Top 10 reasons to visit Barcelona
The very best travel destinations work on all levels - from the sights and sounds to the climate and cuisine. Barcelona is a city that achieves this beautifully. In the shadow of Montjuic, capped by a fortress, this city of 1.6 million people reflects the best of Spanish architectural creativity, past and present.
The fine detail largely can be attributed to one man called Antonio Gaudi (1852-1926) who was an Art Nouveau architect and visionary. Barcelona has long been the country's intellectual capital with world figures such as artists Picasso, Dali and Miro, singer Victoria de los Angeles, and cellist Pablo Casals all having lived here. It’s also the home of the Barcelona Football Club – and there’s even a museum for the true believers.
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Situated on the Mediterranean east coast of northern Spain, Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia, a region bounded by the Pyrenees Mountains to the west, the French border to the north and the Mediterranean to the east.
Barcelona (named after a family that ruled the town 300 years before Christ) first became important as a Roman port. Catalonia has been so well regarded that most of its history is one of invasion and conquest. Moorish Arabs took over in the 8th century and then it was ‘liberated’ by the Christian Charlemagne who tacked it onto his empire. It won independence decades later under the wonderfully-named Wilfred the Shaggy. It was a battleground during the civil war and lost its provincial autonomy in 1939 only to regain it in 1977.
Locals pronounce their city ‘Barcelona’, never ‘Barthelona’ (the soft "c" is typical of the Castilian Spanish to the south). Barcelona is a remarkably pleasant city to explore and, integral to this, its heart is small enough to walk around.
1. Barri Gotic Cathedral
To immediately put this ancient city into its historical context, head down to the Gothic Quarter (Barri gotic). The 15th century cathedral is much more impressive inside than out. The narrow streets and lanes around it are quaint and evocative but keep a lookout for bag snatchers and pickpockets, lured by the constant flow of tourists. Not far from here is the Plaza Real, a pleasant square with a typically Spanish abundance of coffee shops.
The stunning interior of the Barri Gotic Cathedral. (Photo: Christian Bertrand / Shutterstock.com)
Another essential excursion is to the most visible part of the city: Montjuic, a fortified hill 215 metres high, houses several museums that include the Museum of Catalan Art, with its exceptional Gothic and Romanesque departments. The fountains outside are lit beautifully in the evenings.
Majestic displays of water and fountains are especially beautiful during the evening.
3. Antoni Gaudí architecture
Most visitors soon discover that Barcelona is Antoni Gaudi's city. His buildings tend to not have angles and are decorated with strange appliques of tiles and other ornamental surfaces. Even the houses and apartments he designed look like they were built of ice cream then placed in the oven for a few minutes. Even if the city offered nothing else, Gaudi's work is worth the trip to Barcelona. The Sagrada Familia, the Church of the Holy Family, is Gaudi's yet-to-be-finished masterpiece. He started work on this project in 1882 and construction has continued since Gaudi was run over by a tram in 1926. Some see the structure as a surreal nightmare, others as a pinnacle of genius. Everyone who sees it is moved.
La Sagrada Familia, the beautiful cathedral designed by Gaudi, is being built by the donations of people since 19 March 1882. (Photo: Alessandro Colle / Shutterstock.com)
4. La Pedrera building
Among the several other Gaudi buildings are the luxury apartment buildings of Casa Mila (also known as La Pedrera) that flows around the corner like liquid stone and Casa Batllo (both on the Paseo de Gracia), the superb Guell Palace (one of his earliest buildings) on the Ramblas, and the Casa Vicens, currently being renovated. Gaudi’s Guell Park was to be a garden city but never progressed beyond a couple of buildings and some very pleasant walks with some great mosaics and views over the city.
Casa Milà better known as La Pedrera is a building designed by Antoni Gaudí and built during the years 1905–1910 in Barcelona. (Photo: ollirg / Shutterstock.com)
5. Palau de la Música Catalana
The Palau de la Música Orfeo Catalana is perhaps the most remarkable concert hall you will ever visit. Buy a ticket to experience it regardless of what is on. It was designed by Lluis Domenech I Montaner and completed in 1908 and is an gem of the Modernista style with great accoustics.
The Palau de la Musica Catalana concert hall can seat up to 2,200 people. (Photo: Rodrigo Garrido / Shutterstock.com)
6. The Ramblas
Barcelona is a great city for walking. Indeed, the paseo or evening stroll is a major Spanish institution. In traditional Mediterranean fashion, on any given evening, half the population appears to be promenading while the other half drinks coffee at outdoor cafes. The most popular venue is The Ramblas, a wide pedestrian thoroughfare that leads to the waterfront. Its length is lined with shops and stalls while the centre is a row of cafes. The area of coloured paving stones was designed by Joan Miro (1893-1983). The Ramblas was described by writer Somerset Maugham as being the most beautiful street in the world.
This amazing pedestrian street is walked daily by thousands of people. (Photo: peresanz / Shutterstock.com)
7. The Miro Foundation
The Miro Foundation has an impressive display of major works and drawings of the surrealist artist Joan Miro in an wonderful contemporary gallery on Montjuic hill.
8. The Picasso Museum
Downtown, near the Gothic quarter the Picasso Museum in two adjoining palaces housing a large collection of drawings, etchings and some paintings, particularly of his early days.
Early years painting of Pablo Picasso are on permanent exhibition at the Picasso Museum. (Photo: Maxisport / Shutterstock.com)
9. The Columbus column
At the foot of the Ramblas, you'll find the Columbus column to commemorate the explorer's departure from Barcelona for the New World. There is a tiny lift up the middle of the column to a viewing platform with great views over the harbour. Lost in the grid of city streets, it's possible to forget that Barcelona has long been Spain's principal port.
Columbus column is located on the Barcelona habour, at the end of the famous street Las Ramblas.
10. Plaça de Catalunya
Barcelona went through great expansion at the height of the Modernista Movement, a local development from Art Nouveau. The primary flowering of this movement is found in the area north of the Plaça de Catalunya known as the Eixample (Extension). The main streets to explore are the Rambla de Catalunya and the Passeig de Gracia that runs parallel to it. Along the Passeig de Gracia you'll find the so-called "Block of Discord" between Arago and Consell de Cent. Along with Gaudi's psychedelic casas there's the floral Caso Lleo Morera at 35, Sagnier’s Casa Mulleras at 37 and Cadafalch's pseudo-Gothic Casa Amatller at 41.
Enjoy an amazing view at Square of Catalonia in Barcelona
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