The Best of Barcelona
Europe abounds with intriguing ports of call that easily meet any footloose American’s wish list: Ideal year-round climate, world-class beaches, fabulous local cuisine, friendly peeps, wonderfully walkable bohemian neighborhoods, unforgettable historic architecture, all enhanced by surrounding hills with forever views.
What sets quirky, charming Barcelona, Spain apart? Several things, my favorite being the Guell Palace, a nineteenth-century mansion designed by noted modernista architect Antoni Gaudi that may well have influenced Walt Disney’s theme park castles.
No Gaudi, no Disneyland? Maybe. But one thing’s for sure: the minute you step out onto the central Las Ramblas pedestrian mall, it’s clear you’ve wandered into a most pleasant and unexpected dreamlike experience. That language you hear everywhere that’s not quite Spanish? That’s Catalan, the first language in this, the capital of Catalonia, a region of 7 million that still longs for independence from Spain. It also can come as a surprise that locals rarely eat dinner before 9 p.m. or party before midnight in this magic kingdom.
Here are 10 ways to savor the best of Barcelona:
Pick your beach: While mile-long Barceloneta Beach is Barcelona’s most central beach, it’s also chronically crowded. If you prefer to swim or sunbathe with more privacy, check out full-service Bogatell, which was created for the 1992 Olympic Games, family-friendly Nova Icaria or the secluded Nova Mar Bella.
Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter): Located near the city center, Barcelona’s oldest neighborhood visually transports you back to medieval times, complete with street musicians. While you’re there, don’t miss…
La Seu: The Cathedral of Santa Eulalia, which dates back to the thirteenth century, is considered one of the finest examples of Gothic architecture in Spain. If you’re there on Sunday, be sure to catch the noon performance of the sardana, a Catalonian folk dance, in the pedestrian Placa de la Seu.
Las Ramblas: Barcelona’s main tourist hub, this cobblestone thoroughfare features a variety of shops, restaurants and street performers, including human statue artists. One word of caution: after dark, Las Ramblas can get rowdy, with the southern end tending toward unsavory street life. While you’re there, don’t miss…
Monument a Colom: Yes, that gentleman overlooking the city atop this 200-foot monument is indeed Christopher Columbus. It was here in Barcelona that the Spanish explorer briefed Queen Isabella I and King Ferdinand V following his first voyage to the new world, AKA us.
Casa Mila: Known locally as La Pedrera (the quarry) and originally built as a residence, this fortress-like Gaudi creation with its wavy stone head-like facades now serves as Barcelona’s cultural center, housing works by other visionary artists, including Salvador Dali.
Basilica de la Sagrada Família (Church of the Sacred Family): Do not leave town without experiencing Gaudi’s Gothic temple masterpiece, begun in 1882 and, improbably, still under construction. Located in north-central Barcelona, the church is easy to find, thanks to its towering 558-foot spires. Admission is $18 USD, but peeks inside are free.
Guell Park: For a leisurely stroll you’ll never forget, head to this Gaudi fantasyland northwest of downtown, where the architect’s mushroom-shaped chimneys and colorful mosaics create a Catalan community unlike any other.
Picasso Museum: Immerse yourself in 3,500 of the early works of the abstract artist, who spent his formative years (until 1904) in Barcelona. The lovely staircases and galleries of the five stone mansions that house the collect are alone worth the modest price of admission ($15 USD adults; under 18 free).
Saint Joseph of Boqueria Market: Located just off Las Ramblas and dating back to the 1600s, the Boqueria is Barcelona’s foodie heaven public market, overwhelming the senses daily with the vibrant colors and enticing aromas of locally-sourced meats, fish, fresh produce and juice smoothies. Bon appetite? In Catalan, it’s bon profit!
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