Experience Guide: Barcelona
There are so many amazing sights and unique attractions in Barcelona. Here are a few that we really enjoyed this week, along with some we didn't have time to see but wish we could have!
Millions of soccer fans make the pilgrimage to Barcelona each year to cheer on Barcelona’s home team, Futbol Club Barcelona (“Barça” for short). That level of enthusiasm commands a stadium to match, and Camp Nou delivers: It boasts the highest capacity in Europe and can seat nearly 100,000 spectators. Although nothing compares to attending a live game, Barcelonistas can get a taste of the Barça experience on the guided tour, which brings the game-day rush to life in the “players’ tunnel” that simulates what it’s like to walk into a roaring, full-to-capacity stadium.
The Olympic Stadium of Barcelona was ready in 1929 but history decided something different. It is in 1992 that this stage was finally used. Meanwhile Correa, Milà, Margarit, Buixadé and Gregoretti architects of different nationalities had collaborated in its rebuilding. It can accommodate 65,000 people it is the stadium of the 2nd team of football of the city: "Espanyol".
Bike Rental and Self-Guided Tour
Rental bikes are available throughout the city.
Labyrinth Park of Horta
This semi-secret storybook hedge maze is also the oldest garden in the city. Work on the labyrinth and the surrounding gardens began in 1791 as part of a wealthy estate owned by the Desvalls family. The maze and its Italian-inspired terraces were part of the original construction that is today known as the Neoclassical section of the park. The majority of the rest of the park was created in the mid-1800s, and is now known as the Romantic portion, however as the name implies, it is the central labyrinth that really steals the show.
Parc de la Ciutadella
The Parc de la Ciutadella is idyllic and probably the greenest oasis in the megacity of Barcelona. It invites you to relax, to unwind, and to go for long walks, as well as for a picnic. On the grounds of the Parc de la Ciutadella, there are several attractions including the zoo and the Catalan Parliament. The Museu d'Art Modern is situated in the building of the parliament. The Zoological Museum and the Museu de Geologia are placed in the area of the park.
Enjoy sun and sand on Mediterranean beaches. While March water temperatures are unsafe for swimming, eateries along the beach are open with wonderful views of the sea. Beaches are accessible for walking or running.
Carrer de les Aigues
A slice of serenity completely off the tourist track, Carretera de les Aigües is an ancient road that winds around the mountains overlooking the city and the Mediterranean. A funicular ride away (hop on the Funicular de Vallvidrera), it’s been converted into more than 20 kilometers of relatively flat pedestrian and bike paths.
This city district was developed for the 1929 International Exhibition and features several high-profile museums including the National Museum of Catalan Art, the Museum of Archaeology, and the Ethnology Museum. Of those the art museum is particularly recommended, and the views of the city from its steps are stunning. Below this, and also built for the exhibition, was the Magic Fountain, which puts on light and music shows every half-hour on the weekends. This is best seen at night, of course. At the very top of the hill is the 17th-century fortress, which saw action in the Catalan Revolt in the 1600s as well as during the Civil War in the late-1930s, after which it was a prison.
Art and Museums
El Palau de la Musica Catalana
Gaudí may be the most recognizable face of Catalan Moderniste architecture, but many of his contemporaries left their mark on Barcelona as well. One of them was Lluís Domènech i Monater, the Barcelona-born architect behind the Palau de la Música Catalana (Palace of Catalan Music), built in 1908. A designated UNESCO World Heritage Site, the auditorium’s interior bursts with color, pattern, and texture, all of which culminate in a skylight so vast that during daylight hours, performances take place without the flick of a single light switch. Choral, orchestral, and opera music reign supreme here, but that’s not to say the Palau’s program hasn’t featured its share of mainstream artists: Ella Fitzgerald, Norah Jones, and Paco de Lucía have all walked across its stage.
Fundacio Joan Miro
Perched on Montjuïc, the hard-to-pronounce hill that rises behind the city center, Fundació Joan Miró was founded in 1968 by the Catalan artist himself with the aim to make his art more accessible to the public. Today, more than 10,000 of his masterpieces, from the early Surrealist paintings to the Dada-inspired later works, are on display.
European Museum of Modern Art
A temple to modernity, tucked away amid Barcelona's more well known museums.
One of the lesser known museums in Barcelona, the European Museum of Modern Art, Museu Europeu d’Art Modern (aka “MEAM”) packs a punch with some of the most skillful artists from our recent generations on display.
The Barcelona Pavilion
You don’t need a degree in architecture to appreciate the artistic genius of the Barcelona Pavilion, which, like Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, serves as one of the world’s most defining examples of modern architecture. Its clean lines, symmetrical marble slabs, and frameless doors lend a peaceful airiness to the building, designed by German architect Mies van der Rohe and presented at the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition. The edifice left such a lasting impression on Barcelona citizens that 24 years after the original structure was dismantled (at the close of the event), an exact replica was built in its place.
Museu Nacional D’Art de Catalunya
Sure, there are plenty of Baroque and Renaissance masterpieces on display at the Museu Nacional D’Art de Catalunya (National Museum of Catalan Art). It’s even home to one of Diego Velázquez’s most famous portraits, San Pablo. But what sets this museum apart is the scope of its Romanesque collection, which is one of the most exhaustive in the world and chronicles the pre-Gothic beginnings of religious art in Catalonia. Be sure to seek out the biblical fresco titled Apse of Sant Climent de Taüll, the crown jewel of the collection.
Pablo Picasso may have hailed from Málaga in the south of Spain, but he chose Barcelona, the city where he apprenticed as a young artist, as the location for his namesake museum. Housing 4,251 of Picasso’s early works in sculpture, paint, and engraving, it’s a virtually complete representation of his portfolio all the way up to the Blue Period. Picasso’s art isn’t the only draw at Museu Picasso, though; the five adjoining 13th- and 14th-century residences that comprise the museum are precious in their own right.
In honor of this trans-Atlantic transfer, the Barcelona Confectionery Guild has set up the Chocolate Museum to tell the story of chocolate and its modernization. Although the history section of the museum is in no way perfect, visitors get a general trajectory of chocolate’s evolution, moving from bitter water to the stunningly detailed sculptures that fill the museum. By using the statues to visibly depict modern chocolate innovation, the arc of the history of chocolate feels fairly complete.
Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona
There’s so much art history to digest in Barcelona that one might forget to consider the present. Thankfully the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA), a luminous hall designed by American architect Richard Meier, serves as a reminder. With a collection spanning from the
mid-20th century to today, MACBA is the ideal place to get acquainted with some of Catalonia’s most celebrated contemporary artists as well as its emerging talent.
Barcelona City History Museum
The History Museum preserves a few Roman sites across the Gothic Quarter, such as the Temple of Augustus and the Funeral Way on Plaça de la Vila de Madrid. But Plaça del Rei is where you can see Barcelona’s ancient history in detailed layers. You’ll take a lift down to where the remnants of a garum factory, laundries, dyeing shops, and parts of ancient Barcino’s walls are all visible. The site is large, covering 4,000 square metres, which you’ll explore via elevated walkways. As you rise through the museum building you’ll step forward through time and enter the vaults of the Palau Reial Major, seat of the medieval Dukes of Barcelona.
No visit to Barcelona would be complete without a stroll through Las Ramblas, the wide, shady boulevard that runs through the heart of the city from Plaça de Catalunya down to Port Vell. Whether you’re taking in a street performance, ambling beneath the trees, or people-watching from a terrace, there’s never a dull moment here. To get a bird’s-eye view of all the action, finish your Ramblas route at the 18th-story mirador at Columbus Monument for panoramic views of the city and sea.
Mercat de Santa Caterina
For a hands-on food experience free of La Boqueria’s crowds, wander through the aisles of Mercat de Santa Caterina, an unpretentious market where you can find melt-in-your-mouth jamón ibérico, dayboat-fresh goose barnacles, and any other gourmet food you may desire. Established as the city’s first-ever covered food market in the 19th century, Santa Caterina completed a major refurbishment in 2005 that includes the installation of an undulating, visually striking rooftop.
Passeig de Gràcia
The Majestic Hotel and Spa shares Passeig de Gràcia with some of the world’s most recognized designer brands. Burberry, Bulgari, Cartier, Chanel, Desigual, Gucci, Hermes, Lacoste, and Louis Vuitton, and Yves Saint-Laurent are just some of the offerings.
No place on earth can hold a candle to Barri Gòtic when it comes to concentration and breadth of Gothic architecture. This is the most ancient part of the city, where labyrinthine streets empty into medieval plaças. Yet amid the antiquity, Barri Gòtic boasts some of the city’s best shopping. Handmade espadrilles, or alpargatas as they’re known in Spain, make cheery, affordable souvenirs; find them at La Manual Alpagatera, worth a visit if only to marvel at the floor-to-ceiling stacks of sandals available in every hue and style. For rarer finds, wake up early on a Sunday morning to explore the Mercat Gòtic, where you can treasure hunt for antiques and, if luck strikes, witness a traditional Catalan dance on the plaça called the “Sardana.”
Park Güell is Gaudí’s greatest triumph in urban planning and shows the sculptor at his most organic. Using the Collserola foothills as his canvas, Gaudí designed an architectural park whose structures (houses, fountains, pillars, walkways) often appear to be extensions of nature. Columns shoot up like tree trunks, arches are jagged like cave openings, and fountains are guarded by giant lizards with scales fashioned out of mosaic tiles. As you leave the monumental area and follow the steep, uphill path, let the sweeping views awaiting you at the top be your motivation.
Manzana de la Discòrdia
For a crash course in Catalan Moderniste architecture, just walk up Passeig de la Gràcia in the Eixample district to Manzana de la Discòrdia, a city block featuring buildings designed by Barcelona’s four most renowned Modernistas: Antoni Gaudí, Josep Puig i Cadafalch, Lluís Domènech i Montaner, and Enric Sagnier. The “discord,” of course, refers to the rivalry among these architects, each of whom was trying to forge his reputation at the time as the leading mind in Modernism. By most counts, Gaudí eclipsed his competition with Casa Batlló, whose undulating façade and kaleidoscopic mosaics make it one of the city’s most emblematic and visited sites.
Better known as La Pedrera (“the quarry”) for its elaborate stonework, Casa Milà was the last civil project Gaudí completed before his death and represents the pinnacle of his career. The building, designed as a residence for Barcelona’s elite, was a radical departure from anything the city had ever seen, with its wavy interior patios, curved walls, and slanting columns. Perhaps the most striking element of the building is its rooftop, whose plunging stairways and lifelike chimneys evoke an otherworldly landscape.
Passeig del Born
In ancient times, Passeig del Born was where citizens congregated for celebrations and sporting events. “Born” actually means jousting field—optimal barside banter, should you find yourself enjoying this neighborhood’s vibrant nightlife. Like a less-touristy version of Las Ramblas, this tree-lined promenade is lined with bars of all types. Start your evening with a zippy Menorca-style pomada, an ice-cold gin and lemonade cocktail, at Cal Brut, before tucking into some tapas and local wine at Disset 17 Graus, a trendy little vinoteca just off Plaça Comercial.
Placa del Rei
Located in the heart of of Barri Gòtic, Plaça del Rei was once the center of all noble activity in Barcelona. In fact, when Christopher Columbus returned from the New World, it was here that the Catalan-Aragonese monarchs received him. The steps beneath the pointed arches of the Palau Reial (Royal Palace) are a pleasant place to sit and contemplate the history of this medieval square, but for a deeper dive into Barcelona’s past, discover the Barcelona City History Museum, where you can walk a Roman road and see the remains of a garum factory.
Catedral de la Seu
Predating La Sagrada Família by six centuries, the Catedral de la Seu (known informally as Catedral de Barcelona) was built as a monument to Eulalia, the co-patron saint of the city. Gargoyles, flying buttresses, and barrel vaults accent this classically Gothic structure, and you can enjoy them from above—along with the city skyline—on a rooftop tour. See if you can spot all 13 geese, said to represent each year of Eulalia’s life before she was martyred, waddling around the cloister.
Begin your adventure through Barcelona and the dreamlike works of Antoni Gaudí.
His minor basilica is a project of incredible scale and ambition that is still only around three quarters complete more than 140 years after Gaudí first became involved. When its spires are finished it will be the tallest church building in the world, and hardly resembles any religious structure you’ll have seen in your life. The Sagrada Família combines several architectural styles including Catalan Modernism, Art Nouveau and Spanish Late-Gothic, but Gaudí’s masterpiece defies these kinds of definitions when you look up, open-mouthed, at the ceiling of the nave.
Another of Antoni Gaudí’s most postcard-friendly creations, this apartment block wasn’t created from scratch but was a remodel undertaken at the turn of the 20th century. You won’t need to have visited Barcelona to recognise the building’s roof, the tiles of which are the scales of a great dragon. Like all of his work, the inside and outside of Casa Batlló has that sinuous quality, with few straight lines, and dazzling attention to detail. Take the mushroom-shaped fireplace on the noble floor, which like a cozy grotto was designed for couples to warm up in winter.
Plaça de Catalunya
This is the best meeting point in the city. It’s right at the bottom of the posh Passeig de Gràcia and at the top of Las Ramblas. If you’re waiting for friends in the evening for a meal or getting ready for a shopping expedition by day, nowhere in the Ciutat Vella or Eixample will be more than a few minutes on foot from this grand square. Barcelona’s flagship branch of El Corte Inglés is right here, and if you’re new to the city and want to get oriented you could go inside to pick up a map.
This former Baroque palace on the historic Calle Montcada is a rare architectural gem and was once the meeting place of an aristocratic scholarly society. The facade of the building dates back to the 14th century, but the palace’s Baroque architectural gems are from after it was remodeled by a wealthy merchant and nobleman Pau Ignasi Dalmases, who lived there between 1690 and 1705.
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