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A celebrated example of Catalan Gothic architecture, Barcelona’s cathedral was begun at the end of the 13th century and more or less completed by the mid–15th century. One notable exception, the western facade, dates from the 19th century when churchgoers felt that the unadorned Gothic surface was somehow inadequate.

If you really want to get a feel for the cathedral, skip the "tourist visit" completely and go to Mass, or at least sit silently and reflect. The high naves, which have been cleaned and lit in recent years, are filled with terrific Gothic architectural details, including the elongated and tapered columns that blossom into arches in their upper reaches.

The separate cloister has vaulted galleries that surround a garden of magnolias, medlars, and palm trees and the so-called "well of the geese" (13 geese live in the cloister as a symbol of Barcelona co-patron Santa Eulalia). The cloister also contains the cathedral’s museum, of which the most notable piece is a 15th-century pieta by Bartolomé Bermejo.

You can also take an elevator to the roof, which has a number of fanciful gargoyles and terrific views of the rest of the Barri Gòtic. At noon on Sundays (and sometimes on Saturdays), folk dancers gather below the cathedral steps to dance the traditional circular dance, the sardana. On the feast of Corpus Christi, the cathedral maintains the Catalan tradition of a dancing egg—a decorated hollow egg that "dances" atop a water jet in one of the fountains.