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Barcelona, Spain

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Personality Types that Like it Best

Did You Know … ?

  • Antoni Gaudi’s surreal Sagrada Familia Cathedral has been under construction since 1895.
  • Barcelona had no street names until 1770; family shields were used as identifiers.
  • Columbus’ 1493 reunion with Ferdinand and Isabella is said to have occurred in the Placa del Rei.
  • La Rambla, the city’s busiest street, was once a mountain-fed stream.
  • Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia; Catalan is one of Spain’s four official languages.

Gaudi and beyond

No one has to be an art lover to appreciate Barcelona, but it helps. With the city’s eye-popping architecture (thanks to the creative Antoni Gaudi) and world class museums, even dabblers may become enthusiasts during their stay.

Few European cities have blended historic and modern architecture with the panache of Barcelona, a city that relishes its Catalan roots but lives firmly in the present.

Its user-friendly harbor district is a huge draw, thanks to a network of outdoor cafes, restaurants and shops that line the waterfront. In all, there are nearly eight miles of shoreline and 2.5 miles of beaches in or near the city where more than 7 million visitors come each year to sunbathe on the Mediterranean, take sightseeing excursions, ogle expensive yachts or sip cocktails by the water’s edge.

Outdoor food and flower markets, cafes and tapas bars are everywhere in the city, but especially along La Rambla, the central thoroughfare and, some say, the city’s heart. Also popular is the Collserola, one of the largest urban parks in Europe — at 10 miles long and about 3.5 miles wide — where visitors enjoy nature in the midst of the city.

Festivals abound, and they tend to last through the night, as anyone who has tried to sleep in a hotel too close to the fireworks and merrymaking can attest.

In addition to the Old City and the waterfront, important districts include the Eixample area, characterized by streets in a grid of neat squares, and Montjuic Hill, the site of the 1992 Olympic Games.

Some 5 million visitors come to the city every year, an astonishing 2.5 million of whom stop to admire Antoni Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, considered one of the most touristed cathedrals in the world — and surely the most eccentric. A half-million or so also pay homage to the architect at the Casa-Museu Gaudi, while more than a million make time to visit the Picasso Museum.

Barcelona has emerged as one of the most important cruise ports in the region, accommodating more than a million passengers who come each year for a Mediterranean cruise.

Things to do for Venturers

  • See the sights from the seat of a bicycle; make that excursion as part of a guided tour.
  • Keep your eye out for fox, boar and wild cats — not to mention more than 130 types of birds — at Collserola Park, which runs between the Llobregat and Besos rivers.
  • Get a jump on Halloween at El Rey de la Magia, one of Europe’s oldest magic shops (1881); L’Arca de l’Avia for costumes dating from the 18th to 20th centuries, and El Ingenio for a mask or fancy dress costume.
  • Climb aboard a Golondrinas sightseeing cruise, in operation in the Barcelona port for more than 100 years.
  • Try the signature snail dish at the Restaurant Los Caracoles, which has been serving up the delicacy since 1835. And yes, there are many other more mainstream offerings on the menu.
  • Get quirky at the Museu de Corrosses Funebres, a museum of 18th and 19th century hearses; the Museu de Cera wax museum — complete with Chamber of Horrors, and the Museu de l´Erotic.  Or, explore the sewer systems of Barcelona at the Museu de Clavegueram, with tours daily except Monday.

Things to do for Centrics

  • The whole family can enjoy the Poble Espanyol, a living-history museum showcasing Romanesque and Andalusian architecture, restaurants, museums and even a children’s village with crafts and games.
  • Spend a day visiting the Jewish Quarter, a thriving cultural center between the 11th and 13th centuries, and look for the Hebrew plaque on the wall of No. 1 Carrer del Marlet, which was uncovered during construction in 1820.
  • Explore the Eixample district, created in the 1850s by architect Ildefons Cerda, where streets are set in grids and shops face the streets with gardens in the inner courtyards. Or learn about the Modern Movement of architecture at the Mies van der Rohe Pavilion at the foot of Montjuic Hill; the pavilion features lectures, workshops and temporary exhibitions.
  • Sip a frothy suizo (hot chocolate) at a granjas cafe — they are located throughout the city — and try a local pastry, such as a melindros sponge cake.  Also, at the Mercat de la Boqueria, the city’s best-known food market, put together a picnic lunch to enjoy at a park or on the waterfront.
  • Buy a bouquet of posies at the Rambla de les Flors, one of the places in the city dedicated solely to selling flowers; this establishment has been operated by four women of the same family for more than a century.
  • Slather on the sunscreen and hit the beach. Be aware that keeping the sand and water clean has been a city priority since a waterfront revitalization project began in the ’90s.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Get around via a Barcelona Bus Turístic hop-on, hop-off tour, which takes in the city’s top attractions, and use a Barcelona Card for discounts on public attractions, museums and transportation.
  • Tuck into a Catalan meal at the Els Quatre Gats restaurant, where Pablo Picasso and his contemporaries would meet for a few drinks in their heyday, and where live music accompanies the meal.
  • Set aside an afternoon to visit the Fundacio Joan Miro on Montjuic, where a permanent collection honors this great artist and favorite son.
  • Shop for souvenir candles at the Cereria Subira, the oldest shop in Barcelona (1761) which still retains its original decor, or browse for sheet music at the Casa Beethoven, which has been in operation since 1886.
  • Examine the world’s first submarine at the Museu Marítim (Maritime Museum) housed in the medieval shipyards at the Drassanes, considered one of the city’s most important Gothic buildings (1378).
  • Visit the Roman necropolis on Carrer Canuda. It wasn’t discovered in modern times until a bomb fell on the site during the Spanish Civil War in 1936.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult Barcelona Tourism at www.barcelonaturisme.com (click on English as needed).