Built in one remarkable burst of creative energy in the second half of the 19th century, when the old city walls were demolished, L’Eixample—the name means “extension” or “enlargement” in Catalan—was the brainchild of engineer/urban planner Ildefons Cerdà, who designed a grid for the industrial magnates of the time to fill in with their exuberant art nouveau homes and apartments. It’s an area filled with delightful discoveries in stained glass, wrought iron, polychrome ceramic tile, and carved stone.
Start your walk at Antoni Gaudí’s (1) Sagrada Família church (Carrer deMallorca 401); everybody does. (See “Must-Dos” for a detour to the Hospital de Sant Pau.) Take Carrer Mallorca from there to where it meets Avinguda Diagonal, turn right, and walk west along the Diagonal to the Passeig de Gràcia. Along the way, on the right at Avinguda Diagonal 416-420, is the (2) Casa de les Punxes (House of the Spikes), the turreted, Gothic-quoting apartment building by Gaudí’s contemporary, Puig i Cadafalch. Farther along, at Avinguda Diagonal 373 on the left, poke a nose into (3) the Palau Baró de Quadras, also Puig i Cadafalch’s, built as an aristocratic family home, now headquarters for the cultural foundation Casa Asia (www.casaasia.es).
Turn left on the Passeig de Gràcia—L’Eixample’s fashionable central artery. Two blocks down, on the left, at Carrer de Provença 261-265, is the (4) Casa Milà, also known as “La Pedrera” (the stone quarry), with its wavy walls like ocean waves in stone. Allow at least an hour to explore this UNESCO World Heritage site (see “Must-Dos”) before continuing down avenue to (5) Casa Batlló (Passeig de Gràcia 43, on the west side—another Gaudí masterpiece (www.casabatllo.es). The façade is covered in mosaics of colored tiles, with wrought-iron balconies like rows of grinning skulls; one apartment, the lobby, and rooftop are open to the public. (Tip: Compared to “La Pedrera,” the admission ticket is a bit expensive for what you get to see.) Next door, at Passeig de Gràcia 41, is Puig i Cadafalch’s (6) Casa Amatller, where you can explore the first-floor exhibition space for free—and buy some of Barcelona’s best chocolate. Antoni Amatller, who commissioned the house, was heir to one of the oldest chocolatiers in Europe.
Retrace your steps to Carrer d’Aragó, and walk one block west to the Rambla deCatalunya. On the way, at Aragó 255, is the (7) Fundació Antoni Tàpies (www.fundaciotapies.org), a cultural center and museum established by one of Barcelona’s best-known modern painters. The building, an early work in the evolution of Catalan modernism, was originally the Montaner i Simon publishing house; publishing was—and still is—an important part of Barcelona’s culture and economy, Turn left on Rambla de Catalunya and stroll down this divided boulevard, lined with boutiques and cafés, to the (8) Plaça de Catalunya—the heart of the city—where you end your walk.
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World Heritage Sites in Europe