BARCELONA, Spain – Barcelona is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. And why shouldn’t it be? It’s beautiful, the food is fantastic and while you can drop a lot of money on nightclubs and Michelin-starred restaurants, many of the city’s world-famous attractions are absolutely free to big spenders and backpackers alike.
If you leave Barcelona without seeing the work of Antoni Gaudi, then you haven’t really seen Barcelona. The architect’s works include a massive church, La Sagrada Familia, still under construction nearly 90 years after his death. This living work of art – like all Gaudi creations – is fanciful, quirky, brilliant and complex, a mass of spires, pillars and mosaics. Gaudi’s strange and whimsical park, Parc Guell, is known for its undulating tiled seats and fairy-tale turrets. The city is also home to several Gaudi-designed apartment complexes, like La Pedrera, and you can even find Gaudi lampposts on Plaza Real.
This is another essential Barcelona experience: strolling Las Ramblas. The crowded, tree-lined pedestrian mall is filled with street performers, restaurants, bars and kiosks selling souvenirs, flowers and food. You’ll see a street mosaic by Joan Miro, a fountain and several landmarks, including theatres and the baroque Palace of the Virreina. It’s a fun place to people-watch, but be sure to also watch for tourist scams, overpriced goods and pickpockets.
Barcelona has dozens of markets, but La Boqueria is the most famous and the most visited by tourists – though locals shop here regularly, too. Dozens of stalls line the large iron-roofed building, spilling forth mountains of colorful fruits and vegetables, rows of Spain’s famous cured hams and a few things you don’t find in the average supermarket – goat heads, pig feet and the like.
Located in the Ciutat Vella district or old city at one end of Las Ramblas, the market has been operating here in one form or another for centuries.
And while it will cost you to buy what you see, it’s worth a visit just to gawk.
OLD CITY/GOTHIC QUARTER/JEWISH QUARTER
A cathedral, squares, narrow streets, old city walls and other remnants of the Middle Ages live on in Barcelona’s Gothic quarter, Barri Gotic, along with Roman ruins.
Much of Barcelona’s thriving Jewish community was persecuted and driven from Spain in the 15th century during the Inquisition, but the city’s Jewish Quarter, El Call, attests to the community’s history. It offers narrow streets, 500-year-old buildings and a synagogue in Calle Marlet, along with remnants of other traditional Jewish structures.
BEACH AND WATERFRONT
The city is a major port, with a scenic and lively waterfront that includes marinas for recreational vessels from sailboats to yachts. Tourists and locals alike also flock to popular beaches like Barceloneta and Bogatell. The beaches are dotted with distinctive architecture and sculpture, like Frank Gehry’s bronze fish, “El Peix,” the irregularly stacked blocks of “L’Estel Ferit” tower and the curved, whalelike silhouette of the W hotel.