There are so many ways to enjoy Barcelona: the handy trams running alongside the leafy streets, the panoramic telefèric bringing you to dizzying heights on the top of Montjuïc hill, or even, if you really want to get the adrenaline pumping, a helicopter ride to admire the satisfying symmetry of the Eixample district. Walking, however, is still the best way to admire the variety of architecture styles found in the Catalan capital, so here are my suggestions for three walking tours to explore the neighbourhoods around some of my favourite music venues.

Barcelona
© Tourisme de Barcelona | Dortoka disseny

1 Contemporary colours

Let's head towards Plaça de les Glòries first. What was once an industrial area, whose heart lies in the modernist arches and metalwork of the former Estació del Nord railway site, has been transformed in the last 20 years into a trendy tech and design hub. Start with an early morning stroll on the Rambla del Poblenou, through Carrer de Marià Aguiló, where 19th-century buildings have been converted into houses, shops, art galleries, eateries and microbreweries. Stop at Can Felipa, on Carrer Pallars, whose arched windows and sloping roofs and attics would have you believe that you’re looking at an elegant apartment building in London or Paris rather than at a former textile factory. Now a civic centre, it hosts cultural activities and exhibitions, as well as historic archives.

Keep walking towards the Jardins de Miquel Martí and stop at the Museu Can Framis, also a former textile factory, now repurposed as a striking contemporary art space. Paintings by Catalonian artists from the 1960s onwards can be admired in this eclectic venue, composed by two historic buildings connected by a new structure. A tranquil courtyard, paved with stones recovered from the former factory, leads into the museum, in a balance between old and new enhanced by the contrasting texture of the materials – from wood to glass and exposed concrete – creating an exhibition space where light and shadows are purposely designed to enhance the art experience. 

While continuing your walk, don’t forget to look around. Worth of special attention is the Media Tic building, an information and communication technology centre often described as a piece of "performative architecture". Designed using innovative digital techniques, what appears as a facade covered in a fluid mosaic of concave and convex triangles is not only symbolic of biological atoms merging and the marvel of digital communication, but it’s also a piece of highly advanced tech in itself, thanks to its cladding made in energy-saving, eco-efficient materials. 

Torre Glòries
© Turisme de Barcelona | Espai d'Imatge
Next stop, head to Torre Glòries: if at first sight it might look like a long lost cousin of London’s Gherkin, this 38-story skyscraper – designed by "starchitect" Jean Nouvel – is actually a slimmer, more elegant affair, a pinnacle of multi-coloured aluminium and glass that transform the tower into a seasonal chameleon, changing its hue at every hour of the day, including at night, when it’s artificially illuminated. 

It might now be time for a bite, and my suggestion for a late lunch is the Cafeteria in the Museu del Disseny, where you can enjoy a menu focusing on local ingredients while relaxing on one of the vibrant benches upholstered with kilims by local designer Nani Marquina. 

Time to explore the museum itself, that serves as the design heart of the city. From sleek furniture from Miquel Milà i Sagnier, Philippe Starck and Marcel Breuer, to fashion by Paco Rabanne, Manuel Pertegaz and Balenciaga, the Barcelona Design Museum houses over 70,000 items coming from four previously independent museums. The zinc-clad building itself, which is partly underground, was designed to represent the flexibility and dynamism of design, as well as the interconnection between different materials and inspirations. The large cantilevered volume on top of the building contains an auditorium, and allows you to look over the minimalist artificial lake.

If you have any time left, we recommend a browse through the stalls of the Mercat dels Encants – a flea market housed under a striking 25-metre high canopy roof. To stay true to the feel of the original open air market, inclined planes and ramps loops under the roof's mirrored surface, that helps bring light into every corner.

To end the day, head to L'Auditori, the glass-and-steel music venue designed by Rafael Moneo. Both its industrial, metal-and-cork-wood exterior and the elegantly maple-lined interior serve as acoustic barriers against unwanted noises, as well as adding to the sensory experience. And from 3rd to 5th December this contemporary landmark will welcome Japanese virtuoso violinist Fumiaki Miura and his mentor, Pinchas Zukerman, in a programme of Mendelsshon and Bach, as part of the Barcelona Obertura Fall Festival. 

L'Auditori
© May Zircus

2 Old world wanderings

But if it's something a little more historical you're after, it's time for a quick dip into the Roman and Medieval flavours of Barcelona.   

Our walk starts at the atmospheric Plaça del Rei, the core of Ciutat Vella, the old town. Just looking around will transport you right into the city’s past, as you can admire the complex of historic buildings known as Palau Reial Major – a residence for Catalan nobility since the 11th century – and a fragment of Roman walls, echoing the colony called Barcino founded in the year 15 B.C.

Plaça del Rei
© Turisme de Barcelona | Antonio Lajusticia

A few blocks away is the 15th-century catholic Basilica de Santa Maria del Pi, a gem of Catalan Gothic: don't miss the treasury and its collection of Catalan goldsmiths' work. Going back into the depth of the Gothic quarter, all the way to the Carrer de Montcada, you will reach the Museu Picasso, housed in former 13th- and 14th-century palaces, also in Gothic Catalan style. This museum hosts an impressive collection showcasing the artist's journey from stunning realistic paintings created in his teens to the cubist revelations of his adulthood. 

Keep walking until you reach the Maritime Museum, housed in the former Drassanes Reials medieval shipyard, where war and merchant ships were built from the 13th century onwards. Large exhibition spaces dominated by round stone arches and timber ceilings house a collection highlighting the relationship between the city and the Mediterranean sea. Temporary exhibitions featuring works of Chagall and Monet are also on show until 2023.

Grand Teatre del Liceu
© Paco Amate
After a day steeped in history, there’s no better place to grab a drink than the quirky El Bosc de Les Fades. Hidden next to the Barcelona wax museum, this space is a dimly-lit, fairytale-themed cafe bar, where a series of statues and animatronics of various supernatural creatures hide in between the foliage of an indoor artificial garden.

To grab a serious bite before the day is over, head either to the bustling Boqueria market – an explosion of colours, scents and taste in every direction – or, for a sit down meal, to the historical Cafè de l’Òpera, located right next to the 13th-century city walls. Though it had many incarnations, from a tavern to a chocolate shop and a sleek modernist restaurant, it is renowned today for its large selection of teas – or whiskey, if you’re after a stiffer kind of drink.

It’s time for some music, so head to the Grand Teatre del Liceu, an eclectic music venue built on the site of a former convent. Despite being plagued by bombings and fires, this impressive building has used its several reconstructions to its advantage, becoming one of the largest and most technologically advanced opera houses in Europe. If you head there from 28th of November to the 19th December, you can enjoy Verdi’s Rigoletto from one of the comfortable high tech seats, most of which feature a monitor with an electronic libretto system in three languages.

3 Modernist marvels

But who comes to Barcelona and doesn't want to get their fill of Modernist architecture? Our last walking tour starts with breakfast at the historic Pastelerias Mauri, in operation since 1929. Aside from the delicious treats, its beautifully decorated ceiling and elegant wooden finishes are also worth a visit.

A few steps away lies the whimsical Casa Milà – also known as La Pedrera, the stone quarry, due to its unusual shape inspired by nature – one of Antoni Gaudí’s most iconic creations. With its unique facade, made of wrought iron and stone, this is the last private residence designed by this architect, arguably the most famous representative of Catalan Modernism. Don’t forget to visit the impressive roof terrace to admire the unique chimneys, in shapes echoing helmeted warriors, but if you prefer a more atmospheric setting, come back in the evenings for a night tour featuring video mapping and multiple light projections.

Casa Milà - La Pedrera: the chimneys
© Turisme de Barcelona | Francesc Cloquell

More modernist marvels are only a few blocks away: Casa Batlló, another of Gaudí’s masterpieces, and Casa Amatller, created by another giant of the genre, Josep Puig i Cadafalch, are different in style, yet both stunning in their unique glass, metal and stone work. The first has uniquely shaped windows and a colourful mosaic facade made of broken ceramic tiles – and from this year can be also enjoyed as enhanced by digital projections, in what is called the 10D experience. The second combines a more rigid neo-Gothic style, softened by decorative elements such as nature-inspired stained glass panels. Also, this former chocolatier home still houses a sweet shop: my pick? The hot chocolate with cinnamon is a classic, but for a take away treat try the cappuccino-flavoured ‘flowers’.

Speaking of houses who have hidden foodie gems, if you walk a little further, towards Plaça de Catalunya, you will find Casa Martí, another creation of Puig i Cadafalch. More stained glass beauty and ornate balconies make it look almost like a medieval castle, but on the ground floor, advertised by a poster designed by none other than Pablo Picasso, is a café-restaurant with plenty of history on its own. Els Quatre Gats was a literary and cultural meeting point in the early 1900s and the first place where the world-famous painter ever exhibited his work. 

Palau de la Música Catalana
© Palau de la Música Catalana
If you have any space left for dinner, you should head to the restaurant Fonda España, where the menu, overseen by Michelin-starred chef Martín Berasategui, offers traditional Catalan cuisine in the most exquisite of settings: an ornate modernist dining room decorated with floral tiles and golden finishes by Lluís Domènech i Montaner. 

To end the day with music, head to a venue that is a work of art in itself: the Palau de la Música Catalana is an UNESCO World Heritage building and was designed by Domènech i Montaner as a commission from the Orfeó Català Choirs. A concert hall born to celebrate both Catalan and international music, this striking venue is built around a central metal and glass structure that uses natural light to tie together the sculptures, mosaics, stained glass and ironwork that abound in the lavish interiors. You can enjoy the tailor-made vocal acoustics of this venue on the 16th December when Sir John Eliot Gardiner will lead three different choirs and the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique in Berlioz’s L’Enfance du Christ.

So what are you waiting for? Grab your best walking shoes and go explore: Barcelona awaits.


This article was sponsored by Turisme de Barcelona