Barcelona is capital of the province of Barcelona in the Catalonia region of Spain. It is considered to be one of the 'Most Beautiful Cities of Spain'. Barcelona has an incredible mixture of beautiful architecture ranging from the medieval to modern times but it is for its Art Deco buildings, especially those of Antoni Gaudi that Barcelona is justly famous.
There are three main areas of Barcelona, based on its architecture: the old town, called the Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter); Eixample which is home to much of the spectacular Art Nouveau architecture and Montjuic which was the site of the 1929 International Fair.
Visit Barcelona Old Town - Barri Gotic
The old town contains Barcelona's most famous street, Las Ramblas. This long straight road with a very wide pedestrian centre stretches from the huge square at Catalunya on the edge of Eixample, down to the sea front.
As you walk from north to south there are many sights to look out for as well as admiring the famous living statues all along the length of the road.
At the north of the Ramblas is the Reial Academia de Ciencias i Arts which is now a theatre. Heading south is the Palau Moja, a classical building with a Baroque salon. Barcelona's wonderful indoor food market is housed in the Mercat de Sant Josep, localy known as 'La Boqueria'. Half way down the Ramblas is the beautiful opera house, the Gran Teatre del Liceu.
On a side street not far from the waterfront is the Palau Guell, one of Gaudi's most important works and not to be missed.
Not far away on the other side of the Ramblas is the beautiful Placa Reial, a busy square full of bars and restaurants and with lampposts designed by Gaudi.
Headed down towards the seafront there is a great wooden pier, which is also a bridge which can open up to let one of the many yachts through. Apparently Barcelona is one of the busiest tourist ports in Europe. The pier leads to a shopping mall, Maremagnum, an Imax cinema and an Aquarium. Inside the shopping mall are many major stores such as H&M.
Heading NE and into the heart of the Barri Gotic is the Placa de Sant Jaume which has the impressive Catalonian Parliament building, the Palau de la Generlitat. This is the seat of the Catalonian Government. It has a statue of Saint George, the patron saint of Catalonia, carved above its columned doorway.
The building is open to the public for guided visits and inside is a Gothic chapel and a lovely cloister, as well as the Salon of Saint George and the law courts.
Onwards up the lovely Carrer del Bisbe which has a lovely kind of arched bridge across the narrow street, and as you walk up lots of gargoyles are looking down on you from above. This bridge is modelled on the famous Venitian Bridge of Sighs.
The next main sight in the Old Town is Barcelona's cathedral, La Seu. The cathedral is Gothic and in typical gothic style has lots of pointed arches and lots of gargoyles.
Inside in the Capella de Sant Benet is a famous altarpiece by Bernat Martorellei showing the Transfiguration, the crypt of St Eulalia and 15th century carved choir stalls.
The highlight of the Cathedral though is its beautiful cloister, very lush with plants that I have as indoor plants in my house, and, rather bizarrely a family of geese. Apparently no-one knows who brought the first geese but they have been living in the cloister for five centuries.
To the side of the cathedral is a beautiful little square, the Placa del Rei. This was once the courtyard of the Palau Reial Major, home of the counts of Barcelona. Inside is the 14th century Salo del Tinell which is the main hall of the palace and was once the meeting place for the Spanish Inquisition.
Also in the square is the Museu d'Historia de la Ciutat from where you can visit the underground remains for the old Roman city of Barcino. These underground remains date from the 1st to the 6th century AD.
The Parc de la Ciutadella is a great place for a picnic lunch. You will be spoiled for choice of delicious treats in the shops nearby. Food is definitely a highlight of a visit to Barcelona! In the gardens is the Palau de la Musica Catalana. The building is lovely with beautiful mosaic columns but the most amazing thing is its massive stained glass, domed roof. Designed by Lluis Domenechi i Montaner it was completed in 1908.
The Parc de la Ciutadella has parrots flying around in the trees, lots of long palm-tree lined avenues, fountain designed by Josep Fontseré and Antoni Gaudi and partly inspired by the Trevi Fountain in Rome, quirky buildings and sometimes there are outdoor concerts in the square opposite.
For those of you with children there is also a zoo in the parc, apparently specialising in primates and with a rare albino gorilla called Snowflake ( Floquet de Neu). At the entrance to the park is the fort-like building, the Castell dels Tres. This was built as a cafe/restaurant for the 1888 Universal Exhibition and now houses the Zoological Museum. It is quite interesting to see in Barcelona that a lot of the lovely buildings were built either for the 1888 Universal Exhibition or the 1929 International Fair.
If you are staying in the old town the area around the Placa Reial is a good area as the Placa Reial itself is full of restaurants catering to a range of budgets. Be prepared to queue for up to an hour at the most popular during peak season. We tried the Les Quinze Nits which we had discovered on a previous visit 7 years before. It still seems to be going strong.The wait is worth it though - these restaurants are popular for a reason! For eating with kids though it is absolutely fantastic. For a more gourmet experience try somewhere else.
More Places to Visit in Barcelona
see: Eixample and the stunning architecture of Antoni Gaudi.
see: Montjuic for great views over the city and the Palau Nacional.
The beautiful Monestir de Montserrat is an easy excursion from Barcelona.
You can find more local travel ideas in the Catalonia guide.