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What can you see and do in Barcelona, when your cruise stops in the capital of Catalonia, Spain for just one day? Answer: A lot, as we discovered during our cruise on the Oceania Insignia.

Casa Batllo turret
Casa Batllo turret
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

From the W.T.C. (World Trade Center) Sud pier where our ship docked, we walked to the lofty Columbus Monument and then up La Rambla and east on Carrer de Ferran to Turisme de Barcelona at Plaza Sant Jaume. It was a scenic one-hour walk, but taxis are also available at the cruise pier, if you prefer to go by car.

The tourist board's guided walking tour of Barcelona's Gothic Quarter ends at Plaça Reial, where the young Catalan architect, Antoni Gaudí, designed two street lamps. We then began our self-guided tour of Antoni Gaudí's works within walking distance of the Barri Gòtic.

Casa Batllo (1904-1906)

We strolled up to Casa Batlló at 43 Passeig de Gràcia in the Eixample neighborhood. Eixample means "the expansion." It is the area over which Barcelona expanded after its medieval city walls were demolished in 1860.

Using nature as his inspiration, Gaudí designed the scaled, undulating roof of Casa Batlló to resemble a dragon's back.

Gaudi’s Casa Batllo
Gaudi’s Casa Batllo
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Antoni Gaudí avoided straight lines and flat surfaces. The dragon (that was slain by St. George, according to legend) reminds viewers of the triumph of good over evil, while the skulls-and-bones balconies symbolize the dragon's victims.

The fanciful turrets and 27 chimneys, decorated with confetti-colored ceramic-tile mosaics (trencadís), enhance the whimsical appearance of Casa Batlló. Although the admission fee is expensive, we resolved to tour the interior on our next trip to Barcelona.

Casa Mila (1905-1910)

Three blocks north at 92 Passeig de Gràcia, on the corner of Carrer Provença, is Casa Milà, another private residence designed by Gaudí that is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Casa Milà consists of two buildings built around a courtyard that allows light to enter all nine levels.

Casa Mila (La Pedrera)
Casa Mila (La Pedrera)
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Gaudí designed the main floor for the commissioning Milà family. The remainder of the building contained 20 rental units. It was the first building ever constructed without load-bearing walls and columns.

Casa Milà's undulating curved limestone design includes both interior and exterior balconies. Gaudí constructed them from scrap iron, an unusual material for a luxury apartment in 1910.

Chimneys, skylights, exits and vents top the roof. Instead of the ceramic tiles that he used for Casa Batlló, Gaudí decorated the chimneys with broken marble and glass. The view from the roof is worth the nine-story climb.

Barcelona residents made fun of Casa Milà and gave it the derogatory nickname, La Pedrera (the stone quarry), a name that survives today. Gaudí lost interest in the work and left others to finish it.

La Sagrada Familia (1883-1926)

Instead, Gaudí devoted his energy to his greatest legacy, Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia (Basilica of the Holy Family). To get there from La Pedrera, we walked east along Carrer Provença.

Sagrada Familia is located four kilometers (2.5 miles) north of the Columbus Monument. Walking or public transport is easier than driving. Even passengers on bus tours must walk 15 minutes from the parking lot where coach drivers allow them to get out.

Sagrada Familia
Sagrada Familia
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Architectural style

Sagrada Familia combines medieval and Modernist Art styles with Art Nouveau and Gothic architecture. Gaudí worked on it for 43 years, from 1883 to 1926, when a tram accidently ran over him.

The basilica has three façades, depicting the nativity, passion and resurrection of Christ. These themed stone sculptures are like a mammoth stone bible telling the stories of Christianity.

The tallest church in the world

When it is finished, Sagrada Familia will have 18 towers, representing the 12 apostles, four evangelists, Mary and Christ. The basilica will soar to a height of 571 feet (174 meters), making it the highest church in the world.

You need binoculars or a telephoto lens to see the elaborate decorations on the towers. A visiting bishop once asked Gaudí why he decorated spires so high that no one could make out the details. "The angels will see them," he replied.

When will Sagrada Familia be finished?

Cranes hover over the basilica as work continues following specific guidelines left by Gaudí. Many retired craftsmen work on the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Funds from admission fees and tours help pay for the completion. The goal is to complete construction by 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudí's death.

La Rambla

We retraced our steps back to Passeig de Gràcia and followed it down to Plaça Catalunya at the north end of La Rambla. The street is also called Las Ramblas because the tree-lined pedestrian boulevard is made up of a series of connected shorter streets, such as Rambla de les Flors, named after its flower markets.

How long is Las Ramblas? From Plaça Catalunya to the Columbus Monument near the port, it's about 0.75 miles (1.2 kilometers) long.

You could easily spend several hours strolling its ten blocks, enjoying the shops, restaurants, tapas bars, outdoor cafés, street artists and human statues. Covered with body paint, these street performers depict characters from Christopher Columbus to action figures. If you give them some coins, they'll pose for a selfie with you.

Jamon iberico de bellota hams
Jamon iberico de bellota hams
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Boqueria Market

Mercat de Sant Josep, better known as La Boquería, is located at 91 La Rambla. Clean and colorful, the food market is filled with vendors selling fish, meat, cheese, eggs, olives, wine, dried fruit, nuts, fruits, vegetables and spices.

Especially popular are the stands selling jamón ibérico de bellota, hams made from black Iberian pigs that eat only acorns. Hanging hams display the black feet as proof of authenticity.

Iberian ham

Selling for up to hundreds of euros per kilo for the highest quality, the salted and dried hams are cured for a minimum of three years. Prices are higher for Iberian hams cured for 40 months. Vendors slice the meat very thinly to show the perfect marbling.

Buying seafood in La Boqueria
Buying seafood in La Boqueria
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Most commonly served on toasted bread that has been rubbed with tomato, the jamón melts in your mouth like butter. In addition to its delicious taste and aroma, Iberian ham contains cardiac-protecting and cholesterol-lowering oleic acid, as well as vitamins and antioxidants.

Where to eat in Boquería

It's hard to find a bar stool around some of the popular seafood and tapas counters, where you can enjoy your meal with a glass of chilled cava or local wine.

You can also buy freshly cooked shrimp, calamari and other seafood from stands where vendors shout out "mariscos!" (shellfish).

Chocolate treats at Boqueria
Chocolate treats at Boqueria
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Much more enticing than North American fast-food meals are the paper cones filled with take-out seafood and meat, such as chorizo sausages. Decorated with colorful lettuce, cherry tomatoes and pepper slices, they are pretty as well as tasty.

Save room for dessert. Bakery stands sell hard-to-resist cookies, tarts, pastries and candy. After walking all day, we enjoyed the treats guilt-free.

If you think that La Boquería is too crowded and too expensive, check out nearby Mercat de Santa Caterina at 16 Av. Francesc Cambo. It is also a good place to eat.

Barcelona City Tour bus
Barcelona City Tour bus
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Hop-on, hop-off bus

For a city with a 1.7 million population, Barcelona is surprisingly walkable. If you don't have a full day, or if you prefer not to walk, consider the Barcelona City Tour bus.

The red double-decker buses follow an east and a west route. Combined, they include all the main attractions.

The tourist bus allows you to hop-on and hop-off as you please to sightsee on your own or with an attractions pass for tours, museums, restaurants and entertainment.

In between stops, an audio guide in several languages offers an overview of what to see and do in Barcelona.


Tourist Office of Spain

Oceania Cruises

More things to see & do in Spain:

Alicante - Santa Barbara Castle, City Hall Dali and Esplanada Tour

Almeria Alcazaba, Cathedral and Central Market Shore Excursion Tour

Ten Surprising Discoveries on a Seville Cathedral Tour