Barcelona contains some of the best-preserved medieval structures in Europe, as well as a wealth of imaginative contemporary buildings. The Passeig de Gràcia is lined with ritzy boutiques and fanciful modernist architecture. Nearby, Park Güell is an enchanting park created by Antoni Gaudí, the eccentric genius behind the extraordinary Sagrada Família (Church of the Holy Family) in the Eixample district. La Rambla is an exuberant tree-lined promenade dotted with animated outdoor cafés, tapas bars and flower stalls. The high season can be insufferably crowded nowadays, especially when huge cruise ships fill the harbor.
Gaudí’s Lesser-Known Buildings
Many people miss some of the most charming Gaudí buildings, such as the Palau Güell (Carrer Nou de la Rambla 3-5), the residence of Gaudí’s wealthy patron; the Cripta Gaudí, the Tolkien-esque church crypt at the center of Colònia Güell (Calle Claudi Güell 6), a utopian planned industrial community just outside Barcelona; and Torre Bellesguard (Carrer Bellesguard 20), a private mansion first opened to the public in 2013.
A Magnificent Concert Hall
One of my favorite modernist buildings in Barcelona is the Palau de la Música Catalana (Carrer Palau de la Música 4-6), a concert hall with a sensational stained-glass ceiling created by architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner. I’ll never forget seeing the Berlin Philharmonic perform Brahms in this joyous space.
Shopping Barcelona’s Markets
Barcelona contains many of the best markets in Europe. And they’re terrific places to visit even if you’re not food shopping. Many markets also have restaurants, bars and cafés, which make them ideal for lunch. The most famous is La Boqueria just off La Rambla, but I prefer those in quieter residential neighborhoods where most tourists do not venture.
A short walk from La Rambla, the Mercat de Santa Caterina was renovated in 2005 and has a spectacular undulating polychrome mosaic roof. There are several bars and cafés and a good casual restaurant, Cuines Santa Caterina (Avinguda de Francesc Cambó 16).
Construction of one of Barcelona’s prettiest markets, Mercat de Galvany (Carrer de Santaló 65), began in 1868 and was finally completed in 1927. Today this handsome brick building is a listed historical landmark. Closed Sunday.
Built in 1888, the Mercat de La Concepció (Carrer D’Aragó 313-317) is well-known for its florists, a number of which stay open 24 hours a day. There are several popular bars in the food section of the market, which are perfect for a drink and a snack. Closed Sunday.
Catalonia’s Delightful Wine Country
During summer and early fall, Barcelona is frequently hot and humid. A rural escape is provided by Catalonia’s wine country. The best-known wine town is Vilafranca del Penedès, an easy hour-long drive from the city. Tours and tastings are available at the internationally recognized Torres winery, plus the less well-known Parés Baltà vineyard. Vilafranca del Penedès itself is a pleasant working town that is proudly dedicated to the grape. The 16-room Casa Torner i Güell is a sister property to the Mercer Hotel in Barcelona and occupies a recently renovated 19th-century townhouse. Though not a true luxury hotel, it is an extremely agreeable place to spend the night.