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Barcelona for culture vultures

Living in Girona we often take the train down to Barcelona for a day out. I don’t fancy driving either, too much hassle and parking is expensive. Let the ‘train take the strain’ was an old TV ad message.

Girona’s train station is just a short walk from our flat and we tend to get off at Barcelona Passeig De Gràcia station. That’s nice and central  for most things. With so much to see and do we’d go to one place then stop for lunch, then visit another location in the afternoon. There’s no real rush, we can always come back another time. We mainly get around using taxis or an Uber / Cabify (some ridesharing apps may or may not be still operating).

Here are a few places to start with, probably too much to do in just one daily visit so take your pick.

If you have kids a good place is CosmoCaixa C/d’Isaac Newton, 26. It’s a sort of mix of natural history and science, ‘designed to stimulate people’s knowledge and opinion of science’. Low entry price, it covers many various topics, from an indoor jungle to ancient humans. With many interactive exhibits, roomy cafe space and a large outdoors. A leisurely visit would easily take up half a day.

La Sagrada Familia 

Designed by the famous Catalan architect Antonio Gaudi this grand basilica has been under construction since 1882 and is still unfinished. 

That’s obvious from the cranes towering above, and the current estimated finish date is 2026. That hasn’t put off tourists who flock here en masse. Yearly visitor numbers are in the region of 3 million, so book your tickets online in advance.

I’ve always been a bit underwhelmed when visiting churches in general, but this is something so different. Sure there’s plenty of the usual stained glass around, but it’s when you enter and start to look up.This is the moment your lower jaw drops. Those spires reaching for the heavens, that impossibly high crafted ceiling, and all that cascading light. Rooted to the spot you become hard-pressed on where else to cast your gaze. Stick around a bit more as daylight tracks the sky and that colour show resembles looking through a kaleidoscope.

We paid extra to go up one of the spires. As you ascend, the narrow spiral stairway does make you feel a touch dizzy, like you’ve just jumped off one of those fast spinning kiddies roundabouts. At various points there are small outdoor viewing points that just heightened my feeling of vertigo. Perfectly safe of course as they are covered with a wire netting, and the views of Barcelona are sensational. I didn’t fancy doing all that in reverse and upon reaching the top was glad to see there’s a lift down. 

No wonder it’s the top sight to visit and rightly so, packing a true eclesiastic punch.The only time I wasn’t in a rush to leave a place of worship. 

Chocolate Museum (Museu de la Xocolata) C/del Comerc, 36.

Here’s something more up my street and a welcome distraction to other more formal museums. We owe it to the Spanish explorers who brought cocoa beans back to Spain in the 1600’s. We English have the less envious reputation of stumbling across the humble potato. Discovering tobacco was down to us too, so maybe that makes us equal.

This private museum housed in a former barracks is in the lively Born neighbourhood. Entrance prices are low with an option of paying for various workshops that require pre-booking.

Explanatory notes for exhibits are presented in 3 languages (Catalan, Spanish & English). My general impression was that they were largely staid, and left me thinking it could all be displayed with a more imaginative stamp. If you’ve ever visited the York (UK) Chocolate Museum you’ll know what I mean.

It won’t take you long to go round to see everything, being relatively small. It explains the history of the plant, but not interactive enough for kids I thought. You finish up at inevitably the best part of any museum visit, the gift shop. Of course take your pick of the plethora of chocolate bars on display, and leave a comment if so inclined on a large blackboard. 

If you exit at lunchtime there’s a cracking Vietnamese restaurant just opposite.

Parc Guell

This is not your normal run-of-the-mill park but another of Gaudi’s creations for a rich industrialist client. Forget about formal lines and pretty flower beds, this is more garden design on steroids. I’ve been here twice, the first time was about 20 years ago when it was free entry. This time, we’d booked a few days in advance as it’s a popular stopping point for Barcelona visitors. 

Peruse at your leisure and be sure to pick up a paper map, as you work your way towards the exit point. Extensive use of curves, arches and oceans of coloured tiles adorn the handful of buildings. The use of coloured tile fragments continues within a large seating area, that boasts fine seaward views of the city. A long wide stairway down to the gatehouse is decoratively served with the same panache. At its base a large green-tiled lizard awaits.

Gaudi even applied his artistic flair to the ironwork of the entrance gates (above).

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