There are only a few architects who shaped a city as much as Antonio Gaudi did Barcelona. However, not many know that several architects of the Modernisme movement contributed to the cityscape as we know it today. This post introduces you to history and characteristics of Catalan Modernism before taking you on a walking tour around the city. On this walking tour, you will see some of the most important Gaudi buildings in Barcelona as well as other stellar examples of Art Nouveau architecture in Barcelona. In the end, we have also included a map for you to help navigate the city.
Guest Post by Kalena
Though born and raised in Hawaii, Kalena McElroy has also called Barcelona and Los Angeles home. Her love for travel comes from her passion for anthropology, exploring new cultures, and the outdoors. She blogs at LostandAbroad.com. Follow her adventures on Instagram @lostandabroad.
What is Modernisme?
Modernisme, referred to as Catalan Modernism in English, is a regional variety of the Art Nouveau style. It began as a cultural and political movement amongst the Catalan provinces in Spain. Creatives were a large part of the movement, helping to develop an eclectic new style of architecture largely inspired by nature. As the city of Barcelona expanded and modernized, influential architects emerged, namely Lluís Domènech i Montaner, Antoni Gaudí, and Josep Puig i Cadafalch who left their innovative mark on the city.
Modernisme is characterized by curves, rather than lines, and asymmetry. The style draws its motifs from nature and is rich in ornamentation and detail.
Walking Tour of Modernisme in Barcelona
The walking tour below will take you past some of the most important examples of Modernisme architecture in Barcelona. The tour is about 4 km long and should take a little over an hour with stops along the way. Incorporate a little architecture in your Barcelona itinerary 🙂 Below are the highlights followed by your free map. This walking tour is among the best free things to do in Barcelona!
Palau de la Música Catalana
Tucked away in a narrow street is the UNESCO World Heritage Site, Palau de la Música Catalana. Start your day at this architectural gem, which was at the heart of the Catalan cultural movement. The concert hall opened its doors in 1908 and was designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner to house the Orfeó Català choir, which still works out of the space.
The exterior and interior of the building are equally impressive, showcasing an exposed brick façade, glazed ceramic tile, sculptures, and elaborately decorated columns. Highlights include an ornate stained glass skylight, large busts of the great composers; Beethoven, Wagner, Bach, and Palestrina; and 18 muses decorating the stage. The impressive concert hall has seen many of the world’s most talented choirs, composers, conductors, orchestras, soloists, and bands on its stage like Paco de Lucía and Ella Fitzgerald.
© Kalena McElroy
© Kalena McElroy
© Kalena McElroy
There’s nothing like watching a live performance here, but if you aren’t able to get tickets, there are also tours of the building. The standard guided tour costs €20 and covers all the main features and history of Palau de la Música over about an hour. Tours are available in Catalan, Spanish, English, French, and Italian.
Head toward Plaça de Catalunya in the city center and walk up the large shopping street Passeig de Gràcia. Along this avenue, there are stunning examples of Catalan Modernism from its most famous architect, Antoni Gaudí. First, you will see Casa Batlló, one of the street’s most photographed buildings designed by the master himself in 1904.
© Kalena McElroy
Gaudí took inspiration from the ocean for this work. The façade looks like an underwater fantasy with bubbles, bright mosaics, stained glass, and a roof that looks like glistening dragon scales. The building also has an extraordinary interior with very few straight lines, similar to what can be found in nature.
Tours are held daily from 9:00 to 21:00 and cost €24.50 if purchased online. In summer, the large outdoor patio and roof are transformed for Magic Nights where guests can visit in the evening and listen to live music. The building is most beautiful during the celebration of Sant Jordi (Saint George), Catalonia’s patron saint when it’s used as the backdrop for a light show and decorated with thousands of roses.
Directly next door to Casa Batlló is an often overlooked building remodeled in 1898 in the Modernist style by Josep Puig i Cadafalch. The project was commissioned by renowned chocolatier Antoni Amatller Costa and was used as his personal residence. Upon his death, he asked for the building to be turned into a museum, which is how it remains today.
Puig used an asymmetrical placement of the doors and balconies on the building’s façade, which was uncommon at the time. He also added various references to the family name such as the letter A and almond blossoms (Amatller translates to Almond tree) in addition to elements suggesting Catalan traditions. A self-guided tour costs €19 and takes a look at the antique quarters and collections of Amatller.
A few blocks up the street is Casa Milà, another great example of Antoni Gaudí’s innovative workmanship. The outside has beautiful stonework adorned with iron railings and seems like there are more windows than there are walls. The main door is also made out of wrought iron inlaid with pieces of glass and is large enough for vehicles to enter. The structure was used as an apartment building for the wealthy that were flocking to the area at the time. Gaudí implemented a unique functional design with ventilation shafts and two large interior courtyards providing natural light and air circulation to the central apartments.
© Kalena McElroy
The most iconic part of the building is the strange towers on the rooftop terrace that looks like they were taken straight out of a Star Wars set. These towers actually serve as stairwells, vents, and chimneys.
The most affordable tour costs €22 for a day ticket, but Casa Milà can also be explored at night for a little extra. In the summer months, you can score a ticket to one of the jazz evenings held on the rooftop.
Currently, the location of a luxurious 5-star hotel, Casa Fuster was originally built in 1908 by Lluís Domènech i Montaner and is located at the top of Passeig de Gràcia. At the time of its construction, it was regarded as the most expensive house in Barcelona. The outside is made of high-quality white marble, a first in the city, which added to the high cost of the project.
The exterior resembles a small medieval castle with columns, sculpted windows, and a tower extending over the street. Wooden French doors dot the exterior and open up to small balconies with Arab influenced design. The interior makes it a unique location for a boutique hotel, while the rooftop pool provides guests with an unparalleled view of the Catalan capital.
Admire the exterior or just walk inside and check out the lobby’s high ceiling for yourself.
Casa de les Punxes
Now head east on Avinguda Diagonal for roughly three blocks. It’s hard to miss Casa de les Punxes sitting on its own triangular-shaped city block. Created in a similar style to Casa Fuster, Josep Puig i Cadafalch designed this work of art in 1905 for the Terradas family.
The façade takes inspiration from the medieval period with many hints to the story of Sant Jordi. Vibrantly stained glass windows adorn the exterior and detailed floral elements are a recurring theme both inside and out. There are a few ceramic panels on the exterior that shouldn’t be missed. They depict mythological and religious elements such as the signs of the zodiac.
The building opened its doors to the public in 2016 and now has a museum that highlights the avant-garde artistic design and architecture of Puig. Guided or audio-guided tours are €12.50 and explore the history of the house and its architect.
La Sagrada Família
Another 14 minutes away on foot and you’ll be at the base of one of the most iconic architectural wonders in the country and one of the most popular tourist sites in the city. La Sagrada Família has famously been under construction for over 136 years and already towers over the rest of the city. Though the timeline is constantly shifting, the temple is now expected to be complete by 2030 and is now over 70% finished.
Stemming from the mind of Gaudí, the architecture and design of the Roman Catholic cathedral is extremely complex and shrouded in religious symbolism. His design calls for 18 large spires representing the Twelve Apostles, the four Evangelists, the Virgin Mary, and the tallest on behalf of Christ. The detailed decorative elements of the façade include scenes from the Nativity, the Passion, and the Glory. The interior is unlike any other. Gaudí took geometric forms from nature, which you can see clearly when looking at the ceiling. It seems like tall trunks of trees are reaching up and branching out to form an unusual forest canopy in a dream world. The stained glass windows are also impressive and shed colorful patterns on the walls and floor depending on the time of day.
© Kalena McElroy
© Kalena McElroy
Budget visitors can choose the €15 basic tour, while those who want to see more of the temple can spend extra for an audio guide, guided tour, museum access, or a trip up to the top of the towers. Though pricey, La Sagrada Família is a significant part of Catalan Modernism and one that should be seen at least once in a lifetime.
If you aren’t too tired after all of this, extend your walking tour to make a stop at Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau (past La Sagrada Família) or the Museum of Catalan Modernism (off of Passeig de Gràcia near Casa Batlló). Both showcase exceptional works from modernist masters.
Where to Find Gaudi Buildings in Barcelona: Map
Although you have already passed some of Gaudi’s most important works on our walking tour, there is much more to explore in Barcelona. That’s why our map of the walking tour also includes further Gaudi buildings for you to check out. They are marked in purple:
- Casa Batllo
- Casa Mila
- La Sagrada Familia
- Casa Vicens
- Park Guell
- Palau Guell
- Colonia Guell
- El Drac de Gaudí at Finca Güell
- Casa Calvet
- Cascada Fountain at Park de la Ciutadella
Now, what do you think? Which is the most beautiful example of Modernisme in Barcelona? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below! Let’s stay in touch!