Spain’s most famous boulevard, the part pedestrianised La Rambla explodes with life. Stretching from Plaça de Catalunya to the waterfront, it’s lined with street artists, newsstands and vendors selling everything from mice to magnolias.
The colourful Mercat de la Boqueria (La Rambla; 8am-8pm Mon-Sat; metro Liceu), a fresh food market with a modernista entrance, is one of La Rambla’s highlights. Nearby, stop for a tour of the Gran Teatre del Liceu (Tel 93 485 99 00; http://www.liceubarcelona.cat/; La Rambla dels Caputxins 51-59; admission with/without guide €8.50/4; guided tour 10am, unguided visits 11.30am, noon, 12.30pm & 1pm; Liceu), the city’s opera house.
Also stop at the Plaça Reial, a 19th-century square surrounded by arcades lined with restaurants and bars. At the waterfront end of La Rambla stands the Monument a Colom (Tel 93 302 52 24; Plaça del Portal de la Pau; lift €2.50; 9am-8.30pm Jun-Sep, 10am-6.30pm Oct-May; Drassanes), a statue of Columbus atop a tall pedestal. A small lift takes you to the top for panoramic views.
Just west of La Rambla is the Museu Marítim (Tel 93 342 99 20; http://www.mmb.cat/; Avinguda de les Drassanes; adult/student €6.50/3.25; 10am-8pm; Drassanes), a gorgeous Gothic creation. Housed in the city’s once mighty medieval shipyards, the museum takes an in-depth look at Catalonia’s seafaring past. The full-scale replica of Don Juan of Austria’s royal galley from the Battle of Lepanto is the highlight.
Barcelona’s Gothic Catedral (Tel 93 342 82 60; Plaça de la Seu; admission free, special visit €5; 8am- 12.45pm & 5.15-8pm, special visit 1-5pm Mon-Sat, 2-5pm Sun & holidays; Jaume I) was built on top of the ruins of an 11th-century Romanesque church. The facade is a neo-Gothic addition tacked on in the 19th century. Highlights include the cool cloister, the crypt tomb of martyr Santa Eulàlia (one of Barcelona’s two patron saints), the choir stalls (€2.20), the lift to the rooftop (€2.20) and the modest art collection in the Sala Capitular (chapterhouse; admission €2). You only pay the individual prices if you visit outside the special visiting hours.
Not far from the cathedral is pretty Plaça del Rei and the fascinating Museu d’Història de la Ciutat (Tel 93 256 21 00;
http://w3.bcn.es/V64/Home/V64XMLHomeLinkPl/0,4468,335907851_335943991_1,00.html; Carrer del Veguer; adult/student €6/4; h10am-2pm & 4- 7pm Tue-Sat, 10am-3pm Sun; mJaume I), where you can visit a 4000-sq-metre excavated site of Roman Barcelona under the plaza. The museum encompasses historic buildings including the Palau Reial Major (Main Royal Palace), once a residence of the kings of Catalonia and Aragón, and its Saló del Tinell (Great Hall). In summer, outdoor concerts are often held in Plaça del Rei.
To the west of La Rambla is El Raval district, a once-seedy, now-funky area overflowing with cool bars and shops. Visit the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (Macba; Tel 93 412 08 10; http://www.macba.cat/controller.php; Plaça dels Àngels 1; adult/concession €7.50/6, Wed €3.50; 11am-8pm Mon & Wed, 11am - midnight Thu-Fri, 10am-8pm Sat, 10am-3pm Sun & holidays late Jun-late Sep, 11am-7.30pm Mon & Wed-Fri, 10am-8pm Sat, 10am-3pm Sun & holidays Oct-late Jun; Universitat), which has an impressive collection of international contemporary art.
Home to medieval Barcelona’s bustling textile industry and to its wealthy merchants, La Ribera was once the city’s most prosperous quarter. Now it’s a trendy district exploding with boutiques, restaurants and bars.
A series of palaces where some of those wealthy merchants once lived now house the Museu Picasso (Tel 93 256 30 00;http://www.museupicasso.bcn.es/; Carrer de Montcada 15-23; adult/student €9/3, temporary exhibitions €5.80, 1st Sun of month free; h10am-8pm Tue- Sun & holidays; mJaume I), home to more than 3000 Picassos, most from early in the artist’s career.
The heart of the neighbourhood is the elegant Església de Santa Maria del Mar (Plaça de Santa Maria del Mar; admission free; 9am-1.30pm & 4.30-8pm; Jaume I), a stunning example of Catalan Gothic.
The opulent Palau de la Música Catalana (Tel 902 47 54 85;
http://www.palaumusica.org/; Carrer de Sant Francesc de Paula 2; adult/student incl guided tour €10/9; 50min tours every 30min 10am-6pm Easter & Aug, 10am-3.30pm Sep-Jul; Urquinaona) is one of the city’s most delightful modernist works. Designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner in 1905, it hosts concerts daily.
La Ribera is bordered to the east by the sprawling Parc de la Ciutadella (8am- 6pm Nov-Feb, 8am-8pm Oct & Mar, 8am-9pm Apr-Sep; Barceloneta), a park ideal for strolling or picnics. It’s home to a small zoo (Tel 93 225 67 80; www.zoobarcelona.com; Passeig de Picasso & Carrer de Wellington; admission €15.40; 10am-7pm Jun-Sep, 10am-6pm mid-Mar–May & Oct, 10am-5pm Nov–mid-Mar; Barceloneta), which holds about 7500 living thingies, from gorillas to insects.
Modernisme, the Catalan version of art nouveau, transformed Barcelona’s cityscape in the early 20th century. Most modernista works were built in l’Eixample, the grid-plan district that was developed from the 1870s on.
Modernisme’s star architect was the eccentric Antoni Gaudí (1852–1926), a devout Catholic whose work is full of references to nature and Christianity. His masterpiece, La Sagrada Família (Tel 93 207 30 31; http://www.sagradafamilia.cat/; Carrer de Mallorca 401; adult/student €10/8; h9am- 8pm Apr-Sep, 9am-6pm Oct-Mar; Sagrada Família), is a work in progress and Barcelona’s most famous building. Construction began in 1882 and could be completed in 2020.
Eventually there’ll be 18 towers, all more than 100m high, representing the 12 apostles, four evangelists and Mary, Mother of God, plus the tallest tower (170m) standing for Jesus Christ. Climb high inside some of the towers (or take the elevator, €2) for a different perspective.
Gaudí’s La Pedrera (Tel 902 40 09 73; http://www.fundaciocaixacatalunya.es/osocial/redirect.html?link=http://www.fundaciocaixacatalunya.es/CDA/ObraSocial/Home/0,3423,1x1y,00.html; Carrer de Provença 261-265; adult/ student €8/4.50; h9am-8pm Mar-Oct, 9am-6.30pm Nov-Feb; Diagonal) is his best-known secular creation. Inside, you can visit a museum about Gaudí and his work, a modernista apartment and the surreal rooftop with its bizarre chimneys.
Just down the street is the unique facade of the Casa Batlló (Tel 93 216 03 66; http://www.casabatllo.es/; Passeig de Gràcia 43; adult/student €16.50/13.20; h9am- 8pm, occasionally hrs shortened; mPasseig de Gràcia), an allegory for the legend of St George (Sant Jordi in Catalan) the dragon-slayer. On the same block are two other modernista gems, Casa Amatller (Passeig de Gràcia 41) by Josep Puig i Cadafalch and the Casa Lleó Morera (Passeig de Gràcia 35) by Lluís Domènech i Montaner. This mishmash of architectural styles gave the block its nickname, the Manzana de Discordia (Block/Apple of Discord, a play of words on an ancient Greek myth – manzana means both apple and block).
High up in the Gràcia district sits Gaudí’s enchanting Park Güell (Tel 93 413 24 00; Carrer d’Olot 7; admission free; 10am-9pm Jun-Sep, 10am- 8pm Apr, May & Oct, 10am-7pm Mar & Nov, 10am-6pm Dec-Feb; Lesseps or Vallcarca, g24), originally designed to be a self-contained community with houses, schools and shops. The project flopped, but we’re left with a Dr Seuss–style playground filled with colourful mosaics and Gaudí-designed paths and plazas.
The website http://www.rutadelmodernisme.com/ is a great resource on modernisme in Barcelona.
Barcelona has two major ports, Port Vell (Old Port) at the base of La Rambla, and Port Olímpic (Olympic Port) 1.5km up the coast. Shops, restaurants and nightlife options are plentiful around both marinas,particularly Port Olímpic. Between the two ports sits the onetime factory workers’and fishermen’s quarter, La Barceloneta. It preserves a delightfully scruffy appearance and abounds with crowded seafood eateries.
At the end of Moll d’Espanya in Port Vellis L’Aquàrium (Tel 93 221 74 74;http://www.aquariumbcn.com/AQUARIUM/index.php; Moll d’Espanya; admission €16; 9.30am-11pm Jul & Aug, 9.30am-9.30pm Jun & Sep, 9.30am-9pm Mon-Fri & 9.30am-9.30pm Sat & Sun Oct-May; Drassanes), with its 80m-long shark tunnel.
Barcelona boasts 4km of city platjas (beaches), including the gritty Platja de la Barceloneta and continuing northeast, beyond Port Olímpic, with a series of cleaner,more attractive strands.
A hill of gardens southwest of the centre, Montjuïc serves as a Central Park of sorts and is a great place for a stroll overlooking the city. It is dominated by the Castell de Montjuïc, a onetime fortress. Buses 50, 55 and 61 all head up here. A local bus, the PM (Parc de Montjuïc) line, does a circle trip from Plaça d’Espanya to the castell. Cable cars and a funicular line also access the area.
Several city museums and attractions are here:
(Tel 93 476 86 00; http://www.fundacio.lacaixa.es/ in Spanish; Avinguda del Marquès de Comillas 6-8; admission free; 10am-8pm Tue-Fri & Sun, 10am-10pm Sat; mEspanya) Housed in a remarkable former modernista factory designed by Puig i Cadafalch; puts on major art exhibitions.
Fundació Joan Miró
(Tel 93 443 94 70; http://fundaciomiro-bcn.org/; Plaça de Neptu; admission €8; 10am-8pm Tue- Wed, Fri & Sat, 10am-9.30pm Thu, 10am-2.30pm Sun & holidays Jul-Sep) The definitive museum showcasing Joan Miró’s works.
Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya
(Tel 93 622 03 76; http://www.mnac.cat/index.jsp?lan=001; Mirador del Palau Nacional; adult/student €8.50/6; 10am-7pm Tue-Sat, 10am-2.30pm Sun & holidays) A broad panoply of Catalan and European art. Poble Espanyol (%93 508 63 30; www.poble-epanyol .com; Avinguda del Marquès de Comillas; adult/student €8/6; 9am-8pm Mon, 9am-2am Tue-Thu, 9am-4am Fri & Sat, 9am-midnight Sun) A showcase of typical Spanish architecture, with shops, restaurants and nightlife.
Festivals & Events
The Festes de la Mercè (http://www.bcn.cat/merce/ca/index.shtml), around 24 September, are the city’s biggest party, with four days of concerts, dancing, castellers (human castle-builders), fireworks and correfocs – a parade of firework-spitting dragons and devils. The evening before the Dia de Sant Joan (24 June) is a colourful midsummer celebration with bonfires and fireworks.
Gay & Lesbian Venues
Barcelona’s gay and lesbian scene is concentrated in the blocks around Carrers de Muntaner and Consell de Cent (dubbed Gayxample). Here you’ll find ambience every night of the week in the bars, discos and drag clubs.
Party hard at classic gay discos such as Arena Madre (http://www.arenadisco.com/frame.htm; Carrer de Balmes 32; mUniversitat) and Dboy (www.dboyclub.com; Ronda de Sant Pere 19-21; hFri-Sun; mUrquinaona).
Harlem Jazz Club
(Tel 93 310 07 55; Carrer Comtessa de Sobradiel 8; mLiceu) Here you’ll find a guaranteed dose of quality jazz and enough smoke to cook a sausage.
(Tel 93 317 57 11; http://www.tablaocordobes.com/; La Rambla 35; show only €35, with dinner €68; mLiceu) Although Barcelona is not the best place to see flamenco, you can catch a reasonable show here.
A popular cinema for subtitled foreign films is Verdi (Tel 93 238 79 90; http://www.cines-verdi.com/barcelona/; Carrer Verdi 32; mFontana). There are plenty of places to kick on after the film here.
Football fans can see FC Barcelona play at Camp Nou (Tel 902 18 99 00, from abroad +34 93 496 36 00;http://www.fcbarcelona.com/web/index_idiomes.html; Carrer Arístides Maillol; mCollblanc). Even if you can’t score tickets, stop by for a peek at the museum (admission €8.50; h10am-8pm Mon-Sat, 10am-2.30pm Sun & holidays mid-Apr–mid-Oct, 10am-6.30pm Mon-Sat, 10am-2.30pm Sun & holidays mid-Oct–mid-Apr).
Most theatre in the city is in Catalan. There are quite a few venues that stage vanguard drama and dance, including the Teatre Nacional de Catalunya (Tel 93 306 57 00; www.tnc.es; Plaça de les Arts 1; mGlòries).