- The first thing my friends ask me when I return from a work trip, either refreshingly rejuvenated or completely shattered (it depends on the city), is ‘Where to next?’ Seldom have they actually enquired about one particular city, wondering ‘When do you go to…?’ Only once have they done so. The city in question was Barcelona, capital of Catalonia. For some reason or other it was the city that caused the highest levels of interest among my comrades which fuelled my desire to get there even more.
One of the world’s most innovative architects
Apart from a long-waited visit to the Nou Camp, home to the world-famous football club that shares the name of its home city, the other element of Barcelona I was most looking forward to encountering was its architecture. This was thanks to the buildings of one Antoni Gaudi, one of its most famous citizens (even though he wasn’t actually born there). Hailing from a town called Reus about an hour outside Barcelona, he devised some of the world’s most innovative buildings.
Best known of his creations (he has 14 works around the city centre and its districts) is La Sagrada Familia (open daily from 9am-6pm (until 8pm from March to Sept); admission €8). Ironically, while it is this building Gaudi is most synonymous with, he never finished it. Instead, this temple is still being constructed, making it arguably the most visited building site in the world. Once within Barcelona’s most emblematic building you’ll see what it will look like when it’s (allegedly) finished in 2010. You’ll also see hundreds of labourers plough through their daily work to ensure they meet their deadline along with the stunning façade at the rear of the building.
Passeig de Gracia is where you will find an additional two of Gaudi’s most ground-breaking buildings. Walking north from Plaza de Catalunya, the first you will encounter is Casa Battlo, (open daily from 9am-8pm, admission €16 for top and bottom/€10 for each section) described by Dali as “a house of sea forms, representing waves on a stormy day". Of all the eccentric architect’s buildings, this is the one which most fascinates me. It is in this building that you really see how Gaudi’s mind worked; how straight lines were nowhere to be seen and how, once he had a vision in his mind, he set out and created it. Just across the road from it is La Predrea (open daily from 9am-8pm; admission €10), an apartment block best known for its futuristic chimney tops that resemble helmets worn by the menacing starship troopers from Star Wars. I kid you not.
These three buildings are only three of fourteen Gaudi creations sprinkled through the city. So where are the rest? Well the streetlamps in Plaça Reial just off La Ramblas were spawned by his creativity, as was Palau Güell just across the road on Nou de la Rambla along with Casa Calvet (Carrer de Casp). The one thing these buildings share in common is that they are in the city centre. Outside the city, Parc Güell, a swift 15 minute metro ride from Las Ramblas, is one most worth taking time out to visit. Particularly enticing on a clear, bright day, it boasts breathtaking views over Barcelona and has some of the most unique, albeit not entirely comfortable park benches in the world.
Naturally, Barcelona has more to offer than the works of an odd, yet gifted architect. Las Ramblas, the city’s famous street (it’s actually 5 streets amalgamating into one) hustles and bustles all day long. You don’t know where to look as you weave your way through the thousands who pour up and down it every day. Dotted all along it are pet stalls selling everything from lazy lizards to bouncing budgies. If you’re travelling companions are beginning to get under your skin and you feel the need for some fresh faces to look at, this is where to come.
Other points of interest not to be missed in the Catalonian capital include the enchanting Barri Gothic, Barcelona’s old town and Camp Nou (open daily 10am-6.30pm; admission €9.90 for museum and guided tour of stadium) where one of the greatest football teams in the world entertain their army of adoring fans between September and June is a must for all football fans. You also shouldn’t miss Montjuïc where you can find some of the city’s best museums, attractions and parks, and Port Olympic, the city’s latest development which came as a result of the city given the task of hosting the 1992 Olympic Games.
Tapas, Tapas, Tapas
If you’re one who enjoys delighting your taste buds with flavours and dishes from around the world, then you won’t find too much to keep your mouth happy with in this city. Dining out in Barcelona isn’t exclusively a Spanish affair, but the vast majority of eateries deal mainly in local specialities, and in particular tapas. For those of you not sure of what exactly tapas are, they are a selection of small savoury snacks that are eaten either on their own as a snack or collectively as a meal. There. Now you know.
You can pretty much get tapas anywhere in the city. Bar del Pi (Plaça Sant Josep Oriol 1, open Mon-Sat 9am to 11pm; Sun 9am to 10pm) is a quaint tapas bar in the heart of the tourist quarter that still has a decent selection of tapas dishes for €3. If you’re lucky a pianist will be tickling the ivory keys of the lower level piano. An altogether more fun affair is Can Paixano (C/de la Reina Cristina, 7; open daily from 9am-11pm), a tapas/champagne bar where, once you treat yourself to a portion of tapas, you can pick up a bottle of cheap champagne for around €4 or under. It gets painfully busy after 7pm though, so make sure to duck down early.
If tapas isn’t your thing and you’re looking for something a tad more conventional, you can do worse than an ‘all-you-can-eat’ buffet from Fresco (Ronda Universidad, 29; open daily from 12.30pm-1am). Once you give the cashier €7.80 (buffet costs €9.20 after 8pm and at weekends) you can shovel as much pizza, pasta and salad into your mouth as you possibly can.
Barcelona after dark
You can eat out in Barcelona deep into the night which is a good thing as its nightlife doesn’t really get alive and kicking until after midnight. There are bars in every nook and cranny around the city but by far the most vibrant district is El Borneo, just minutes from the Barri Gothic. Its main thoroughfare Passeig del Borneo is lined with bars either side, some specialising in cocktails, others attracting those pursuing a straightforward few beers. Borneo on the corner of this street and C/del Rec gets a good crowd at weekends.
Veering away from the El Born district, Bosc de les Fades (Pasaje de la Banca; open daily from 10am-1.30am) is like something out of Middle Earth. In this bar tucked down a small alley at the bottom of Las Ramblas (look for the sign to the wax museum), it’s not people you have to weave your way through, it’s trees you have to watch out for! Over the other side of Las Ramblas in the El Raval district is Bar Marsella (C/de Sant Pau, 65; open nightly from 10pm-2.30am) a bar that takes the words ‘rustic’ and ‘charm’ to a whole new level. The favoured poison of most that frequent this slightly grimy drinking hole is ‘absenta’, a close relative of absinthe. Don’t visit here on your own though. The locals loitering on the street outside are a tad shady.
After returning from Barcelona (rejuvenated, in case you were wondering), I can see why so many of my friends have taken such a shine to it. It’s on the coast so you can laze on the beach when the sun shows its face. It’s got some of the world’s most ground-breaking architecture making it a dream to walk around. It also rivals many cities around the world for the coveted moniker of ‘Liveliest City After Dark’. But just one thing still baffles me though – how come it took an Olympic Games for the world to see it was one of the world’s greatest cities?
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