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Published: June 13th 2014
Every city has a short list of citizens it's proud to call her own, but for Barcelona, this list is a vast expanse of historic figures who have altered the landscape of humanity, particularly in the world of art and design. The likes of Pablo Picasso (arguably the most famous artist behind da Vinci and van Gogh), Antonio Gaudi (the father of Barcelona's most renown landmark, La Sagrada Familia), and Salvador Dali (the most famous Surrealist in history) have resided on these streets and left their footprints. Around every corner and down each alley, they've left their mark on the city, making Barcelona a mecca for lovers of the arts and architecture.
Foreigners to Barcelona must realize that Spain comprises of many autonomous states that came together to form one nation, but each still maintains its own culture, customs, and even language, making traveling around this country like visiting many different nations. This Catalonian city boasts great food and people, but its most significant contribution to the world is its architecture, so much so that in 1999, the city was awarded the RIBA Royal Gold Medal for its design, the first and only time an entire community has won the
award rather than an individual architect.
To experience this beauty first-hand, you need to catch a flight into the local airport called El Prat. Kristina and I took RyanAir from Porto to Barcelona for a quick day in the city. The airfare cost $60 roundtrip, but make sure you don't have any luggage because that will almost double your expense. RyanAir is a low-cost carrier that has limited routes and airports that it flies into, but this airline is perfect if you're willing to plan ahead and be flexible with your destinations. Once you touch down, use the metro for a small fee to get into the city center, making sure to get off at the Passeig de Gracia stop. Surrounding the station is the Eixample district and from here continue south along this wide boulevard populated with high-end designers and big fashion conglomerates. Keep walking to Placa da Catalunya, a plaza that feels like the heart of the town through which every road passes, and nearby is an American-style shopping mall called El Cortes Ingles, which is obviously a tourist trap. Go south and you will encounter the most popular street in Barcelona, La Rambla. This is a
This Guadi-designed park overlooks the entire city with the Mediterranean Sea on the horizon.
lively street lined with small shops, picturesque town squares like Placa Reial, and bustling marketplaces like La Boqueria where you will witness fruits so vivid in color you'd think they were painted and meat so fresh the blood is still oozing. Wander around and try the array of sweets at the market, buy some Spanish sausage called chorizo or a warm baguette at a cafe, and taste churros dipped in dark chocolate that melts in your mouth. After satisfying your appetite, head south to the statue of Christopher Columbus overlooking the harbor and pass into Barceloneta, the waterfront marina that received an upgrade in preparation for the 1992 Summer Olympics. This modernized area of town consists of a boardwalk in Port Vell known as the Rambla del Mar, which extends into the bay that has plenty of mini-attractions such as an aquarium. Passing through this loop will return you to the mainland where you will see the Olympic Village to the distant east, but proceed northward onto Via Laietana. By this point, you've taken a tour around the margins of the Barri Gotic (Gothic district), which is considered the historical part of Barcelona dating back to the Roman settlement of
The heart of the city through which everything branches out from.
Next on your trip is El Born district, regarded as the more trendy part of town. You should visit the Santa Caterina market (free before 3:30 p.m.) on Avenida de Francesc Cambo, then walk east to the Picasso Museum, both of which we failed to see due to time limitations. Then go to Igreja de Santa Maria del Mar (free after 4:30 p.m.), a testament of gothic architecture. Follow the road in front of the church called Passeig del Born and it will lead you to Mercat del Born, another marketplace where you can take a break and taste some genuine Spanish tapas. You've now hit all the hotspots in El Born, so head back to the metro station where you will take a hike to the outskirts of town to Parc Guell and La Sagrada Familia, both famous symbols of the city. But before you hop on the metro, visit Casa Batllo and Casa Mila on the Block of Discord about 3 intersections north of the station. These two former residential buildings in the early 20th century are masterpieces of Antonio Gaudi and exemplify the Art Nouveau style that catapulted him into stardom.
Rambla del Mar
The boardwalk in Port Vell of Barcaloneta
two landmarks you should visit are also Gaudi's creations: La Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell. A short metro ride will get you to these locations. La Sagrada Familia was started in 1882 and over a century later, its incompletion hasn't deterred visitors from flocking to marvel at its eccentric design. While tour books and other travelers have proclaimed great things about this emblem of Barcelona, Kristina and I found it underwhelming and quite honestly, ugly. But beauty is in the eye of the beholder and regardless of how you judge its attractiveness, La Sagrada Familia is a must-see, even if it's just to say you saw it. Parc Guell, on the contrary, is a gorgeous piece of work found on top of a hill. It was originally conceived as a residential community for the wealthy but failed, so it was converted to a public garden for everyone to enjoy. From the Vallcarca stop on the metro, you have to climb a staircase to heaven before you reach the park, but boy is it worthwhile. The top of the hill affords you the best panoramic of the city, but simply roaming around within the park is an adventure, so take some
time to explore all the nooks and crannies.
After a good hour in Parc Guell, it's almost dinner time so we returned to the city center where there are more dining options. When in Barcelona, you can't go wrong with tapas so that's exactly what we did. Done with a satisfying meal and good people watching, we decided to take another quick stroll down Passeig de Gracia to window shop, stopping occasionally for little sweets before heading back to the airport to catch a flight back to Porto for much needed sleep. Our itinerary in the morning: train ride to Lisbon for a day strolling down winding alleys, narrow streets, hilly sidewalks, and scenic vistas in the charming neighborhood of Alfama!
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