We had a special Barcelona experience: we were barely there for 72 hours, and spent Christmas Eve Catalonian-style. I can hardly do justice to Barcelona’s highlights since we only had time for a few stops, but I was absolutely in awe with its architectural flair.

From the Gothic Quarter to Gaudi’s creations, Barcelona is a must-see for architecture lovers. It has a bit of everything: vibrant history, diverse culture, amazing food, high fashion, street performers, stunning cathedrals and ordinary pedestrians. Even with the short amount of time I spent there, I fell in love.

Barcelona spain- an architectural wonderland

Barcelona stops you can’t miss

One landmark I knew I could not miss was the Sagrada Familia. Still in construction, this cathedral is primed to be the world’s newest, and potentially its most outstanding. But despite Gaudi’s iconic contributions to the city, I found myself drawn to the romance of the Gothic Quarter. Thank goodness it has emerged from its less-than-savory days, because it is a beautiful place to wander. Plants dangle from balconies, smells waft from spice shops, and chic styles overflow from small boutiques.

Ever the hobby photographers, Aaron and I snapped quite a few shots in hopes of doing this lovely little city justice. In the meantime, I’ll save my in-depth guide-writing for the next time I visit.

Catedral Santa Maria Del Mar

This lovely Gothic cathedral was the “cathedral of the people,” we were told. And despite it not having quite the spotlight of Sagrada Familia, it certainly held its own in grandeur. Located in the Gothic Quarter, this church was the center of life– and today there remain restaurants and crowds to prove it.


Casa Batlló

Despite the steep price of entry, Casa Batlló is one of the most fascinating and worthwhile Gaudi stops. Built as a home that was eventually turned into an apartment complex, each room of the house has an inspiration. From bones to waves to trees, the shapes in the house are inspired by nature. It would have been a strange place to live, but it’s certainly a fabulous place to visit.

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Gothic Quarter & surrounding neighborhoods

This was by far my favorite neighborhood, and for good reason. The beautiful alleys are peaceful, with only the occasional strum of street musicians floating through the air. Succulents dangle from balconies effortlessly as light pours out from boutiques and cafes.

We stopped for coffee at Nomad, a rare 3rd-wave coffee shop not far from the Gothic Quarter. Latte art is a rare find in Spain, but the barista-entrepreneurs seemed hopeful.

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gothic quarter flags

Sagrada Familia

Columns are trees. Stained glass is water and wind and leaves. The cathedral is a forest beckoning the wayfarer to come and rest awhile. A crucified Christ descends from the center beneath the plumes of a jellyfish. Antoni Gaudi’s masterpiece is strange and undeniably beautiful.

Visiting the Sagrada Familia is an odd experience: we admired the unconventional approach to stained glass windows and columns, while dreaming of how beautiful the completed church will be. In addition, hundreds of other visitors are feeling the same thing– and they’re taking selfies to document the moment. There’s nothing to do but to take it all in and plan to come back in 10 years.

Sagrada familia exterior
Sagrada familia interior 2
Sagrada familia interior 1
sagrada familia interior

Park Güell

Gaudi’s famous park is the place for families to gather, teens to date and tourists to marvel. The waves of color and mosaic patterns sparkle is the sun moves through the sky. Despite being rather out of the way, Güell has become one of Barcelona’s icons. I loved that the whole place felt a bit like a village designed by Gaudi– or maybe by Dr. Seuss.

park guell

Our favorite Barcelona resources

Travel books and maps:

Travel articles and recommendations:

an architectural tour of Barcelona- where to visit if you are there to see the highlights