You will find, on your trip to Spain, that Barcelona offers a heady mix of unique architecture, culture, and cuisine, plus much more. However, don’t expect this city to be typically Spanish.
When you first arrive in Barcelona on a holiday in Spain, you may well be aware of its wide and attractive boulevards and streets and also of its proximity to and influence of the sea. It is very different from other Spanish cities, such as Madrid, Seville, etc. I also feel it is a city to be explored as much as possible on foot while taking off from one of the main avenues and heading down a cobblestone street leading to who knows what. So let’s be more specific and look at the attractions and sights in this colourful city.
Las Ramblas is one of the first places to visit to get a feel for Barcelona on Spain holidays. It is essentially a boulevard which cuts through the centre of the city and is a major landmark. It stretches approximately 1.2 kilometres/.75 of a mile from the Placa Catalunya to the port area. Basically, it is a tree-lined avenue with a central pedestrian-only promenade. It is crowded during the day and until late in the night. Along Las Ramblas are intermittent kiosks selling flowers, newspapers, books, and souvenirs. It also has a number of cafes to sit at and watch the action. You will come across street performers and the now ubiquitous “human statues,” now to be found all over the world looking, for all intents and purposes, like robots.
A major building on Las Ramblas is the Gran Teatre del Liceu, an architecturally unique and historic opera house which is Barcelona’s principal venue for opera. Another historic building is the Virreina Palace, built in the late 1700s and now a cultural institute. Take off down some of the side streets and you will discover a number of interesting places. One of them leads to the Placa Reial (Royal Square) which is a lively 19th Century square with tall palm trees and street lamps designed by Antoni Gaudi, as well as pubs and restaurants. Others lead to an open-air flower market and a Capuchin monastery. When you reach the bottom of Las Ramblas, you will see the Christopher Columbus Monument and the old port of Barcelona. One unique landmark on Las Ramblas is a mosaic designed by the famous Spanish modern painter, Joan Miro. It is hard to miss as it is in the shape of a medallion with red, yellow, and blue shapes.
The port of Barcelona is worth strolling around at the bottom of Las Ramblas. This is where you will find fishing boats, cruise ships, sailboats, ferry boats, and other maritime vessels all vying for space. You will also find a large shopping mall, a multiplex movie house, and an aquarium as well as two marinas.
The Gothic Quarter
As the name implies, the Gothic Quarter is one of the oldest areas of Barcelona which stretches from one side of Las Ramblas almost down to the seafront. It has the remains of the city’s Roman wall and several notable medieval landmarks. It is something of a labyrinth of small streets, most of which are closed to traffic. The Gothic Quarter contains Barcelona Cathedral, built between the 13th and 15th centuries. A pretty square is the Placa del Pi which contains some art galleries and small shops. There is an art market at weekends where local artists display and sell their paintings. Twice a month, again at weekends, there is an artisan food market offering Catalan specialities. On your trip to Spain, you can seek out the famous café called The Four Cats (Els Quatre Gats in Catalan). It is a place where Pablo Picasso, Antoni Gaudi, and other artists, architects, and musicians used to spend time in.
Passeig de Gracia
Passeig de Gracia is Barcelona’s equivalent to the Champs Elysees in Paris and one of the major avenues in the city. It is also important for its shopping and business. It is regarded as the most expensive street in Barcelona, with its luxury fashion stores and its upscale apartment buildings. It also contains a number of buildings designed by the famous architect, Antoni Gaudi.
Gaudi and His Architecture in Barcelona
On your trip to Spain, it is impossible to avoid Gaudi’s designed buildings, parks, and cathedrals in Barcelona as they are spread out over the entire centre of the city and should not be missed. You can describe his style as whimsical, maybe eccentric. No one can visit Barcelona on a Spain vacation and not be aware of the renowned architect, Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926). His exceptional architectural style is to be seen all over the city. Gaudi was born a Catalan and produced some of the most moving buildings and works of art that are still standing and highly praised by the Spanish people. His most famous is the Sagrada Familia, one of the most famous and breathtaking locations to visit in Barcelona. Although incomplete, the church is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Unbelievably, the project started nearly a century ago. The height of the church will be, once it is finished, exactly equal to the height of the largest mountain in the nearby hills. The church is overwhelming when standing at its base and the inside is even more impressive. It is truly a masterpiece.
The Palau Guell is a mansion designed for an industrial tycoon in 1888. It has an unusual layout. The mansion is centred on the main room which was used to entertain high society guests who entered the building in horse-drawn carriages through the front iron gates. There are two outstanding Gaudi apartment buildings, La Pedrera, also known as Casa Mila, and La Casa Batllo, both of which can be visited including checking out the roof of the latter with its very whimsical designs. This is one of the strangest residential buildings in Europe and Gaudi at his most whimsical.
The Parc Guell is a peaceful, public park which contains many gates, terraces and other objects designed by Gaudi. The focal point of the park is the main terrace, surrounded by a long bench in the form of a sea serpent. Gaudi has incorporated many motifs of Catalan nationalism into the park. You can also visit Gaudi’s house at the Gaudi House Museum, where he lived for most of his last 20 years and which contains furniture he designed.
Journey Through Gaudi’s Barcelona in Spain
El Raval is Barcelona’s most colourful district and can be described as “hip.” It has some of Barcelona’s best bars and top restaurants. Bordered by palm trees and cafes, it is the perfect place, on a trip to Spain, to sit with a drink, and people-watch for hours on end. A highlight here is the Gran Teatre del Liceu, a venue for music and concerts as well as full-length operas. It is designed with gold-leaf and ornate carvings. The centrepiece of Barcelona’s diverse and multicultural neighbourhood, Rambla del Raval features street art and an open-air monthly Saturday market.
Montjuic Mountain is more of a large hill which overlooks both the city and the harbour. The top of the hill was the site of several fortifications, including the Castle of Montjuic, which dates from the 17th century. It served as a prison, often holding political prisoners, until the time of General Franco. Montjuic was selected as the site for several of the venues for the 1992 Summer Olympics including the Olympic stadium. The top of the hill can be reached using the Teleferic de Montjuic, a railway that operates as part of the Barcelona Metro system. There is a famous cemetery on Montjuic which contains over 150,000 plots and mausoleums and in which there are a number of famous Spanish celebrities buried here including Isaac Albeniz, the composer, Victoria de Los Angeles, the opera singer, and Joan Miro, the abstract painter.
Parc de la Ciutadella
The “green lung” in the centre of Barcelona, Parc de la Ciutadella is the perfect place in which to relax after walking around the city. The centrepiece is an attractive lake where people rent rowing boats. In the grounds of the Parc de la Ciutadella are several attractions which include the Barcelona zoo, the Catalan Parliament Building, the Museum of Modern Art, the Zoological Museum, and the Museum of Geology. There is a winter garden made of glass and steel, called L’Hivernacle which, in the summer, turns into a cafe.
La Barceloneta Beach
Not only is this a beach for swimming, sunbathing, etc., La Barceloneta is also a lively neighbourhood with a number of restaurants, small bars, and clubs where one can eat dinner or order a drink until the wee hours. It is considered to be the best place to eat paella, and tapas, on a trip to Spain. La Barceloneta is also home to a large aquarium, one of the biggest in Europe, featuring the marine life of the Mediterranean Sea.
The Picasso Museum
The building in which the Picasso Museum is housed is a series of five very fine medieval stone mansions dating back to the 14th century, featuring attractive courtyards. The museum features much of Picasso’s early works but there is also material from later periods of his life. It is well worth visiting this gallery for a perspective on this man, with its collection of more than 3500 works of art.
Joan Miro Foundation
Joan Miro is Barcelona’s best-known 20th Century artist (1893-1983). His works are exhibited at Joan Miro Foundation, a gallery on Montjuic. It contains the largest single collection of the artist’s work with around 220 of his paintings, 180 sculptures, and more than 8000 drawings spanning his entire life. However, only a small portion of this collection is on display. The museum library contains Miro’s personal book collection. Outside the gallery is the Jardin de las Esculturas which contains various pieces of modern sculpture.
National Art Museum of Catalonia
Located on Montjuic, the National Art Museum of Catalonia features almost all kinds of art forms, from sculptures and paintings to drawings, engravings photography, and posters. They illustrate the history of Catalan art between the Romanesque period and the first half of the 20th century. It is especially known for its Romanesque church paintings, considered the best in the world due mainly to a series of mural paintings and Catalan art from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The museum is housed in a huge, Italian-style building dating back to 1929.
If you are a soccer fan, then you would want to visit the holiest of the holys, the home of Barcelona Football Club which is at Camp Nou. You can take a self-guided tour and enjoy an in-depth experience of the club. There is a museum crammed with multimedia exhibits with touch-screens and videos, trophies such as the golden boots of great goal scorers, and historical displays. After this, you get to tour the stadium with its 105,000 people capacity. You can also visit the television studio, the press room, and the commentary boxes.
Labyrinth Park of Horta
This park, a very pleasant place to simply stroll around, features an exceptional maze with tall manicured hedge walls hiding 600 metres/2000 feet of twists and turns for visitors to get lost in. In the centre is a statue of Eros, the Greek God of Love. Also in the park are pavilions that have more statues of Greek gods. There is also a picturesque pond at one end.