Barcelona travel guide
The enchanting city of Barcelona is a visual delight, and has an atmosphere that combines elegance and sophistication with provincial charm. In exploring its streets you'll discover medieval romance in its Gothic quarter and the awe-inspiring delights of the fantastic and sometimes outrageous Art Nouveau architecture of Gaudi and his contemporaries.
The funicular up to Tibidabo, or the cable car up Montjuic, both offer breathtaking views over this attractive city. Its skyline is perhaps most famous for Antoni Gaudi's masterwork, the still incomplete church of the Sagrada Familia, as well as the city's huge Gothic cathedral. The artistic legacy of Barcelona is one of the city's most appealing attributes, with museums containing extensive collections of the works of Miro and Picasso. Barcelona is also a shopper's paradise, with the city's flair for style reflected in its numerous boutiques and markets, open late into the evenings. As the sun sets, and the city's many bars and restaurants open, the night truly comes alive. Dinner is served at any time between nine o'clock and midnight, and the festivities around the bars and nightclubs carry on well into the early hours of the morning.
Barcelona is the commercial centre of the popular holiday region known as the Costa Brava, the northernmost Mediterranean seafront in Spain, as well as the Costa Dorada to the south. The coast is dotted with popular resort towns, many retaining their age-old charm, which can be easily reached from the city.
Arguably the most famous street in Europe, the wide tree-lined boulevard known as La Rambla (or Las Ramblas), is a long continuous pedestrian avenue that technically changes names five times as it cuts through Barcelona's Old Town, the Barri Gotic, from the Placa Catalunya to the city's port. It is lined with cafes, restaurants and shops, and is usually thronged with leisurely walkers enjoying the sights and sounds. While simply walking around, people watching, and breathing in the atmosphere, is worthwhile, there are also some notable attractions along the way. The sprawling marriage of nature and creative architecture and ornamentation that is Gaudi's Guell Park is a must. The pretty square of Placa Reial, enclosed by impressive buildings and promising some fantastic restaurants and nightclubs, is a popular social venue and sometimes hosts concerts and live performances. Also look out for the iconic mosaic by Joan Miro as you walk over it, near the Liceu Theatre. The street is wonderful for shopping and attracts all sorts of buskers and street artists. It is a great area to visit at night, but travellers should note that the southern end of La Rambla becomes somewhat seedy after dark and is a sort of unofficial red light district.
On Carrer Montcada, a street known for its elegant medieval structures, five palaces or town houses, dating from the 13th to 15th centuries, have been converted into the Picasso Museum, home to one of the most complete collections of works from his youth and formative years as an artist. Pablo Picasso spent his early years in Barcelona (between 1901 and 1906), and the museum is now one of the city's top attractions. It was Picasso's wish that his youthful work would be displayed in Barcelona and the core of the collection was donated by the artist himself. The permanent collection now consists of 4,249 works and the art is complemented interestingly by the old buildings, which showcase the Catalan Gothic style. The collection includes a number of childhood portraits and paintings, as well as engravings, drawings and art from his Blue and Rose Periods. It is important for visitors to understand that this museum does not house Picasso's most famous and recognisable pieces, but is dedicated instead to an exploration of the artist's formative years and development. Audio guides are available. The queues can get really long at the museum and it is best to arrive early or book in advance online.
Address: 15-23 Montcada Street
Transport: Metro to Jaume l, Liceu or Arc de Triomf stations; bus 17, 40 or 45 to Via Laietana or Jaume I bus stops, bus 39 or 51 to Passeig Picasso stop
Opening time: Open Tuesday to Sunday from 10am to 8pm.
Barcelona's famous architectural son, Antonio Gaudi, left his mark on the city nowhere more prominently than in the gardens of the Parc Guell. The park, sited on Camel Hill and offering splendid views of the city, was originally planned to be a garden city suburb, but only two houses were completed before it was turned into a public recreational park. The gardens are festooned with examples of Gaudi's strange and mesmerising work, including flights of stairs, columns and a plaza decorated with mosaics. Famous features include Gaudi's dragon, a mosaic lizard straddling two staircases which is frequently replicated in souvenir stores, and the Sala Hipostila, or Doric Temple, which is a forest of 88 stone columns. Gaudi enjoyed experimenting with natural forms in his art and the park is a fascinating mixture of art and nature. The pink fairytale house standing at the entrance to the park was once home to Gaudi and his niece, but is now a museum containing some Gaudi-designed furniture, décor, drawings and portraits of the architect. Guided walking tours of the park are available and usually very informative, but it is enjoyable to stroll around without a guide too. To fully explore the park at your leisure you will need at least half a day - don't forget the camera!
Transport: 20 minutes walk from Lesseps Metro stop, or bus 24 from Placa de Catalunya drops you outside the main entrance
Opening time: Open daily from 10am to 7pm (closing times may vary depending on the season)
La Sagrada Familia
One of Catalonia's most intriguing landmarks, the bizarre Church of the Holy Family, designed by modernist architect Antoni Gaudi, was started in 1882, but remains unfinished and an object of controversy. Gaudi worked on what was considered his masterpiece until his death in 1926, imbuing the structure with his characteristic Art Nouveau style and creating a unique new interpretation of the Gothic architectural tradition. Work has continued sporadically since, but although Gaudi had models and plans for the completed church these were mostly destroyed during the Spanish Civil War, and plans for completion have been disputed since. The extraordinary building is a UNESCO World Heritage Site despite being incomplete, and is fascinating even to those who don't find it beautiful. The church has been consecrated and is used for religious services. When it is complete it will have 18 towers and is expected to be the tallest church in the world. The anticipated date of completion is 2026 - the centenary of Gaudi's death - but this may prove ambitious. The two completed facades of the church, the Nativity Facade and the Passion Facade, are very different but both incredible, and the roof of the nave is one of the most stunning features. Visiting the church is an absolute must for travellers in Barcelona.
Address: 401 Calle Mallorca
Transport: Metro to Sagrada Familia stop
Opening time: Daily from 9am to 6pm. Opening times may change to accommodate events.
Montjuic is a hill overlooking the city centre of Barcelona on which are situated some of the city's show-pieces, including the main sites of the 1992 Olympics; the Poble Espanyol (a replicated Spanish village displaying art and architecture); the Joan Miro museum; and the National Art Museum of Catalonia. The hill has been the site of several fortifications over the centuries and the most recent of these, the Castle of Montjuic, dating from the 17th century, is still standing. The castle is now home to the Military Museum as well as the Museum of Comics and Illustration. There are also some leisure attractions and cool green parks festooned with fountains, popular for strolls on summer evenings. The magical fountains of Montjuic are a popular attraction that entertain on summer evenings with displays of light, colour and music. Accessible by cable car from Montjuic, the Barceloneta port district is below the hill; the eastern side of the hill is sheer, providing glorious views over the city's harbour, directly below. The former fishing village that is now the port is renowned for its seafood restaurants and beach, which is lined with boardwalks and cafes. Those who want the exercise should walk up the grand staircase which begins at the foot of Montjuic, at the south end of the Avinguda de la Reina Maria Cristina, and ends at the Palau Nacional, passing a number of historic buildings.
Barcelona's second landmark hill is Tibidabo, about four miles (6km) northwest of the city in a wooded range that forms a backdrop to the urban landscape. Tibidabo can be reached by funicular - the journey up is half the fun, with spectacular views - and is particularly popular on weekends with locals because it is home to the Parc d'Atraccions, an amusement park with some thrill rides and a renowned house of horrors. Tibidabo also features the soaring Torre de Collserola telecommunications tower, which offers visitors the chance to ride in a glass lift to an observation platform 377 feet (115m) high to enjoy a truly phenomenal view. There is also a large, interesting church called Temple del Sagrat Cor surmounted by a giant Christ statue, which also offers a lift to a rooftop viewing platform. The Carretera des Aigues trail is perfect for keen walkers who want to climb the hill on their own steam. It is an easy walk, which only takes about an hour, starting from the base of the funicular and ending at the church. There are a number of restaurants to enjoy on the hill. Tibidabo provides theme park fun, cultural attractions and much more, as well as offering the best views possible of Barcelona.
La Pedrera (Casa Mila)
Another fantastic construction by the creative genius Antonio Gaudi, Casa Mila, commonly known as La Pedrera, was the last civil work that Gaudi undertook before dedicating all his time to the assembly of La Sagrada Família. The building is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and demonstrates the signature style of Gaudi with elaborate designs, globular shapes, assorted sculptures, colourful tiles and intricate details. Built between 1906 and 1912, the distinct architecture of La Pedrera and her counterparts was unconventional and unheard of in the popular Spanish architecture of the time. The remarkable building is now a cultural centre that organises a range of activities and hosts exhibitions of various kinds. Areas open to visitors include: the roof, providing lovely views and a close look at the weird and wonderful architectural elements on top of the building; the Espai Gaudi, an attic space dedicated to an exhibition on Gaudi's life and work; the La Pedrera Apartment, an area that recreates the home and lifestyle of a bourgeois Barcelona family in the early 20th century; and the spectacular courtyards and exhibition rooms of the first floor. Guided tours are available, in multiple languages, but these must be arranged in advance.
Address: 92 Paseo de Gracia
Transport: Diagonal metro station
Opening time: Daily 9am to 6.30pm (4 November to 28 February); daily 9am to 8pm (1 March to 3 November).
Known as the Gothic Quarter, the Barri Gòtic is Barcelona's oldest district. A former fortified Roman settlement, the maze of atmospheric narrow streets house spectacular Gothic buildings and cathedrals, marking the city's heyday during the 14th and 15th centuries. There are many significant sights to visit in this quarter, the most illustrious being the immense Gothic Cathedral La Seu, with its breathtaking façade and serene cloister. With an assortment of shops and delightful sidewalk cafés in a picturesque setting, the Barri Gòtic is a worthwhile day out. To view the remains of this ancient Roman city, once known as Barcino, visit the Museu d'Història de la Ciutat in the Palau Real, where Roman streets are still visible in the extensive cellar. There has been some controversy over the authenticity of the Gothic Quarter, as many of the district's most attractive features were actually added, in the Gothic style, in the last century, to promote tourism and restore the appeal of the area; however, it is a delightful district to explore and much of it is, or certainly feels, authentic. Most of the area is closed to regular traffic and largely pedestrianised, which adds to its charm, but taxis and some service vehicles are still allowed to traverse the quarter.
Transport: Lines 1 and 3 to Catalunya metro station
FC Barcelona Museum and Stadium
FC Barcelona, one of Europe's most beloved football teams, has an informative museum with displays of photographs, documents, memorabilia and trophies, covering over a century of club history, that will satiate the fascination of even the most dedicated fan. Visitors also get the opportunity to explore the famous stadium on the Camp Nou Tour which takes fans to the heart of the club, the changing rooms, tunnel and Nou Camp pitch. With a panoramic view of the stadium from the grandstand, visitors can get a taste of the heady atmosphere of a FC Barcelona match on their home ground. The museum also has an official store where club jerseys, caps and accessories can be purchased. Be sure to check the tour schedule as game days do disrupt the timetable. It is actually best not to make your visit on a game day because some parts of the stadium will be restricted and you may miss out. Exploring the stadium allows fans to make informed decisions about which seats to book if they are attending a game. If you are lucky you may well see some of the FC Barcelona players in the complex. There are discounts for booking online via the official website listed below.
Address: Avenida Arístides Maillol
Transport: Line 3 metro to Maria Cristina
Opening time: Open from Monday to Saturday 10am-6:30pm (till 8pm from 6 April to 4 October). Open on Sundays and public holidays 10am-2:30pm. Tours not available on days of league and Champions league matches, but the museum is still open until 3pm.
Joan Miro Foundation
A celebration of the life and work of world-renowned Catalan surrealist sculptor and painter Joan Miró, the Joan Miró Foundation in Barcelona houses the majority of the artist's works, including paintings, drawings, sculptures and textiles. Distinguished by his use of primary colours, simple lines and two-dimensional geometric shapes, Miro refused to be categorised into an established art movement and as a result continued to create unparalleled works of art. Another product of original artistic genius from Barcelona, the works of Miró at the Joan Miró Foundation allow visitors to further delve into the unrestrained creative energy of this exceptional city. The building housing the collection was designed by Josep Lluis Sert and is unique and odd, an appropriate shell for the works of Joan Miro. The museum hosts a wide variety of temporary exhibitions by other artists, aiming to promote contemporary art in general, rather than just the work of Miro, and also hosts some workshops and lectures. As an added bonus there are some fantastic views across the city from the museum. Tickets can be booked online via the official website and audio guides can be rented, which are a big help in understanding and interpreting the art.
Address: Parc de Montjuic
Transport: Funiculer from Paral-lel metro station, or Parc Montjuic bus 50, 55 or 193.
Opening time: Open Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 7pm (October to June) and 10am to 8pm (July to September); open Sundays and holidays from 10am to 2.30pm. Closed on Mondays.
Homenatge a la Barcelonetaby Rebecca Horn. Windsurfing and kite surfing are popular activities on this always bustling beach. The end of Barceloneta and the beginning of Icaria Beach is marked by Frank Gehry's Peix. Marbella Beach is unofficially Barcelona's nudist beach, but although nudity is tolerated many people choose to keep their clothes on. Marbella is also frequented by gay and lesbian sun worshippers and sometimes hosts energetic beach parties. For a peaceful beach near the city centre look no further than Caldetes which is invariably almost empty. Although the famous Barceloneta strip is the most entertaining, the best beaches are further out of the city: St Pol de Mar is an hour-long train ride from the city centre, but it is arguably Barcelona's most scenic beach, backed by picturesque hills and with a lovely little cove that has become a nudist zone.
Transport: A twenty minute walk from La Ramblas or Barceloneta metro station, line 4
Museum of Contemporary Art
The Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art is situated in the once-shabby Raval District, just off La Rambla. Over the years its front plaza has become synonymous with international skateboarders, being fondly known as the famous MACBA, drawing skaters and creatives from around the world to unite, compete and collaborate against the backdrop of this chic white building. Being a work of art in itself, the Museum of Contemporary Art was designed to take advantage of as much natural light as possible and the cool, airy interiors confidently hold the works of modern art luminaries such as Basquiat, Klee, Tàpies and Barcelò. Kids will enjoy the museum as there is a lot to touch and interact with - this is not your usual uptight gallery space. The museum has also made great use of technology, with an exhibition that allows visitors to download mobile apps which give additional information on each installation, even linking to YouTube clips about the artist of work of art. There is free wifi in MACBA and a comfy chill-out zone in which to take advantage of it. A perfect union of two art forms, MACBA and the attendant throng of talented skateboarders are a sight to be experienced.
Address: 1 Plaza dels Angels
Transport: Within walking distance La Ramblas and metro station Universitat or Catalunya
Opening time: 25 September to 24 June: 11am to 7.30pm Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday; 10am to 9pm Saturday; 10am to 3pm Sunday; closed Tuesdays. 25 June to 24 September: 11am to 8pm Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday; 10am to 8pm Saturday; 10am to 3pm Sunday; closed Tuesdays.
Parc de La Ciutadella
Located in the centre of Barcelona, the Parc de La Ciutadella is a great place to spend a sunny summer's afternoon relaxing under a tree with a book, a picnic and the family. Originally the site was chosen for a fortress in 1714, but in 1869 it was decided that the area should be a park and the palace was demolished. Featuring a lake where visitors can hire a small rowboat, exploring the park and being out on the water is a fun way to unwind. The paths for walking, jogging and cycling are wide and well-maintained, and there are plenty of park benches and shady areas. There are some interesting sculptures dotted about the park and some striking buildings. The Cascada is a giant water feature designed by Fontsere with some help from his student Gaudi. The Catalan Parliament building is in the park, as is the Barcelona Zoo and the Castle of Three Dragons, which now houses the Zoological Museum. The Geology Museum, housed in an imposing neoclassical building, can also be found in La Ciutadella. The enormous, red triumphal arch, Baroque in design, marks one entrance to the park. Apart from being one of the best places in Barcelona to sit and people-watch, there is a lot to see and do in the Parc de La Ciutadella.
Address: Avenida del Marques de lArgentera
Featuring thousands of brightly coloured and exotic fish, the Barcelona Aquarium is a must for children of all ages. With 35 different tanks holding creatures from different oceans, the aquarium is the largest of its kind in Europe and features species such as giltheads, moray eels, sunfish, rays, sand tiger sharks and sandbar sharks. The Oceanarium is the largest Mediterranean-themed aquarium in the world and the showpiece of the Barcelona Aquarium, with a transparent tunnel winding through it that gives visitors the exhilarating feeling of walking underwater. The whole aquarium houses about 11,000 organisms from 450 different species. The best time to visit is during feeding times: scuba divers feed the sharks on Monday, Wednesday and Friday between 12pm and 1pm; the entertaining penguins are fed twice daily, on weekdays at about 1pm and 5pm, and on weekends at about 1,30pm and 5pm; and the rays are fed between 1.30pm and 2pm every weekday. The aquarium offers scuba diving and cage diving activities for an extra cost. A fun outing for the whole family, the Barcelona Aquarium provides a welcome break from traditional sightseeing in the city.
Address: Moll dEspanya del Port Vell
Opening time: Open Monday to Friday from 9.30am to 9pm; Weekends and public holidays from 9.30am to 9.30pm; in June and September until 9.30pm, and in July and August until 11pm.
The mock village of Poble Espanyol is an outdoor open-air architectural museum featuring workshops where visitors can see different types of craftwork taking place. The village is made up of 117 buildings, streets and squares which have been reproduced to scale giving the true feel of a Spanish village. The village was built in 1929 for the Barcelona International Exhibition and some of the replica buildings have now outlived the originals, which were found in villages across Spain. The village is a great attraction for those travelling with children, with fun activities like treasure hunts to take part in, and some fantastic shopping opportunities. More than 30 craft workshops demonstrate the traditional secrets of the different art forms, producing high-quality crafts. The workshops produce handmade dolls and puppets, embroidery, ceramics, glassware, jewellery, baskets, textiles, leather work, soap and much more. Various art exhibitions and studios can be found in the village, including a sculpture garden. The village also showcases Spanish gastronomy, with a wide variety of restaurants dedicated to different Spanish culinary traditions, and plenty of events and activities organised for foodies. A deservedly popular tourist attraction, Poble Espanyol is a wonderful cultural experience.
Opening time: Monday 9am to 8pm; Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday 9am to midnight; Friday 9am to 3am; Saturday 9am to 4am.
One of two districts bordering La Rambla - the other being the established tourist area of Barri Gotic - El Raval is a compelling and interesting neighbourhood, with a long and chequered history. Located near Barcelona's port, El Raval has always had a multicultural and slightly seedy character, leading to it being dubbed Barri Xinès ('Chinatown') by locals. After struggling with social problems like crime and prostitution through much of the 20th century, in the late-1980s the Barcelona city council began a concerted program of urban rejuvenation in the area, which saw many of its best sites, such as the MACBA Museum and the CCCB Cultural Centre, being constructed. These days, El Raval remains an exciting, multicultural area (nearly half of its population are foreign-born), that is particularly popular with backpackers and revellers keen to check out some of Barcelona's racier bars and clubs. The area is still a little sleazy and tourists should be careful of pickpockets and avoid walking alone at night, but it is lots of fun. El Raval is full of cool bars and funky cafes that beg to be explored, from Bar Marsella with its Art Nouveau interior, to London Bar, a run-down though stately place once frequented by artists like Hemingway, Picasso and Mirò. Another great sight in El Raval is the Palau Guell, one of Gaudi's lesser-known masterpieces, featuring large parabolic gates decorated with beautiful ironwork.
Legendary rocker Freddie Mercury once described Barcelona's beautiful horizon as 'a jewel in the sun', an apt observation which visitors will understand as they gaze out at the cityscape. Barcelona can best be described as a visual city. It is a sightseer's paradise with plenty of space for strolling, including seven beaches and 10 hectares (25 acres) of municipal parkland allotted throughout the city. From the hills of Montjuic and Tibidabo one can take in the scope of Barcelona and look down on the scenic tree-lined La Ramblas boulevard, the iconic pedestrian street running from the city centre to the Port Vella, Barcelona's oldest harbour. With beautiful warm weather for most of the year, Barcelona is one of those cities blessed with plenty of outdoor attractions and activities. Go to the beach to splash around in the turquoise Mediterranean, cycle round the neighbourhoods of this bicycle friendly city, or jump on the hop-on hop-off tourist bus for some sightseeing.
Barcelona also carries with it a rich history. Founded over 2,000 years ago, the city's architecture reflects its Roman heritage, and carries the mark of various influences since. Particularly notable is the Catalan modernismearchitecture movement founded in Barcelona, and Gaudi's distinctive creations are among many of the city's buildings declared as World Heritage Sites. The weird and wonderful architectural and artistic creations of Barcelona make the city refreshingly unique, quite unlike any other urban destination.
One of the most visited sites in Catalonia is the monastery at Montserrat, 35 miles (56km) northwest of Barcelona. The monastery is surrounded by strange rocky crags and caves, and was founded in 1025 to celebrate local visions of the Virgin Mary. It has become one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Spain, sitting atop a 4,000-foot (1,200m) high mountain and housing about 80 monks. Its main claim to fame is a 12th-century Romanesque wooden sculpture of a black Virgin Mary, known as La Moreneta, which thousands come here to see and touch. There is lots to see at Montserrat, which has a fascinating museum housing masterpieces by artists like Caravaggio and Picasso, as well as exhibitions on the history of the sanctuary and the wider culture, religion and history of Spain. It has been traditional since the Middle Ages for young people from Barcelona and surrounding regions to make the pilgrimage to Montserrat and watch the sunrise from the heights at least once in their lives. The hike to the monastery is still popular for both pilgrims and travellers: there are several possible walking routes described on the website. The monastery on its mountain perch is most conveniently reached by cable car, with the short journey providing passengers with epic views.
Transport: Train from Espanya station (one hour)
Opening time: Opening times vary according to section and season - check the official website for details.
Tossa de Mar
The medieval fishing village of Tossa de Mar, 56 miles (90km) north of Barcelona, is the most attractive town on the Costa Brava, offering lovely sandy beaches and a lively atmosphere. Once the main port for exporting cork, Tossa is now dependent on tourism. Visitors are drawn to its 12th century walled town, Vila Vella, the ancient walls, battlements and towers enclosing a quaint historical labyrinth. There is also the ancient Castillo de Tossa de Mar, a one-time Roman fortress dominating the bay, which visitors are free to explore. There are four beaches within the town itself and numerous others flanking Tossa on either side. It is easy to get around town on foot, but there is a blue and white tourist train that offers tours of the town, and a green train that takes visitors up to the fort. It is possible to walk up to the fort but don't try driving yourself up as the roads get very narrow and there is no parking at the top. There are, however, wonderful views and photo opportunities, and a visit to the fort is worthwhile for this alone. There are diving shops and centres in town to provide equipment, advice and companionship for scuba expeditions, and glass-bottomed boat tours and snorkelling are also popular.
Parque Natural de Bardenas Reales
The UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of Parque Natural de Barenas Reales offers visitors the chance to walk through a moon landscape. The area is a semi-desert and the malleable clay, chalk and sandstone of the landscape has been eroded into surprising and unusual shapes by wind and rain over the millennia. Vegetation of any kind is scarce in the reserve, as is human habitation, and the streams that flow across the barren, otherworldly landscape, are seasonal. The rugged cliffs, hills and ravines are home to Egyptian Vultures, Golden Eagles and Peregrine Falcons, with a total of 24 species of birds of prey, as well as many other bird and animal species. Visitors to the park can also see the ruins of Peñaflor Castle, while the nearby towns of Arguedas and Valtierra boast a variety of attractions and historical sites for visitors to enjoy, as well as accommodation. The region is actually comprised of three nature reserves and is an absolute joy for photographers. There are a number of well signposted routes traversing the park which can be followed on foot, by bicycle, on horseback or by car, and a number of reputable tour companies can arrange tours and activities within the park.
A wonderful daytrip destination from Barcelona, Figueres is a lovely Catalonian town that also happens to be the birthplace of surrealist artist Salvador Dali. The main reason for visiting Figueres is to see the Dali Theatre and Museum (Teatre-Museu Dalí), a suitably bizarre-looking building - pink, studded, and crowned with enormous eggs - that was not only designed by Dali, but which houses a full spectrum of his imaginative output including paintings, sculptures, 3D collages, mechanical devices, and weird and wonderful installations, such as a living-room with furniture that looks like the face of Mae West when viewed at a certain angle. The mortal remains of the artist are kept in the museum's basement. There is simply no better way to get an appreciation of Dali's genius than by visiting the Teatre-Museu Dalí, and, whether you end up loving or hating his creations, they are sure to keep you thinking and talking about them for months after your visit. Be warned that many of Dali's works are erotic or grotesque in nature, and may upset younger visitors, making the museum a dubious attraction for families with kids. Feeling like a journey into the artist's mind, this museum is a must for fans.
Lent is traditionally a time of fasting and denial, and Carnival is the period before Lent dedicated to the celebration of pleasures, extravagance and indulgence, with an abundance of feasting and dancing. Street parades, float processions, and parties fill many streets and plazas in the city and revellers come dressed in rich costumes. Disguising oneself with a mask or a costume is popular and traditional, and the anonymity can be liberating. Barcelona's Carival begins on 'Greasy Thursday' (Jueres Ladero), the name is a reference to dirty fingers as the main occupation on this day is feasting, with huge banquets enjoyed all over the city. The big parade, Gran Rue, is the highlight of the carnival, with ornate floats and performing troupes parading through the city streets. A mock funeral procession on Ash Wednesday marks the end of the festivities, when it is traditional to eat fish and exchange the colourful garb of the festival for sombre black. Although the Carnival is in many ways a playful celebration of sin, much of it is innocent fun and children will love all the costumes and parades, so parents needn't feel that the festivities are inappropriate for kids.
Date:23 February to 1 March 2017;
St Johns Eve (Sant Joan)
Midsummer in Barcelona is celebrated with a big bang as fireworks colour the sky in a festive prelude to the national holiday of the Feast of John the Baptist. Ancient traditions observed the summer solstice as the most important event of the solar year and fire was celebrated as the symbol of abundance, purity and fertility. So too today, the solstice festivities have fire as their central focus. Each neighbourhood stages fireworks and all-night bonfires are fuelled by collections of old furniture, but the biggest celebration is at Montjuic, which hosts a fabulous fireworks display and a colossal bonfire, and this is one of the best places for tourists to gather. There are dances and celebrations in the squares, street parties, music and entertainment throughout the city, and in all the homes traditional cake or 'coca' is eaten and sparkling wine is drunk. It is one of the most important festivals for Catalans and the fact that the next day, the Feast of John the Baptist, is a public holiday makes the celebrations all the more unrestrained. The celebration is commonly called 'Night of Fire' (Nit del Foc) by locals, and is celebrated by people of all ages and classes.
Date:23 June 2017;
Festival of La Merce
The Festival of La Mercè is dedicated to the patron saint of Barcelona, the Virgin of Mercy, and involves a fabulous assortment of popular Catalan traditions and mythology. The festival takes place every year on 24 September, but it has become a multi-day event, with festivities in the three or four days before the main celebration. The city celebrates by hosting one of the biggest parties of the year with street music and dancing, fairs, theatre, concerts and parades. Firework spectacles light up figures of dragons and devils, and gigantic folklore icons of Catalonia ('gegants') are paraded through the city centre, while traditional teams of 'Castellers' build human pyramids in St Jaume Plaza. One of the highlights is the Correfoc fire runs, which usually take place at dusk around Via Laietana, when 'devils' run the streets with hand-held fireworks, spraying the crowds with sparks (there is usually a safer and more sedate children's version before the main fire run). St Jaume Plaza is a good place to be, because apart from the human pyramids there are famous projection shows during the evenings, using the walls of buildings surrounding the square as a screen. For more information contact the Institute of Culture on +34 93 301 7775.
Venue: Various squares and open places around the city; Date:24 September 2016; Website: www.bcn.es/merce
Spanish F1 Grand Prix
The Barcelona grand prix is the fifth race of the Formula One season, and the crowds gather eagerly to watch the thrills, spills and speed that accompany a spectacle of this nature. Formula One is the king of motor sports and attracts the best drivers from around the world, as well as the most fanatical spectators. The race is held at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. There was talk of the race alternating between Barcelona and Valencia as of 2013, but the deal seems to have fallen through and Barcelona remains the sole host of the event. This race is actually one of the oldest car races in the world that is still contested, although obviously the race has evolved and the track has changed - the Catalunya track was first used in 1991. The circuit is not considered dramatic by F1 standards, possibly because the track is well-known to drivers and mechanics and this familiarity reduces race-day drama; however, the changeable wind direction is known to be a challenge, and the circuit has witnessed some memorable moments in grand prix history. The first turn is the most popular spot for overtaking.
Venue: Catalunya; Date:May 2017; Website: www.formula1.com
Primavera Sound Festival
Primavera is one of Spain's biggest music festivals and sees some of the world's principal pop and rock stars grace the summer stages for a fiesta of fun and music in the glorious sunshine. The festival now attracts more than 100,000 people. The festival usually has about eight stages and the line-up includes multiple genres, with pop, rock, dance, electronic, indie, hip hop, jazz and folk represented. Past performers include international stars like Neil Young, Pixies, Arcade Fire, The White Stripes, Franz Ferdinand, Death Cab for Cutie, The Cure, Bon Iver, Pet Shop Boys, Iggy & the Stooges and many more. The event is usually held within Parc del Forum leisure park in the Sant Marti district; unlike many European music festivals there are no camping facilities on-site and accommodation must be organised. Primavera also organises smaller festivals and concerts in Spain, and has recently started a new festival in Portugal - check the official website listed below for details on ticket prices and the full programme. The full festival ticket allows entrance to all festival events including pre-event concerts and a festival closing party, but day tickets are also available once the full line-up has been decided.
Venue: Parc del Forum; Date:31 May to 4 June 2017; Website: www.primaverasound.com
In 2002 Barcelona was awarded the title of most gourmandcity in Europe by the prestigious Le Guide des Gourmands, the first non-French city so named in the 15 years of the publication's run (at the time). Being the capital city of the Autonomous Community of Catalonia, Barcelona's restaurants specialise in the delicious Catalan cuisine, typically flaunting the extensive use of garlic, olive oil and fish for many kinds of meals. It is not uncommon to find fish mixed with red meat in a stew. The pa amb tomàquet(bread smeared in tomato and seasoned with olive oil and salt) is a signature Catalonian delicacy served with every meal in most restaurants. Tapas, now popular worldwide, originated in Spain, and these bite-sized treats are a firm favourite in the city of Barcelona.
Catalonia is a premier wine region for Spain and the birthplace of Cava sparkling wine. Dark red grapes in the region make for the darker 'black' wine, or vi negre, a stronger red concoction. Dry white wines come second to the Cava in popularity among tourists and locals alike.
Barcelona's restaurants usually open around 8am (if they are open for breakfast that is) and typically remain open until midnight. Supper hours are very late, with most residents opting to dine between 9pm and 10pm.
One of the most well known seafood restaurants in Barcelona, Botafumeiro consistently presents the finest regional cuisine of Galicia and prides itself on the freshness of its fish, clams, mussels, lobster, crayfish and scallops, which are either kept in large tanks near the entrance or flown in daily from the coast. The impeccable treatment of customers and the private atmosphere makes this a perfect dining experience for both business and pleasure. Open for lunch and dinner daily. Reservations essential.
Address: El Gran de Gracia 81; Website: www.botafumeiro.es
For almost a century this restaurant has been a family-run business and today the homey atmosphere still welcomes patrons with its old-fashioned wooden panelling, and time-tested culinary fare. Catalán paintings from the 1950s serve as reminders of Agut's time as a meeting place for artists and writers. The hearty food includes such dishes as sweet and sour wild duck, layers of pastry filled with Catalán sausage and mushrooms, or monkfish with prawns, while desserts are light and creative. Not to be confused with the Agut d'Avignon restaurant nearby. Closed Monday; no dinner on Sunday. Closed in August.
Address: Gignas 16, Ciutat Vella (Gothic Quarter); Website: www.restaurantagut.com/
On the beachfront, Can Majó serves delicious seafood that can be enjoyed on the outdoor terrace overlooking the Mediterranean. Specialities include paella, but the fish is also superb. Choose from a daily catch including barnacles, prawns, crab, oysters and clams. Reservations required. Closed Monday. No dinner Sundays.
Address: Almirall Aixada 23, Barceloneta; Website: www.canmajo.es
One of the many unassuming sidewalk café bars on Placa George Orwell in the Gothic Quarter, Oviso offers reasonably priced food and an intimate, bohemian ambiance. Good for breakfast or an afternoon snack, this bar restaurant often serves as a place to begin a night out or to end a long day. Great for people watching, Oviso attracts many artists and students and is a good choice for idling away a few hours in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere.
Address: 5 Calle de Arai, Placa George Orwell; Website: www.restaurantes-bares-barcelona.com/en/oviso
Not called Rubi for nothing, this vibrant restaurant and nightspot is ideal for couples and friends looking for a chic but understated modern restaurant. With bright crimson booths, an elegant bar and high ceilings, Rubi has become one of Barcelona's quintessential nightspots. In true Barcelona style, Rubi is friendly and laid-back. Serving contemporary fusion cuisine made from only the freshest produce from local markets, Rubi also bakes homemade breads and desserts. After 11.30pm the restaurant shifts gears and the venue is transformed into a groovy bar with Latin American and funk tunes, heating things up a little. Open for dinner, Tuesday to Sunday.
Address: Calle Banys Vells, 6 bis; Website: www.facebook.com/RubiBarRestaurant
For the best sandwiches in the city, and maybe the country, this hole in the wall take-away sandwich shop doesn't put on airs. Surrounded by fine dining restaurants and elegant tapas establishments, staff at Viena simply and quickly throw together the world's best ingredients between two delicious slices of bread and slides it across the counter. The restaurant is open from 8.30am to 11.30pm during the week and 12.30am on weekends.
Address: La Rambla del Estudis 115; Website: www.viena.es
Some serious eating goes on here, in a little decorated and unpretentious room at the back of a delicatessen food store. Using speciality ingredients from around the world, gourmet food never felt so exclusive. Despite a city-wide reputation, the tiny restaurant feels like a guarded secret. Can Rovell is open from 10am to 9pm on Tuesday and Wednesday and closes an hour later from Thursday to Saturday. On Sundays this delectable restaurant serves lunch from 10am to 4pm. It is closed on Mondays.
Address: Carrer Arago 313; Website: www.ravell.com
Serving creative vegetarian cuisine, with dishes from all over the world and a keen eye for presentation, Amaltea is a well-known and frequented Barcelona vegetarian eatery. The décor is stylish but down to earth, ensuring that all the limelight is afforded to the colourful dishes of food that emerge out of the kitchen. For lunch there is a choice of four starters, mains and various house desserts with a fixed menu. Open for lunch Monday to Saturday and dinners on Friday and Saturday evenings.
Address: Diputació 164 (esquina Villarreal); Website: www.amalteaygovinda.com
This very trendy tapas hot spot dishes out extraordinary treats under the creative direction of Carles Abellan. Unusual food combinations are frothed, seared and caramelised until they complement one another. The dishes are more of a tasting experience than a full meal but enough of them can easily add up to a full stomach, and an eclectic way to try local cuisine.
Address: Carrer Comerc 24; Website: comerc24.com
Quimet & Quimet
This old family-run room is not an ordinary tapas restaurant and is on the fly in more ways than one. With standing room only, perfect for fast eats, the chef rolls out seemingly random (but delicious) concoctions from a huge list of ingredients lining the walls. A superb but also random wine list is best enjoyed quickly with the unique snacks before carrying on one's way. Advisable to call beforehand and check opening hours.
Address: C/Poeta Cabanas 25;
The only 1-star Michelin restaurant in Barcelona, ABAC is "el bulli" style, but you can actually get a reservation. The tasting menu (without wine) is about €125-175 per person. The sensory experience and the amazing meal that accompany the price is well worth digging a little deeper into the wallet than normal. ABAC is known as one of the best restaurants in Spain.
Address: Av. Tibidabo 1; Website: www.abacbarcelona.com/
With a lunchtime siesta, there's no excuse for not having enough energy to make it through a long night of partying up a storm on the streets of Barcelona. Alfresco dining is a good way to start an evening of revelry and has become a way of life in many of the city's squares. Good spots to sip on a glass of wine and people-watch are the Plaça del Sol in Gràcia and Passeig del Born, Plaça del Pi and Plaça Reial in the Old Town.
Barcelona is a trendy city with a fickle club scene that changes just about as often as its locals change their minds on what they'd like to drink. During the summer, chiringuitos(beach bars) open along the white sands of Barcelona's urban beaches, each with its own vibe and music, and are popular with both locals and tourists.
Key nightlife spots include Barri Gòtic, which despite its medieval atmosphere, boasts a great selection of bars and clubs to choose from, though it is best to keep your possessions close to your body as pickpockets operate in these areas. Las Ramblas is also full of party venues. This is where you'll find some of Barcelona's most popular and trendiest nightclubs and bars. L'Eixample, north of the city, is the place to go to enjoy Barcelona's gay scene. Port Olimpic is great for night owls, with plenty of bars, clubs and great seafood restaurants, while the yacht marina is a great place to enjoy sundowners on a warm summer's evening.
With the rest of Europe right on its doorstep, Barcelona is dripping with culture and there are plenty of regular performances of ballet, music, dance and opera at various venues such as the Joan Miro Foundation and the Greek Theatre, or the Liceu Opera House. And for a more relaxed evening, visitors can enjoy Flamenco at various venues throughout the city such as Tablao de Carmen and Travel Bar Flamenco Guide, which are both located in the old quarter's centre.
Barcelona is a shopper's playground. A three-mile (5km) shopping route runs from Las Ramblas, through Placa de Catalunya, along Passeig de Gràcia, and up Avenue Diagonal. Most of it is pedestrianised and pleasant to navigate on foot. The Tomb bus is a service specifically tailored for shoppers in the city, covering all the major retail centres; it departs every seven minutes from Catalonia Square and makes 28 stops up until Placa Pius XII. Tickets can be bought on the bus.
Barcelona is a very fashion conscious place and several big names such as Giorgio Armani, Burberry and Bally are represented in exclusive stores in the city while there are also local Spanish mega-fashion stores like Zara, Mango and Adolfo Dominguez. Travellers on a budget might want to take advantage of seasonal sales. Winter sales officially start around 10 January and summer sales around 5 July; savings are generally high, between 50 to 70 percent, during these sales.
Shops in Barcelona open at about 9am and close between 8pm and 9pm daily. Some shops close for a lunchtime siesta between 2pm and 4pm.
Non-EU visitors to Spain have a little extra incentive to bring souvenirs home: tax free shopping. So long as the goods bought are items that can be taken back to your country with you and the bill exceeds €90, you will make a saving of 18 percent on purchases. Look out for the Tax Free signs in shop windows.
Barcelona El Prat Airport
Location: The airport is located seven miles (12km) southwest of central Barcelona.
Time: GMT +1 (GMT +2 between the last Sunday in March and the last Sunday in October).
Contacts: Tel: +34 (0)902 404 704.
Transfer between terminals: A free shuttle bus connects the two terminals.
Getting to the city: The Aerobus service goes to and from Placa de Catalunya every five to 15 minutes, dropping off at locations along the way. Trains run from the airport to various stations in the city centre every 30 minutes; the airport station is located near Terminal 1 and is connected to the terminal by a moving walkway. There are taxi ranks outside the airport terminals; taxis are metered. The journey time by road or rail is between 20 and 30 minutes.
Car rental: Car rental companies represented at the airport include Avis, Europcar, Hertz and Sixt.
Airport Taxis: There are taxi stands at every terminal at El Prat Barcelona Airport. Avoid touts and unlicensed taxis. Prices are steeper at night and on the weekends.
Facilities: Facilities at the airport include ATMs, currency exchange facilities, banks, shops (including duty-free), a children's play area, VIP lounges, bars and restaurants. Disabled facilities are good.
Parking: Both terminals at El Prat Airport have their own dedicated parking garages (T1 and T2). There is also a long-stay parking lot connected to the terminals by a free shuttle bus.
Departure tax: None.
Barcelona's excellent transport system includes the metro, buses, trains, funiculars and cable cars; tickets for all (except night buses) are transferable across the system. The metro is the fastest and most efficient way to get around the city, except during the rush hour when it becomes very crowded. The bus network is extensive and is easy to master with a transport map. Night buses take over from about 10pm to 4am. During summer the hop-on hop-off Bus Turistic links all the main sights and tourist destinations. Taxis are plentiful and inexpensive and are a good option especially late at night, but charge extra for a number of things - ask for a receipt. Hiring a car is unnecessary and frustrating within the city, but can be useful if planning daytrips outside the city.
Barcelona enjoys a subtropical-Mediterranean climate with long, hot summers and cool winters. Winters, between December and February, are mild and snow is rare. January is the coldest winter month, with temperatures averaging between 41°F (5°C) and 57°F (14°C) during the day and colder at night. The peak summer months are June to August, but Barcelona's summer really lasts a full six months, from May to October. August is the hottest summer month, with temperatures averaging between 70°F (21°C) and 84°F (29°C) during the day. April and November are transitional months, with more unpredictable weather. Barcelona doesn't get much rain, with only a handful of rainy days every month; the wettest months are September, October and May, with thunderstorms occurring between August and November. Although the city gets plenty of sun, it can get foggy and cloudy, with sea fog especially common in early spring.
The ideal months to visit Barcelona, the Costa Brava, and the nearby resorts of Sitges and Vilanova are May, June, July and September, when visitors can expect good, hot weather. In August, despite the shade in the tree-lined boulevards, locals desert Barcelona for the coastal resorts to escape the heat.
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