Barcelona’s top 10 attractions

Posted by Justin Fox on 19 January 2011

Barcelona is one of Europe’s most seductive cities. Visitors come for its art and architecture, round-the-clock street culture and excellent cuisine. The nightlife is reason alone to visit this Mediterranean port city. If you’re downtown during a fiesta or after an FC Barcelona soccer victory, expect to party until dawn.

Parts of the city are undergoing continual and innovative renewal; others bask in the glories of a prosperous past. Barcelona’s medieval period saw massive growth that left the city with a beautiful Gothic quarter. Much later the Modernistas, led by Antoni Gaudí, bequeathed Barcelona a swathe of remarkable Art Nouveau buildings. Today, a new guard of modern architects is trying to outdo the masters who came before.

For art buffs there’s the early period of Picasso, Dali’s Triangle and the grand-scale works of Joan Miró to keep them trawling the galleries and museums for days. Others head for the beaches, or sleep the day away to be ready for a night of dining and clubbing. Whatever your inclination, the following list should offer reason enough to put Barcelona on your next European itinerary.

Here are my top 10 sites:

1. Sagrada Família

Gaudí’s unfinished cathedral is a masterpiece of Modernista design. If you visit only one site in the city, this should be it. The weird, Hobbit-like edifice is still under construction after 100 years. Almost 100 metres long, when completed it will be able to seat 13 000 worshippers. With Gaudí’s characteristic dislike for straight lines, the towers and walls bulge and twist, while strange sculptures protrude as though they’re outgrowths of the stonework.

2. Church of Santa Maria del Mar

This Gothic wonder is one of the finest churches in Spain. Begun in the 13th century, it’s an imposing structure laced with rich decoration and studded with gargoyles.

3. The Gaudí houses

The two best examples of Gaudi’s domestic architecture are within easy walking distance of each other on Passeig de Gràcia. La Pedrera is the grander of the two and was built between 1905 and 1910. With its uneven grey stone façade and madcap roof with giant chimney pots, it’s an unmissable landmark. Casa Battló looks like the design of an architect on acid. The façade is dotted with multi-coloured tiles while the windows and balconies are in the shape of waves.

4. Las Ramblas

This is Spain’s most famous boulevard. Lined with historic buildings and restaurants, it’s packed with stalls selling birds, flowers, magazines and tourist tat. Buy an overpriced beer and grab a seat beneath the plane trees to watch the ceaseless parade of street performers, Barcelonins and gaping tourists.

5. The Picasso Museum

This concentrates on the artist’s early work, from childhood oils to his Blue Period. The exhibit stretches through five contiguous medieval mansions, which are certainly worth a few hours of exploring, even if you’re not that keen on Picasso’s early period.

6. Palau de la Música Catalana

Admire the remarkable Modernista décor in this Palace of Catalan Music. It’s a symphony of sculpted stone, tile, brick and stained glass. Even if you don’t catch a show, there are daily tours of the spell-binding interiors.

7. The Dalí Triangle

For art lovers, a fun day out of the city is a visit to the Dalí Triangle: the towns of Figueres, Port Lligat and Púbol. In Figueres you’ll find the Teatro-Museu Dalí, which acts as both a museum and mausoleum to the eccentric artist. Next, you should take a look at his crazy seaside residence with its egg-shaped towers at Port Lligat. Lastly, you must visit his castle at Púbol, a Renaissance mansion bought and renovated for his wife, Gala.

8. Cap de Creus

This peninsula on the Costa Brava is a nature reserve and makes for a great day excursion to escape the bustle of Barcelona. Visit the protected coves, hike along the cliffs or plunge into the turquoise water. There are two lovely villages lying on the border of the reserve. Port de la Selva is the quieter of the two with narrow winding lanes and a quaint fishing harbour. Cadaqué s is a pretty, white-washed town set around a horseshoe bay and is packed during the summer season.

9. Montserrat

The famous mountain-top monastery lies 50 kilometres west of the city. Perched high on the flank of a series of serrated peaks, this is one of Catalonia’s most important shrines. It was founded in 1025 and still today pilgrims by the thousand come to venerate a wooden sculpture of the Black Madonna.

10. Decadent dining

Barcelona is a hive of adventurous culinary activity. Traditional eateries and alfresco seafood cafés sit comfortably beside new designer restaurants run by avant-garde chefs. The eating options are endless: tuck into tapas at a local bar or try the famous pintxos snacks in a Basque restaurant. Or how about a plate of calçots (spring onions dipped in tangy romesco sauce) and don’t forget paella, the seafood dish for which the region is famous.


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