What Not to Miss in Barcelona


There's a good reason Spain's second largest city after Madrid is one of Europe's (indeed, the world's) most popular cities - famous and beloved for its art, architecture, culture, cuisine, and nightlife ever since hosting the 1992 Summer Olympic Games. It's also the capital of the region of Catalonia, one of Spain's nations along with Galicia and Euskadi (aka the Basque Country), with its own distinct language and culture. Well, there's a lot to unpack here, so let's get to the highlights!


Ciutat Vella (the Old Town)

Barcelona's historic core dates back to ancient Bàrcino, founded around 13-15 BCE by colonists from the Roman Empire, with its spine the famous tree-lined pedestrian promenade La Rambla (aka Les Rambles or Las Ramblas) running 1.2 kilometres (three quarters of a mile) from Plaça de Catalunya down to the Christopher Columbus Monument near the waterfront. A onetime watercourse which developed into a street in the mid-15th century, these days it's touristy, yes (and watch our for pickpockets!), but undeniably marvelous for strolling, and also lined with kiosks, cafés, and shops. Here you'll also find landmarks such as the Mercat de Sant Josep (aka La Boquería), a huge and colourful covered market whose current iteration was established in 1853; the Liceu, the city's 176-year-old opera house; and the Maritime Museum, housead in the onetime medieval shipyard.

Flanking La Rambla to the east, the Barri Gòtic (Gothic Quarter, often referred to simple as El Gòtic) is a warren of narrow cobblestone streets which apart from various shops, restaurants, and hostelries is home to some of Barcelona's oldest sites, including excavations of the original Roman walls; the cathedral (dating back to the 13th century); the gracious Plaça Reial with its many restaurants and cafés; and the similarly named, 14th-century Plaça del Rei (above, where King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella received Columbus in 1493 after his voyage of discovery) and the surrounding Reial Major Palace, from that same era.

South of El Gòtic, the El Born district was for centuries the economic heart of the city, and the Basílica of Santa Maria del Mar is the heart of the neighborhood, although other attractions include the Picasso Museum, the two-year-old modern-art museum Moco right next door; and the exubertant Art Nouveau classical-music concert hall Palau de la Musica Catalana

Finally, on the other side of La Rambla from the Barri Gòtic is El Raval, once known as the Barri Xinès (Chinatown) and long famous for its nightlife and cabarets (but also its prostitution and crime). Even so, iif you use caution and common sense, it's fun to hit the eateries and bars here. There are also a number of cultural draws, including the Palau Güell, an early work (late 1880s) by Barcelona's  -and indeed, all of Spain's - most famous architect, Antoni Gaudí (whose designs are collectively designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site), and the MACBA (Museum of Contemporary Art).



The Eixample (19th-century 'New Town')

Above the Ciutat Vella, beginning with the big, pigeon-filled square Plaça de Catalunya, the Eixample is the gracious expansion (which is what the word literally means) of the city on a grid pattern which took place in the latter half of the 19th century. Its main avenues are the Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes, the Avinguda Diagonal, and the Passeig de Gràcia, which in addition to being lined cafés, restaurants, and mostly high-end retailers and galleries is also home to some gems of Catalan modernisme (Art Nouveau) - in particular the 1906 apartment building Casa Milà (aka La Pedrera) and the 1904 Casa Batlló (above).  Both are open to the public, but the entry fees are pricy - 35 euros - so you might find yourself choosing between one and the other (incidentally, next to Batlló, also in the photo above, another Modernist masterpiece well worth a visit is the Casa Amatller, whose design by another seminal architect, Josep Puig i Cadafalch, dates back to 1900. Farther north, several metro stops away, the most famous Gaudí building of all is of course the majestic Sagrada Familia Basilica (visible in the photo at top), whose construction started in 1882 and is slated to finally be finished in 2026 (interestingly, tickets here start at just 26€.




The Gràcia Neighborhood

Above the Eixample, this onetime independent village is now Barcelona's smallest district but one of its most delightful, with a plethora of cool shops, eateries, and bars. Furthermore, it's not overrun with tourists - except for once a year, in August, during “La festa major de Gracia.” its most important festival. when streets and squares compete for the best decorations. Perhaps the single most celebrated landmark here is Parc Güell, a masterpiece by Gaudi, opened in 1926 and with beautiful views out over the cityscape (admission 10); you can get here easily my Metro; I took the Number 3 (green) line and got off at the Lesseps stop, a 15-minute stroll away (just be aware that it's a little hilly - be sure to wear decent walking shoes).


Montjuïc Hill

Named ¨Jewish Mountain¨ for an medieval Jewish cemetery, this broad hill, flat-topped hill of parklands and woods is some 173 metres (568 feet) high and stretches from near the coast up to the Plaça d'Espanya. It´s played an important role in the history of Barcelona dating back to the city´s origins, and today is the site of many cultural and recreational venues as well as historical sites. The 1929 International Exposition and many events of the 1992 Summer Olympics were held here, and you can visit their legacy in the form of the Olympic Stadium and the Palau Nacional (above), now home to the National Art Museum of Catalonia. Other attractions include a 17th-century fort, the Poble Espanyol, an open-air museum of architecture of Spain´s various regions; other museums dedicated to archaeology, ethnology, the Olympics and sports in general, and the work of Catalan artist Joan Miró; a botanical garden; and various park areas and recreational facilities. Montjuich can be accessed via a funical and cable car from the south, and in the north just off the Plaça d'Espanya (which is accessible via Metro, bus, and taxi).

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The Beaches

The city has more than a dozen, but three are best known - and connected by a promenade - starting with Barceloneta (above), in the neighbourhood of the same name, once a quiet fishing village; it´s buzzing with people, water sports, bars, and restaurants, and can be a bit of a circus come warm weather. Vila Olimpica, developed for the 1992 games, also has a nice beach with plenty of amenities but usually a bit less crowded than Barceloneta. Then there´s Poblenou, a once industrial district fallen upon hard times and also renovated for the Olympics, becoming one of the city´s hip neighbourhoods; great beaches here with all the trimmings include the main one, Bogatell, as well as Nova Icària and gay-popular Mar Bella (which also has a clothing-optional section).



Getting to and around Barcelona

The main airport in Barcelona is El Prat, with two terminals and Metro (2.40 euros), Aerobus (6 to Placa de Catalunya) and taxi service (30-40). Many people also come and go by long- distance (including high-speed) and regional trains, in and out of Barcelona Sants, west of city centre, and the elegant, historic Estació de França in the east of the city. There´s also good intercity motorcoach service based out of the Estació de Sants (near the train station) and the Estació de Nord (near França). And of course there are also plenty of local and international car rental agencies both in town and at the airport.

For getting around, city busses and the Metro are an excellent, frequent, and offer multi-day passes which can save you money. Taxis are also plentiful, and relatively affordable.


Get the most out of your Barcelona visit with these Barcelona travel tips, along with even more information at BarcelonaTurisme.com and VisitCatalunya.com. As the Catalans say, bon viatje (have a good trip)!



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  • Well said, all of it!

  • I attended the Festa Major de Gràcia two years ago and it was magical.

  • Barcelona, mi amor!

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