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  • Candace Ahlfinger

Barcelona--No Longer a Sleepy Village

(Cathedral of Barcelona)

We had been to Barcelona 25 years ago and were excited about returning to the small, sleepy town we had experienced at that time. Barcelona has changed! Las Ramblas, the main tourist walk through the old town, is wall-to-wall tourists. Lines at historic sites are long, and restaurants are in high demand. One warning we heard over and over and over again was to beware of pickpockets! Barcelona is the pickpocket capital of the world. We never had an issue, but we took precautions and were very diligent whenever we walked.

We stayed at Hotel Colon in the Gothic Quarters across the Plaça Nova from the Barcelona Cathedral. The hotel was in easy walking distance to many of the famous sites. (Check out the Barcelona City Pass or the Barcelona Card to see if they will save you money at these sites during your stay.)

Gaudi’s works, although not the only examples of amazing Modernistic Architecture, must be seen to be believed. The Sagrada Familia Basilica, which has been under construction since 1882, demonstrates the creativity and break from traditional architecture of the time. Each of the church’s facades presents a different Biblical story with the statues reflecting the theme. For example, the Nativity facade is very traditional with flowing sculptures while the façade of the Suffering shows the sharp-edged statuary mirroring the sharp pain that Christ suffered. The museum tracing the construction and Gaudi’s life was a fascinating addition to the cathedral. In the 25 years since we had been there, the church had changed from being a construction site in which we stepped over and around stones to a sanctified basilica but with much work still to be done. The basilica is scheduled to be completed in 2026 to mark the 100th year of Gaudi’s death.

(Basílica de la Sagrada Família)

Many of the houses that Gaudi designed are open to the public. We had been to Casa Batlló and Casa Mila (also known as La Pedrera) on our previous trip so we chose to visit Casa Vicens, the first house Gaudi designed that just opened to the public in 2018. We also revisited Parc Guell. When we went before, we simply walked into the park. Now we had to pre-purchase tickets, a must for almost any place in Barcelona, and were 2 of the 400 people allowed in at our time period. Even with the crowds, the tile work and nature-inspired construction amaze visitors.

(Parc Guell and Casa Vicens)

We toured the Palau de la Musica Catalana which was designed by the architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner and built between 1905 and 1908 in the Catalan modernista style. The concert hall, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was constructed as the home for the Orfeó Català. The structure is superb. Using the same Catalan modernista/Art Nouveau architecture style as Gaudi, Domènech i Montaner continues to amaze visitors with intense colors and intricacies of every detail at every turn.

( Palau de la Musica Catalana )

Barcelona has exciting places to explore around every corner. The Picasso Museum is located in five large townhomes dating from the 13th-15th centuries. Even if you’re not a big Picasso fan, the architecture of the townhomes is very interesting. Picasso’s works reflect the formative period he spent in Barcelona so many of his paintings are from his very early period. After our visit to the museum, we took a break at the Els Quatre Gats, a restaurant that Picasso once frequented. He even created the poster that was used as the cover of the menu.

We enjoyed a trip inside the Barcelona Cathedral with its beautiful vaulted ceilings. We also enjoyed spotting ruins of the Roman walls that would appear at unexpected times during our exploration of the city. In fact, across Plaça Nova from our hotel, two sections of Roman walls and two towers that were built in the 4th century A.D. had been incorporated into the relatively new part of Barcelona. This trip we also visited the fascinating Museum of the History of Barcelona to see the remains of Barcino, the Roman city built by Caesar Augustus from 15 to 11 B.C. To view the ruins, we went to the Barcelona History Museum – MUHBA and descended below the Plaça del Rei where Roman villas, laundry areas, and a winery still exist. These extensive ruins give a glimpse into the daily lives of the Romans who lived in Barcino in that time period. (MUHBA (Museu d’Historia de Barcelona) has 10 locations across the city with each giving different insights into Barcelona’s long history.)

(Portion of the Roman walls)

Barcelona is a foodie city with two of the world’s best restaurants and over 20 Michelin-starred restaurants. Barcelona’s Catalan background provides scrumptious dining opportunities for locals and tourists alike. We did splurge and dine at Disfrutar, named #9 of the Top Best Restaurants in the world. We made reservations months in advance and could only get in for a late lunch…and we still ate at the bar. (Sitting at the bar is always fun because you get to visit more with people.) The restaurant is known for its creative tasting menu. We chose the “small” menu with only 24 courses. Many of the dishes held surprises such as the “jalapeños” that were actually a molded pepper-shaped gelatin enclosing a luscious chocolate. The final dessert came as a stalk of cotton with white fluffy bolls on it. Thankfully, our waiter explained that the cotton was actually cocoa and mint cotton candy.

One night we took part in a cooking class offered by Foodie Experience ( We joined four other people for an evening of delicious food and drink that we prepared ourselves—with lots of help and guidance. The highlights of our evening were sangria, paella, and flan. Besides the food itself, one of the best parts is that the recipes were shared so we could recreate, or at least try to recreate, the dishes when we returned home.

(Homemade paella at Foodie Experience!)

We ate at Arcano and had another great meal, but, although there are so many fabulous restaurants in Barcelona, some of our favorite evenings were spent discovering small wonderful places to eat and then strolling through the streets until we found a vendor selling fresh churros and chocolate to provide the finishing touch to a perfect day.

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