You can’t visit the beautiful Spanish city of Barcelona without spotting the unique buildings of visionary architect, Antoni Gaudi. Colourful, curvaceous and creative they won’t fail to stop you in your tracks. Whether you linger outside on the pavement or explore the fantastical interiors, Gaudi’s buildings are a highlight of any Barcelona itinerary. Here are our five family favourites from a Gaudi tour of Barcelona with teens.
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Gaudi tour Barcelona
Architecture isn’t always top of the list of must sees when you’re planning a family city break. Unless you’re going to Barcelona! The boys and I took a walking tour of Gaudi buildings on our first day in Barcelona – read more about our trip here – to get an insight into the brilliant mind behind these astonishing designs. I’d recommend a tour at the beginning of your stay to help get your bearings in the city as well as some tips for more sightseeing.
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Casa Mila aka La Pedrera
Curvy Casa Mila was one of Antoni Gaudi’s last works in 1910. But it’s also a great place to start a family tour of Gaudi’s buildings. Not only is it easy to find on a broad and fashionable shopping street, but it also may have a Star Wars connection. Designed as an apartment block it stands proud on a corner of Passeig de Gràcia in the L’Eixample district.
Gaudi was at the height of his powers and he and his clients planned Casa Mila to be a flamboyant statement of the Modernisme movement. But even so the Milas were a bit surprised by Gaudi’s outre design. Inspired by nature and organic forms, Casa Mila doesn’t have straight lines. The undulating natural stone facade, sculpted into waves, shocked locals who called it La Pedrera or the Quarry.
Out on the roof Gaudi turned functional air ducts and chimneys into powerful sculptural forms like sentinels. In fact quite Darth Vadar-esque. Is it a coincidence that film director George Lucas visited Casa Mila when he was writing Star Wars?
Sadly the Mila family fell out with their architect during the build. Gaudi went way over budget and Pere Mila’s wife Rosa complained that there wasn’t a straight wall for a piano. Many thought the build was a work of art, especially since Gaudi specified every detail, including the furniture for the Mila’s apartment. But after his death in 1926, the widow Mila re-decorated and went for a more conventional look.
To get a glimpse of an original Casa Mila interior pop into Cafe de la Pedrera on the ground floor. It still has Gaudi’s original pillars and wavy ceilings.
Casa Mila tickets and the Barcelona Pass
We didn’t buy Barcelona Passes on our visit but I’m not sure that was the right decision! It doesn’t include entry to Sagrada Familia or Park Guell. However it does allow free entrance to Casa Mila, Casa Batllo and Casa Vicens so it could prove a good investment if you’re intrigued to see inside some Gaudi buildings. The Barcelona Pass gives free entry to 20 attractions and also includes: a choice of walking tours – one is on Gaudi and Modernisme; a hop on/ hop off bus; a boat cruise; a bike tour and the Camp Nou football stadium tour amongst an array of museums and monuments. Find out more about the Barcelona Pass here.
If you decide it’s not for you then you can book a skip the line ticket with audio guide here to visit Casa Mila.
Casa Batllo, the House of the Dragon, is just down the street from Casa Mila. It’s another unmissable Gaudi building that you can enjoy from the pavement. In 1903 Gaudi’s clients bought a fixer upper in a fashionable location on Passeig de Gràcia. Inspired by Gaudi’s Park Guell, they gave him free rein. He transformed the plain building into a fantasy world of light and curves with a roof that looks suspiciously like a dragon.
Since St George is the patron saint of Catalonia it’s possible that Gaudi was thinking of the legend when he designed Casa Batllo. The colourful tiles on the curving roof look like a dragon’s scales whilst the tower beside it could be St George’s sword. The organic imagery carries on inside and outside the house. On the lower floors the facade is quite skeletal, explaining why locals call it the House of Bones.
The glass and tile mosaic which covers the building glows as the light changes throughout the day. Definitely worth viewing from the outside and I wish we’d had time to visit the fantastical interiors too. NB Casa Batllo’s facade and Noble floor are being conserved and restored until May and June 2019 although the house is still open to the public. Check here for more info.
Curly, whirly, mosaic’y Park Guell lies on a hillside overlooking Barcelona and the sea. It was originally intended as an exclusive garden city but the plan was scrapped whilst Gaudi was doing the initial landscaping. The area became a public park with a cluster of Gaudi’s trademark naturalistic and whimsical architectural designs.
The main park is free to enter and fun to explore or picnic in. But to get up close to Gaudi’s most extravagant creations you need to buy a separate timed ticket to the Monumental Area. Here is the mosaic lizard that features on a thousand postcards, the collonaded Hypostyle room, once intended to be a market space, and the famous terrace with its sinuous and colourful boundary bench.
It’s a tour group magnet so try to book as early in the day as you can. Park Guell is a little outside the centre but a new shuttle bus service will run from April.
Gaudi street lamps and paving
You don’t always have to look up to see Gaudi’s work in Barcelona. He has a hand in the pavements too. Look out for the hexagonal paving tiles on Passeig de Gràcia. The intricate 7-tile ocean-themed pattern from the 1970s is based on a Gaudi design for Casa Batllo.
One of Gaudi’s first commissions in Barcelona was for street lights which still stand in Placa Reial. Look for the ones with six arms that are decorated with snakes and winged helmets.
Gaudi’s Basilica is the best known of all his buildings and like the others is full of symbolism and naturalistic shapes. Although he began work on it in 1882 it’s still not finished. Gaudi only completed a small proportion of his vision before his death in 1926 but since then contemporary architects have continued his work.
Walk around the perimeter of the building to see the different interpretations of Gaudi’s design since his death and also the work in progress.
Each side of the building tells a story from the life of Jesus but the Nativity facade with its complex and ornate detailing is the Gaudi original. If you think the donkey in the nativity group looks fed up that may be because Gaudi insisted that a live donkey was winched up by crane so that the stonemasons could get a lifelike image.
Inside Sagrada Familia
Sagrada Familia is fascinating from the pavement but this is one Gaudi building that you really have to go inside to properly appreciate. The interior is epic, even by cathedral standards, and stepping inside is like suddenly entering a sunlit forest.
Entry is by timed ticket so to avoid a lot of queuing and wasted time do book in advance. If you arrive fifteen minutes early you can enjoy the exterior and won’t miss your time slot. You can go to the top of a tower for an additional cost although we couldn’t do this as we hadn’t booked it in advance. Tickets can be bought direct from the official website, or here’s a selection of ticket and tour options from Get your Guide:
Plus one more…. Casa Vicens
This is a Gaudi building that we haven’t seen yet. Designed as a family home in the Gràcia district, it was Gaudi’s first commission. Casa Vicens opened as a museum in late 2017 and looks like a must-see after its years of careful restoration. Look out for a striking Moorish style building with turquoise and yellow checkerboard tiles on a red brick facade. Click here for an image of Casa Vicens and skip-the-line tickets.
If you’d like to take a walking tour of Gaudi’s buildings in Barcelona the following is reasonably priced and similar to the one that the boys and I took: click here for a Gaudi walking tour
For more about our city break in Barcelona click here for Barcelona with Teenagers, where to go and what to do. There are tips on Barcelona: Eating, Sleeping and Getting Around here. Or how about a trip to Naples, another fascinating city by the sea.
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