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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, usually thronged with leisurely walkers enjoying the sights and sounds. 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.
Five palaces dating from the 13th to 15th centuries have been converted into the Picasso Museum, celebrating the country's most famous artist. Sitting on Carrer Montcada, a street known for its elegant medieval structures, it is home to one of the most complete collections of works from his youth and formative years. 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 his wish that his early 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.
Catalan architect, Antonio Gaudi, was known as the greatest exponent of Catalan Modernism, and left his mark on Barcelona nowhere more than in the gardens of Guell Park. Sitting on Camel Hill and offering splendid views of the city, it 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, and the Sala Hipostila, or Doric Temple, which is a forest of 88 stone columns. Gaudi enjoyed experimenting with natural forms and the park is a fascinating mixture of art and nature.
Designed by modernist architect Antoni Gaudi, the bizarre Sagrada Família is one of Catalonia's most intriguing landmarks. Building started in 1882, but it remains unfinished and an object of controversy. Gaudi worked on what was considered his masterpiece until his death in 1926. The structure displays his characteristic Art Nouveau style and creates a unique interpretation of the Gothic architectural tradition. Gaudi's plans for the completed church were mostly destroyed during the Spanish Civil War and those leftover have been disputed since. The extraordinary building is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is fascinating even to those who don't find it beautiful. The church has been consecrated and is used for religious services.
A few of Barcelona's showpieces sit on the hill of Montjuic, overlooking the city centre: the main sites of the 1992 Olympics; the Poble Espanyol; the Joan Miro museum; and the National Art Museum of Catalonia. Montjuic has been the site of several fortifications over the centuries and the most recent of these is the Castle of Montjuic, dating from the 17th century. 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 green parks festooned with fountains, themselves popular attractions that entertain on summer evenings with displays of light, colour, and music. Accessible by cable car from Montjuic, the La Barceloneta port district is below the hill.
Barcelona's second landmark hill, Tibidabo, lies 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 and is particularly popular on weekends with locals, as it is home to the Parc d'Atraccions: an amusement park that has some thrilling 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.
Commonly known as La Pedrera, Casa Mila is an iconic construction by creative genius Antonio Gaudi. It was his last civil work 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.
Known as the Gothic Quarter, the Barri Gotic 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, the most illustrious being the immense Gothic Cathedral La Seu, with its breathtaking facade and serene cloister. With an assortment of shops and delightful sidewalk cafes, the Barri Gotic is a worthwhile day out. To view the remains of this ancient Roman city, once known as Barcino, travellers should visit the Museu d'Historia de la Ciutat in the Palau Real, where Roman streets are still visible in the extensive cellar.
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. 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.
A celebration of the life and work of world-renowned Catalan surrealist sculptor and painter Joan Miro, the Joan Miro 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 Miro at the Joan Miro Foundation allow visitors to further delve into the unrestrained creative energy of this exceptional city.
Barcelona's coastline offers a string of attractive beaches, the ideal diversion after excessive sightseeing and shopping. Travellers can visit the popular Barceloneta Beach, only ten minutes from the city centre, where there is a selection of beach bars, and can cool down with a refreshing swim and marvel at the bizarre architecture of Homenatge a la Barceloneta by 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 El Peix. Marbella Beach is unofficially Barcelona's nudist beach but, although nudity is tolerated, many people choose to keep their clothes on. For a peaceful beach near the city centre look no further than Caldetes, which is invariably almost empty.
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, Tapies, and Barcelo. Kids will enjoy the museum, as there is a lot to touch and interact with.
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. Exploring the park and being out on the water is a fun way to unwind, as the setting features a lake where visitors can hire a small rowboat, The paths for walking, jogging, and cycling are wide and well maintained, and there are some interesting sculptures dotted about the park, and some striking buildings.
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 mock village of Poble Espanyol is an outdoor open-air architectural museum featuring workshops, where visitors can see different types of craftwork taking place. Around 117 buildings, streets, and squares make up the village and 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. Visitors can purchase high-quality handmade dolls, embroidery, glassware, soap, textiles, ceramics and more from the more than 30 craft workshops that specialise in the traditional secrets of producing these items.
El Raval is a compelling and interesting neighbourhood, with a long and chequered history. It's one of two districts bordering La Rambla, with the other being the established tourist area of Barri Gotic. Located near Barcelona's port, El Raval has always had an exciting, multicultural character, particularly popular with backpackers and revellers keen to check out the city's cutting-edge galleries and clubs. While having undergone a period of development, the area still remains slightly dangerous and tourists should be careful of pickpockets and avoid walking alone at night. 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.
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 41F (5C) and 57F (14C) 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 70F (21C) and 84F (29C) 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.
In 2002 Barcelona was awarded the title of most city 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 (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 , 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 delivered daily from the ocean. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Festival of La Merce 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.
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.
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. 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.
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 Placa del Sol in Gracia and Passeig del Born, Placa 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, (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 Gotic, which despite its medieval atmosphere, boasts a great selection of bars and clubs to choose from, though it is best for visitors to keep possessions close to their bodies, as pickpockets operate in these areas. Las Ramblas is also full of party venues. This is where visitors will 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 their country with them and the bill exceeds €90, they will make a saving of 18 percent on purchases. Visitors should look out for the Tax Free signs in shop windows.
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 6am. 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. Uber and Cabify are also options. Hiring a car is unnecessary and frustrating within the city, but can be useful if planning daytrips beyond its limits.
Legendary rocker Freddie Mercury once described Barcelona's beautiful horizon as 'a jewel in the sun'. The city can best be described as a visual city. It is a sightseer's paradise, with 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. Visitors can 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 architecture 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 such as Caravaggio and Picasso.
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. 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.
The UNESCO Biosphere Reserve of Parque Natural de Barenas Reales is a semi-desert landscape. 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 land 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.
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 that is pink, studded, and crowned with enormous eggs. It was not only designed by Dali, but also houses a full spectrum of his imaginative output including paintings, sculptures, 3D collages, mechanical devices, and weird and wonderful installations. The artist is buried in the museum's basement.
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