I didn’t have high expectations of Barcelona. Recommendations from my friends of the best beaches and bars on the coast to go to did not exactly raise my expectations, as I’m not exactly a beach person. But when I got there I was pleasantly surprised. Although the centre of the city around Plaça de Catalunya and La Rambla with its long, wide pedestrianised streets did reminded me of other European cities like Budapest, its small backstreets did hold a charm for me, as it felt like I had stumbled upon the real Barcelona. I loved the narrow, winding streets where the overhanging buildings seemed to topple over you, then open up into gorgeous little squares. I also loved the vibrant colours around the city, particularly evident in the beautiful Catalan modernist architecture of Antoni Gaudí and Lluís Domènech i Montaner.
My favourite Catalan modernist building was the Hospital de Sant Pau, designed by Montaner. Much like Montaner’s other masterpiece Palau de la Música Catalana, the hospital looks like something out of a fairytale, made entirely out of sweets and chocolates thanks to Montaner’s inventive use of mosaic, ceramics and stained glass. The whole building glitters in the sun as if its walls were made out of gingerbread, and its fabulous ornamentations were sugar coated goodies, like the witch’s house in Hansel and Gretel. In comparison to Gaudí’s architecture which I found a lot more playful but less mesmerising, Montaner’s masterpieces are lighter, but much more detailed and intricate, which I personally preferred.
La Sagrada Família, although not my favourite Catalan modernist building in the city, did come pretty high on the list. Although it didn’t seem like much from a distance, resembling something more like ant hills than anything else, when I came closer to Gaudi’s most famous masterpiece, I began to see its appeal. It’s beauty lies in the details that you can easily miss if you’re not looking carefully enough. The whole church is laced with trees, birds and figures who look as if they are dancing due to the building’s design. You can almost imagine one of the figures playing a flute as all the engraved characters dance into the church. On the other side of the church to the entrance, you can see the moments of Christ’s life, crucifixion and resurrection in abstract scenes of stone all amounting to Jesus on the Cross, with a golden Christ barely noticeable looking on from above in heaven. It is beautiful, and very clever in how it can cover so much in such simple stonework. The cranes and building sites on the ground did draw away from the effect of Gaudi’s work however, but that’s a-given until the building is complete in 2026.
Similarly bursting with colour is the vibrant La Boqueria market situated just off La Rambla. With stalls filled to the brim with glossy candid fruits and spiced nuts, indulgent chocolates and juicy fruits, La Boqueria is a visual feast to anyone who ventures into its wonderland. The chocolates are particularly tasty, especially the treats that have some form of pistachio in them, as are the chocolate coated nuts.
Aside from the alluring beauty of Gaudi’s and Montaner’s buildings, I also loved the Gothic architecture of the Cathedral Basilica of Barcelona. Pristine and almost shining in the gorgeous sun, its intricate details and wonderful gargoyles shone brilliantly. The various arches in the doorway reminded me of Durham Cathedral, in that you feel as if you’re getting pulled inside the church when you walk towards them. Unfortunately I was apparently not dressed appropriately to go inside as I was slightly showing my knees, so was denied the treat of looking at its interior. But if it’s anything like the outside, I bet it will be a wonder to look upon.
Beside the famous buildings and gorgeous food, one of the best things about visiting Barcelona was being able to take in all the beautiful architecture that lined almost every street.
Walking along the narrow alleyways and roads, you would come across the most beautiful architecture, from Gaudi-esque rooftops that shine in the summer sun as if sprinkled with sugar, to stone engravings on walls, to intricate wall murals that span whole buildings. It was a real treat to just walk round and see what was going to pop up around the next corner.
Overall, Barcelona did surpass my expectations and in the end I wish I had more time to explore the history of the city in much more detail. There are places I still want to go and see, and those I want to return to at a later date. For now, I will have to say goodbye to this beautiful sugared city, until the day I will see its gleaming rooftops again.