Spain's most vibrant city is a fiery mix of Catalan culture, stunning Gaudi architecture, vibrant nightlife, plus cafes, tapas bars and people happily enjoying the vibrant street life.
With its rich mix of architecture, art and culture, you could spend many a happy holiday exploring the bustling city streets. There's art on every street corner, literally built into the buildings, plus world famous shopping, hundreds of local tapas bars where you can enjoy a glass of something chilled and taste the delicacies Spain is famous for. With its impressive architecture, including the wide, tree lined boulevards of other city districts, the city of Barcelona is an impressive offering from every angle.
There are some things no one should miss on a trip to Barcelona; the Museu Picasso or Salvador Dali museum, tapas, Gaudi's playful architecture including the Sagrada Familia, pintxos or vermouth. And here are some others you won't want to miss:
- Climb the Montjuic Mountain, explore the Olympic Park and get great skyline views
- Hit Las Ramblas, Barcelona's main street and watch the many entertainers perform
- Take a dip in the Mediterranean and enjoy over four kilometres of city beach
- Catch some fiery and traditional flamenco dancing.
Home to the original Roman foundations of the city, the Gothic Quarter is a maze of cobbled streets surrounded by towering walls dating back to the 1st Century AD. When you're wandering the streets don't forget to look up, or you'll miss some of the best bits. For the best views of the city, head for the rooftops - the Catedral de Barcelona has some of the more impressive views and is also fascinating in itself.
Highlights of this central district include the Placa Reial, a bustling city square located off the main strip, Las Ramblas. It's a great place to head for a rest after sightseeing and to watch the locals go about their daily business. You'll find plenty of options for eating and drinking. Don't miss the Mercado de la Boqueria nearby, one of the city's best known and biggest food markets, selling a delicious range of local delicacies.
Central to the area, and linking through to the wider boulevards of Eixample to the north, is the Plaça de Catalunya, a large and impressive square bordered by the Apple store, the Hard Rock Cafe and the famous Spanish department store, El Corte Inglés. See the impressive light display in the evenings and use the square as a focus point when trying to navigate your way around the city.
Barrio Gòtico Barcelona is a place to combine time travel with carefree hedonism.
North of the Placa de Catalunya, Eixample translates as 'extension', referencing its status as a newer part of the city (it was designed and built in the 1850s, so newer is relative), but expect wide open boulevards and tree lined streets. Helpfully the area was laid out in a grid system, which makes it easy to navigate and find where you are and where you want to get to.
Today it's home to the majority of Barcelona's art-nouveau masterpieces as well as a high class residential and shopping area. Head to the Passeig de Gracia for some of the best in Spanish and global brands. Look out for some of Gaudi's more famous buildings and apartment blocks, including Casa Mila, Casa Lleó Morera, Casa Batlló and the world famous Sagrada Familia. They're bright, modernist and colourful so you won't miss them.
If you're looking for somewhere to eat or places to stay, you won't be short of options in this part of the city, with a wide variety to cater for all tastes and budgets.
Sants-Montjuїc is a great place to explore away from the tourist crowds.
A highlight is the Olympic Park and village built for the 1992 games. Perched on top of the hill overlooking the city, enjoy spectacular views out into the Mediterranean and back towards the inland foothills surrounding the city. Ride the cable car to the top and explore other great attractions including the Poble Espagnol (Spanish village), the Joan Miro museum and the famous Mies van der Rohe Pavilion, designed by the famous architect and a great example of Bauhaus architecture. The Palau Nacional (National Palace) also offers over 1,000 years of Catalan art.
The main site of the Olympic Games was the Olympic ring, which houses the Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys, Arata Izosaki's sports palace, the Palau Sant Jordi, and the telecommunications tower designed by Santiago Calatrava. Nearby is the unmissable Botanical Gardens where you can explore the Parc de Montjuïc.
The Barceloneta is a triangular spit of land that borders the Gothic Quarter, the harbour and the blue waters of the Mediterannean. On one side you'll find Port Vell, sandy beaches on the other. The neighbourhood was built around a military grid structure to provide accommodation for the former inhabitants of La Ribera who had lost their homes due to the construction of the main city.
Once the home of fishermen, people involved with the fishing industry and the metal industry, it's now one of the city's most visited and popular districts. In 1988, in pre-Olympic days, the decision was taken to demolish the old beachfront restaurants, known as xiringuitos, and public baths, heralding a process of opening the city up to the sea and the modernisation of an area which now offers first-class beaches as the main attraction for its visitors.
With its beaches full of young people and visiting tourists as well as being home to rows of restaurants and bars, the area still manages to maintain a traditional charm with locals sitting in their chairs enjoying the fresh air and narrow balconies with clothes drying in the sun.
Gràcia and Park Güell
Once an independent town, Gràcia is now part of Barcelona, but has retained its unique personality and customs. The neighbourhood is made up of narrow bustling streets, squares and terrace cafes where locals meet. You'll also find time-honoured bars, restaurants and shops that have been joined by cutting edge fashion boutiques and leisure attractions.
Park Güell is undoubtedly one of Gràcia's most important tourist attractions. One of Antoni Gaudí's masterpieces, Park Güell is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a must-see on any visit to Barcelona. Originally commisioned by Eusebi Güell, the project became the property of Barcelona's City Council and is now a vibrant and colourful public park where the architecture is gracefully integrated into natural surroundings.
The district of Sant Martí stretches from the lower part of the old town, Ciutat Vella, and the Eixample, to the river Besós and showcases the most recent transformation of the city and its seafront.
This area brings together highly interesting architectural and historical landmarks that also tell us about the past and the future, such as the former factories that have been converted into cultural facilities and modern buildings, and those in the waterfront area, the Forum, and 22@, where world-class architects such as Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, Jean Nouvel, Enric Maasip-Bosch, Enric Ruiz-Geli, Dominique Perrault and David Chipperfield have made their mark.
As you walk through the neighbourhoods, you'll see how Barcelona's industrial past has left its imprint and is enjoying a surprising modernity that blends in harmoniously with new parks and green areas. These include the Parc del Clot and the Parc del Centre del Poblenou, which was designed by Jean Nouvel, or splendid beaches reclaimed for the city for the 1992 Olympic Games, such as the ones at the Olympic Village.
If you need a holiday from your holiday, or just want to explore more of this stunning coastline, take a train 30 minutes south to the cute beach town of Sitges. It's a popular weekend escape for Barcelona's young and has a popular and colourful gay community. Long, golden beaches are full during the day and early evening as revellers enjoy the most of the sunshine, before heading home to change and get ready for dinner, drinks and a full evening's entertainment. The town is well worth visiting, it's a mix of meandering laneways and open promenades along the ocean front where you can enjoy an evening spritz and fresh seafood.
From the airport
There are a variety of transport options from Barcelona airport to the city centre (Plaça de Catalunya). All of them are a reliable, efficient and clean means of transport, and they all take more or less the same length of time.
Taxi's are a low cost and convenient way of getting to of from the airport, especially with a family or lots of luggage. There's a taxi rank outside Terminals 1, 2 and they operate all night. you'll often see queues of them so you don't have to worry about not being able to get one. It should take 20-30 minutes depending on traffic and should be around €25-30.
The RENFE train service runs approximately every 30 minutes to and from Barcelona airport to the city centre. Travel time is approximately 25 minutes. If travelling from the airport to the city centre you can get off at Barcelona Sants, Passeig de Gràcia or Clot which are serviced by metro stops. From these you can change for the Barcelona metro metro underground system to go to your final destination. Please note that the metro is different to the RENFE and does not run directly to the airport.
You could choose to start your holiday with a touch of luxury and enjoy a private transfer to your hotel or next destination.
In and around the city
The best way to see Barcelona is on foot, where you can take in the majestic architecture and watch the locals looking stylish and chic. Plus if you see a little bar or restaurant that takes your fancy you can stop in and enjoy the best of the city.
The best way to get around the city if you need to go longer distances is by metro. There are metro stations every few streets so you'll never be far if you get tired of walking. The lines will link you to all the major tourist destinations and will probably whisk you there quicker than a taxi depending on the traffic. Buy a Hola BCN! travel card which gives you unlimited journeys over two to five days.
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