European City Breaks: Barcelona
Barcelona is a city that will forever be linked with football. But if you think that is all this city has to offer then you’d do well to rethink that position. This vibrant, pulsating and bustling city is home to some beautiful architecture, warren-like alleyways and samba-inspired street-performers.
Barcelona is a rarity in so far as it is as famed for its beautiful beach as well as its bustling streets. It is a perfect holiday for a couple or family who want to combine the laid back feeling of a beach break with the cultural thrills of a city break.
Visitors will fly in to Barcelona Airport, which is roughly an hour’s drive from the city centre. You would do well to book your car rental in advance from the easyCar website to save the hassle of sorting it at the airport.
Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia, a fiercely proud region in the north–east of Spain. The region has its own language, Catalan. But don’t worry if you’ve been brushing up on your Spanish skills before going, everyone except the most die-hard locals speak Spanish as well.
In 1992 Barcelona hosted the Summer Olympics and has left behind an array of striking stadia that are well worth taking a day in the car to explore their various locations across the city. The most impressive of which is undoubtedly the high-diving board. To the audience and television viewers it looked as though the diver is diving right into the heart of the city below.
Famous architect Antoni Gaudi’s flowing buildings are a fixture in a city that is already full of jewelled and statue-covered landmarks.
Top 5 things to do
1. La Sagrada Familia
Designed by the famous architect Gaudi. This church is remarkable for its construction status; work started in 1882 and to this day is still not complete. When questioned on this, Gaudi commented, “My client is not in a hurry.” You’d hope not, as completion is projected to be around 2028. The sheer complexity and intricacy of the build has meant this is one of the longest building projects in modern times. Recent innovations have brought the completion date substantially forward from its original several hundred-year projection. The spires tower above the city and typify Gaudi’s asymmetric style.
2. Montserrat Mountain
For this particular attraction it may be worth parking the car at the lower cable car station, which is an hour’s drive from the city centre, and taking the short cable-car ride into the mountain. Make sure to wear some suitable footwear as you walk through acres of glorious hillside. Drop into the Benedictine Abbey for a tranquil break after a hard day’s walk. Inside the Virgin of Montserrat statue is housed. It is a beautiful and deeply religious artefact that pilgrims far and wide journey to see.
3. Camp Nou
Football is like a way of life for many Catalans. And why not? When you have one of the best teams in the world on your doorstep, it is understandable to be drawn to the beautiful game. The Camp Nou stadium was built in the fifties and is the fifth largest football stadium in the world, and substantially the largest in Europe, with a capacity of 99,354. Legends of the game such as Cruyff, Ronaldo, Eto’o and currently Messi have made Barcelona their home. Whether there to catch a game, join a tour of the ground or just shop in the vast Nike store the stadium is well worth the short drive from the city centre.
4. The Magic Fountain of Montjuic
A magical show that is a great end to the day for any family. A water show is incorporated with lights and atmospheric music. The music varies between each session. It is worth noting that performances take place between May and September, Thursday through Sunday, every half hour between 9 pm and 11 pm. Be warned, the fountain gets busy early so for a good position and a comfortable place to watch you should look to get there around 45 minutes earlier.
5. Picasso Museum
Having opened in 1963 this was to be the first museum dedicated to the works of Spain’s most celebrated painter, Pablo Picasso. The painter had a long-standing connection with the city, having lived there for long periods of his life. Spanning across five converted palaces, the collection has works across many disciplines and from various periods in his life.
Where to eat and where to go out
Barcelona and the surrounding Catalan region is the home of Cava, a variety of sparkling wine. You can expect a lot of restaurants and bars to sell bottles or glasses of Cava at a very reasonable price. Generally speaking eating out is reasonable, so too are the many bars and cafes lining all of the streets.
La Rambla is the main tourist centre and is a long road lined with tourist-friendly bars and restaurants. There are also a fair number of street vendors and exotic street performers to keep you entertained as you promenade up and down. Be warned this is a tourist hotspot, and with it comes a heightened risk of pick pocketing. Keep your wits about you and your possessions safely away from wandering eyes and hands.
You will see a lot of the usual chain shops along this street, so if you want to avoid the more touristy areas in favour of something a bit more authentic it may be worth breaking off the well-trodden path. El Xampanyet is a bar with the authentic Catalan look and feel that serves traditional Catalonian bar snacks and tapas as well as the world-famous Cava.
La Caseta Del Migdia is an outdoor restaurant that can be found on the slopes of Montjuic, the large hill that rises out of the side of Barcelona. It is a perfect stop off for those wandering in the hills that need a break for a bite to eat and something to drink in the well-shaded garden. El Jardi is similar in that it is an outside bar that serves a wide array of drinks and cocktails to keep the weary traveller well watered. This one can instead be found right in the centre of the city.,/p>
Lata-Bern@ is a fresh and modern take on the (at times) well-worn tapas menu you will find around the city. Modern takes and fresh twists are made on old classics whilst keeping a backbone of the best that the region has to offer to keep the traditionalist happy.
Barcelona is a modern and vibrant city that has kept hold of its historic past. It is well worth the visit, particularly in the summer months where you can enjoy the beach as much as the bustling city centre. Now don’t forget the hire car before setting off.