Both the capital of Catalonia and the second city of Spain, I had looked forward to visiting Barcelona for quite sometime. With its origins dating back to Roman times the city isn’t short on history or culture. Its sunny seaside locale also provides a nice break for cold-weather dwellers. But for me, Barcelona’s main draw was its modernist architecture.
The early 20th century was Barcelona’s golden age. During this time it became a wealthy city and has the buildings to show for it. Acclaimed architect Atoni Gaudi, Barcelona’s own son, is responsible for the city’s fame as a modernist architecture hub. After doing some internet research, I was pleased to find a free Gaudi walking tour provided by Runner Bean Tours.
We started our Saturday morning with a walk down tourist-laden Las Ramblas to our rendezvous point (Placa Reial) with Runner Bean and proceeded with our tour guide, Debbie, along with about 20 other tour-goers to several of Gaudi’s more well-known buildings. The tour was informative, and getting to each spot on the tour was easy with the help of our guide. Afterwards, travel started to become a lot more difficult.
My plan for Saturday afternoon was to go straight from the Guadi tour which ended at the impressive Sagrada Familia, to Parc Guell – another one of Gaudi’s masterpieces. Unfortunately, we got off at the wrong subway stop and spent the next hour wandering through a more run-down part of Barcelona. On the plus side, it was an adventure and we got to peak into the real Barcelona. On the downside, it was hot and I have bad knees and feet due to injury and collapsed arches and walking for prolonged periods of time is quite painful for me. Nevertheless, we were dedicated and eventually got the help of a few locals who probably felt bad for us and eventually led us straight through the Park.
Parc Guell was a mix of nature, architecture and amazing views. The main entrance to Guell is near the bottom of a hill and you are immediately greeted by a grouping of Gaudi’s more surreal-looking works. There is a magnificent staircase, a main shopping centre and a few houses scattered about. Parc Guell was originally intented as a master-planned community but it was a commercial failure and only three people ever lived in the community. Luckily for us, what Gaudi did manage to build still remains and is open to the public for free. As beautiful as the entrance to the parc is, urge people to make the trek up to the top of the hill, past Gaudi’s works, as you will get to see some of the best views of Barcelona. After Parc Guell, it was back to the hotel for a siesta and tapas for dinner.
Sunday morning brought a cloudier, but still warm day. Our plans took us to Montjuic which is a short subway ride away. The train dropped us off at the base of the mountain and from there we took a funicular to Castel de Montjuic – an 18th century fortress which was a military museum up until 2009. Currently it is home to a few WWI-era canons and not much else. However, there is no entrance fee to the fortress and visitors are free to walk inside. The fortress also looks over not only Barcelona, but the Mediterranean sea s well.
After exploring Castel de Montjuic, we hopped back on the funicular towards the base of the mountain. From there we emarked on a short hike to Palau Nacional. The palace is beautiful, but more stunning were the series of steps and fountains that led from Palau Nacional down to Placa Espanya. The palace is home to a Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, but we did not have time to visit. From the palace we were a short walk from former Olympic Park, where the 1992 Olympics were held. Entrance into the stadium is free and it’s worth a visit if you find yourself on Montjuic. Time flew on Montjuic and after an escalator-filled journey down from the mountain towards Placa Espanya, we decided to head to the waterfront.
Barcelona’s waterfront area is fairly new and caters mostly to tourists in search of a break from the crowded city streets. It boasts a modern aquarium, tons of restaurants, an antique market and much more. With our trip winding down, we stopped at a restaurant for a last taste of tapas topped off with gelato. Afterwards, we walked back to our hotel and caught a taxi back to the airport.