If you’re off to Barcelona but only have a day or two to explore – don’t despair. My quick and easy guide will help you make the most of it…..
Barcelona really does have something for everyone; museums, parks, architecture, shops, churches, excellent food and beaches. I know no other city that squeezes so much into such a compact space. Yet despite this, and despite the amount of visitors that Barcelona attracts it doesn’t feel cluttered or chaotic. In fact it’s really easy to navigate around once you’ve got your head around the 3 main areas; Eixample, the Old Town and Montjuic.
Let’s begin with the basics. Barcelona is located on the North East coast of the Iberian Peninsula. It faces the Mediterranean Sea and subsequently its climate remains pleasant even in the coldest months, making it the perfect city to visit whatever the time of year.
Despite being 39.15 square miles, if you take Barcelona ‘s 3 main areas separately you will soon get your bearings. To give you a rough idea of the city layout; loosely speaking as you look at the map, the Old Town sits in the middle at the bottom; Eixampla is above the Old Town extending across to the right and Montjuic lies to the left of the Old Town.
The Old Town consists of a maze of streets to explore and you will constantly stumble upon delightful squares filled with the aroma of garlic and cured meats. Every corner and every street offers a place to eat and drink.
That’s because food is very central to the Barcelona culture and family run restaurants and tapas bars are plentiful. Displays glisten with fresh fish and ceilings are littered with hanging meats. Jugs of Sangria are filled with fresh fruits and the wine flows without prejudice from morning to night. Try completing your tapas meal with the classic bread dish – pa amb tomaquet – crusty bread rubbed wth fresh tomatoes and garlic and topped with a drizzle of olive oil.
La Rambla is the central tree lined walkway of the Old Town that leads to the sea. It constantly bustles with street entertainers and is strewn with stalls and eateries. There are some amazing buildings on either side as you stroll down. One such building houses the Boquerria food market – definitely worth a peek.
But the Old Town is so much more than shops and food. It is crammed with museums, galleries and churches to poke around at your leisure.
If you fancy swapping the streets for a park, head east off La Rambla and find the Arc de Triomf. The Arc de Triomf is the main gateway to the Parc de la Ciutadella; a popular park with a boating lake, and if the brightly coloured parrots that fly around make you want to seek more wildlife – visit the nearby zoo.
The Monument a Colon lies at the foot of La Rambla and is definitely worth a visit. The monument marks the spot where Columbus stepped ashore after he had discovered America in 1493. There is a tiny lift that takes you to the top of the monument to a viewing platform that offers amazing views of the city and beyond. Not for the faint hearted – you can feel the sway of the building, but it’s absolutely worth it.
Barcelonas’ marina is a stones throw away from the monument. There is a vast shopping complex at the marina but if you’re all shopped out, take a stroll along the port (you may catch a glimpse of the magnificent swing bridge opening) and walk around to Barclona’s fishing village; Barceloneta. The village is known for its restaurants and if you’re lucky, there may be a market along the front where you can sample the local delicacies.
Form Barconeleta you can take the cable car across the port to Montjuic.
Montjuic is Barcelonas biggest recreation area. At the summit is the magnificent 18th century castle. You can walk to the castle or you can reach it by funicular followed by another cable car (the Telefevico de Montjuic)
The 1936 Olympics were due to be held in Montjuic but were cancelled due to the Spanish Civil War. Fortunately, they got another chance to host them in 1992. You can still visit the arenas. I’ve never seen a pool with such amazing views.
In 1854 the city of Barcelona was redeveloped. It’s new inland expansion was Eixample.
Eixample is very easy to navigate as its streets are all parallel to one another with the exception of the Diaganol and the Hospital de la Santa Creu I de Sant Pau.
Although a very simple street structure rules the area, there is nothing simple about the buildings. The Casa Batillo is said to symbolise St George killing the dragon and indeed the building has scaly arches and curved balconies that resemble eyes.
The Sagrada Familia may be the most famous building in Eixample. The construction of the church was commissioned to the architect Gaudi in 1883 and despite becoming his life works, is still not finished today. Gaudi put all of his money into the Sagrada Familia and when he had run out, he went from house to house begging for more. Nowadays the work is funded entirely by private donations. Gaudi was sadly killed by a tram in 1926; but his body now lies in the crypt of his beloved church.
Gaudi’s Casa Milia is another example of his unusual work in the city. It is an apartment block that has been built around 2 courtyards. There are no straight walls anywhere within the building and it famously hosts the citys’ first ever underground car park. The chimneys in particular have a very unusual appearance and are affectionately known as witch-scarers. The building is now home to a museum of Gaudi’s work.
If you fancy a spot more shopping whilst visiting Barcelona, take a stroll down the Passeig de Gracia. It is filled with designer shops and boutiques and in typical Barcelona style – is lined with restaurants and cafes that offer a welcome rest whenever you fancy.
Public transport is easy in Barcelona. The largely underground Barcelona Metro network comprises of eleven lines, identified by an “L” followed by the line number. In addition there is an extensive bus service, tram service and railway service. Taxis are easily flagged down and in March 2007, Barcelona’s City Council started the Bicing service, a bicycle service, where once the user has purchased a card, they can take a bicycle from any of the more than 400 stations spread around the city and use it anywhere within the urban area of the city before leaving it at another station.