Barcelona is a dreamscape. A quirky and offbeat atmosphere permeates the city, giving it an ethereal, yet highly tangible charm. The seaside settlement has an ancient allure that feels at once layered in history, and extremely new and avant-garde. This is due to the diverse influences that contributed to the creation of Barcelona as we see it today: roman, gothic, catholic and modern, all encompassed by a certain, telltale Spanish flair.

The city’s fantastical ambience can perhaps be attributed to its iconic modernist architect, Antoni Gaudí. Known for his unique, organic style of design, Gaudí’s buildings all look as though they fell out of a Salvador Dali painting, or a Lewis Carroll novel. The bizarre structures give a defining surreal air to the Catalan capital, making anyone who enters feel as though they are in a wonderland.

Gaudí designed mostly residential spaces, with the most renowned being Casa Batlló and Casa Milà. The former, situated on the famous Passeig de Gràcia, is my personal favourite. This is thanks to its undulating composition and the turquoise, pink and purple hued scales that cover the building’s facade, giving it a distinctive underwater quality and makes it what I imagine to be the perfect residence for a mermaid.

In contrast, Casa Milà, or La Pedrera (“stone quarry”), as it was not-so-lovingly nicknamed by locals who at the time felt Gaudí represented bad taste, has a certain space-age feeling. The street view of the building is drearily monochrome, yet still wacky enough to get more than a passing glance, but it is the rooftop, that truly took my breath away. The twirling, decorative chimneys seem like something from a Star Wars set and the view over Barcelona, which I happened to catch at sunset, is quite spectacular. Each piece of the otherworldly rooftop is painstakingly designed to work with the city that surrounds it. You can catch glimpses of iconic sights perfectly framed in the arcs of the moonscape-like design.

Then there is Park Güell, the world heritage sight that represents Gaudí’s full immersion in naturalistic design. This is where the legendary mosaic gecko that draws so many tourists resides, and is also where Gaudí’s own house is situated. Now a museum dedicated to the architect, the salmon pink structure is every millennial’s dream.

Gaudí’s lifetime masterpiece, La Sagrada Família, is arguably Barcelona’s foremost tourist attraction even though it is still a work in progress, only due for completion in 2026, a century after the architect’s death. Gaudí believed the cathedral to be his holy mission. In a sea of beautiful cathedrals on offer in Europe, La Sagrada Família truly stands out. It challenged norms of gothic design, featuring exceptionally unique quirks all paying homage to nature, Gaudí’s main influence. The project was a collaborative effort by many of the city’s revered artists, sculptors, builders and architects, thus it is feasibly the city’s defining construction.

Gaudí died in 1926 when he was run over by a tram. Ironically, the the city’s most renowned architect was mistaken for a beggar and left to die.

Besides architects, Barcelona has also long inspired artists. Museu Picasso, situated in beautiful medieval mansions in the old city, features 3,500 of the artist’s pieces and provides unique insight into Picasso’s development. This is fitting, as he spent his formative years in the Spanish city. Here you can gawk at his genius and his mastery of academic techniques from an exceptionally young age, but for his famous works, head to Paris.

Fundació Joan Miró again contributes to the city’s dynamic and inspiring vibe. Situated on the top the Montjuïc Hill, with grandiose views, the gallery showcases Miró’s abstract and surrealist paintings and sculptures. On the way down, the celebrated musical fountains at the Plaça d’Espanya are on full display in the evenings.

From there, stroll La Rambla, the famous pedestrian boulevard. Here I saw throngs of Black Friday shoppers buy from the major Spanish retailers, including our favourite Zara, Mango and Desiguel.

Finally, Barcelona’s coastline is not to be underestimated. The old fishing quarter, La Barceloneta, has become decidedly trendy, with a luxury promenade feeling. There are bustling restaurants, clubs and spas beside the gorgeous sandy beaches full of beautiful people sunbathing.

Barcelona’s energy is addictive. When you are done shopping and admiring the arts, there are tapas and paella to eat, sangria to drink and the famed nightlife to join in on. In Barcelona, where the sun shines even in the dead of winter, one cannot help but fall in love with this captivatingly optimistic city.

Words: Yolanda Senekal

Photographs & Layout: Yolanda Senekal