The bustling seaside capital of Spain’s Catalonia region, Barcelona flaunts all the hallmarks of a cosmopolitan European metropolis with deep historic roots. The sixth most populous city in the European Union, Barcelona has a unique culture, noted architecture and a delectable cuisine that attract scores of tourists from around the globe.
Stroll through time.
Barcelona’s distinct and diverse architecture speaks of bygone times that stretch back millennia. From ancient-city walls to Gothic churches, the city’s history lives in its structures. Start your jaunt in Barcino, the Roman name for Barcelona, in the City History Museum of Barcelona, which chronicles the Roman’s mark on the region.
The museum, which is often sidelined in city tours, houses such remarkable ruins like a wine factory and a cloth dyeing shop. Another magnificent relic from that time is the 2,000-year-old Temple of Augustus, Rome’s first Emperor. Not much of it has withstood the relentless assault of time, however.
Today, only the Corinthian Columns stand tall – in a small courtyard in Barri Gothic, or the Gothic Quarter.
Antoni Gaudi, a famed Catalan Art Nouveau master.
Here you will also stumble upon soaring cathedrals and serene plazas that date back to the Middle Ages. Presiding over Barri Gotic is the Catedral de Barcelona, the city’s principal cathedral. A design masterpiece, the intricate exterior shields a stately altarpiece as well as 140 statues of saints. Aside from its religious significance, the cathedral harbors some stunning features that appear more cosmopolitan – its cloister has a verdant tropical garden, while the rooftop reveals remarkable city views.
No exploration of Barcelona’s famed architectural eons is complete without seeing the creations of Antoni Gaudi, a famed Catalan Art Nouveau master. In some ways, to understand Gaudi’s style is to grasp the city’s character itself. Stop by Casa Batllo, an apartment building that is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Inspired by the legend of the St. George, the design features vibrant tiles and skeletal balconies that are said to depict the dragon the Saint slew. Inside, the Casa, which once belonged to the Batllo family, is equally magnificent with its stand-out interiors.
Another of Gaudi’s must-see designs is La Sagrada Familia, or the Church of the Sacred Family. Known for his saying, “My client (God) is in no hurry,” Gaudi died in 1926 before completing the project, which is said to reach its final grandeur by 2026. With the goal to teach visitors about Catholicism through architecture, Gaudi erected four columns to represent the 12 apostles and a carved façade to relay Christ’s story. As a result, albeit incomplete, the Church is arguable Gaudi’s best work.
The prolific architect he was, Gaudi designed parks as well. One of his most famous recreational undertakings is Parc Guell, which sprawls on 42 acres that remind of English gardens but also carry Gaudi’s hard-to-miss aesthetic. The park, for instance, does not have separate benches. It flaunts one long, meandering bench, decorated with sparkling mosaics. A place to rest, Parc Guell is also a place to marvel at an artist’s sensitivity that lives on throughout the city.
The right packs for a packed itinerary.
Whether you fly to Barcelona or drive or take a train – or even a cruise – SWISSGEAR 7621 luggage set has the space and functionality to accommodate your needs. The carry-on luggage as well as the 25” and 29” cases boast durable padded grab handles, locking telescopic lift handles and 360-degree wheels that afford easy maneuverability no matter your mode of transportation. Inside, elastic clothing straps, a separate wet bag, large mesh side pouches can securely carry all your necessities – and more.
If you seek a special backpack for your digital devices, however, look no further than SWISSGEAR 6758 ScanSmart TSA Laptop Backpack. The zipped mesh pockets keep your items safe, while the Airflow Technology on the back panel keep you comfortable and sweat-free.
When it comes to protection and security, these should extend to your travel documents as well. The SWISSGEAR RFID cover shields your passport from the tear and wear of airport and border-crossing checks. It is a smart thing to have. So is the SWISSGEAR Worldwide Adaptor Plug. No matter whether you come to Barcelona from across the Atlantic Ocean or from Eastern Europe or Asia, you will need it. The safety lock and the surge protector are welcome features.
Las Ramblas – All the touristy bustle in a single street.
Stretching in the very heart of Barcelona, Las Ramblas is a pedestrian-friendly pathway that bustles with tourists from dawn to dusk, and beyond. During the day, you can pick up souvenirs, enjoy buskers’ performances, relax or grab a quick bite at the numerous cafés that line the mile-long street.
A lively jumble of souls during the waking hours, Las Ramblas is seldom a congregation spot for Catalans. But at sunset, this changes. With the scores of bars here, the street attracts tourists and locals, alike, looking to start their night out.
Raucous and crowded as it is, Las Ramblas is well worth a stroll, even if it is only for Boqueria Market, the city’s first local market. Continuing the century-old custom of hawking delectable treats, the market offers fresh meat, fish, produce, juice and desserts, among a myriad of options. Some of the Spanish favorites you can find here are Manchego cheese and salted cod.
Talking about food, Barcelona is truly a paradise. Las Ramblas, including the market, has a slew of bistros and restaurants to fill your belly. Bar Ramblero is among the newest additions to the area and arguably one of the best. Its seafood, patrons say, is as good as it can get. Another gem is El Quim de la Boqueria, a family joint lead by a father and his two sons. The menu teems with local dishes, prepared in a homey style.
Bar Pinotxo boasts a similar authentic vibe with its no-frill fare that has attracted several celebrities over the years, including Woody Allen. If you are looking for more refined dining options, head to Els Sortidors del Parlament. It is a classic yet modern bodega – Spain’s signature style of wine shops that also sell food – that serves mouth-watering Catalan meals with a carefully curated selection of wines and beers.
Outside the city.
Do not forget that Barcelona lies on the Mediterranean shore. Take a break from your escapades around the city and head to the beach. In fact, Barcelona has two – La Barceloneta and Platja de la Nova Icaria, separated by the Port Olimpic harbor. The former is livelier, but both present the perfect setting for sunbathing, swimming, jogging and even bike riding.
In the opposite direction loom the Collserola hills, which not only afford a panoramic view of Barcelona and the sea, but also invite hiking, mountain bike riding and jogging. If you are reluctant to leave the city, however, Montjuic hill in the center of Barcelona is the place to go for an escape into nature – and history. Its bucolic gardens are the perfect spot to shake off the bustle of the city. The stone castle has layers of history to unravel – from its watchtower purpose in the 11th century to its role in the War of the Spanish Succession to its prison function during the War of the Pyrenees.
From its remarkable architecture to its local markets, from its brilliant seashore to its underrated museums, Barcelona pulsates with a rhythm of its own, one that is unmistakably modern and, yet, beguilingly antiquated. It is a city that truly beckons. It is a city that will leave you pining for more vacation days once your stay comes to an end.
It is a city that truly beckons. It is a city that will leave you pining for more vacation days once your stay comes to an end.