Barcelona is an interlaced myriad of cultures, sights, sounds and tastes, effortlessly lodged between the Mediterranean and the Pyrenees. A view from above provides a fine introduction to the city, a vast horizontal carpet with occasional vertical highlights. We recommend a helicopter flight, but if you would prefer to stay closer to solid ground, there are some alternatives for exploring Barcelona from top town.
The best-known means of ascent runs from Barcelona’s busy harbour, Port Vell. The Transbordador Aeri del Port is a red cable car running from sea to mountain, Torre San Sebastià to the Jardins Miramar at the base of Monjuïc. You take the lift up to the top of the tower, and then the cable car takes you up in a 7-minute ride that is not for the faint-hearted: it has been running since the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition, and it shows its age! But the views that it offers are spectacular on a sunny day. Not far away from the arrival station is the Teleferico de Montjuïc, a shorter ride in smaller cabins that takes you further up, to Montjuïc castle, with views over the busy harbour.
During these cable car rides, you will see one of Barcelona’s icons, the Agbar Tower. At a height of 142 metres, Jean Nouvel’s luminous structure dominates the horizon, with its intriguing shape by day (its kindest nickname is 'el supositori') and its over 4,500 lights that brighten the night sky. The light show changes for special events, while the building itself, rising from the ground like a geyser, was designed to have a minimal effect on the environment – energy-efficient, with a structure of steel, concrete and glass. Unfortunately the tower is not open to the public: there is just an exhibition on the lobby floor.
You may wonder – from wherever on high you are looking – why there aren't any really tall buildings in this dynamic city. It's because of the Sagrada Familia. Building regulations forbid the construction of anything taller than what Gaudí's monumental temple will eventually be. In the grid-like Eixample district, this amazing temple – probably one of the most visited unfinished structures in the world – suddenly appears, a prayer in stone, with what will eventually be 18 towers, 12 for the Apostles, 4 Evangelists, Jesus and Mary. You can ride up some of the towers in a lift for some low-level views, but your attention will be firmly on the building itself. Another vertical accent is the statue of Christopher Columbus, on the Ramblas. At 52 metres height, you'll see it... you can't miss it, but it wouldn't be our top recommendation for views.
Gaudí is never far away, and Park Güell is another of his masterpieces, a fine demonstration of his fascination with organic forms. Sinuously-shaped rocks emerge from the ground as if they were themselves a part of the natural world. The rising ground culminates in a terraced area, where the views stretch over the rest of the park and across the city. If you're short on time, take a taxi to get to the park entrance. From there, enjoy the art and nature as you climb up the steps.
One of the city's highlights, when it comes to views, is the hill of Tibidabo, which, at a height of 512 metres above sea level, is the highest point in town, offering spectacular views of the entire city. You can ascend by the famous Tramvia Blau, a picturesque, historic streetcar that takes you to the Funicular del Tibidabo. This in turn reaches an amusement park dating back to 1900, where you can sample 25 rides including the exciting Talaia which will propel you an additional 50 metres in the air for the ultimate vertiginous experience. Climb up to the church, where you can take a lift to the top... at Tibidabo, you simply keep on going upwards! If you want to get any higher than this, there is only one solution: take the copter!