Barcelona - Attractions
Barri Gòtic, the enchanting centre of old Barcelona, is a maze of dark streets crammed with cafes, bars and the cheapest accommodation in town. Spend a day wandering among wonderful, medieval buildings and some of the most awe-inspiring architecture ever to leave a draughtsman's desk.
Most of the buildings date from the 14th and 15th centuries, when Barcelona was at the height of its commercial prosperity and before it had been absorbed into Castilla. A masterpiece of its medieval heritage, the Barri Gòtic's catedral, is one of Spain's greatest Gothic buildings.
The quarter is centred on the Plaça de Sant Jaume, a spacious square, the site of a busy market and one of the venues for the weekly dancing of the sardana. Two of the city's most significant buildings are here, the Ajuntament and the Palau de la Generalitat.
A fully fledged suburb since the end of the 19th century, Gràcia is home to a combination of artists, students and intelligentsia mixed with average Joseps, who lend it a down-to-earth atmosphere. There are lovely parks to enjoy during the day and at night the square becomes a popular and vivacious meeting place.
Its strong artistic and political communities create a lively (and, strangely, not intimidating) scene. Plaça del Sol is a pleasant place to sit during the day, surrounded by cafes and serene 19th-century architecture.
La Pedrera was designed by Gaudí and built between 1905 and 1910 as an apartment/office block. Formerly called the Casa Milà, it's better known as La Pedrera (the quarry) because of its uneven grey stone facade that creates a wave effect, an effect further emphasized by elaborate wrought-iron balconies.
Visitors can tour the building and go up to the roof, where giant multicoloured chimney pots jut up like medieval knights. On summer weekend nights, the roof is eerily lit and open for spectacular views of Barcelona. One floor below the roof is a modest museum dedicated to Gaudí's work.
La Rambla is a tree-lined pedestrian boulevard packed with buskers, mimes and itinerant salespeople selling everything from lottery tickets to jewellery. It's actually five separate streets strung end to end and covers the entire sightseeing gamut from sublime to seedy.
The noisy bird market on the second block of La Rambla is worth a stop, as is the nearby Palau de la Virreina, a grand 18th-century rococo mansion, with arts and entertainment information and a ticket office. Next door is La Rambla's most colourful market, the Mercat de la Boqueria. Just south of the Boqueria the Mosaïc de Miró punctuates the pavement, with one tile signed by the artist.
The next section of La Rambla boasts the Gran Teatre del Liceu, the famous 19th-century opera house. Below the Plaça Reial, La Rambla becomes decidedly seedy, with strip clubs and peep shows. La Rambla terminates at the lofty Monument a Colom (Monument to Columbus) and the harbour. You can ascend the monument by lift.
Just west of the monument, on Avinguda de les Drassanes, stand the Reials Drassanes (Royal Shipyards), which house the fascinating Museu Marítim. It has more seafaring paraphernalia than you'd care to wag a sextant at - boats, models, maps, paintings, ships' figureheads and 16th-century galleys.
La Sagrada Família
La Sagrada Família is truly awe-inspiring. Even if you don't have much time, don't miss it. The most ambitious work of Barcelona's favourite son, Antoni Gaudí, the magnificent spires of the unfinished cathedral imprint themselves boldly against the sky with swelling outlines inspired by the holy Montserrat.
The spires are encrusted with a tangle of sculptures that seem to breathe life into the stone. Gaudí died in 1926 before his masterwork was completed and, since then, controversy has continually dogged the building programme.
Nevertheless, the southwestern (Passion) facade, with four new towers, is almost done, and the nave, begun in 1978, is progressing. Some say the shell should have been left as a monument to Gaudí, but today's chief architect, Jordi Bonet, argues that the completion of la Sagrada Família must progress, as the building is intended to atone for sin and appeal to God's mercy on Catalunya.
Montjuïc, the hill overlooking the city centre from the southwest, is home to some fine art galleries, leisure attractions, soothing parks and the main group of 1992 Olympic sites. Approach the area from Plaça d'Espanya and on the north side you'll see Plaça de Braus Les Arenes, a former bullring where the Beatles played in 1966. Behind it lies Parc Joan Miró, where stands Mirá's highly phallic sculpture Dona i Ocell (Woman and Bird). Nearby, the Palau Nacional houses the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, which has an impressive collection of Romanesque art. Stretching up a series of terraces below the Palau Nacional are fountains, including the biggest, La Font Màgica, which comes alive with a free lights and music show on summer evenings. In the northwest of Montjuïc is the 'Spanish Village', Poble Espanyol. At first glance it's a tacky tourist trap, but it also proves to be an intriguing scrapbook of Spanish architecture, with very convincing copies of buildings from all of Spain's regions. The Anella Olímpica (Olympic Ring) is the group of sports installations where the main events of the 1992 games were held. Down the hill, visit masterpieces of another kind in the Fundaciá Joan Mirá, Barcelona's gallery for the greatest Catalan artist of the 20th century. This is the largest single collection of his work.
Barcelona's most visited museum shows numerous works tracing the artist's early years and is especially strong on his Blue Period, with canvases like The Defenceless, as well as ceramics and early works from the 1890s. The rest of the museum traces Picasso's life and travels.
The stunning stone mansions that house the museum are situated on the Carrer de Montcada, which was, in medieval times, an approach to the port. The 1st floor is devoted to Picasso's Blue Period. The 2nd floor displays his impressionist-influenced works, produced in Barcelona and Paris between 1900 and 1904. The haunting Portrait of Señora Canals (1905), from his Pink Period, is also on display. Among the later works, all painted in Cannes in 1957, is a complex technical series entitled Las Meninas, which consists mostly of studies on Diego Velázquez's eponymous masterpiece.