City Guide: Barcelona
When it comes to Barcelona, I can tell you from first hand experiences it really is a city of contrasts. Perhaps the best description which I have come across for Barcelona is as follows:
A thoroughly modern metropolis wrapped in a culturally rich history.
For me, this sums up Barcelona perfectly. It’s one of the few European cities I have visited that combines the best aspects of Mediterranean Europe (sun, sea, sand and great food) with the history and culture recognisable in much of northern Europe. Located in the heart of Catalonia I recently spent a week in Barcelona checking out the main sites and enjoying the general Spanish vibe. Here is my city guide to the awesome city.
The city of Gaudí
All around the city you can find Gaudí inspired architecture. No where more-so than the La Sagrada Família (1). Taking a modernist twist on Gothic architecture, this is perhaps Gaudí’s flagship gift to the city of Barcelona with construction still ongoing since 1882. Take your time inside, enjoy the reflections from the stained glass windows and stare up in to what appears to be the never ending ceiling.
Useful tips: buy tickets in advance (by clicking here) to avoid having to queue up for up to an hour. If you have the time, try to visit one of the Towers. My recommendation is that you visit the Passion Facade tower as it gives you stunning views over central Barcelona. Also, as beautiful as the building is, in my opinion the number of tourists inside spoiled the atmosphere. Thus, my recommendation, try to visit mid to late afternoon when it is slightly (I stress slightly) quieter.
A short walk from the Sagrada Familia is the Casa Mila/La Pedrera and Casa Batlló (2). Both are stunning examples of houses designed by Gaudí, though my preference goes to Casa Mila for it’s rooftop terrace and views. Tip: Tickets for Casa Mila are available at night time in the summer. Well worth a visit to see another side of Barcelona from the rooftop at night.
From either Casa Mila or La Pedrera walk down Passieg de Gracia, Barcelona’s answer to Oxford Street. Have a shop, grab a bite to eat and be sure to visit the Mobile World Centre (3) on the corner of Plaza de Catalunya. Climb the colourful steps to the first floor for an interactive exhibition space on the changing face of the mobile industry. Some of the facts and figures you read are bound to surprise you!
Cross Plaza Catalunya and you will end up on La Rambla. Arguably Barcelona’s most famous street, La Rambla is the heart of Barcelona. Full of street performers, cafe’s, restaurants, souvenir shops and pickpockets (yes you have been warned) you could spend hours people watching on La Rambla. On the right side (as you face the sea) you will pass Mercat de La Boqueria (4). Step inside this market and have a wonder. Grab some food (or grapes as I did), check out the seafood section and admire the things on display. A two minute walk away along La Rambla is the Gran Teatre del Liceu (5). Destroyed by fire twice, this opera house is home to world famous productions. If you are lucky (and have the money to spare) check out a show, otherwise take a short tour of the building.
Continue down La Rambla and enjoy the atmosphere until you reach the Mirador de Colom adjacent to the Marina. If you have time, climb this beautiful monument to Christopher Columbus for views of Barcelona’s Gótic district and the port.
My personal suggestion, once you get to Mirador de Colom, do a bit of exploring and head left (facing the sea) and walk back on yourself through the narrow streets of the Gótic district. If you want a drink check out the First Bar (1), being sure to leave some art work on a post it note and stick it on the wall.
If you don’t get too lost you should end up close to the Cathedral (6) . Take a peek inside (make sure you are dressed appropriately) and look up at the magnificent ceiling of the building. If you have time, from the cathedral head north-east to the Mercat de Santa Caterina (7) and north-east was from there to the Arc de Triomp (8) . From there head north west along Ronda Sant Pierre making sure to pass the Palau de Musica (9) along the way, before getting back to Pasieg de Gracia.
For another day I suggest you start at Montjuïc Castle/Castell de Montjuïc (1) getting there using the Montjuïc Cable Car. Though now closed to the public, have a wonder round this military fortress dating back to 1640. If nothing else, admire the stunning views of the port. From here, have a stroll through the parks and you will end up at the Olympic Park (2) – home to the 1992 Olympic Games. Continue north and you will get to the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (3). This stunning building showcases a number of Catalan artworks from the 11th to the 20th century. For a different arts scene check out the smaller but just as beautiful Joan Miró Foundation (4) home to the colourful works of modernist artist Joan Miro.
From the front of the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya you will see Plaza Espanya in the distance with its two towers just infront. As you cascade down the steps towards the plaza depending on the time of day and season you may be lucky to catch one of the “magic fountain” shows at the fountains in front of the art museum. If not, be sure to come back to witness this. More details can be found here. Heading down to Plaza Espanya check out the Les Arenas (5) – a former bullring which has been converted in to a shopping mall. Venture outside and go to the top of the building for a 360 degree view of Barcelona (it will cost you €2 but its worth it) from the rooftop terrace. You will be met with stunning views of the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya and Plaza Espanya. Be sure to keep your ticket in order to come down and also get a discount at one of the restaurants on the terrace. At Plaza Espanya jump on the L3 metro line to Vallarca and take a short walk up to Park Güell (6). This Gaudi created garden with architectural elements is in my opinion the best city park in the world. I’m sure once you get to the top and look out over Barcelona you will agree with me.
Other things to see:
If you have some more time be sure to check out the following:
(1) Picasso Museum – Housing one of the most extensive collections of works by the artist Pablo Picasso.
(2) Camp Nou – The world famous stadium home to FC Barcelona.
(3) Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art – Modern works in this ultra modern building.
(4) Torre Agbar – Barcelona’s colourful tower. Visit in the evening.