Things to Do in Barcelona - page 3
Meaning “extension,” L’Eixample neighborhood was built in the 19th century to enlarge the city of Barcelona so that it connected with smaller surrounding towns, such as Gracià (now a neighborhood itself). Ingeniously designed, the upscale district displays long avenues with cut-corner, octagonal blocks that allow for openness, light and ventilation.
The area is also home to some of the city’s most popular tourist draws, particularly along its bustling avenue, Passeig de Gràcia. This is where you’ll find Gaudi’s famous La Pedrera, a building known for its undulating façade and spectacular rooftop views. Then, not too far away await more architectural favorites, including Gaudi-designed Casa Batlló, as well as the Flemish- and Catalan-styled Casa Amatller. Meanwhile, the masses come here for more than just sightseeing but also for shopping, as Passeig de Gràcia is packed with Barcelona’s top high-end shops.
It might seem next to impossible to find a quiet getaway in the big Barcelona city, but Plaça Sant Felip Neri offers you just the perfect escape from all the hustle and bustle. This seemingly hidden square, with its trickling fountain and shade-offering trees, is located in Barcelona’s Gothic quarter and is enclosed by old-world buildings.
It’s more than just a tranquil respite, though, but also an important, albeit tragic part of Barcelona history. Indeed, this is where you’ll find the square’s namesake church, which was bombed during the Spanish Civil War in 1938, killing many people, most of whom were children. The church’s heavily bomb-pocked walls serve as a still-visible reminder of this sad event. Come here to contemplate the square’s somber past while you savor a moment of quiet and calm.
One of Barcelona’s most dazzling attractions, the Magic Fountain, or Font Montjuic, was built in 1929 for the city’s World Exhibition, taking 3000 people almost a year to complete, and later restored during the 1992 Olympic Games. Taking center stage in Plaça Espanya at the foot of Montjuic Mountain, the Fountain is celebrated for its spectacular illuminations display, set against the majestic backdrop of the Montjuic Palace.This is no ordinary lightshow – the Magic Fountain does its name justice with a kaleidoscope of shimmering fountains, syncing light, motion and music to dramatic effect. The breathtaking display is held throughout the year on weekend evenings (from Thursday to Sunday during summer), when the series of fountains spring to life each half-hour from 9.30pm until 11.30pm, for a vibrant 20-minute show.
Framed by its wave-shaped walkway leading from the city out onto the water, Maremagnum is recognizable from many sections of the Barcelona beaches. The shopping center is home to many big name brands, as well as local restaurants and a cinema. Two floors of shops range from home goods and electronics to clothing and jewelry. You’ll also find Spanish brands such as Desigual, and other European retailers.
Many of the cafes and restaurants are open-air, making them especially nice on a sunny day. People come to leisurely watch boats pull in and out of the nearby port and absorb a bit of the Barcelona waterfront. The structure itself, like many of the buildings in Barcelona, is unique and well-designed. Its curved, mirrored walls reflect the light off of the nearby water and make an interesting contrast to the natural wooden pier. Walking down the central boulevard, Las Ramblas, toward the ocean will lead you straight there.
Standing tall in the Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter) of Barcelona, the Santa Maria del Pi is a 14th century church in the Placa del Pi. Its Gothic architecture, including the many gargoyles and the large Gothic arch that frames its entrance, remain well intact. Its octagonal bell tower rises 54 meters high, creating a memorable mark of the history of this area of the city. Its tolling bell can be heard throughout the day while walking around the Gothic Quarter.
Both the church, the square, and the nearby street Carrer del Pi are named for a tall pine tree that once stood in the square. Though it was partially destroyed in a fire in 1936, it was fully restored and reopened in 1940. The basilica has high vaulted ceilings, intricate stained glass windows and lattice work. Its enormous rose window placed at the entrance is of particular note; it is one of the largest of its kind in the world.
Gaudi masterpieces in Barcelona aren’t limited to popular spots Casa Batllo, La Pedrera, La Sagrada Familia and Parc Güell. In fact, Gaudi’s first big commission, Casa Vicens, is yet another of his creations that should be on any Gaudi-lover’s list of must-sees. Completed in 1888, the home was commissioned by a wealthy tile manufacturer, hence the building’s dazzling, tile-decorated exterior.
Casa Vicens is located in the Gracia neighborhood, a former town that spreads out at the foot of Parc Güell. Gaudi, fresh out of school, and just developing his style, started his career with a bang by designing Casa Vicens, a wildly eclectic structure, most prominently featuring Oriental and Moorish influences. The exterior is a party of color and texture, including flower-embellished tiles, exposed brickwork, fancily designed chimney pots, and extravagant iron balconies.
Lying just to the west of Barcelona’s famous Las Ramblas Boulevard, and home of the gleaming Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA), the Raval is a once-tatty ‘barrio’ (district) that is rapidly cleaning itself up. Historically working class, today new boutiques, art galleries, bars and restaurants are springing up in this inner-city neighborhood at a rate of knots but neglected corners still retain an earthy air and a multicultural blend of Catalan, Arabic, Romanian, Indian and Indonesian cultures. Besides MACBA, the narrow alleys of El Raval are home to the ornate Gran Teatre del Liceu – one of Europe’s foremost opera houses and adorned with Japanese-style decoration – which opened in 1847, Antoni Gaudí’s twisting, fluid Palau Güell and the Romanesque beauty of ninth-century Sant Pau del Camp, the oldest church in the city.
Barcelona’s main bullring was built in the smart Eixample district of the city with a flamboyant Neo-Mudéjar and Byzantine façade by Catalan architect Domènec Sugrañes i Gras, a disciple of Gaudí. Embellished with typical Iberian white-and-blue tiles and towers topped with onion-shaped domes, the bullring was the largest in Barcelona and could seat 20,000, plus another 5,000 standing. The site was inaugurated in 1914, and over the decades, it has featured Spain’s top toreros (bullfighters) – who were nationwide pin-ups – in corridas (bullfights) that reached their height of popularity in the 1950s. However, bullfighting eventually grew increasingly unpopular in Catalan Spain, and it was eventually banned in January 2012, to the disappointment of many local aficionados.
Explore Spain’s seafaring past by visiting the Maritime Museum, or Museu Maritim, in Barcelona. Located just steps away from the waterfront, the museum takes visitors on a journey through one of the country’s richest areas of history: exploration at sea.
The museum experience begins with the Gothic building itself, which once belonged to the former Barcelona Royal Shipyard. Within the cavernous brick structure, which dates back to the 13th century, expect to find all manner of sea-related treasures, ranging from maps to weapons, paintings, and even surfboards. Then, of course, there are the boats, which include model-sized versions, and, most notably, a life-size galley warship replica.
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While the masses head to Barceloneta Beach, those in search of relatively quieter shores take their towels to Nova Icària Beach. Located between Bogatell and Barceloneta Beaches, Nova Icària offers a 400-meter stretch of sand, along with all the amenities, including showers, lifeguards, rentable umbrellas, and more.
Its ideal location just adds to the appeal: walking southwest along its promenade will lead you to the nearby Port Olimpic and its many restaurants; meanwhile, head inland and you can explore the Poblenou neighborhood, known for its evolving blend of industry meets innovation. The beach is also a paradise of outdoor activity, including volleyball, ping pong, and water-related activities, such as kayak, paddleboard, windsurfing and more.
From Roman times to the present day capital of Catalonia, the city of Barcelona has hundreds of years of history and many stories to tell. The Barcelona City History Museum preserves and communicates the historical heritage of the city for locals and visitors alike. There are multiple exhibitions throughout the city with present findings, as well as facilities for ongoing research.
The museum conserves many of the Roman sites of Barcelona as archaeological sites — while others like the city's Palau Reial Major and the Jewish Quarter date back to the Middle Ages. There are also a fair number of sites related to more modern significances, including Franco and the Spanish Civil War or iconic architect Antoni Gaudi. The museum itself was inaugurated just after the end of the Spanish Civil War, in 1943. Its headquarters at Casa Padellas is a prime example of a Catalán gothic courtyard, and contains an entire preserved quarter of the ancient Roman city of Barcino.
Though Barcelona’s Sants Station gets the most train and foot traffic, the city’s França Railway Station wins when it comes to overall style. Considered by many to be the most beautiful station in town, it’s a sumptuous mix of architectural styles, featuring shiny marble floors, Art Deco detailing, and sunshine-lit, domed platforms.
The station dates back to the International Exhibition in 1929, and was later renovated for the 1992 Olympics. Once serving as the terminus for trains coming from and going to other places in Europe — namely, France — it’s now a hub for local trains (with international trains now traveling in and out of Sants).
The historic heart of Barcelona is the Cuitat Vella, or Old City, home to the majority of the city’s tourist attractions and encompassing the districts of El Raval, Barri Gotic, La Ribera and Barceloneta. With its abundance of iconic architecture, world-class museums and historic sights, most visitors to the city find themselves spending the majority of their time in the Cuitat Vella.
Las Rablas is the Old City’s main thoroughfare, separating the residential neighborhood and red light district of El Raval from the largely pedestrianized Barri Gotic, or Gothic Quarter. The Barri Gotic makes a popular starting point for a walking tour of the city, with sights including the historic Placa del Rei; the 14th century Palau Reial Major; the Gothic Barcelona Cathedral; the glitzy shopping street of Portal del Angel; the lively La Boqueria food market; and several Gaudi masterpieces, including the Palau Güell.
At the heart of Barcelona, the Gran Teatre del Liceu is one of the most important opera houses in all of Europe and one of the most impressive sights of the city. Since its opening on La Rambla in 1847, it has been a cultural, artistic, and political hub for Catalonia. The theater was originally opened as a music conservatory and performance venue for students. It was kept up by private shareholders as opposed to government or monarchy for many years. It survived a major fire in 1994, after which the building was fully restored, updated, and transferred to public ownership. The original foyer, staircase, and main facade are still intact.
The theater is a major venue for classical music, opera, and dance in Barcelona. Many of the world’s most famous opera singers have performed on its stage. Its beautiful interior is worth seeing even if you’re unable to attend a show.
If you haven’t heard of Barcelona’s Plaça de Sant Jaume, then its City Hall — called the Casa de la Ciutat, in Catalan — should give you reason to pay this square a visit. The headquarters for local government, the building features a grand façade, which dates back to 1847, and an open-once-weekly interior that you’ll be keen to fit into your travel schedule.
That’s because behind its commanding but relatively simple exterior, there are some pretty exquisite treasures discover, such as the building’s medieval-style 14th-century Saló de Cent, and its mural-covered Hall of Chronicles. The plaza itself is pretty noteworthy too, as this was once the site of the Roman forum, and is also home to the Palau de la Generalitat de Catalunya (the seat of Catalan government), whose dome-topped building sits just opposite City Hall.
Get closer to Barcelona’s vibrant art scene by perusing the masterpieces of one its most famous artists, Antoni Tapies. Born in Barcelona, Tapies specialized in contemporary art that was dominated by social themes. His work, which was influenced by the likes of fellow Catalan artist Joan Miro, is imaginative and abstract, employing elements beyond just paint and canvas but also rags, paper and other scraps.
Founded by Tapies himself, the foundation serves to promote and provide education around contemporary art. While there, you can explore a collection of his creations, an impressive library, as well as revolving exhibitions by other artists. The building itself is a work of art too: Constructed in the late 1800s, it was considered a pioneer of Modernisme architecture. Meanwhile, you won’t be able to miss the cloud-and-chair sculpture that tops it, which is meant to represent meditative attitude and aesthetic contemplation.
Plaça de Sant Jaume’s Palau de la Generalitat de Catalunya is much more than just a building with a pretty neoclassical façade: this is the seat of the Catalan government, from where 100 presidents have governed. Constructed between the 15th and 17th centuries, the building is a symbol of Catalan perseverance, having stood the test of time through many historic challenges.
It’s not just special because of its history, either. Apart from the attractive dome-topped exterior, its interior is perhaps even more impressive. It features a Gothic chapel, elaborate ceremonial halls, loads of paintings and sculptures, and a sunlight-filled Courtyard of Orange Trees, or Pati dels Tarongers — among other Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance elements.
Many come to Barcelona to see the structures of the city designed by famous architect Antoni Gaudi, with his distinct vision and trademark use of intricate mosaics (called trencadis.) Not many get to learn about the process and create their own mosaics, which is where the Mosaiccos workshop comes in. With classes and activities suited for all ages, participants learn the technique, choose their design, and then craft a unique handmade souvenir. The most popular workshop is called the “Gaudi Experience,” which allows visitors to not only see but create the art itself.
There is also a shop on site with unique gifts all crafted in this broken tile and glass style. Culturally decorative mosaics have been a tradition for more than 1,000 years. It’s a hands-on way to experience the distinctive design and style that has shaped the city of Barcelona.
One of the most popular districts in Barcelona’s Cuitat Vella, or Old City, La Ribera is a charming maze of streets at the forefront of the city’s design, entertainment and fashion trends, earning itself the nickname ‘Barcelona’s SoHo’. Located just east of the central Barri Gotic area and encompassing the historic sub-neighborhood of El Born and the picturesque Parc de la Ciutadella, La Ribera is one of the city’s hottest destinations, teeming with intimate cafés, bijou bars and traditional restaurants.
A number of key architectural masterpieces lie in La Ribera, most notably the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Palau de la Musica Catalana, a modernist marvel designed by architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner and the domineering Gothic Santa Maria del Mar, or St Mary of the Sea Cathedral, built in the 12th century by Berenguer de Montagut and renowned as one of the country’s finest examples of Catalan Gothic architecture.
One of Barcelona’s coolest neighborhoods, the student and art quarter of Gràcia showcases a different side to the city, with its laid-back bars and restaurants, and traditional Catalonian feel. Connected to the city by the Passeig de Gràcia, the residential area is popular among those looking to rent cheap accommodation on the outskirts of the city and a number of travelers escape to Gràcia to sample the city’s most bohemian haunts.
Placa del Sol is at the heart of Gràcia, where clusters of tapas bars and terrace restaurants serve up an array of traditional Catalan cuisine, but the area is most famous for the Parc Güell, one of the city’s most celebrated parks. The iconic gardens perched on the hill of El Carmel were designed by Antoni Gaudi between 1900-1914 and form a key part of Barcelona’s UNESCO World Heritage listed ‘Works of Antoni Gaudi’.
Whether you like your animals fluffy or ferocious, they’ll be something that fits the bill at the Barcelona Zoo, one of the city’s most family friendly attractions, spread over 14 hectares within the Parc de la Ciutadella. Over 7,000 animals and 400 different species call the zoo home, with everything from dolphins to rhinoceros living in quarters that mimic their natural habitats.
Since opening its gates in 1892 to showcase the private fauna collection of Lluís Martí, the zoo has expanded its scope to include dedicated breeding programs and preservation work with species under threat of extinction. The zoo’s most famous resident, Snowflake – the world’s only known albino gorilla – sadly died in 2003, but there are plenty of other creatures large and small to entertain the crowds. Bornean organutans, a Sumatran tiger, a giant anteater, hippopotamuses, giraffes, elephants, flamingos and even miniature Shetland ponies all call the zoo home.
Barcelona's Aquarium is one of the largest in Europe and boasts one of the most impressive collections of Mediterranean sealife in the world. You will marvel at the sharks and other creatures swimming above their heads as they walk through the glass tunnels that give a unique view of the animals. You will also have the opportunity to pet a stingray at the touch pool and get an upclose look at nearly 8,000 fish through the floor-to-ceiling glass displays.
A highlight of the aquarium is the Planeta Aqua (Water Planet) exhibit, which features animals, such as the crowd-favorite penguins, that have adapted to changing climates over time. There are also mini aquariums set up throughout the building to allow visitors to appreciate the amazing small details of the ocean's flora and fauna that tend to get lost in the bigger tanks.
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