Barcelona See And Do
Bordered on one side by the glitzy yachts of the Port Vell and on the other by the bronzed bodies basking on the city beaches, this triangle-shaped grid of streets offers a rare chance to catch a last fleeting glimpse of gritty Barcelona. La Barceloneta was a poor fishermen's quarter for generations, and though time has brought greater prosperity, it's still as eclectic as ever. Few haul in the nets these days, but the mariners' legacies live on in the many off-the-beaten-track seafood restaurants. Locals' dives hold their own against a handful of contemporary bars—try La Cova Fumada—as the neighborhood faces an inevitable makeover. A face-lift has already come to the brazenly rebuilt El Mercat de la Barceloneta, where you can shop for fresh produce or dine at the Michelin-starred Lluçanes restaurant. Down on the waterfront, a new sail-shaped W Hotel by Barcelonese architect Ricardo Bofill has not proved quite as popular with the locals but acts as a sign that the secret's out on this waterside neighborhood.
As the name suggests, most of the architecture in this neighborhood, in the heart of Barcelona, is Gothic. Cathedral of Santa Eulàlia, where the martyred Santa Eulàlia was laid to rest after being rolled down the Baixada de Santa Eulàlia in a barrel of glass, was begun in 1298, although its facade is actually neo-Gothic and was tacked on in the 18th century. The magnificent Esglèsia del Pi, is also the real deal, as is the Royal Palace in the Plaça del Rei and parts of the two civic buildings—the Ajuntament and Generalitat—facing off in the Plaça Sant Jordi. Less well preserved though just as authentic and interesting is the recently excavated Synagogue, in use until 1391 and considered the oldest in Spain. There are also some Roman traces in the vicinity, such as pieces of the defense wall and three lone columns that once formed part of a temple at what is now Plaça San Jaume. You can find the full story of Barcelona's birth beneath her shaded medieval streets at the Museu d'Història de la Ciutat, where excavated Roman foundations remain.
6-8 Avinguda del Marquès de Comillas
Tel: 34 93 476 86 00
For one of its first forays into Barcelona's art scene, La Caixa bank converted modernist architect Puig i Cadafalch's Casarramona, a textile factory, into a state-of the-art gallery and added a modern entrance and a walkway by Japanese architect Arata Isozaki. The permanent collection of minimalist and abstract works includes a gargantuan mural by Sol LeWitt in the lobby, but it's the photography and contemporary art exhibits in the first floor's three light-filled galleries that are really special. A room for children holds workshops and activities related to whatever is currently showing—which makes a visit the Caixaforum a great family option.—Updated by Suzanne Wales
Open Sundays through Fridays 10 am to 8 pm, Saturdays 10 am to 10 pm.
116–126 Carrer Roc Boronat
Tel: 34 93 320 87 36
One of the most exciting additions to Poble Nou, a sizable working-class district that's fast becoming a creative and high-tech hub, Can Framis opened in April 2009. Winner of a clutch of architecture awards, it was artfully converted from a 19th-century wool factory with a towering smokestack, which is now surrounded by a tranquil courtyard. Can Framis is part of the Fundació Vila Casas, a project from a local industrialist dedicated to collecting and exhibiting Catalan art. The collection, which spans three floors, displays works of artists either born or living in Catalonia dating back to the 1970s. The collection starts, appropriately enough, with a painting of an icky black brain from artist Jaume Plensa. You will recognize the murky, mixed-media offerings from Tàpies and Agustí Puig's interpretation of Las Meninas, Velázquez's famous court portrait. A separate annex invites private collectors to put their troves on public display, which at the time of writing included Damien Hirst's vibrant and ironic Last Supper screen prints.—Suzanne Wales
Open Tuesdays through Saturdays 11 am to 6 pm.
5 Carrer de Montalegre
Tel: 34 93 306 4100
Located within what was the Casa de Caritat, a charitable institution for the city's poor during the reign of Charles IV, the CCCB in El Raval creates an interesting dialectic with the adjacent MACBA. In its 21st-century incarnation, by architects Piñón and Viaplana, it has become a multidisciplinary space, hosting music, dance, video, and theater sessions along with high-brow seminars on art and politics. In the summer, movies by some of Barcelona's most talented young filmmakers are projected onto a giant silver screen in the 19th-century courtyard. It is also the daytime headquarters of SÓNAR, Europe's largest multimedia, electronic music, and general mayhem festival (34-93-492-9180; www.sonar.es).
47-51 Carrer de Teodor Roviralta
Tel: 34 93 212 60 50
Like most of Barcelona's other museums, this structure in San Gervasi is as impressive as the collection within. Cool and airy, with slate water pools and acres of glass, it is dominated by a glittering chrome spiral staircase that cascades down six floors, offset by raw steel and lit by tangerine and fire-engine-red skylights. Once in the exhibition space proper, visitors encounter an array of interactive objects, such as dinosaur skeletons, ancient Buddhist prayer books, plasma balls, pendulums, stick insects, and scorpion fish. Don't miss the pièce de résistance—a cross-section of the Amazonian rain forest in a giant tank, complete with piranha fish and capybaras (the world's biggest rodent).
A world of spacious boulevards in a neatly beveled grid system, ostentatious houses, fine restaurants, and the city's shopping triangle—Avinguda Diagonal, Passeig de Gràcia, and Rambla Catalunya—the Eixample is as distinctly middle-class today as it was bourgeois in fin-de-siècle Barcelona. Taking its name from the Catalan word for extension, it was built to cope with the ever-swelling population at the start of the 19th century. It is the heart modernisme, the 20th-century art and design movement that juxtaposed elements of nature with skilled craftsmanship. The Eixample contains a host of remarkable buildings: The Mançana de la Discòrdia showcases three of the great modernista architects' work on one block, Casa Amatller by Puig i Cadafalch (1898); Casa Batlló by Gaudí (1904–1906); and Casa Lleó Morera by Lluís Domènech i Montaner (1902 and 1906).
Ribera, more commonly known as El Born in reference to its main axis, Passeig del Born, is a medieval-turned-trendy neighborhood near the city center. After the obligatory visits to the soaring, columned Santa Maria del Mar, the Museu Picasso, and the Passeig del Born (the site of public floggings and burnings during the Spanish Inquisition), you'll probably want to seek out the neighborhood's quieter spots—this area can be overwhelmed with tourists at times. The tranquil Plaça de les Olles is great for an alfresco lunch, while Carrer de L'Esparteria and Carrer Vidriera are lined with quirky boutiques. Also check out the adjacent neighborhood of Sant Pere, which is a bit edgier than trendy El Born. Like New York's Lower East Side or Hoxton in London's East End, San Pere retains its eclectic atmosphere while casually embracing a slower-paced gentrification.
In 1925, journalist Àngel Marsà described fetid El Raval (the slum) as a warren of thieves, prostitutes, and lowlifes; the (mostly deserved) reputation stuck until recently, when a flurry of private and public initiatives—spiffed-up parks, museums, restaurants, and fashionable boutiques—infused El Raval, which borders the Ramblas close to the waterfront, with new life. The lower swath, nearest the port, still attracts some fairly unsavory characters, although regular crackdowns by police and mushrooming gentrification help. First up, visit MACBA a modern art museum surrounded by the best of the barri's new streets and plazas (1 Plaça dels Angels; 34-93-412-0810). Then head south along the palm-filled boulevard of Rambla del Raval, where the ethnic Monraval market thrives on Saturdays. About halfway down, the cylinder-shaped Barceló Raval hotel stands loud and proud, while next door a new film theater is taking shape.
Parc de Montjuïc
Tel: 34 93 443 94 70
After an illustrious career in Le Corbusier's Paris studio and then as Harvard's dean of architecture, Josep Lluís Sert designed the Joan Miró museum in memory of his lifelong friend. It won the prestigious AIA Twenty-Five-Year Award in 2002 in recognition of a "design of enduring significance." And rightly so. An exceptional homage to light and space, the building's airy passages, high ceilings, soaring archways, and accompanying sculpture gardens compose a futuristic Nasrid palace in Parc de Montjuïc. It also holds the world's largest collection of Miró's work, some 11,000 pieces in all. There are sculptures and paintings (including Flame in Space and Nude Woman, and Woman and Bird), a few textiles and ceramics, an almost-complete set of his graphic works, and 8,000 drawings. Most were donated by Miró himself.
This headland park to the southwest of the city welcomes more than 15 million visitors a year to its museums, concert arenas, sports centers, and gardens (only New York City's Central Park gets more foot traffic). Mossén Costa i Llobera is the best collection of its kind in Europe—a secret garden with a sea view, planted with more than 800 exotic species of cacti (Carretera de Miramar 1; 34-93-424-3809; www.bcn.es/parcsijardins/pa_llobera.htm). The Jardí Botànic, with its futuristic steel banks and hardwood walkways, was inaugurated in 1999. The planting pulls together vegetation from Mediterranean-like climates around the world, such as rapistrum rugosum—Texan bastard cabbage (34-93-289-0611; www.bcn.es/parcsijardins/pa_botanic.htm). Full maturation is still a ways off, but for keen gardeners and botanists, it's a fascinating amble.
Girona, Catalonia's second city, an hour's train journey from Barcelona, is fortified by stone ramparts along the banks of the Onyar River—walk along the walls for an excellent bird's-eye view of the city. In addition to smart boutiques, there's a warren of narrow, shady streets and cool courtyards in the medieval quarter, and the Girona cathedral has an 11th-century Charlemagne tower, a beautifully preserved Romanesque cloister, and the world's widest gothic nave. Before a hundred years of persecution (1391 to 1492), the city had a sizable Jewish community, and the Call (Jewish quarter) is one of the best preserved Jewish quarter's in Europe. The Centre Bonastruc ça Porta, home to the Museum of the History of the Jews, is at its center. Take a short taxi ride from town for lunch at the stylish new home of El Celler de Can Roca, a Michelin-starred showcase for some of the most talented cooking in the country.
Fiercely independent, Gràcia is a curious bed partner to the metropolis. Perched above the Eixample, this "village" was entirely separate from the city until the construction of the Passeig de Gràcia in 1897. With a distinctive atmosphere, organic markets, sunny plazas, and cute two-story houses, it retains its neo-radical character and continues to attract students and free spirits in droves (although middle-class residents come to escape the hurly-burly of the center as well). During the third week of August, it's also host to one of the city's most extravagant festivals, the Festa Major de Gràcia (34-93-459-30-80; www.festamajordegracia.cat).
5159 La Rambla
Tel: 34 93 485 99 00
The opulent Liceu was built in 1847 as a paean to the arts, with gilded ballrooms, a hall of mirrors, and an auditorium similar to Milan's Teatro alla Scala. The Liceu suffered two fires over the years, in 1861 and 1994, which ultimately hastened its leap into the 21st century; it's now one of the most technologically advanced theaters in the world. Events range from flamenco shows to ballets to classic operas. There's a standard guided tour for a rundown of the theater's history, but much more interesting is the new behind-the-scenes tour, which reveals the inner workings of the multilevel stage, the costume room, and the technical controls. Tours are given daily from 10 am onward (call ahead in case productions get in the way), and you can reserve tickets in advance (34-93-485-9914). Season ticket holders take up the bulk of the seats for most shows, but you can pick up what's left online, where full details of the programs are also listed.—Updated by Suzanne Wales
Through all Barcelona's self-styled reinvention, the pedestrian walkway known as La Rambla has remained the city's most enduring icon. Even if some locals shy away because of the many tourists, the broad sycamore-lined path stretching a mile from Plaça Catalunya to the harbor is a required visit. It's flanked by famous buildings like the Gran Teatre del Liceu and the atmospheric Café de l'Opera, and the tile mosaics embedded near the Boqueria market are by native son Joan Miró himself. Rambla means "stream" in Arabic, and the pedestrian-only thoroughfare actually used to be a riverbed. These days, it's full of life, with wacky street performers, preening local teenagers, and fútbol fans celebrating the latest Barça victory.
1 Plaça dels Angels
Tel: 34 93 412 0810
When Richard Meier's cool, white, futuristic "ship" sailed into the heart of El Raval, it regenerated an area best known as the underbelly of Barcelona. Inspired by Le Corbusier, the real art here is the building itself—straight lines and curves juxtaposed against a sapphire sky. A skylight-dotted roof floods the interior with natural light. The permanent collection, made up mainly of works from the second half of the 20th century, gives a good overview of the fundamental principles of contemporary art.
48 Carrer Balmes
Tel: 34 93 272 2896
Without doubt, Barcelona's Modernista heritage is its greatest cultural asset. While the shapes and fluid forms of Gaudí, one of the movement's most recognized exponents, are well known, the Modernista manifesto in the decorative arts is less so. The Museu del Modernisme Català, which opened in a typical Eixample town house in March 2010, has a superb collection of furniture, sculpture, and painting. The ground floor holds the most interest, with many pieces from Joan Busquets and Gaspar Homar, both master cabinetmakers who excelled in marquetry techniques, rendering the dainty maidens, idealized scenery, and floral iconography of the period in wood. Gaudí's heavy-handed chairs and plinths from the Casa Calvet are also on display, as is an OTT buffet from the architect Puig i Cadafalch, which, like his famous Casa Amatller, is dotted with instrument-playing beasts. The below-ground floor is dedicated to painting and sculpture, with Josep Llimona's melancholy, marble figurines taking prime place.—Suzanne Wales
Open Mondays through Saturdays 10 am to 8 pm, Sundays 10 am to 2 pm.
Avinguda de les Drassanes
Tel: 34 93 342 9920
In the 13th century, Catalonia was a powerhouse at sea, and many of the kingdom's ships were built in the mammoth Drassanes (Royal Shipyards) in Barcelona. The city's greatest medieval civic structure, the long-lined, elegant Drassanes now houses the Maritime Museum, a fascinating, kid-friendly place that explores Catalonia's seafaring history through reconstructions of ships and fishing boats and interactive exhibits. The museum also has a seaside annex out by the port, which includes a three-masted schooner from 1918; you're free to roam. Currently these are the only parts of the museum that can be visited, until a renovation of the main building is completed by the end of 2012.—Updated by Suzanne Wales
Opening times vary until renovation work is completed; call ahead.
Tel: 34 93 622 0376
Covering 1,000 years of Catalan art, this fully modernized museum on Montjuïc was carved out of the Palau Nacional for the 1929 International Exposition. It has now absorbed the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection (previously at the monastery in Pedralbes) and the works from the city's Museum of Modern Art (a trove of Art Nouveau previously in the Parc de la Ciutadella). Set aside an entire afternoon to fully appreciate the sheer extent of the holdings. The 11th-century Romanesque works constitute one of the best exhibits in the world and include sizable original 13th-century ecclesiastical murals as well as some gruesome medieval and Gothic paintings.—Updated by Suzanne Wales
Open Tuesdays through Saturdays 10:15 am to 6:45 pm, Sundays 10 am to 2:30 pm.
2 Carrer de Sant Francesc de Paula
Tel: 34 90 244 2882
Architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner's masterpiece, the Palau de la Música, was built between 1905 and 1908 in El Born. Montaner was fascinated by small birds and flowers, an obsession that can be traced in the intricate, colorful mosaic work commissioned from Lluís Bru. Within, forests of lushly decorated columns unfold like flower petals to reveal detailed sculptures and dramas set in stone. Each is more opulent than the last: A choir of stone maidens rings the domed ceiling, and Wagner's wild horses gallop out from backstage, while a bust of Beethoven looks on. In 1997, the building was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, and it remains one of the finest concert halls in the world. If you can't get to a performance, tours are held from 9 am to 3:30 pm daily. Tickets are available at the box office.—Updated by Suzanne Wales
Carretera de Vallvidrera a Sant Cugat
Tel: 34 93 280 3552
It's a mere 20 minutes on the FCG train line from Plaça Catalunya, yet most visitors admire these nearly 20,000 acres of open space, Holm Oak forest, and farmland only from the plane. What everyone's missing is innumerable hiking and biking trails, a masia (Catalan farmhouse) lunch of hearty country fare—think barbecue chops and sausages, pa amb tomaquet (bread with tomato), and roasted vegetables—and a glass elevator ride and 360-degree views from the top of Norman Foster's 944-foot Torre de Collserola (Carretera de Vallvidrera al Tibidabo s/n; 34-93-406-93-54; www.torredecollserola.com).
7 Carrer d'Olot
Tel: 34 93 413 24 00
Gaudí's iconic mosaic lizard and two fairy-tale gatehouses are harbingers of the fantastical landscape that lies beyond this park's entrance. Originally conceived as high-class housing for the city's elite, the project never came to pass and the land became the city's domain in 1922. Today, this hilly escape from the heat of downtown on the edge of the city is one of the Barcelona's most beloved outdoor attractions—a world embellished with staircases and benches encrusted with trencadís (shattered colored tiles), the Hall of 100 Columns, and Mount Carmel, which hovers like an island above the city's rooftops.
The Penedès region, southwest of Barcelona, has been making wine since the Romans arrived 2,000 years ago. Its rolling hills are home to some of the biggest names in Spanish still and sparkling wine, such as Torres (www.torres.es), Codorniu (www.codorniu.com), and Freixenet (www.freixenet.com), all of which offer daily cellar tours. Though traditionally known for light, fruity whites and especially sparkling cava, gutsy vintners are earning praises for their balanced reds as well. The area is also gaining respect for boutique bottlings from such wineries as Jean Leon (www.jeanleon.es) and Albet i Noya, Spain's first organic winery (www.albetinoya.com).
Poble Nou is flat, with wide boulevards and low-rise housing. Gentrification of this former industrial neighborhood has come in the form of Diagonal Mar, a gated residential community, and 22@, a dot-com business precinct, both of which have gobbled up a fair amount of Poble Nou's grittier charm. However, the area has spawned a number of decent clubs and bars (most notably Razzmatazz and a couple of the defunct factory buildings have been revived as art and design studios; the exciting Can Framis is a case in point. This is also home to the city's other Rambla—Rambla del Poble Nou—an infinitely more genial alternative to the rowdy Ramblas in town. Another Poble Nou landmark: French architect Jean Nouvel's gigantic phallic Torre Agbar.—Updated by Suzanne Wales
Few visitors venture into Poble Sec, the largely residential "dry village," so named because it lacked any water supply until the 19th century. The narrow streets and 18th-century buildings that back up the east-facing side of Montjuïc (the mountain wedged between the city and sea) offer little in the way of sights—for years, the main draw was tapas at Quimet & Quimet. Slowly but surely, however, Poble Sec is developing a reputation as a cozy neighborhood studded with intimate bars and restaurants springing up along its backstreets, particularly the Carrer Blai. The reopening of El Molino, an iconic music hall in the style of Paris' Moulin Rouge (99 Carrer Vilà i Vilà) suggests a bright new beginning for the area, as does the appearance of 41°, a cocktail bar from the Adrià brothers.—Updated by Suzanne Wales
401 Carrer de Mallorca
Tel: 34 93 207 3031
Never mind that it's a cliché: If you see only one sight in Barcelona, head to the Eixample and see Gaudí's resplendent Sagrada Familia. An architectural "beauty and the beast," it is at once monstrous and breathtakingly beautiful—Modernisme in its ideal state. The church completely embraces the movement's idea of marrying nature with the handicraft of man: An organic quality, earthy tones, and steeples that seem to drip rather than stand make it look as though it has actually grown out of the ground rather than been constructed on top of it. Cavelike windows are inhabited by gargoyles and monsters, and religious scenes from the Last Supper to the Crucifixion are depicted on the facade. Gaudí is buried beneath the nave—he dedicated 40 years to the building, the last 14 of those living there—and in some sense he's still watching over the progress of his life's greatest work from the grave. The church was consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI in late 2010, meaning that services can now be held here, well before the expected completion date of 2026.—Updated by Suzanne Wales
Open daily 9 am to 6 pm, October through March; 9 am to 8 pm, April through September.
Less than 35 minutes away by train from Barcelona's Sants station, Sitges is a small, self-confident seaside town. It was "discovered" as a bohemian outpost in the latter part of the 19th century by the artist Santiago Rusiñol, who made it the darling of Barcelona's artistic classes when he moved his studio there and began throwing decadent parties. The feeling of bonhomie has survived to this day, and the town's whitewashed houses, pretty cobbled streets, ornate villas, and beaches attract a diverse crowd of gay partygoers, families, and hipsters. The most exciting times to visit are during carnival (early spring), the Festa Major (August), and a film festival that specializes in all things macabre (October). Ornately tiled, neogothic Cau Ferrat was built by Rusiñol to join his two cottages together and is now a popular museum (Carrer del Fonollar; 34-93-894-0364). Arrive early to beat the crowds.