Barcelona. Sensual journey through the capital of Catalonia

Barcelona

Barcelona is the capital of the Catalan autonomy, the second most populous city in Spain and quite a large seaport. A piece of the Iberian Peninsula with a rich history where at different times had the Roman invaders, Germanic tribes and even warlike Berbers, for several decades now is one of the top 20 most fashionable tourist destinations.

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Video: Barcelona

Highlights

It’s no exaggeration to say that everything in Barcelona surprises, from Gaudi’s flamboyant creations to the city’s market, the best purveyor of the most unexpected delicacies in the entire Mediterranean. Dozens of museums, historic districts and all sorts of monuments of medieval architecture are generously “diluted” here with nightclubs and trendy boutiques. This is also the epitome of tolerance in modern Barcelona: perhaps this is why Catholic festivals and outrageous gay pride parades are as easy to come by in its fertile ground.

Start with the Gothic Quarter (Barri Gotic). Its churches, palaces, and museums embody the glory of Catalonia, which reached its heyday under the powerful Counts of Barcelona. In the 1990s, the port area was transformed from a labyrinth of bleak, neglected streets into a sparkling gateway to a new culture and gastronomy of the Mediterranean. The main artery of the area is La Rambla, the long avenue from the Plaza de Catalunya to the statue of Christopher Columbus in the harbor.

The late 19th century Eixample district is located on the west side of the old city. This is where most of Barcelona’s Art Nouveau is located, including the famous Sagrada Familia cathedral, an unfinished masterpiece by architect Antonio Gaudi. Since 1884 Gaudí put all his creative energies into building the Sagrada Familia, the cathedral of the Holy Family. The architect even lived on the construction site and spent the last 16 years of his life in this way. The cathedral has four spires, each rising to a height of more than 100 meters, each decorated with colored ceramic tiles, and the stone portals look as if they were made of melting wax or represent a bizarre formation of stalactites. The Nativity facade is the most finished part of Gaudi’s cathedral, the doorways symbolizing Faith, Hope and Charity. Beyond the cathedral is his fantastical Park Guell.

Gothic Quarter Casa Mila

Among Gaudi’s other creations is Casa Mila, which locals call La Pedrera (“The Quarry”). It’s an apartment building with a wavy facade, the outlines of which were inspired by Gaudi’s view of the rocky massif of Montserrat, the sacred mountain of Catalonia. The volumes seem to flow seamlessly into one another, and the chimneys and roof vents are a veritable sculpture garden.

More than 40 of Barcelona’s most interesting museums are concentrated on the beautiful Montjuïc Mountain, which can be reached by cable car from the main port. Public transport, especially the metro, is very convenient, the restaurants are of the highest quality and the surrounding hills and sea lend clarity to the city layout.

Geography and climate

Barcelona is located in the northeast of the Iberian Peninsula, having one of the best stretches of the Mediterranean coast. To the south, Catalonia’s capital is protected by the Collserola mountain range, while to the north its borders are delineated by the Besos River. The most prominent mountain point in the Barcelona area is Tibidabo (512m), while the Mant Taber hill (12m) is the highest point in the metropolitan area.

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Barcelona has a typical Mediterranean climate with warm and dry winters and humid and hot summers. Even in the coldest months (January, February) the thermometer column in the streets never drops below +10 ° C. The peak of the heat is in July and August, when the average temperature in the city is +25 ° C, and even +30 ° C.

Best time to go

The vast majority of tourists seek to get to Barcelona in the summer season to combine the traditional run through the iconic sites of the metropolis with a relaxing beach holiday and trips to the festivals, of which the Catalan capital is so rich. The anti-bonuses that automatically come with the high season are the huge crowds of travelers besieging all the iconic sights and beaches of the metropolis combined with the intense heat. In May, June and the second half of September in Barcelona is already much quieter, more spacious and even a little cheaper, so it makes sense to plan a trip for these months (if you don’t want to sacrifice the beach relaxation). Christmas and the Parade of the Three Kings are celebrated in winter with great pomp and excitement.

History

As true patriots, Barcelonians tend to embellish the history of their hometown. For example, here they seriously believe that the Catalonian capital was founded by Hercules himself. On the other hand, to reproach the locals for excessive exaggeration is very difficult, because the first written references to the settlement in this part of the Iberian Peninsula only appeared by 236 BC.

Barcelona in 1563 The four Corinthian columns of the Roman Temple of Augustus in Barcelona, they are more than 2000 years old.

Barcelona was originally called Barcino after the Carthaginian general Hamilcar Barca, who settled in the area. In 133 BC, the Romans visited the city, leaving behind a distinctive layout of the streets of the city (Gothic Quarter) and the remains of military fortifications.

In the Middle Ages Catalonia became a tidbit for the warring tribes. As a result, Barcelona was first occupied by the Visigoths, later ceding it to the Arabs. However, in 801 Louis the Pious managed to recapture the city and found in it the capital of the Spanish mark, but full independence was not achieved.

Barcelona was severely tested by its participation in the War of the Spanish Succession, as a result of which it was besieged for a long time. After it was seized by storm and partly destroyed (by that time the city managed to be a part of the Catalan-Aragonese confederation and the Catalan Republic).

Panorama of Barcelona in 1929

By the XIX century the capital of Catalonia had significantly grown beyond the fortress wall, but in the literal sense, the city began to flourish and develop only in the early twentieth century.

A picturesque sunset against the background of the W

Districts of the city

Administratively, Barcelona is divided into 10 districts, with only three of them being the most prominent from a tourist point of view.

Rooftops of the old city

The Old City is the historical heart of the Catalan capital and contains the oldest and therefore the most valuable monuments of architecture. It is the Old City that has the colorful heritage of the dark Middle Ages – the Gothic Quarter, stretching from Plaza Catalunya to Via Laetana. For the record, 99% of all sightseeing excursions begin in Plaça Catalunya, which acts as a bridge between the old part of Barcelona and the new.

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The area of the Eixample, which begins just behind Plaza de Catalunya, is relatively young: the area next to the historic center only began to be built up in the XIX century, when the city walls could no longer accommodate the exponentially growing population. A distinctive feature of the Eixample is the regular geometric layout, according to which the blocks themselves have taken the form of squares divided by wide straight streets. Walk around the neighborhood mostly to get an impression of Antoni Gaudi’s unusual creations, among which is the legendary “House of Bones.

Eixample from above The streets of Eixample

Sants Monjuïc is scattered around the foothills and slopes of the Eixample mountain. Visitors are drawn here by the Magic Fountain, the National Museum of Art, and the Olympic Stadium. Lewis Kompanis Olympic Stadium and beautiful parkland.

Lewis Kompanis Olympic Stadium in Barcelona. Lewis Kompanis Olympic Stadium in Barcelona

Another colorful neighborhood that, though shunned by prying eyes, can still really fall in love with is Gracia. Positioned as a bohemian hipster hangout, the neighborhood is populated predominantly by native Catalans who zealously guard its unique spirit. So if you like intricate mazes and cozy eateries where Catalan is not the ubiquitous tourist English, this is a neighborhood worth exploring.

Gracia in Barcelona

Sightseeing and interesting places in the Catalan capital

The main mistake most tourists make when visiting Barcelona for the first time is trying to cover all the iconic spots of the metropolis in a weekend. The reality is that even the most cursory exploration of the city’s sights can take at least a week, and better yet, two weeks.

Plaza de Catalunya Plaza de España in Barcelona View of the Ramblas from Plaza de Catalunya

The historical square at the crossing of La Rambla and Passeig de Gràcia, which was enlarged during the World Exhibition of 1888, is traditionally the starting point of the trip. It is purely a tourist place and as a result it is somewhat “sleek”. Nevertheless, the vast majority of meetings and appointments are made at the Plaza de Catalunya. From here, sightseeing buses leave for their exciting tours and excursions.

Boulevard Rambla Illusionist

From Barcelona’s main square, in the direction of the Olympic Port, runs the legendary La Rambla, a sort of Catalan relative of Moscow’s Arbat. The wide, busy and mostly pedestrian street is one of the most popular tourist routes and at the same time an outstanding provocateur, skillfully pushing the gullible traveler to mostly unnecessary, but so tempting, expenditures. Souvenir and candy vendors, florists, street performers and live sculptures – these are the typical regulars on the sidewalks of the Rambla, every morning coming out on the city streets with one single goal: to find their customers and to entice them to buy.

If the marketing ploys of the Rambla don’t convince you, don’t be lazy to get to the main shopping area of the city – Boquería market. This giant food market dates back to the Middle Ages and is renowned for its enormous variety of gastronomy (only Boquería for quality ham, truffles, snails, and foie gras).

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Boquería Market in Barcelona Barcelona Cathedral

Between La Rambla Boulevard and Laietana Street, the Gothic Quarter is “squeezed”. The name says it all: The narrow cobblestone streets that you sometimes have to squeeze through on foot, the somber cathedrals with their spires reaching up into the sky, and the basilicas over half a thousand years old are a classic sightseeing experience in this part of town. The list of must-see sites in the quarter includes above all the Cathedral of Barcelona (Gothic in its purest form), the Bridge of Sighs, Santa Maria del Pi Basilica (renovated in 1936 with the same openwork-gothic style), the remains of the Roman wall and the History Museum of Barcelona. You can also stop by the Villa de Arte Art Gallery or admire ancient Roman sculptures in the “Sentimental Museum” of Frederic Mares. Lastly, wash down your impressions with a cup of strong coffee at a table in the art cafe 4 cats, a Catalan clone of the Parisian bar-variety The Black Cat.

Gothic Quarter in Barcelona

The museums in Barcelona are a special topic, worthy of a separate article. Capuchin Museum, the Egyptian Museum, the open-air exhibition “Spanish Village”, the Maritime Museum of Barcelona, the Museum of Pre-Columbian Art Barbier-Mueller and a dozen other most unusual places with truly amazing exhibits can’t wait for its visitors. Little travelers will be delighted by the CosmoCaixa miniature “laboratories” and the drool-worthy chocolate museum. A great opportunity to feel like a hapless rabbit in a bottomless magician’s hat is Barcelona’s Museum of Illusions. The beautiful half of humanity will certainly find something to occupy them at the Museum of Textiles and History of Costume, whose outstanding collections feature rare editions of fashion magazines from the century before last, as well as clothes from different time periods.

Plaza Portal de la Pau and the Columbus Monument Singing Fountains on Montjuïc Hill

There is also a place to go for devoted Barça fans in the Catalan capital: the museum of the legendary soccer club is located right in the Camp Nou stadium and has on its shelves all the awards ever won by the Barcelona players. Fans of Picasso’s works tend to flock to Via Moncada. Museum of the father of Spanish Cubism is located in five historic buildings and boasts three and a half thousand paintings and sketches, belonging to the brush of the master. Get the real aesthetic pleasure can be in the National Museum of Catalan Art, under the roof of which are collected as paintings by acknowledged masters of painting, and creations of young, yet unknown artists.

Akbar Tower Camp Nou Stadium

Among the buildings that have become recognizable symbols of Barcelona we can mention the Agbar Tower or as the Catalans call it “The Cucumber”. The giant futuristic streamlined structure appeared in the city in 2005 as a kind of architectural ode to Mount Monserrat and the city fountains.

If you are an avid theater and opera fan, try to get a ticket to one of the Barcelona theaters. For example, the Liceo on the Rambla de la Capuchin, whose stage still remembers the proud steps of Montserrat Caballé and José Carreras. Enjoy timeless classics in a free interpretation in Liura, and combine a pleasant dinner with watching an unpretentious show is best in the oldest theater in the city, Principale.

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Barcelona

Barcelona with its golden beaches, Gaudi’s architectural masterpieces, numerous festivals and gastronomic diversity liked me on the first day of my stay and became a place where I want to stay forever. As it turned out, I am not alone in this. Despite the crisis, the capital of Catalonia has for many years been attracting tourists as well as people from other countries eager to move to Spain’s second largest city. In addition to the Catalans, you can find all kinds of nationalities here, and it is in this cosmopolitanism that lies the secret of Barcelona’s uniqueness.

On every trip I have taken, I have been struck by how seamlessly Barcelona combines different cultures, languages, and religions while maintaining its Catalan authenticity. When I first decided to explore the city and entered the neighborhood of El Raval, I felt like walking through Istanbul among fruit stands, kebab stalls, and vendors actively conversing in Turkish. After walking a few streets toward the MACBA museum, which is located in the same neighborhood, I felt like a visitor to a campus full of skaters and young people hurrying somewhere with books in their hands. After walking another kilometer to the main street of La Rambla, I found myself in a dense crowd of fussy tourists, looking at the paper maps of the city in confusion.

Although Barcelona has proven to be a place of incredible contrasts, most of its inhabitants of all ages and genders share a special worldview that is reflected in the overall atmosphere of the city. The atmosphere of Barcelona is unhurried, relaxed, hedonistic and open. That is why, once in the city, you can finally get a break from the eternal stress and rush and learn to really enjoy every day.

A short video about Barcelona

How to get there

If you save time and prefer a comfortable environment, the best solution is to buy plane tickets. Alternatively, you can also travel to Barcelona by car. Some travelers prefer train or bus to all other types of transport, but it is worth noting that there is no direct land transport from Russia to Barcelona, and therefore you will need to travel with connections.

By plane

The largest airport of Catalonia “El Prat” (Aeropuerto de Barcelona-El Prat) is about 10 km from the city, which is used by almost all passengers who want to get to Barcelona, including me. However, some low-cost carriers (such as Ryanair or Wizz Air) when selling tickets to Barcelona fly to the airports “Gerona-Costa Brava” (Aeropuerto de Gerona-Costa Brava) and “Reus” (Aeropuerto de Reus), located about 100 km from the Catalan capital. The decision to use these airports can help to save on flight costs, but I try to avoid these flights because you still have to spend time and money for ground transportation to Barcelona.

For Russians who want to go to Barcelona by plane, the choice of airlines is very wide. For direct flights from Moscow, you can use the following Russian air carriers:

  • “Transaero”,
  • “Aeroflot,
  • S7,
  • “VIM-Avia,
  • “Ural Airlines.
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Direct flights are also operated by Spanish companies Iberia and Vueling. Vueling is one of the most popular and economical low-cost options, however the company never includes luggage in the ticket price and passengers are often forced to pay more than the price of the ticket for a full suitcase.

The direct flight time is about 4 hours. I’m used to buying tickets in the summer season and a round-trip flight costs about 360 euros or 25,000 rubles, while in the fall you can already find cheaper options in the range of 215-285 euros or 15,000-200,000 rubles.

Many airlines also offer connecting flights. Personally for me the version of the flight with a long layover is optimal, because it saves on airfare and gives an opportunity to walk around the new city for a few hours. If you’re not embarrassed by connecting flights, then feel free to go to popular ticket search services, such as this one. There you can find an impressive list of flight options with a change of carrier in a variety of cities – from Chisinau to Amsterdam. You can save up to $5,000 to $7,000 on a round-trip ticket if you stay with this option.

How to get to the city from the airport

There are several ways to get from El Prat Airport to the city. A comfortable Aerobus bus leaves every 10 minutes. It has Wi-fi, USB charging and can take you to Plaça Catalunya in about half an hour. Most of the time I use this transfer option, because it is fast, convenient and cheap. Judge for yourself: if you decide to get to the city by cab, you’ll spend about 30 euros, while a ticket on the Aerobus will cost you 5.90 euros. Such buses run from 5:30 to 1:30. Below you can see a diagram showing the intermediate stops.

As you can see from the diagram, the airport has terminals T1 and T2. If you are in the second terminal, you can pay 4.10 euros to take the RENFE train. In this way, you will be in the center of Barcelona in just 20 minutes. If you arrive at terminal T1 and decide to go to the city by train, you will first have to use the free shuttle that will take you to the train station.

At the beginning of 2016, the L9 Sud subway line appeared, connecting “El Prat” to the city center. Trains on the line run once every 7 minutes, and you will have to buy a special ticket for them costing 4.5 euros. Standard metro pass, unfortunately, does not work. Another disadvantage of this option is that the trip to the center will have to change trains. In terms of time, this option is also not better than the ground transport. You can see all the stations that are part of the new line on the map.

Once my arrival at Barcelona airport fell at night, when neither trains nor buses are running. The night buses No. 16 and No. 17 were my salvation. I didn’t have to pay for a cab or spend the night at the airport. I bought a night bus ticket for 2.15 euros and made the half-hour trip to the city.

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