Wandering the narrow streets of Barcelona, you’ll sense the city’s fantastical, irrepressible personality in every section. While the city is a bastion of art and culture, much of what makes it stand out comes from one person: Antoni Gaudí. A Catalonian architect born in 1852, Gaudí studied at the Escola Tècnica Superior d’Arquitectura, where he learned to shape his vibrant imagination into buildings that blended modernism with an organic, nature-based style.
Although he wasn’t born in Barcelona, the city became his home, and now his name is synonymous with some of its most incredible features. He’s everywhere, from a humble plaza to the world-famous basilica La Sagrada Familia. Several of his properties have been declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and we’ve included a list of our favorites right here.
Gaudí’s first big project is still standing, surrounded by a small garden and just as magical as it was when he lived. In 1888, tile manufacturer Manuel Vicens Montaner commissioned a home from young architect Antoni Gaudí. Thrilled with his new project, Gaudí took inspiration from both the hard edges of classic architecture and the colors and styles associated with Asian culture.
He also, crucially, drew from nature—the cast-iron railings contain curling palm fronds, and the tiles remind one of marigolds. The result was a strange and wonderful mix of culture that made Casa Vicens (“Vicens House”) stand out from any others and brought Gaudí, deservingly, under the upper classes’ spotlight. Now, you can view the amazing property for yourself, or take it a step farther: currently, this incredible house is up for sale. How would you like to live in a UNESCO World Heritage Site?
Officially, the name of this bizarre and beautiful home is Casa Batlló, but Barcelona natives have other names for it: casa del drac (house of the dragon) or casa dels ossos (house of bones). An enormous house that sparkles with studded bits of blue, green, and purple tiles, Gaudí desiged the façade to look like the mouth of an ancient beast.
The windows on the bottom floor are oval-shaped and almost warped, while the windows on the other floors come with balconies shaped like skulls. The roof shimmers with bright tiles and a dragon-inspired spine that make the whole building look like a mermaid’s palace. While the dragon motif might seem odd on its face, it’s a marvelous reference to the legend of Catalonia’s patron saint, Sant Jordi, who slayed a dragon to spare the kingdom a terrible loss and stands for romance. Interested in seeing the home—and its aquatic-inspired interior—for yourself? Now, the Casa Batlló is a museum, complete with a rooftop bar. Sip a glass of cava and admire Gaudí’s custom furniture and remarkable design.
While the vast majority of Gaudí’s projects were adored, there is one notable exception. Casa Milà, nicknamed La Pedrera (“the stone”), drew criticism from the moment it was unveiled—and even before that. The house was made in the same vein as Gaudí’s other odd masterpieces, complete with a total lack of right angles along the wall, custom furniture for the first floor, an arched roof with twenty-eight chimneys, and a façade that brings to mind sand castles. But creative differences separated designer and his client. Gaudi wanted to add religious symbolism as an expression of his own devotion to God, but client Roser Segimon was afraid of drawing negative attention; Segimon was upset that he had included not one straight wall for her piano, so an unimpressed Gaudí suggested she play the violin.
Even the city eventually turned against the project, arguing that several aspects of the building violated structural codes, and Gaudí promptly added more religious imagery to have the building declared a work of art, and to save it from demolition. When all was said and done, however, the home stands in a well-to-do area of Barcelona as a symbol for Gaudí and his devotion to his art. It’s now both a museum and an apartment building, housing a few souls lucky to live in one of the most famous buildings in the city.
Tucked away far from the city center, Park Güell is one of Barcelona’s most famous—and most striking—destinations. When Gaudí designed and constructed the park from 1900-1914, he did it with a residential park in mind, and he made it wild. Whimsical houses sit near the front of the park, looking like they’ve fallen out of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and strange columns arch toward a balcony-style structure like palm trees. Its most famous addition, a sparkling, speckled dragon, crouches on the landing of stairs that look out over the rest of the park.
Now, any time of the year, tourists and locals flock to pose with the smiling dragon. Across the top of the park, a comfortable and pretty bench runs along the edge of the whole roof, offering plenty of space for anyone who wants to sit down. Like Casa Batlló, you can buy tickets to witness this lovely space for yourself.
Of course, the most famous and spectacular of all of Gaudí’s designs is probably one you already know: La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona’s unfinished masterpiece and world-famous basilica. Construction began way back in 1882, with Gaudí taking over the design in 1883. His plans were ambitious, to say the least. It became very apparent very quickly that there was no way the project could be completed in Gaudí’s lifetime. When concerned leaders asked about the timetimble, Gaudí is said to have quipped, “My client is not in a hurry.”
On the outside, the design is based on having eighteen grand spires, eight of which were completed by 2010. Intricately carved facades all around the building detail stories from the Bible including the nativity, the death of Christ, and heaven. If you look closely, you can see the influence of nature that so inspired Gaudí when he designed homes and gardens, as well—and inside, that influence is only stronger. The support beams are designed to look like tree trunks, and the ceiling arches like a great sky. Stained glass of all kinds of colors allows light from the sun to filter down, exactly like it might in a forest. The effect is indescribable, and merits more than one visit—this is the sort of place to see twice, if you can.
Be sure to buy your tickets online, to avoid any long lines. New estimates suggest that the basilica will be completed in 2026 or 2028, so until then, you get to see the place as Gaudí surely did: a lovingly crafted work in progress, as much a tribute to God as it is to the city in which it’s built.
What are your favorite Gaudí masterpieces? Let us know in the comments!