Barcelona – Spain’s second city, and the self-confident capital of Catalunya – vibrates with life, and there’s certainly not another city in the country to touch it for sheer style, looks or energy. It’s long had the reputation of being the avant-garde capital of Spain, its art museums are world-class, its football team sublime, while its designer restaurants, bars, galleries and shops lead from the front. In terms of things to do in Barcelona, in Antoni Gaudí’s extraordinary church of the Sagrada Família, the winding alleys and ageing mansions of the picture-postcard Gothic Quarter, and the world-famous boulevard that is the Ramblas, you have three sights that are high up any Spanish sightseeing list. As a thriving port, prosperous commercial centre and buzzing cultural capital of three million people, the city is almost impossible to exhaust – even in a lengthy visit you will likely only scrape the surface.
What to see in Barcelona? Everyone starts with the Ramblas, and then dives straight into the medieval nucleus of the city, the Barri Gòtic (Gothic Quarter), but there are plenty of other central old-town neighbourhoods to explore, from La Ribera – home to the celebrated Museu Picasso – to funky El Raval, where cool bars, restaurants and boutiques have mushroomed in the wake of the striking contemporary art museum, MACBA. Even if you think you know these heavily touristed neighbourhoods well, there’s always something else to discover – tapas bars hidden down alleys little changed for a century or two, designer boutiques in gentrified old-town quarters, bargain lunches in workers’ taverns, unmarked gourmet restaurants, craft outlets and workshops, fin-de-siècle cafés, restored medieval palaces and neighbourhood markets.
But endlessly fascinating as these districts are, Barcelona is so much more than just its old-town areas. The fortress-topped hill of Montjuïc, for example, contains the Olympic stadium used for the 1992 Games as well as some of the city’s best art museums, notably MNAC, ie the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya – note the word “nacional”, which tells you all you need to know about Catalunya’s strong sense of identity. Other museums too explore the work of internationally famous Catalan artists, from Joan Miró to Antoni Tàpies, while in the nineteenth-century, uptown extension of the city – the Eixample – are found most of Barcelona’s celebrated modernista architectural wonders, from private houses to Gaudí’s peerless church.
If Barcelona sounds a bit too much like hard cultural work, then simply look instead for entertainment to the city’s harbour, parks, gardens and beaches. Indeed, it’s remarkably easy to forget you’re in a big city at all some times – just to take one example, walking from the Port Vell harbour takes you along the marina, through the old fishing and restaurant quarter of Barceloneta, past the leafy Parc de la Ciutadella, and out along the beachside promenade to the bar-and-restaurant zone that is the Port Olímpic. Other easy city jaunts include a trip out to the Diagonal Mar conference and exhibition district for the new natural science museum, or up to the distinctive neighbourhood of Gràcia, with its small squares, lively bars and Gaudí’s amazing Parc Güell. If you’re saving yourself for just one aerial view of Barcelona, wait for a clear day and head for Tibidabo, a mountain-top amusement park backed by the Collserola hills, while beyond the city limits the one day-trip everyone should make is to the mountain-top monastery of Montserrat, 40km northwest.Read More
Festivals in Barcelona
Festivals in Barcelona
Festes de Santa Eulàlia A week’s worth of music, dances, parades of gegants (giants), castellers (human castle-builders) and fireworks in honour of one of Barcelona’s patron saints – the saint’s day falls on February 12.
Semana Santa (Holy Week) There’s a procession from the church of Sant Agustí on c/de l’Hospital (El Raval) to La Seu, starting at 4pm on Good Friday, while Palm Sunday sees the blessing of the palms at La Seu.
23: Día de Sant Jordi St George’s Day, dedicated to Catalunya’s dragon-slaying patron saint – the city fills with roses and books, exchanged by sweethearts as gifts.
Last week: Primavera Sound The city’s hottest music festival heralds a massive three-day bash, attracting top names in rock, indie and electronica.
Last week: Festival de Flamenco de Ciutat Vella Five days of guitar recitals, singing and dancing, plus DJ sessions and chill-out zone.
Usually 2nd or 3rd week: Sónar Europe’s most cutting-edge electronic music, multimedia and urban art festival attracts up to 100,000 visitors for three days of brilliant noise and spectacle. By day, the focus is on events at MACBA/CCCB; by night, the action shifts to out-of-town L’Hospitalet, with all-night buses running from the city to the Sónar bars and clubs.23/24: Verbena/Día de Sant Joan The “eve” and “day” of St John is the city’s wildest annual celebration, with bonfires and fireworks (particularly on Montjuïc), drinking and dancing, and watching the sun come up on the beach. The day itself (24th) is a public holiday.
End June to August: Festival de Barcelona Grec The summer’s foremost arts and music festival, with main performances at Montjuïc’s open-air Greek theatre.
First week: Montjuïc de Nit Once a year, Montjuïc’s galleries throw open their doors for the night, while parks, spaces and buildings across the whole hillside throb with free gigs, dance, theatre, films, street art and family events.
Mid-month: Festa Major de Gràcia Music, dancing, fireworks and castellers in the neighbourhood’s streets and squares.
11: Diada Nacional The Catalan national day is a public holiday in Barcelona.
24: Festes de la Mercè The city’s biggest traditional festival lasts for a week around the 24th – the 24th itself is a public holiday (and there’s free entry that day to city museums). Highlights include costumed giants, breathtaking firework displays and competing teams of castellers.
Third week: Festival de Tardor Ribermúsica Wide-ranging four-day music festival held in the Born, with free concerts in historic and picturesque locations.
End October to November: Festival de Jazz The biggest annual jazz festival in town highlights big-name solo artists and bands.
1–22: Fira de Santa Llúcia A Christmas market and crafts fair outside La Seu.
Finding a hotel vacancy in Barcelona can be very difficult, so it’s always best to book in advance, especially at Easter, in summer and during festivals or trade fairs. Prices are high for Spain – absolute cheapest rooms in a simple family-run hotel, sharing a bathroom, cost around €50 (singles from €30), though for private facilities €70–80 a night is more realistic. Places with a bit of boutique styling start at around €100, while for Barcelona’s most fashionable hotels, count on €250 to €400 a night. In youth hostels, or cheap hotels with dorms, a bed goes for between €15 and €30 a night, depending on the season. You can reserve hotel accommodation online with the city tourist board or make same-day bookings in person only at their tourist offices.
You’ll probably do most of your eating where you do most of your sightseeing. However, if you venture no farther than the Ramblas, or the streets around La Seu, you are not going to experience the best of the city’s cuisine – in the main tourist areas, food and service can be indifferent and prices high. Instead, explore the backstreets of neighbourhoods like Sant Pere, La Ribera, El Raval and Poble Sec, where you’ll find excellent restaurants, some little more than hole-in-the-wall taverns, others surprisingly funky and chic. Most of the big-ticket, destination-dining restaurants are found in the Eixample, while Gràcia is a pleasant place to spend the evening, with plenty of good mid-range restaurants. For fish and seafood, you’re best off in the harbourside Barceloneta district or at the Port Olímpic.
Most cafés are open from 7 or 8am until midnight, or much later – so whether it’s coffee first thing or a late-night nibble, you’ll find somewhere to cater for you. Restaurants generally open 1 to 4pm and 8.30 to 11pm, though in tourist zones like the Ramblas and Port Olímpic, restaurants tend to stay open all day.
Drinking and nightlife
Drinking and nightlife
Whatever you’re looking for from a night out, you’ll find it somewhere in Barcelona – bohemian boozer, underground club, cocktail bar, summer dance palace, techno temple, Irish pub or designer bar, you name it. Best known of the city’s nightlife haunts are its hip designer bars, while there’s a stylish club and music scene that goes from strength to strength fuelled by a potent mix of resident and guest DJs, local bands and visiting superstars.
Local listings magazines Guía del Ocio (wguiadelociobcn.com) and Time Out Barcelona (wtimeout.cat) cover current openings, hours and club nights, and most bars, cafés and music stores carry flyers and free magazines containing news and reviews. For the Barcelona music scene, check out the websites watiza.com and wbarcelonarocks.com.
Opening hours and closing days Most bars stay open until 2am, or 3am at weekends, while clubs tend not to open much before midnight and stay open until 5am, or even later at weekends – fair enough, as they’ve often barely got started by 3am. Unlike restaurants, bars and clubs generally stay open throughout August.
Admission charges Some clubs are free before a certain time, usually around midnight. Otherwise, expect to pay €10–20, though this usually includes your first drink (if there is free entry, don’t be surprised to find that there’s a minimum drinks’ charge of anything up to €10). Tickets for gigs run from €20 to €50, depending on the act though there are cheaper gigs (€5–20) almost every night of the year at a variety of smaller clubs and bars.
Arts and culture
Arts and culture
As you would expect from a city of its size, Barcelona has a busy entertainment calendar – throughout the year there’ll be something worth catching, whether it’s a contemporary dance performance, cabaret show or night at the opera. Classical and contemporary music, in particular, gets an airing in some stunning auditoriums, while the city boasts a long tradition of street and performance art, right down to the human statues plying their trade on the Ramblas. A useful first stop for tickets and information is the Palau de la Virreina, Ramblas 99 (daily 10am–8.30pm; 933 161 000; Liceu). ServiCaixa (902 332 211, servicaixa.com) and TelEntrada (902 101 212, telentrada.com) are the main advance booking agencies.
The city council’s Institute of Culture website, bcn.cat/cultura, covers every aspect of art and culture in the city. Otherwise, the best listings magazines are the weekly Guía del Ocio (guiadelociobcn.com) and Time Out Barcelona (timeout.cat), online or from any newspaper stand.
While not on a par with Paris or the world’s other style capitals, Barcelona still leads the way in Spain when it comes to shopping. It’s the country’s fashion and publishing capital, and there’s a long tradition of innovative disseny (design), from clothes and accessories to crafts and household goods. The annual sales (rebaixes, rebajas in Castilian) follow the main fashion seasons – mid-January until the end of February, and throughout July and August.