what to do
Here’s a short 3-day long weekend tourist guide of the best spots in Barcelona.
I am of the opinion that a city is to be walked from beginning to end. Wander and get lost, that’s the only recipe to get to what a place really stands for. Secure the best spots and discover the rest.
Here’s my alternative. Please feedback on this on twitter @picturesOfBarce.
Day 1 – City centre
The term “city centre” is widely used to pinpoint the “old city” district (Ciutat Bella), where most Roman, Romanic and Gothic spots are. It starts in Catalunya Square (Plaza Catalunya) downwards to the sea. Two main straight streets cross the city centre: Las Ramblas and Via Laietana. These two streets cut into three different spots: On the left-hand side el “Raval”, between Las Ramblas and Via Laietana the “Gothic district” (Barri Gòtic) and on the right-hand side “la Ribera” (also known as Born as of the main goods market in the early 20th century).
Main things to see are:
Raval has always been pinpointed as a district for those who live a bad live (brothels, drug traffickers…) since middle ages. Progressively, this district has been taken by both immigrants and local young people who have filled it with thousands of shops, museums, restaurants and bar. Currently, this is the coolest place in all Barcelona to experience its personal and cosmopolite way of living. The most espectacular of it all, it’s the mixture of races and people from all over he world. But look out, this is definitely the most dangerous place in the city for tourists, so please hide your camera and don’t look as if you had recently grounded from an UFO.
My suggestion is to start on one of the corners of Plaza Catalunya. On the bottom left hand one you will find a bar with a crowded terrace. That’s the Zurich bar, a place to see and be seen, specially on a sunny day in winter. Altought it is very touristic, I think it’s got a great location.
- Museum of Contemporary Art (MACBA) – I am sure you have seen it previously in thousands of advertisements. This used to be a terribly bad zone in the 80′s with drug traffickers and… However the city council decided to create a museum of contemporary art with a very personal architecture, and that is the result. I have never seen anything “whiter” than this in the world. In the surroundings you will find a lot of shops and restaurants if you go down the “Angels” street. In this square take care with skaters!
- Boqueria market – going down Las Ramblas you will find this market on your right. This is the oldest market in Barcelona. It is very typical because of the incredible choice of things to be bought. Take fruits for example, you will find many that you don’t know what they are, I bet. The way fruits are set is incredibly graphical, specially at the fruits and fish sections. Just behind this market, there is a small terrace on the right hand that’s called “Ra”. Juices are incredible in there. Otherwise, inside the market you can go to “Cal Pinotxo” (main entrance right) for a taking a brunch of king prawns!!
- Las Ramblas, if you want to go from Raval to Gothic district you will have to cross. I would recommend taken a long walk from up Plaza Catalunya down to Colon square. Here you will find thousands of things that will shock you… I am not telling you more things, so that you could discover by yourself. This avenue used to be a “rambla”, that is a small river. Yes! a small river used to go down las Ramblas. If you pay attention to the name of the streets, you will see there are many named after “Porta XXX”. These used to the entrance “gates” to the ancient city, like Portaferrissa or Portal del Angel. In some streets you will also see some red ceramic signals of a red horse saying “Salida” (Exit).
- Cathedral – As many other churches, the Cathedral was built upon the ruins of an old Roman church. Although it is gothic style, the main entrance was finished back in the end of 19th century. In the interior, the cathedral is very similar to many, although very tall. My suggestion is to visit the cloister, as it is very shocking to find animals on it.
- Plaza del Rey – here is where Columbus was received by the Kings after discovering the Americas. Just below these buildings it lays the ancient Roman city. If you happen to visit the City History Museum you will see it.
- Plaza Sant Jaume – here you will find the Generalitat (local gov) and Ajuntament (City council) facing one to each other. If you get there through the Bisbe Street, you will find a crafted gothic bridge among two buildings: awesome!
- Santa Maria del Mar – for many, this is the most wonderful church in Barcelona. This is the epic church in the book “Cathedral of the Sea” by Ildefonso Falcones. Read this book, I beg you so. If you enter, just get back when you are in the middle of the building and see the wonderful rose window. Here is where the the first business associations started. Almost all the streets are named after them (argenteria = silver, caldereria = cauldron, cambios nuevos = new exchangers…). As a matter of fact, this part of the city was crowded with palaces. In one of them, there’s the Picasso Museum. All the streets in here are filled with restaurants and bars. It used to be very very on fashion, but it has become slightly tourist. I would recommend going to el Senyor Parellada for local cuisine.
- If you are not exhausted, you might walk to Park de la Ciutadella. Phillip the V, on XVIII century decided to demolish a whole district in order to build a citadel. This kind is remembered as well by abolishing the local language Catalan. In the 1888 it was decided to reconvert it into the first Universal Exposition in Barcelona. You will see many modern palaces and fountains.
- You can get out of the Park through the Lluis Companys entry in order to see the Triumph Arch.
Day 2 – Modernism and Gaudi
Let’s start in the Paseo de Gracia where you will thing many modern buildings on both sides of the street. My suggestion is to begin in Plaza Catalunya and go up north.
- On the left-hand side, in the number 43, you will find two singular houses Casa Ametller by Puig i Cadafalch (architecht and city mayor) and Batllo House by Antoni Gaudi. The second one can be visited. I cannot really tell you about it, because I have never been there. I consider it too expensive for locals.
- If you continue up, on the right hand you will find La Pedrera. You can visit it. I think that it is not as expensive as Casa Batllo. The only thing worth visiting is the terraces. If you go up, you will enjoying taking pictures playing with the chimneys… just brilliant.
- I would take the underground at Diagonal Station to get to the metro station “Vallcarca”. Once you get off, you will see many signals saying how to go to “Park Guell”. You have to take the street named “Baixada de la Gloria”.
- Once you get to the Park, get lost and discover buy yourself. This site was build in order to create a district of luxury villas. However, the Güell family ended up donating it to the city council, who converted it into a park. The views of the city from the main square are just like heaven. You must visit and take a picture of the dragon and then go out from the park and go down the street until you find Avenida General Mitre, where you can get the underground again.
- Sagrada Familia, you will have to change from the green to the blue line. This sacred place is still being build!! It was design by genius Antoni Gaudi (again). It can be partially visited and you can go up one of the towers. Although expensive, I think it’s worth visiting the interior.
- In one of the corners, you will find an avenue that goes diagonal, that’s the Antoni Gaudi Avenue. At the end of it there’s a modern hospital called Sant Pau i Santa Creu. At the 8th of this avenue, there’s a restaurant called Origens 99%, it is typical catalan cuisine at a very good price.
Day 3 – Pedralbes y Montjuich
I would go to the Pedralbes Monestry and Palace, and if you like it, to the Camp Nou football field.
In the afternoon, I would suggest to Monjuich. You can start at Plaza España, where you will find a bull fighting arena that currently hosts a shopping mall. You can go up the building and see Monjuich from there. Just in front of it you will find an avenue starting with two towers. All you can see in that side was build for the second Universal Expo held in Barcelona in 1929 (if you have time read the book “The city of marvels” by Eduardo Mendoza about this time).
If you start going up the mountain, you will find a fountain (check the operation schedule beforehand).
If you continue climbing, you will find the National Palace, this is the Museum of National Art. It has one of the best romanic collections in the world. This is my best museum in Barcelona, but if you like it depends on you. The views from here are so romantic in the sunset. Specially if there’s a guy playing the spanish guitar.
Continuing up the mountain you get to where the Barcelona ’92 Olympics where held. Sant Jordi stadium by Arata Isozaki, Palau Lluis Companys and Calatrava Tower are great buildings in here.
I often go jogging around at night and I do not recommend to wander here at night, just in case.
Other things to do
1. Go to Villa Olimpic district and grab a bike or a roller skates close to the beach
2. Take a paella at 7 Portes restaurant or buy a the Time Out magazine and take a guess
3. Get two tickets for a match in Barcelona stadium
4. Go shopping at Paseo de Gracia, Rambla Catalunya and Portal del Angel… Zara prices are lower here than anywhere else!!
5. Experience an opera at Liceu or a classical music concert at Palau de la Musica Catalana
6. Take a trip to Sitges, Girona, Tarragona or Monterrat