Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí spent most of his sickly childhood in the garden studying plants and rocks. Dismissed by his teachers – "Who knows if we have given a diploma to a nutcase or a genius?" one master reputedly asked – Gaudí’s colourful, nature-inspired structures are now widely recognised as peerless masterpieces since his death in 1926. His best work is to be savoured in Barcelona, where his idiosyncratic vision is immortalised and preserved for all time in the very fabric of the city, as exemplified by these five remarkable structures.
Cooked up as wheeze between Gaudí and Barcelona industrialist Eusebi Güell, this out-and-out bonkers urban hilltop park first opened to the public in 1926. Chock-full of psychedelic weirdness – not least the gaping great mosaic salamander at the entrance – it’s a feast for the senses, with swooping benches and phoney doric columns setting the scene as you overlook the great city below. Legend has it Gaudí – whose museum is also here – once confided to Güell, "Sometimes I think we are the only people who like this architecture." To which Güell replied, "I don't like your architecture, I respect it." More fool him.
Carrer d'Olot, Gràcia
Standard entry €10
The dreamlike, multi-turreted and technicolour pile that looms over Carrer de las Carolines was Gaudí’s first serious residential project, commissioned as a house for well-heeled local stockbroker Manuel Vicens i Montaner and finished in 1888. Roping together traditional Arabic decorative elements with a racy splash of Art Nouveau – look for the French marigolds detail on the ceramic tiles – it’s a rich confection of vivid hues and ornate cast-iron filigree. Nowadays it’s a museum to Gaudí’s early work, with loads of yummy facts about this delectable house itself. Well, it’s pretty Moorish.
Carrer de les Carolines, Vila de Gràcia
Standard entry €16
Roundly mocked when first erected owing to its rugged, uneven façade, Gaudí’s last private residential commission was insultingly nicknamed ‘La Pedrera’, or ‘stone quarry’, by unhappy neighbours. It's visually notable for its billowing, self-supporting stone frontage, freeform wrought-iron balconies and gates, plus revolutionary (for the time) underground parking garage, but the roof terrace is where it’s really at. A wild, multistorey love letter to North African forms, it dances off the rough limestone fabric. Stone quarry, indeed – well, everyone seems to dig it now.
92 Passeig de Gràcia, L'Antiga Esquerra de l'Eixample
Standard entry €24
Locals like referring to this mad masterpiece on the Passeig de Gràcia as ‘casa dels ossos’, or ‘the house of bones’. There is an undeniably rib-like, skeletal quality to Gaudí’s one-of-a-kind showpiece – get a load of the arched, scaly dragon’s-back roof, and fine sinuous tracery on the lower-storey windows. The main, first floor – or ‘piano noble’ as architecture nerds insist on calling it – is now a museum that’s open to the public. The interior atrium or ‘patio of lights’ is a must-see in Barcelona: as romantic and head-spinning a space as you’ll find in all of Europe, make no bones about it.
Passeig de Gràcia, Dreta de l'Eixample
Entry from €25
Despite being the most famous thing Gaudí ever did, Barcelona’s magnificent – and still unfinished – high church was originally earmarked for fellow architect Francisco de Paula del Villar. His loss is very much our gain; today, Sagrada Família is a spellbinding spectacle, marrying disparate gothic and Art Nouveau motifs on an impossibly majestic scale. When it’s done it’ll be 170m tall, the loftiest religious building in Europe. Gaudí’s even buried here – fair enough, it’s pretty divine.