Spain has many cool cities to choose from but arguably there is none cooler than Barcelona. Situated on the sun drenched shores of the Mediterranean just a short hop from the French border, ‘la gran encisera’ (the great enchantress) of Joan Maragall’s epic ode to his city, continues to enchant visitors more than ever.
Synonymous with wacky architecture by Gaudi, world class gastronomy, fashion, football, style, beaches, art nouveau, tapas, nightlife, museums, Barcelona is a cosmopolitan hive of creativity, making it the much loved destination that it is today.
The 1992 Olympics put Barcelona on the map and lead to a huge urban regeneration project to remove some of the scars left by the cities industrial past and give the city a modern face lift.
Because of the cities long history, dating back to the late Roman Empire, it is divided into some quite distinct areas. If you are planning a visit, understanding the key areas will help you make the most of your time here.
The Old Town
The Old Town grew out of the original Roman city and faces the old port.
This area exudes old Mediterranean charm, with narrow, windy pedestrian streets, gothic churches, a gothic cathedral, and medieval merchant’s houses side by side with the most fashionable boutique shops, restaurants, hotels, workshops, tapas bars and magnificent food markets.
Here you can see Roman ruins rubbing alongside 21st century hipster owned micro brewery pubs. All cities are full of contrasts but Barcelona’s are certainly more unique!
By the 19th century Barcelona was experiencing an industrial revolution and the old city was crammed, overcrowded and bursting at the seams, leading to the creation of the Eixample (expansion) neighbourhood. Built on a distinctive grid pattern, the Eixample is home to nearly all of Barcelona’s art nouveau treasures, including the Sagrada Familia. Gaudi was a key figure in its building and contributed many famous buildings to its urban landscape.
A very high proportion of the Eixample is built in the unique Catalan art nouveau style, earning it the reputation of being an outdoor museum. Though the Eixample is highly residential it is also crammed with exciting restaurants, bars, shops and museums.
Montjuic Mountain dominates Barcelona’s skyline. It is not a very residential area but is the lungs of the city, a place where its residents can enjoy the botanic gardens, the castle, the Font del Gat Park, the National Museum of Catalunya.
Perhaps one of the city’s main draws is the 3km of clean sandy beaches, starting at the Barceloneta in the old town. These are easily reached by public transport and well equipped with bars, restaurants, showers and lifeguards.