We took two cruises, each of which ended up with two days in Barcelona. From these two trips, we learned that to properly see the sights of Barcelona takes more than four days. I will list the places we saw, ranked in order from best to least interesting.
1] Gaudi. Other cities have grand boulevards, like Barcelona’s Las Ramblas. Other cites have have great cathedrals, like Barcelona. Other cities have ancient royal places, like Barcelona has. Other cites have old Medieval buildings, as does Barcelona. Other cities have interesting hills, like Barcelona, but nobody else has anything like the wildly creative, perhaps insane, architect, Antonio Gaudi (1852-1926). Four of Gaudi’s works in Barcelona are each standout attractions in their own right:
1] Casa Mila (fee) or La Pedrera is an apartment building on Passeig Gracia, near the Diagonal Metro stop. An impressive sight from the street, the star of the show is the roof terrace.
2] Casa Batllo’s spectacular exterior facade is just a couple blocks down Passeig Gracia from Casa Mila and it must be seen both after dark and in the daylight. Casa Battlo was a one family house and it has a very interesting interior and another good roof garden (fee).
3]Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s version of a Gothic Cathedral begun in 1882 is still under construction, but most of the extravagant exterior is finished. The interior(fee) is not very far along, and probably not worth the price of admission.
4] Parc Guell (free) is Gaudi at his gaudy best, easily Barcelona’s top sight. Don’t miss it. In fact, make a trip just to see it. If you go on your own, follow the signs to the "Zona Monumental".
2] The Golden Square is a 100 square block area centered on Passeig Gracia reaching from the Diagonal More station toward the sea coast. The Golden Square is home to an impressive collection of Art Nouveau and Modernista buildings, producing some of the most rewarding street rambles anywhere (free).
3] Montjuic is a City park and home to several museums, grand buildings, great fountains, and the venues for the Barcelona Olympics. The terrace in front of the grandiose National Museum of Art offers fine views over the city. Montjuic can be reached by the toursit bus, city bus, or by cable car from the Paral-lel metro station.
4] The Cathedral neighborhood. Two trips to Barcelona, and on both we ended up going to see the Cathedral (free) during Sunday services when visitors are restricted to the rear of the church. We’ll try it again next trip because the vast church looks to be well worth a visit based on what can be seen from the restricted Sunday view.
A number of good sights are in the immediate vicinity of the Cathedral, especaily on Sunday afternoons when the natives are out doing their thing– a band was playing Catalonian folk music on the steps of the Cathedral while in the square below, the natives were dancing native dances. Every few blocks, some kind of musical or entertainment groups was performing.
Facing the Cathedral, go down the narrow street on the right and take the first doorway on the left to enter the cloister with palm trees and geese swimming in a very small pond.
Further along this street, there is a nice example of a Mediaeval street bridge connecting two buildings that are part of the Ecclesiastical complex. At the end of this street, turn left and go two blocks to the Palau Reial (the Royal Palace) (fee)--- a note: many names of places in Barcelona, like Palau Reial, don’t quite look like Spanish because the language of Barcelona is Catalonian, a dialect of Spanish.
What survives of the 14th Century Palau Reil (Royal Palace), turned out to be a fairly interesting museum (the Museum of the City of Barcelona). A couple of the great rooms of the old palace, the chapel and throne room, remain, but the most interesting part of the museum was the basement where part of the even older Roman city has been excavated within the walls of the medieval Royal Palace. Most of the tour of the Roman city is done on catwalks suspended above the Roman walls and streets. Look for the dye vats at the milliners where traces of the blue dye used to color Roman togas still stains the rock.
5] On our first trip to Barcelona, we missed Las Ramblas, Barcelona’s most famous street, so we set out for a ramble on Las Ramblas, quickly became bored with it, and went off to see Gaudi. I only list Las Ramblas as the #5 top sight in Barcelona because we have only so far visited the five sights listed. Based on Las Ramblas boredom rating, about the same as for Bern, Switzerland, I suspect that on future visits we will find many more places in Barcelona that are far more worthwhile than Las Ramblas. Skip it.
In addition to the above, Barcelona has many more museums, parks, and impressive buildings to visit.
Barcelona is a big city. Since our first trip there was on a guided our, we got a half day introductory bus tour to the city. An even better introduction to the City may be the Tourist Bus (16 Euros for a 24 hour ticket, about 22 Euros for a two day pass). There are three tourist bus routes– red, blue, and green– in the summer, but only two the rest of the year– no green. Each route overlaps the others to facilitate transfers, and each trip takes about 40 minutes to complete its circuit. The buses are double decker with an open top deck. As much of Barcelona charm is in its streetscapes, head for the upper deck so you will get an unrestricted view of the passing scene.
You can get on and off the tourist bus as many times as you like within the duration of your ticket.
The tourist bus stops at or near or almost near all the major sights and many minor sights. Note that the stop for the remarkable Parc Guell is at the bottom of a not inconsiderable hill which must be climbed to get the park entrance.
The web site for UK’s Foreign Office contains a lot of useful information on visiting other nations, especially warnings and problems of personal safety, for which it is far better that the US State Department’s advice because the Sate Department’s information is highly politicized, reflecting as much US propaganda as reality. So always consult the Foreign Office for safety tips.
Like the Foreign Office, lots of sources of advice to travelers to Barcelona warn of petty street crime in Barcelona, apparently assuming you think having all your money or passport stolen is a petty matter. Barcelona scores big when it comes to red flag warnings about street crime. Take these warnings seriously. In our four days in Barcelona, we experienced two attempts at robbery, none successful.
I will eventually add a tip to this journal detailing our experience with Barcelona street crime and how we prevented being robbed. Being prepared can make the difference between a good visit and a disaster.