By Marcia Levin
For most visitors to Barcelona, the number-one sight in town is the iconic Antonio Gaudi-designed, Sagrada Familia (Sacred Family Basilica).
Work on the amazing and beautiful building began in 1882 and was unfinished when Gaudi died in 1926. Over the ensuing decades, however, many architects have continued to contribute to the magnificent work and although it is still a work in progress it is also one of the most photographed churches in all of Europe. (Note that if you plan to visit the Basilica, book tickets in advance or be prepared to stand on long lines).
While many other architectural delights dot Barcelona – some Gaudi designed, others equally as lovely – buildings are not the only notable highlights of this very cosmopolitan city, the second largest in Spain.
The capital of the Spanish province of Catalonia, Barcelona is a graceful and beautiful seaside metropolis with one of the nicest climates in Europe.
Outdoor activities tempt on great beaches and in lovely hills and mountains right outside the city. The latter include the well-known World Heritage Park Guell, and Montjuic Park, the old Olympics site, first developed in 1929 and used again for many Olympic events during the 1992 games in Barcelona.
Montjuic was originally a fortress and during Spanish Civil War executions of both Nationalists and Republicans took place there, depending who controlled the mountain at the time.
High on a list for art aficionados is the outstanding Museo Picasso, the only Picasso museum created during the artist’s lifetime. Although born in Malaga, Picasso chose Barcelona as the site of the museum because of his lifelong association with the city.
Opened in 1963, it is housed in a sprawling medieval mansion on a twisting, narrow street. Although it is not very important-looking on the outside, it definitely should not be missed since it offers an encyclopedic insight to the artist and his work. It contains close to 4,000 pieces, many which have not been exhibited elsewhere.
Other Barcelona museums include one dedicated to maritime history and another to erotica.
There are dozens of walking tours you can take throughout Barcelona, one of the most popular being a stroll down Las Ramblas, the main pedestrian thoroughfare that stretches from the Plaça de Catalunya to the harbor, a distance of less than a mile. It is a colorful entertainment area with restaurants, shops and clubs that are relatively safe during daylight hours although nighttime visits are not recommended.
Another popular walking tour is through the Gothic Quarter, which is a fantastic trip back in time and wonderful place to savor Barcelona’s history. It contains many areas and monuments of religion and majesty, some dating back to Roman times, but many others medieval.
Although it’s not on Las Ramblas, don’t miss the notable and beautiful Palau de la Musica Catalonia. The World Heritage site theater is absolutely charming and a unique photo op. Try to book a musical performance while in town.
Day Tripping Out of Town
Art lovers can also visit the Dali Museum on the Costa Brava north of Barcelona to view works of the foremost surrealist of the 20th century, once considered both outrageous and eccentric. The whimsical museum, located in the town of Figueres, Dali’s birthplace, is fascinating.
You can reach Figueres and the museum on the Catalunya Bus Turistic, a comfortable and relatively inexpensive way to reach the museum. The daylong tour (approximately $75 if booked online) also includes a visit to Girona where the Jewish Museum is located, a recreation of an ancient settlement.
Catalonian Cuisine is special, a wonderful fusion of Italian, French, Iberian and Arabic culinary traditions. It is so special, in fact, that it is being considered by UNESCO for inclusion on its List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
There is no better place to experience the wonderful cuisine of Catalonia than Barcelona, the city with the most Michelin-starred restaurants in Spain, 23 in all. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that dining in Barcelona is expensive since you’ll find wonderful meals available in restaurants at all price points.
Local products, from both land and the sea, are its basis. Try fideua (paella with shrimps, crawfish and chicken, sweet peppers and tomatoes, but with noodles instead of rice), faves ofegades (haricot beans with black and white Catalan sausage and green peas), coca de recapte (delicious pastry with vegetables and salted sardines) and mariscada (crawfish and shrimps fried with garlic and olive oil) among many other delights.
In fact, Catalonian Cuisine is so special that even though I cook infrequently at home, I took a cooking class in Barcelona.
If you go:
Tourist Office of Spain
Catalan Tourist Board