Best of Barcelona
As I walk through the streets of the Barri Gotic neighborhood, (Gothic Quarter), in the city of Barcelona I stare in awe at the stunning medieval structures around me. It’s as if I’ve been transported back in time or I’m walking through the set of a movie. It’s amazing how quickly you’re humbled by just how young America is in comparison to these European cities. Sitting down on a crowded bench I pause to take in the activity in the plaza square this late Monday morning. To my left are two older Spanish men probably in their eighties chatting and laughing, simply enjoying the moment, enjoying life. A few young locals to my right are having a lively animated conversation while enjoying café con leche, (coffee with milk). Tourists are walking from all directions making their way to the magnificent cathedral in front of me. There is a buzz of activity and a sense of peace all at the same time. After a few minutes of soaking in my surroundings I slowly motivate to continue my walk to my destination, Plaza Catalunya. Suddenly I am walking by clothing shops, boutique hotels and I spot El Cortes Ingles, the largest department store in Spain. Just like that you move from the old to the new in a matter of minutes. Barcelona is considered a contemporary city, which indeed it is, but there is still an ancient presence to it while also having a Mediterranean feel. This unique combination is what makes Barcelona a truly visual stunning city as well as a cultural mecca and one of the reasons why it’s such a popular tourist destination in Spain.
Having recently returned from a week in Barcelona I still have many vivid memories stirring in my mind. The delicious tapas, the friendly Catalan people, the amazing architecture particularly of the mastermind Antonio Gaudi, some of the world’s most renowned artwork of Picasso, Miro, and Dali, the old and the new neighborhoods, the bustling activity along the streets and the relaxed Spanish pace of life. To me Barcelona is one of those truly unique places where the past and the present blend together in a seamless fashion. Because of this there are a variety of things to see and do in the city. In this piece I will share my favorite things to do, see and places to eat in Catalonia’s capital city, Barcelona.
La Sagrada Familia. The magnificent church La Sagrada Familia is not to be missed when visiting Barcelona. If you have time to see one thing only, this is it. Words and photos can’t begin to describe the sheer brilliance and beauty of this unique work of art. Construction of the church began in 1882 and it still has yet to be completed today in 2012. The talented Antoni Gaudi became involved in the creation of this masterpiece in 1883 and continued to work on it until his death in 1926. Since that time various architects have been involved in the project trying to remain true to Gaudi’s vision and plans for the church. Sagrada Familia became Gaudi’s sole focus in 1914, which is why there are no major works the last years of his life. He even lived his last few months next to his workshop which demonstrates his intense passion for this extraordinary project. Both audio and guided tours are available when visiting La Sagrada Familia which is a great way to learn a about the history and construction of the church. Tickets are available for advance purchase on their website which I recommend to avoid waiting in a line.
Parc Guell. Another Gaudi masterpiece in the city of Barcelona not to be missed! Parc Guell is an oasis where you not only can find peace away from the busy streets but you also admire more of Gaudi’s artistic creations, but this time in a park setting. I don’t believe there is another park like this one anywhere in the world. It is a very large park so you could spend a few hours or an entire day walking around. Due to its incredible beauty it is a very popular tourist spot so do yourself a favor and avoid weekends if possible. You will find it more serene on a weekday or during non-tourist season. However if the weekend is your only option definitely still go! The city views from the peaks in Parc Guell are also breathtaking. Free admission.
Casa Museu Gaudi. The Casa Museu Gaudi, (Gaudi House Museum), is conveniently located in Parc Guell. If you are a big Gaudi fan like I am then this will be a point of interest for you. Antoni Gaudi lived in this house and it is now open to the public as a museum. It also has examples of furniture and other objects created by the mastermind himself. This one is for people who have a deep interest in Gaudi and want a more intimate glimpse of his life. Tickets are available at Casa Museu Gaudi for $7.
Palau Guell. Located just off busy and touristy La Rambla street the Palau Guell couldn’t be in a more convenient location while also hidden away like a gem. This mansion was designed by Gaudi for the industrial tycoon Eusebi Guell and his family. It’s worth a visit to see the interesting architecture and design of the home. Opt for the audio tour so you learn about each part of the mansion. The highlight of the visit is the rooftop where you find the most intriguing and colorful chimneys designed by Gaudi himself. The intricacy of the tile designs and vibrant colors of each chimney is unique. This was the highlight of the visit for me. $13 admission.
Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC). If you’re interested in seeing and learning about Catalan art look no further than the MNAC. The museum houses all arts including sculpture, painting, drawing, engraving, posters, photography, coinage and also explains the general history of Catalan art from the Romanesque period to the mid-twentieth century. Temporary exhibitions are featured at the MNAC also. The museum is inside the gorgeous Palau Nacional (National Palace) located on the mountain of picturesque Montjuic. General admission is $13 and valid for 2 days.
Picasso Museum. You may be thinking, “oh yes I’ve seen Picasso exhibits before,” and that is probably the case, but the Picasso Museum in Barcelona is the best exhibit of the artist’s I have yet to see. As a visitor you go on a chronological journey of the most formative years of Picasso. You learn in detail about the different phases of his life and understand how it deeply influenced his work. The artist lived what some call his “key years” in Barcelona. He felt a deep connection with the city, which is a large part of the reason he chose the Catalonia capital for his museum. More than 3,800 works make up the permanent collection including Picasso’s unique interpretation of “Las Meninas.” The museum is spread throughout five refurbished large palaces, which makes it a unique setting for events as well. The $15 admission is definitely worth it.
Joan Miro Museum. Located also in the beautiful Montjuic area walking distance from the MNAC is the Joan Miro museum, which features a comprehensive collection of Miro’s pieces. The foundation holds the world’s most complete Miro collection of works. If you’re a fan of Salvador Dali and similar artists you most likely will be drawn to Joan Miro. His style isn’t for everybody though since artistic taste is such a personal thing. I had to include this one because it was a highlight for me personally. The museum features an extensive Miro collection in a serene setting. $13 admission.
Montjuic. Tucked up in the hills above the city lays beautiful Montjuic where the previously mentioned MNAC and Joan Miro museums are located. Montjuic gets its name from the Catalan meaning “Jewish Mountain” and at one time was the home of the Jewish community in Barcelona. Today Montjuic now hosts some great attractions of the city like the Palau National with the MNAC and Mont Magical (Magic Fountain), the Olympic Stadium, Joan Miro Foundation, Montjuic Castle and Botanical Gardens. Topped off with amazing views of the city laid out below this is a must-do for the Barcelona visitor.
Moving on to the good stuff – the FOOD in Barcelona! Yes I admit I am a tad biased since I lived in Spain at one point so I love the Spanish cuisine. It has to be authentic though and what better place to find exactly that but in this beautiful country itself. Walking through the streets of the city lined with local tapas bars and cafes it’s hard to ignore the delicious aromas wafting through the air of tapa delicacies like jamon (ham), croquetas (small fried food roll), gambas (prawns), rajo (pork seasoned with garlic and parsley) and zamburinas (Galician scallops in a tomato-base sauce). Trust me when I say all you will want to do is EAT and eat a lot! Thankfully these rich tapas dishes are served in small portions for sharing or we’d all be taking siestas the entire day. My final highlights of this piece are all about the exquisite food.
Mercat La Boqeueria. Wow. I’ve never experienced a market quite like La Boqueria also located right off La Rambla in the heart of the city. Having been to a variety of outdoor markets before, mostly in Asia, I wasn’t expecting to be impressed but boy was I mistaken. This market has everything from meat to produce to nuts to breads to sweets; I could go on for days. Having visited a couple of times I can promise this place is always buzzing so go with a lot of patience and of course, an empty stomach. It’s an ideal place to buy your favorites and head to Parc Guell for a little picnic!
Gorgeous fruit at Mercat La Boqueria
Tapas, taps, tapas and Paella. Last but not least I’ll leave you on the most delicious note possible, the scrumptious Spanish tapas and paella! Barcelona is spilling over with tapas restaurants in every area of the city, which makes it easy to find them but also can be overwhelming. Here are my top five highly recommended spots to hit. I assure you that you will not be disappointed. Enjoy!
Cal Pep. Amazing tapas and buzzing atmosphere. Sit at the counter for a fun dining experience and chat with the servers or even the owner Pep himself. Delicious tapas dishes. Try the grilled squid and butifarra (sausages and white beans). Very popular so enjoy a glass of wine or two while you wait in line for a spot at the counter. If you have a party of 4 or more book a table ahead in the back dining area.
Taller de Tapas. Good food and good atmosphere! The first tapas bar we tried in Barcelona. Highly recommend! In the Barri Gotic neighborhood.
Cerveceria Catalana. Bustling restaurant always packed especially around lunch time. Great for couples and groups. In the Eixample neighborhood.
Comerc24. A truly impressive, gourmet culinary experience! Choose from a 8 or 12-course degustation menu with wine pairings. A very memorable dining experience.
Restaurant Cheriff. Some say it’s the best paella in Barcelona and I have to say the paella is beyond delicious! A cozy atmosphere, nice ambience and excellent food. Truly authentic Spanish paella.
Have you been to Barcelona? What are your favorite places and things to do in this amazing city?
Disclaimer: On occasion, contributors of The Trend Tribe receive products, compensation and/or services gratis or at discounted rates. This practice does not influence the contributor’s point of view or the outcome of the review. All descriptions are factual and accurately reflect the reviewers experience. The opinions are their own.