TOP 5 THINGS TO DO IN BARCELONA
Barcelona doesn’t stop for a breath. It is a vibrant city bustling with life and energy. It hosts many beautiful contrasts as gothic churches mix with Antoni Gaudí’s modernistic architectural creations and located just footsteps away are the beach, great restaurants, bars and nightclubs. During peak Summer season, it lives up to the hype of being the Spanish tourism success story. In 2016 it was estimated there were 32 million visitors, judging by my time there I would think this year looks to be equally as impressive.
My Top 5 Things To Do
1. Las Ramblas
Barcelona’s most famous street is an open-air boulevard set between two narrow roads flanked by trees that create a leafy canopy above. You will be lucky to find a quiet moment of peace on the stretch, as it is usually crowded with masses of people almost around the clock. The best way to describe Las Ramblas is a sensory overload. The street is lined with stalls selling everything from souvenirs, jewellery, clothing, flowers and naughty vegetable seeds alongside streets performers, buskers and the masses of tourists soaking it all in – all of whom together contribute to the ever-changing scene. I found myself returning to this street almost every day, splitting up the middle of Barcelona means you can’t help but continually come across it. While you are in the area be sure to step off the street and into Plaça Reial. To me, this square was almost like a slice of Cuba in Barcelona with stunning 19th Century neoclassical architecture, palm trees and of course of touch of Gaudi with his lampposts – his first known work in the city. Secondly, pop into Barcelona’s most famous food market La Boqueria, which history dates back to 1217. You won’t walk out of this venue hungry with a host of fruit, vegetable, seafood, meat, cheese and sweet stands to tempt your taste buds.
2. The Rest Of The Gothic Quarter
The El Raval, El Barri Gotic and La Ribera areas sit side by side and in many ways showcase the true magic of Barcelona. The quintessential labyrinth of cobbled backstreets lined with shops, bars and restaurants, intricate Catalan gothic architecture and a rich history. Some buildings date back to medieval times, and others even go back to the Roman Period. In La Ribera you will find a little of everything including high-end shopping but be sure not to miss Museu Picasso, the stunning 14th century Gothic Basílica de Santa Maria del Mar and the World Heritage site and Modernista concert hall Palau de la Música Catalana – the colourful curved stain glass ceiling is truly stunning and shouldn’t be missed! When wandering through El Raval be sure to make a stop at Chök for a sweet treat, their chocolate covered and filled cookies (piruchöks) were beyond delicious.
3. All Things Gaudi
Very few cities are so greatly defined by their architecture as what Barcelona is, especially from just one man. Antoni Gaudí has left his mark on this city, with Barcelona forming a real-life portfolio of his vision and creative genius.
His most famous icon, the Sagrada Familia is one of the most unusual churches I have ever seen. A mighty construction that is still a work-in-progress 130 years after building began, when it is finished the highest tower will be more than half as high again as the current towers. On the inside the roof is held up by a forest of angled pillars, each branches out close to the ceiling top to creating a web of supporting branches and the effect of a forest canopy. The intricate and large quantity of multi-coloured stain glass windows floods misty colour and light through the entire church. For a stunning view over Barcelona go to new heights in the Passion or Nativity towers, we went up the Nativity Tower by lift but you can only come down via the tight spiral of stairs so be prepared for a walk! Don’t forget to pre-book your ticket online for this one, it is the most visited attraction in Spain.
Next stop, Casa Batllo. A residential building known as the House of the Dragon or House of Bones due to its façade which is covered in a mosaic of blues, greens and purples and boney curved balconies. On a sunny day, the shimmer on the tiles makes the building appear to be a breathing beast. Finally, La Pedrera keeps in the tradition of natural shapes but has an uneven grey stone façade. The roof of this building is a stunning space with its giant chimney pots and more mosaic areas. Gaudí’s eye for intricate details, colour and sense of natural shapes in his design reigns true through these landmarks and give off a sense of inspiration and creativity that is difficult to ignore.
4. The Northern Side + Park Güell
On the northern side of the city, you will find L’Eixample and Gràcia, a middle ground linking the old city and the suburbs. This area is the home to youthful bohemians, artists and young families so wandering the streets here you will find more of a village feeling and far fewer tourists. Discover well-worn cafes, bars and local and multicultural eateries in small squares or narrow back streets which are perfect for a lunchtime stop off before hiking up to Park Güell. Keep a lookout for Carrer de Verdi, Plaça de la Vila de Gràcia, Plaçade de la Revolució and Plaça de la Virreina.
Park Güell is an intricately detailed playground, where the imagination can run wild. There are multiple areas to cover off so be prepared for a long but beautiful walk through the Monumental Zone and the many different styles of architecture and landscaping the area has to offer. My favourite areas were the Nature Square for its beautiful views down over Barcelona and mosaicked curving seats, in the Hypostyle Room for its theatrical columns and stunning mosaic ceiling and the Monumental Flight of Steps with its dramatic entrance to the park and colourful dragon. It is difficult not to be inspired by the beauty of this park. Access per day is limited so ensure you book your tickets online in advance to avoid a broken heart.
5. The Beach
Since the 1992 Olympics Barcelona has had a major facelift on its waterfront areas. Wander through Port Vell and La Barceloneta and spend some time soaking up the Barcelonan beach culture. Here you will find a mix of bohemian beach babes riding their skateboards to the locals riding their bikes and muscle men showing off their skills on the outdoor gym equipment. It’s like the Venice Beach of Spain. Enjoy a few drinks on the beach, swim, sun bake, walk the boardwalk and if your heart desires even get into a game of volleyball. Stop in for a bite to eat at my favourite burger place on the beach front, Bacoa. I also loved Makamaka, which was more towards Port Vell for afternoon cocktails or dinner. If you want to party the night away you may find yourself back at the beach as it is home to clubs such as Pacha, Opium and alike.