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Visible from almost every vantage point in the city, the majestic Sagrada Familia is renowned architect Antoni Gaudi's unfinished homage to the city. The monumental structure soars high into the Barcelona skyline and casts a distinctive silhouette synonymous with the city itself. The church dominates the Eixample district of the city. More stunning buildings, especially many of the city's remaining examples of medieval architecture, can be found in the Barri Gotic.
Wandering the city's labyrinthine streets is a must, but another of the most popular things to do in Barcelona is soak up the sun on one of the city's famous beaches. The best known is the beach at fashionable Barceloneta – regularly voted one of Europe's best.
Food and drink
Catalan cuisine is making a comeback, and the city boasts countless restaurants and bars. Many of the best restaurants in Barcelona are located in the Ciutat Vella or 'old city' district; the restaurants around the tourist-oriented Placa de Catalunya are expensive and not particularly authentic. Escudella and esqueixada are popular Catalan dishes. You can also get great paella in Barcelona, but be aware – it’s Spanish, not Catalan.
Equally renowned for its nightlife, Barcelona is home to hundreds of clubs and bars. Many of the best are based outside the city center in the nearby districts of Eixample and Gracia, where locals knock back beers and sip cocktails in the ambient surroundings of dimly lit neighborhood bars.
Where to stay
Barcelona – one of the most visited cities in Europe – has hotels both high in number and in quality. Most visitors choose to stay near bustling Las Ramblas, and SERHS Rivoli Ramba excites, located in the center of the city with a neoclassic design and exclusive My Time benefits. Also on Las Ramblas, Le Meridien Barcelona is within walking distance of the city’s main cultural attractions and impresses with historic architecture. For families, Citadines Ramblas Barcelona offers modern, apartment-style accommodations near shops, cafes, and restaurants.
For unique stays, consider the Majestic Hotel & Spa in the Gothic Quarter, close to the fascinating Gaudi Buildings, or choose the Gallery Hotel with its chic rooftop bar with an extensive vermouth collection. For an intimate, boutique experience, Roger de Lluria offers attentive service and luxurious touches in the middle of Barcelona’s city. In the sophisticated El Born district, K+K Hotel Picasso is an upscale resort with avant-garde architecture near the historic Passeig de Picasso.
If you're keen to stay near the beach, then W Barcelona in Barceloneta welcomes the excitement-loving traveler with its perfect location along the famous boardwalk, but Hotel Arts Barcelona lures luxury-seeking guests with six restaurants, two Michelin stars, and a sleek design. If you want that beach feel in an urban oasis, the five-star Grand Hotel Central wows with a rooftop infinity pool in the middle of Barcelona.
The Passeig de Gracia is Barcelona's most famous shopping street and the first place to head if you're looking for luxury outlets and expensive brand names. The pedestrian Portal de l'Angel in the city center offers a cheaper version of Barcelona shopping and houses an impressively large branch of El Corte Ingles department store. Don't be afraid to explore grungy El Raval for retro fashions and vintage clothes, not least because the city's famous La Boqueria produce market is located nearby.
Barcelona like a local
Barcelona weather is not only a good reason to visit the city but also to enjoy its fabulous outdoor activities. Many locals make regular trips to Montjuic, the small wooded mountain overlooking the city. Take the Funicular de Montjuic and a gondola to the top of the mountain to enjoy alfresco dining amid spectacular views over the city. Nearby is Barcelona's Olympic Stadium, which hosted the 1992 Games, and the striking Montjuic Communications Tower – designed to resemble an athlete holding the Olympic torch. A number of scenic gardens line Montjuic's green slopes making it a calm oasis in the middle of a bustling city.
A 'Break' in Barcelona
Want to take a quick trip to Barcelona? Take a look at Liberty Travel’s EURObreaks – short European getaways tailor-made for you. Best of all, each EURObreak includes a City Insider, an expert who lives in and loves the city you’re exploring. They’ll give you an overview of the city and its history, highlighting what’s trendy, tried and true, or a combination – they’ll even give you a quick lesson in the city’s public transportation! Your City Insider helps ensure that your vacation memories will be unforgettable.
Things to do
If the kitchen is the center of the home, La Boqueria in Barcelona's Las Ramblas is the same social hub on a much grander and more colorful scale. These bustling markets are where the Catalan people congregate to eat, shop, and gossip on a daily basis where the atmosphere is a feast for all the senses, not just your appetite.
Renowned Catalan chef and culinary scientist Ferran Adria of El Bulli restaurant fame calls La Boqueria, 'a gastronomic temple,’ and foodies who worship at the altar of gourmet grub will not be disappointed by the spectacle and produce on offer at these markets. With origins as an open-air market circa 1200, La Boqueria is now located in the pedestrian mall known as Las Ramblas.
The markets are also dotted with mini bars where you can prop yourself up and enjoy local delights such as chocolate con churros, coffee, and tapas. Just stroll around and take the theater and aromas of the market in.
Monestir de Pedralbes
One of the finest examples of Catalan Gothic-style architecture in Barcelona, this marvelous monastery is actually a convent. A famous sight in Barcelona, highlights of Monestir de Pedralbes — meaning ‘white stones’ in Latin — include the three-story cloisters and beautiful gardens within the monastery grounds plus an insight into the daily life of the nuns who resided here.
Monestir de Pedralbes was a convent administered by nuns under the Franciscan order of Poor Clares and established in 1326 by Queen Elisenda. On the monastery grounds there is a church, which houses the tomb of Queen Elisenda as well as the final resting places of the Reverend Mothers who resided in the monastery. St Michael’s Chapel, within the church, is a small space with frescoes depicting the life of Jesus and Mary.
Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya
For a comprehensive collection of Catalan art spanning one thousand years, Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya (MNAC) houses a variety of visual mediums which explain and reflect the history of the region. With almost 250,000 works in the museum's collection, MNAC unites the old Museu d'Art de Catalunya and Museu d'Art Modern under the one roof.
Highlights of the exhaustive collection include the unique Romanesque exhibit with mural paintings sourced from rural churches in the Pyrenees and Old Catalonia. The collection of panel paintings are notable for displaying the quantity and antiquity of Catalan works with emphasis on the variety of technique and quality, especially the Frontal of La Seu d'Urgell. The exhibitions of Renaissance and Baroque art include masterpieces from renowned painters such as El Greco, Zubarán, Velasquez and Rubens. The Modern collection contains examples of the Catalan Modernist (Art Nouveau) style as well as a dedicated gallery of Picasso's work.
Spanish painter, sculptor, and printmaker Pablo Picasso spent his apprenticeship in Barcelona (from 1895 to 1904) and this museum, housed in five adjoining palaces, is an exhaustive showcase of his earlier work. Established in 1963, the museum provides a contextual reference to the enigmatic artist's relationship with the city and his creative imprint.
Highlights of Museu Picasso include paintings by the teenage Picasso (Man in a Beret), a pastel portrait of his mother that was subject to painstaking restorative work, The Wait (Margot) – a colorful painting set in the Parisian nightlife, and Las Meninas (Infanta Margarita María) painted in the later and most recognizable style of Picasso. Also worth perusing are Picasso's prints collection displayed in newer rooms within the museum.
Santa Maria del Mar
The basilica of Santa Maria del Mar is a beautiful rendition of early Catalan Gothic-style architecture boasting elegant lines and symmetrical proportions lending this religious space an air of serenity. Built between 1329 and 1384, this medieval church is important as the only surviving example of this style of architecture.
The harmonious and balanced proportions of Santa Maria del Mar are all based upon the medieval numerological symbol for the Virgin Mary – the number eight. The structure consists of three naves of equal height which are supported by 16 tall columns giving the church an impression of sublime height, width and space. The many stained glass windows also add to this sense of space and light within the interior of the church.
Santa Maria del Mar also comprises 24 chapels dedicated to different saints and images. The window of the Ascension in the chapel of Santa Maria, and the Lavabo in the chapel of Saint Rafael are just some of the breathtaking sights of the church. On the floor of the basilica you'll discover private tombs and those belonging to the medieval guilds and brotherhoods of Barcelona.