The absolute essentials in the sensory overload that is Spain’s second-largest city.
Barcelona is a sensory overload with palm tree-lined boulevards, twisting alleys and quirky architecture. Spain’s second-largest city also offers the traveller a cocktail of fascinating history, delicious food, stunning art and a swinging night life—one of the best in Europe, in fact.
If your time is limited in this gorgeous Spanish city, here are 10 essential things to do before you leave:
Soak up some culture Visit the Palau Música Catalana (Palace of Catalan music), a concert hall with a stained-glass ceiling and beautiful mosaics that was designed by the architect Montaner in 1908. Next, peek into the life of the artist Pablo Picasso who spent many years of his life in this city by visiting the Museu Picasso which houses more than 3,500 of his artworks and ceramics. Finally, visit the Poble Espanyol in Montjuïc, an open air architectural museum with art and craft displays.
Sample Catalan cuisine Take a tapas tour of the city and nibble on typical staples like patatas bravas, Xipirons (fried squid) croquettas or pintxos. Taste Catalan cuisine with alioli, a dip made of egg white, garlic and olive oil, Pa amb tomàquet (pieces of bread with squashed tomato, olive oil and garlic topped with salt). Try the Barcelona variant of paella called fideua which uses noodles instead of rice. Don’t forget to sample romesco sauce, made from nuts (almonds or hazelnuts) ground with garlic, olive oil and small dried peppers. Finish your meal with the popular crema catalana, a sort of egg-yolk custard or mel i mato, cottage cheese with honey.
Ramble along La Rambla With regards to La Rambla, the famous writer Lorca said it was ‘the only street in the world that I wish would never end.’ While not quite endless, Barcelona’s most famous pedestrian boulevard is over a kilometre long. Stretching from the Plaça de Catalunya to the Columbus Statue it is lined with stalls, cafes and street artists all the way. Have your portrait done by street artists, or let the antics of the many living statue performers, magicians and buskers entertain you. The city’s famous Opera House is also located along La Rambla, as is Palau de la Virriena, a beautiful Baroque Palace. Don’t forget that this is a serious tourist hot spot and pickpockets are aplenty, so stay alert.
Explore the Gothic Quarter Dating back to the Roman era, the Gothic Quarter of the city has innumerable stunning buildings from the Medieval period. The Gothic Quarter extends around its gargantuan cathedral and it is a tangled web of narrow streets packed with antique shops and old bookstores. Take a walking tour of the area to discover its hidden gems like the small square of Plaça Sant Felip Neri, the little altar to Santa Eulalia (the city’s original patron saint) and the pillars of the Roman Temple of Augustus preserved inside a building on Carrer Paradis.
Learn why the city is football-crazy Football fan? There’s no better city for you. Barcelona practically has football hardwired into its DNA. Visit the Museu del Futbol Club Barcelona next to the Camp Nou Stadium, the hallowed ground of the Barcelona football team where you can watch videos, look at photos and wander through rooms packed with memorabilia. Follow that up with a tour of the massive stadium which can hold a staggering 98,787 people!
Discover Gaudi’s work Barcelona’s most famous son, the architect Gaudi, spent most of his life in Barcelona. His signature method of wrought iron forgery and trencardis—working with broken shards of mosaic—adorns many buildings around the city. Visit the mansion called Palau Güell and admire examples of his work using the above techniques. Gape at the twenty chimneys on the roof where shapes and colours create an enchanted garden ambience, and walk through
To market, to market Housed in an Art Nouveau iron-and-glass building, La Boqueria is the city’s most famous food market. It has been a part of the city’s daily life from the 1200s and it is packed to the gills with stalls overflowing with sea food, cheese, wild mushrooms, fresh fruit and vegetables, Iberian ham, chocolate and candy. Be a local, not a tourist, and jostle your way through—or you won’t get to experience anything. Follow this up with a visit to the iconic Santa Catarina market. Located close to famous Barcelona Cathedral, Santa Catarina’s trademark is its undulating brightly multi-coloured roof of glazed ceramic tiles and intertwining steel columns. It was the city’s first covered market and was reopened in 2005 after a modern revamp. Besides the fresh fish, cheese, fruit and vegetables, it also has stalls selling cook wear and serving tapas.
Hit the beach Even though it only has three miles of coastline, Barcelona has seven beaches. The beaches are stunning with golden sand and clear water. The most popular is Barceloneta, which is studded with beach bars known as chiringuitos which serve mojitos and seafood. Swim, laze or enjoy a variety of water sports, or simply have a meal and siesta and follow it up with a gelato.
See the city from the air and from the water For a bird’s-eye view of the city, head to the Montjuic Cable Car which crosses the port from Torre Sant Sebastià to Parc de Montjuïc. The Parc is a flat hill with a 17th-century castle, playgrounds and museums—most notably, Fundació Joan Miró, a Modern Art museum housing a large collection of the works of Joan Miró. There is also a sound and light show every night. Follow it up with a boat tour of the city and views of the old port for a different perspective. Finally, end your evening with a drink at the swish Eclipse bar at the futuristic W Barcelona hotel located on the waterfront, popularly called the ‘sail hotel’, because of its shape.
Indulge in some retail therapy Walk along the Portal de l’Àngel, which lies parallel to La Rambla with its high-street fashion stores like Zara, Mango and H&M. Don’t be afraid to shop your heart out since Zara is a Spanish brand and is the cheapest in its home country. Continue along the Passeig de Gràcia, which is known for luxury brands like Chanel and Gucci as much as its stunning architecture and if vintage fashion is more your style, El Raval should be a definite stop. For a unique experience, shop at Las Arenas, a former bull-fighting arena that has been converted into a shopping mall. For something different, head to La Roca, 40km outside Barcelona. This recreated Catalan village has more than a hundred of the world’s top brands offering up to 60 percent off on their usual high street prices.