular “Sardana”, by Josep Cañas. The latter represents people who are danding to welcome visitors to this part of Montjuïc. If you want, you can continue to enjoy the view from the Montjuïc cable car, which starts from the harbour, stops here and goes up to the castle, located a little above.

Despite different city tours, I’ve missed many buildings and activities. But as it is not possible for me to do and see everything at once, I had to make choices! Just as I choose to travel mainly in Europe while there are many other very distant countries I would love to see with my own eyes. The fact is that I find Europe accessible and “reassuring” for those like me who want to travel easily with little organization, but as soon as I’ll be done with Europe (hopefully end of 2016 if the summer is nice!), I’ll start to go abroad more often and for a longer period of time in order to discover great new places and people! Looking forward to it!