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Barcelona is one of the world’s major cities, a busy metropolis and a commercial, economic and cultural center as well as a center for modern and classic arts.  It has a history dating back to the 3rd century BC and offers cozy streets and the opportunity to explore fantastic Spanish cuisine all while becoming familiar with the extraordinary lifestyle of the locals.  You can choose to discover the city on foot or you can take a tourist bus or the metro – whichever you choose, you will be in for the holiday of a lifetime.

Photo by Moyan_Brenn

Photo by Moyan_Brenn

Where to Stay?

If you are a first time visitor to Barcelona, the best way to make the most of you stay is by choosing accommodation right in the middle of all the attraction.  Central locations have excellent connections to means of public transport and allow you to explore the heart of the city on foot as well and they also offer you the comfort and the price you are looking for.

One of the best places to stay in Barcelona is Placa Catalunya, the city’s central square, an extraordinary meeting place of the old and the modern.  You can find 5-star hotels in the square just as much as budget-priced, 2-star facilities and it is also one of the central hubs of public transport in the city.

Choosing a hotel in Las Ramblas is another excellent choice – the beautiful, busy district is located in the center of Barcelona as well and it makes the perfect choice for those who are looking for a way to explore not only tourist attractions, but also a way to tap into the energy of the city and sample its nightlife.

If you are looking for a quiet place to stay and you prefer to relax and enjoy the unique atmosphere of old buildings, choose the Gothic Quarter. Full of winding, narrow streets, the Gothic Quarter is best explored on foot, but public transport is excellent in the city, so you can easily get anywhere from this neighborhoods as well.

Where to Eat?

barcelona tapas bar photo

Barcelona Tapas Bar Photo by sanfamedia.com

Barcelona is famous not only as a center for the culture and the arts, but also for its cuisine.  Whether it is fish and seafood, Mediterranean cuisine, tapas or fine dining that you are looking for, Barcelona has it all.

If you want to know what traditional Spanish food is really like, you should not miss a visit to La Boqueria, Barcelona’s best and most famous marketplace – you will be first of all astonished to see the richness of the produce offered by merchants and you will be in for an extraordinary, authentic meal as well.

Placa Reial in the Gothic Quarter is another great place to eat – full of restaurants, cafes and bars, including, of course, tapas bars. Fine dining is more at home in the Eixample, a district with special architecture located between Ciutat Vella, the old city and the districts that used to be smaller towns and villages surrounding the city center, but have been attached to the city.

Whichever you choose, don’t forget that most places serve lunch between 2pm and 4pm and dinner is available between 9pm and 11pm.  Many restaurants are closed on Sunday evenings.

What to Do?

Whether you can afford to spend on getting around or you are a budget, Barcelona has a lot to offer. Simply walking around costs you no money, but gives you an idea of how extraordinary life in Spain is.  You can also go on a hop-on hop-off tour of the city – there are plenty of tourist buses to choose from.

Visitors interested in arts and architecture will not be disappointment either – you can visit the extraordinary Sagrada Familia Cathedral, you can visit other masterpieces by Gaudi, Joan Miro and Picasso.

Barcelona is surrounded by natural splendors waiting for you – you can go for a swim in the crystal water by visiting one of the city’s beaches or you can go on a cable car tour to explore the city panorama from above.

Sagrada Familia Cathedral

Sagrada Familia Cathedral

City Explorers Tip

The Barceloneta beach is famous not only for its soft, golden sand and clear blue waters – it is also a place where you can see bands play and listen to live music, so if you like Catalan music, the Barceloneta is the best place to catch a concert for free.

barcelona beach photo

Barcelona Beach Photo by Luis Hernandez – D2k6.es

A Day Off the Beaten Path

Photo by olofw

Lots of love at the beach party bar Photo by olofw

Barcelona offers so much to see and do that you can create a different itinerary for each day during your stay and never go to the same place twice, so here is just one sample of a possible plan.

To be able to do a lot and see a lot, you first of all need a copious breakfast.  Pop into the Brunch & Cake in the Eixample and have some eggs or a salad to fill up with energy.  When you finished your breakfast and your coffee, it is time to buckle up. Get yourself a T10 ticket and take bus nr. 24 from Passeig de Garcia to Parc Guell, a large park where you can see Antonio Gaudi’s most amazing work.

If you are in the heart of the Old City, you can continue to La Boqueria market and grab a pound of the world’s most extraordinary ham or pick an exquisite bottle of wine.  As you go straight on, you will have the chance to see some of the most popular attractions of the city – Placa de Catalunya and La Rambla will lay out all their beauties for you and at the end of the road you can explore the beauties of Gaudi’s greatest creation, the Sagrada Familia Cathedral.

If you are tired after all this walking and you are ready for another culinary adventure, look around for a tapas bar around you.  Restaurante Tossa is famous for its varied and delicious croquettes and tapas that suit Spanish and international tastes as well.

After your meal, it is time for a siesta.  When you feel sufficiently rested, you can head to the beach.  Go on foot if you think you can do with a little bit of exercise or choose public transport – be prepared for a longish walk or catch the yellow line metro and get to the beach in half an hour.  All beach areas are full of restaurants and bars, so you can choose to chill out on a sun bed, watching the waves, then you can have dinner, maybe even grab a cerveza (beer).

If you stay in the city center, the city will show you a completely different face as you are approaching your hotel or hostel – Barcelona is well-known for its nightlife, so if you want to end your day dancing, you will have plenty of opportunities.

La Sagrada Familia

A clueless 20-something, wondering through Europe with a few dollars and a train pass,  I had come to Barcelona completely unaware that I was entering one of the most architecturally fascinating cities of the world.  But there’s an upside to being young and ignorant.  I had that wide open, beginners mind, waiting to be blown.  And blown it was.

Sarah Ackerman's photo of the Sagrada Familia

Facade of the Sagrada Familia. Photo by Sarah Ackerman.

I wandered through the delightful city, to a church the guidebook said not to miss.  I didn’t know who Gaudí was, nor anything about surrealist architecture.  But standing before the La Sagrada Familia, I knew I was looking at something starkly original, unlike anything I had ever seen before (or have seen since).

That was twenty-odd years ago.  The Sagrada Familia was unfinished then, as it is unfinished now.  One-hundred-thirty years in the making.  Gaudí knew he was in for the long haul.   “My client’s not in a hurry,” he used to say, referring to the patience of the Almighty.

Recuerdos de Pandora - Construction of the Sagrada Familia in 1915

Recuerdos de Pandora – Construction of the Sagrada Familia in 1915

I’m not a religious person, but Gaudí’s vision, that art must take it’s lead from nature, does strike a chord.  It is not only it’s originality that makes the Sagrada Familia special, it’s the reverence it shows for Creation (and creation).

Estimates say that the Sagrada Familia may be finished in 2026 (the centennial of Gaudí’s death).  I haven’t been back to Europe in all these years.  Seeing Gaudí’s masterpiece completed sounds like a good excuse.

Leandro Neumann Ciuffo's photo inside the Sagrada Familia.

Inside. Photo by Leandro Neumann Ciuffo.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre

If the Sagrada Familia symbolizes heavenly patience and the divinity of man and nature, than the Church of the Holy Sepulchre captures the pettiness of human beings in their daily life down here on earth.

Situated in the Christian Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is said to be located on the site where Jesus was crucified and buried.  As such, it is a very important site for Christians – many different kinds of Christians.

Chris Yunker's photo from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Inside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Photo by Chris Yunker.

Multiple factions vie for control of the building.  The Greek Orthodox seem to hold most of the power, but they are not alone.  Roman Catholic, Armenain Apostolic, Coptic (Egyptian) and Syrian Orthodox also share responsibilities.  Then there’s the Ethiopian Orthodox who have set up camp on the roof.

Sadly, these groups do not play together nicely in a spirit of brotherly love.  Worship times have to be carefully allotted for each community.  Squabbles between sects erupt regularly. Wikipedia lists five incidents since 2002, including injuries, hospitalizations and arrests. (What would Jesus think?)

Seetheholyland.net's photo of the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Ethiopian monks live on the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Photo by Seetheholyland.net

Under a system known as “status quo” parts of the building which are designated as common cannot be altered in any way without the agreement of all six groups.  Cooperation doesn’t seem to be their strong point.  Needed repairs go undone, to a point that threatens the building.

A small ladder rests on a ledge outside of a window.  My tour guide said that it was put there at a time when one group wouldn’t allow another group to use the door.  Hence they had to come and go via the window.  Today doors and window are defined as common under the “status quo” and cannot be changed (including putting away a ladder) without the consent of all the communities.  The victims of that earlier snubbing will not agree and the ladder remains.  How long has this been going on?  There is evidence that the ladder has  been there since the 1830’s.

Seetheholyland.net's photo of the immovable ladder.

The “immovable ladder”. Photo by Seetheholyland.net.

So one church unfinished, and another coming undone.  I’m glad to have seen them both, but I know which one I want to go back to.