By The Non Fiction Author
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Introduction: Welcome to Barcelona!
Chapter 1: Quick Snapshot of Barcelona
Chapter 2: Amsterdam’s Nightlife – This Is What You Cannot Miss
Chapter 3: How to Get Around In Barcelona (Without Getting Lost!)
Chapter 4: Where to Sleep (Options According to Each Budget)
Chapter 5: Crash Guide to Barcelona’s Best Cuisine
Chapter 6: Day Trips from Barcelona
Chapter 7: What’s the Best Time to Go to Barcelona?
Chapter 8: Sample Itineraries
Chapter 9: A Bit of Barcelona’s History
Chapter 10: El Barri Gòtic
Chapter 11: La Rambla
Chapter 12: El Raval
Chapter 13: La Ribera
Chapter 14: Port Vell & La Barceloneta
Chapter 15: El Poblenou, El Fòrum and Port Olímpic
Chapter 16: Gràcia
Chapter 17: Montjuïc, Sants & El Poble Sec
Chapter 18: Outer Barcelona
Conclusion: Aren’t You Excited? Your Journey Is About to Begin!
Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, is up there with the most visited urban destinations in the world – and it really is worlds apart. But what makes this city special? According to so many glossy tourist magazines and travel guides, visitors should dwell enthusiastically on outrageous and otherworldly architecture, hip bars and designer boutiques – and they’re right; but Barcelona is more than the in-thing. Far exceeding the flavor of the moment, Barcelona nurtures its artistic refinement, strength of culture and long line of ancient history with pride, whilst taking a sure-footed step into a future of self-renewal and progressive attitudes. Barcelona does all the important bits that make up the world’s most visited metropolises, and does them with flair, and with soul.
Think Barcelona, and one particular name might spring to mind. Gaudi’s fantastic architecture further seduces visitors and solidifies the city’s image as an eccentric, energetic, creative, and stylish hub, simultaneously telling the tales of the past and reinventing itself. The Güell Palace is one of the main bucket list items to be ticked off during a visit here, and Barcelona’s pièce de résistance, the Sagrada Familia, is an enduring symbol of the city – its Modernista legacy.
A vibrant history and full-bodied culture, a mastery of unique Mediterranean gastronomy, crystal clear seas and lively beaches, mountains nuzzling up to its northern edge; Barcelona is blessed with geographical genes, but it doesn’t stop there. Let us lead you around Barcelona’s neighborhoods as you wander through the buoyant, revamped port area and the atmospheric, medieval streets of the Barri Gòtic; be awestruck by the modernist buildings of Eixample and be spoiled for choice by a host of treasure-filled museums. The city centre and the main square, Plaça de Catalunya, offer the city’s unique juxtaposition of new and old. Stroll along La Rambla, admire the Casa Calvet’s façade or the Casa Mila designed by Gaudi, visit the Market of la Boqueria or shop at El Corte Inglés. Despite the fact that it’s not a national or international capital, Barcelona has become one of the coolest and most cosmopolitan cities on the planet, with its coastal zone and historical quarters offering trendy shopping, bohemian design cafes and restaurants, and nightspots for an effortless in-crowd mixed between architectural wonders.
As one of the most travel-friendly cities in Europe, Barcelona’s locals see tourism as both a curse and a blessing, and we’ll take you through how to make the most of its true charms and move to the beat of the authentic Barcelona, without falling prey to tourist traps. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that Catalonia’s regional capital will be like anywhere else in Spain: yes, there are parallels, but Catalan culture is markedly separate, and we’ll show you why this once independent region of the Iberian Peninsula and its fiercely proud people define themselves as different.
The city’s compact size makes a walk from its ancient centre to its vibrant beaches an easy one – cool breeze permitting, meaning it’s manageable to see your fair share of the area in both a long weekend city break and a longer Catalan adventure. The city’s waterfront is constantly developing, not only as a recreational area for party crowds and shoppers, but a Mediterranean port and the economical centre of Spain. Barcelona is cloaked in a proud history, dating back to the Roman period, and you can see the ruinous charm of the city through its gleaming restorations, which are thanks to the 1992 Summer Olympics, giving the city a new lease of life: as a city that embraces all things new, a city that stays up late into the night, a city with an impossibly poetic and artistic quality and a city with a discerning cuisine that’s turned it into a top destination for foodies, the mind-boggling question is; how wasn’t it so popular beforehand?
Barri by barri, let us take you on a minute-long tour of Barcelona, a city defined by its diverse districts. Barcelona’s history is everywhere across the city. The popular enclave of Barri Gòtic is the city’s beating medieval heart split by a spiders’ web of narrow alleyways and secluded squares. Make sure you take a stroll down La Rambla, the area’s frenetic and unabashedly commercial street, and for a dose of grand architecture, Plaça Sant Jaume is flanked by the Renaissance palace of the Catalan government, and the imposing neo-classical hulk of the city hall.
Sweep through the artery of Passeig del Born, a former jousting ground, passing the 14th-century Santa Maria del Mar church. The slightly scruffier Sant Pere is encompassed within our La Ribera neighbourhood chapter, which offers the hugely impressive Palau de la Música. Move through to El Raval: if the Barri Gòtic wins the tourism crown, El Raval is the shadowy underdog, but its edgy mix of art, attitude and street life have given birth to attractions such as gilded toadstool mansion Palau Güell, a joint effort by Gaudi and well-heeled industrialist Eusebi Güell, as well as MACBA, stuffed with seven decades’ worth of modern art.
Onto the seafront, which became a massive regeneration project in time for the 1992 Olympics, and now hosts a swathe of golden sands stretching from Port Vell and narrow-laned sun worshipper haven La Barceloneta through to the promenade of Port Olímpic, the extensive El Poblenou and post-millennial development, El Fòrum. From La Barceloneta, you can take the spectacular cable car to the artful disarray of Montjuïc, Sant Antoni & El Poble Sec, full of various parks, gardens, art collections and brunch spots to make for a very full few days.
Eixample (literally, ‘Expansion’), with its grid layout, became a Modernista showcase, with buildings such as the Sagrada Família, La Pedrera and the Hospital de Sant Pau. This sprawling area is bisected with by the Passeig de Gràcia, with sub-identities of the fashionable Dreta and the down to earth Esquerra. Beyond Eixample lies the neighbourhood of Gràcia, retaining its own separate identity as one of the most vibrant and popular districts in the city – especially when it comes to Festa Major, its week-long street fair in August. Head further north into Park Güell, a fairytale setting and extraordinary product of Gaudí’s imagination. The ‘high zone’, or la Zona Alta, is an affluent stretch of city west of Gràcia with a handful of worthwhile sights including the neighbourhood of Sarria, where further south, Camp Nou is home to the Barcelona FC stadium.
If you’re here for the good times after dark, this city won’t leave you out in the cold. Starting after dark and continuing often into the late morning, Barcelona is famous for its nightlife, Barcelona night life, offering everything from Ibiza-style beach clubs and gritty underground parties, to down-to-earth bohemian bars and avant-garde haunts in the Gothic back streets. With its lively and colourful scene, a curious drinker or party-goer is in danger of becoming transfixed and shifting from place to place for weeks here, if not months.
Bars close at around 3am, after which the clubs start packing out. Most clubs rarely get going before 2am. At first, going out might seem fairly expensive, but the trick is to keep an eye out for fliers at the bars or check Facebook and Timeout Magazine for discounted entrance lists. Most clubs will close at 6am, when the after-hour bars take over, which are constantly changing. If you’re wondering if this place ever stops – no, it doesn’t.
Many of Barcelona’s nightly watering holes are fortunate – and incredible – because of their designated area along the beach front, meaning you have the added bonus of the sunrise right on the shores once the crowds pour from their doors. There’s nothing like savoring a slice of solitude, staring out on the shimmering Mediterranean as a new day sets in; especially when you’ve been throwing yourself around a cavernous bass-filled space, jam-packed like sardines and sweating with 500 other people for innumerable hours. It’s a fulfilling and deeply personal feeling you can’t put a price on.
There is no shortage of places to get a drink or six in Barcelona. In fact, there is more drinking, bar hopping and general party behavior to engage in here than most average mortals can bear – and for every scene and individual. The trick is finding the right zone for you on the right night.
• Never ask for, or suggest having one last drink. Catalans always order the penúltima (one before the last), even if it really is the last drink of the evening. To mention the última (last) is bad luck, because it implies it’s your last drink on earth. The problem with suggesting the penúltima is, of course, that you might just carry on drinking.
• Order the local wine: Priorat, Montsant, El Penedes, Terra Alta, and L’Emporda are a few Catalan regions. Cava, Spain’s answer to Champagne, is produced in Catalonia. The house wine is always good and you can definitely sneak in some Rioja, considering you are technically in Spain. Whatever you do, don’t come looking to drink pinot noir.
• The most common way to order a beer (cervesa/cerveza) is to order canya, a small draft beer. A larger beer, which comes in a straight glass (about 300mL), is sometimes called a tubo. A pint is a gerra/jarra and is usually relevant only in pseudo-Irish pubs
• With Catalan impresarios making big bucks through sugar plantations in Cuba and other South American colonies from the late 18th century, it is hardly surprising they developed a taste for one of its by-products, rom/ron (rum). In 1818 the Pujol liquor company set up a rum distillery in Catalonia, and since then Ron Pujol has been one of the dominant local brands for this sweet firewater
Magic Club – la Ribera
“This place is so rock ‘n’ roll; it just makes you want to freak out. It opened back in the ’70s and it’s still a cool place to listen to high energy punk stuff or new wave. Obviously loads of people in here have tattoos, everyone is happy, and everyone wants to party.” – Mariana, 25, Eixample
Café del Centre – Carrer de Girona, Eixample
“This is the oldest cafe-bar in the city, and my favourite because of its family feel. It’s been run by the same family since 1873, and has a cosy atmosphere with modernista touches, good tapas including morcilla [blood sausage], and a huge beer menu ranging from international craft beers to local microbreweries, all for around €3. – Joaquim, 28, Girona
Marula Café – El Poble-sec
“It’s deep in the grimey bit of the Gothic Quarter, but this place really keeps it real and is elegant too. They play any kind of music you could want, within reason, but the house sound is mainly R&B and the crowd a little beyond their twenties… but only a bit.” – Chris, 35, UK/ Barcelona
Something a bit different
El Mariachi Bar – Barri Gótico
This bar’s novelty stems from the fact that it’s owned by the famous music artist Manu Chao, but if you don’t know who that is, this bar is pretty cool and discreetly tiny (find it on the corner of Carrer dels Codols and Carrer d’en Rull). This quirky, colourful place is a popular spot to hang out, including for the man himself on the odd occasion. Let the celebrity spotting and the jam sessions begin.
Raïm – Gràcia
In the boho barrio of Gràcia, this former bodega (a cellar or shop selling wine/ food) was established in 1886 and now is a testament to the relationship between Catalonia and Cuba, with pre and post-revolution photos plastered over the walls, fresh mint for mojitos and a good selection of rums available. The place gets rammed on a Friday and Saturday, mainly with locals, but it’s a friendly crowd.
La Caseta Del Migdia – Montjuïc
Stroll for 15 minutes from the nearest bus stop along the 55 route, and you’ll be rewarded for your efforts by a thirst quenching beverage from this bar hidden in the woods of Montjuïc. Enjoy the sunset whilst quaffing reasonably priced beer and cocktails from a candlelit table, or loll in a hammock strung from the trees. Barca bliss.
Sidecar Factory Club – Ciutat Vella
For indie rock on the bleeding edge of cool, head underground figuratively and literally to this below level temple of new music from the city’s best DJs and down-and-dirty guitar sessions, This is the best venue for a spontaneous night out on a Tuesday, a real party place where you can get positively messy or just move with the heady rhythms of a top notch venue.
BeCool – Sant Pere, Santa Caterina i la Ribera
BeCool has to work doubly as hard to grab a slice of the techno pie from the likes of Nitsa and Loft (the two huge dance venues in Barcelona) but we say sidestep the main attractions, because this place does pretty damn well. Carefully curated acts make a taste program to suit even the most discerning of electronic music palettes, and whilst the affluent, slightly soulless location might lose it some points, it gains them back manifold in the quality of their line-up and sets.
La Terrrazza – Sarrià
As the consciously zany name might suggest, this Ibiza-flavoured alfresco dance floor terrace is a grand concoction of swirling hormones and frisky foreigners, with cleavage and toned torsos fully displayed for community approval – although swimwear and flip flops are not allowed. There’s no way of commentating this wildlife parade without sounding like a less sexy version of David Attenborough, but trust us, the open air, hedonism and house music vibes make it easy to slip into party mode when there in the fully-displayed flesh.
Tipping is not expected in Spain. If you feel that the service was outstanding, you can round up to the next euro or leave one extra for the waiter. However, upscale restaurants generally expect tips, as do taxi drivers in an upscale setting.
Free things to do in Barcelona
• Mercat de la Boqueria: This colourful and bustling indoor market is a famous foodie pilgrimage for travellers in Barcelona with countless food stalls with fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, and some exquisite seafood. It has several tapas bars, perfect for tasting the market’s produce. Ditch the expensive city restaurants and have a meal here and you can guarantee you’ll get something fresher and more satisfying
• Explore the city with what your makers gave you: Barcelona is a big city, but if you have time and energy, its best to discover on foot. Lots of books and movies have been set in Barcelona so why not put your comfy shoes on and walk around the hidden streets and avenues; the city centre itself is pretty navigable, and there are some great guides who are passionate about their city and offer affordable and fascinating tours which don’t just involve walking but revolve around food and photography too: http://www.urbanadventures.com/search?q=barcelona
• Take a wander on the beach: Barcelona has been named the best beach city in the world by National Geographic, and they probably know what they’re talking about. There is a 4.2 km of golden sandy beach, 10 minutes from the city centre, so scrunch the silky sand between your toes and paddle in the sea to heal those aching feet from a hard day of sightseeing. The Barcelona beach season starts around mid-march and goes until around October – and it’s worth noting that the beaches can get really crowded during the weekends of the high season end (June – September)
• Free music, dancing and art events: there are always free cultural events going around Barcelona, and they’re always evolving and gaining new editions. We’ve highlighted a few of our favourites in this guide, but make sure you check out Timeout Barcelona for the latest free festivities in the city
• Street art: Barcelona nurtures a long tradition of street art and sculpture. Pay attention to the walls, streets and doors as you wander around and you’ll quickly discover that this city is an open-door contemporary art gallery minus the entry fee. To help you find these spots, Barcelona street style tours are free – http://barcelonastreetstyletour.com taking you round to all the best spots where admiring creativity doesn’t cost a thing
• Outdoor film screenings and gigs: Barcelona has the perfect weather for watching outdoor movies and indulging in some live music al fresco. Barcelona is home to a few small film festivals; Cinema Lliure screens independent films on Sant Sebastià beach on Thursday and Sunday evenings. Gandules, a film festival by Contemporary Culture of Barcelona (CCCB) shows short films and documentaries for free in its courtyard, whilst the gardens of the University of Barcelona host free events offering a taste of the local music scene
• Get Gothic: The church of Santa Maria del Mar, built in the 14th century, also known as the “cathedral La Ribera”, is one of the most perfect examples of Gothic style architecture. This is a must-see cathedral; its uniqueness and the sophistication of this building’s interior will take your breath away
• Admire Gaudí and modernisme: Barcelona Modernista architecture, especially the work of Antoni Gaudí, is the most admired attraction for Barcelona’s visitors. Gaudí’s work such as Sagrada Família, Park Güell, and La Pedrera are the most impressive. There are a few other examples which some tourist guides tend to give a miss – Palau Güell, Casa Batlló, and Casa Vicens, which are all visit-worthy. Also be sure to spend some time with Casa Amatller nd the Palau de la Música, works by Puig I Cadafalch; Casa Lleó Morera, designed by Domènech i Muntaner; and Casa de les Terrades.
The city has four airports: Barcelona El Prat airport is located twenty minutes away from Barcelona city centre, and the second easiest options are to land at Girona, Costa Brava or Reus airport – all an hour from the city. All of these airports host major low cost air carriers including EasyJet and Ryanair, mid-range airlines such as Monarch, among other international carriers.
Make sure you compare prices on major flight booking websites to get the best deal; book well in advance, and mid-week bookings will typically be more cost effective. Taking a late night or early morning flight can also reduce flight costs, as potentially will flying to an alternative airport to El Prat international, such as Girona.
Connections between Barcelona and the airport are reliable and regular:
• Catch the Aerobús (A1 and A2) which offers a daily service to and from Plaça de Catalunya, Barcelona’s large central square, which leaves every ten minutes and takes approximately 35 minutes.
• Train (RENFE) offers daily connections from the Renfe (Spanish Rail) stations at Sants every 30 minutes, taking around 18 minutes (from Sants)
• Bus (TMB): the 46 bus runs from Pl. d’Espanya to Barcelona Airport (T1 and T2) daily, every 25 minutes.
• Night bus (NITBUS): the N17 night bus operates from Ronda Universitat / Plaça Catalunya to Barcelona Airport T1, stopping at Pl. d’Espanya, and takes 20 minutes.
• Taxis and transfer services: airport transfers can be organised for groups, and taxis are available but expensive, at around €30-40 to the city centre.
Barcelona has direct railway links with a number of key European cities, including Paris, Zurich and Milan, and the high-speed train runs to Madrid, southern and eastern Spain. The city’s major railway stations and metropolitan rail network make it easy to travel to Barcelona and beyond by train. The main train stations are Barcelona-Sants (to the south west of the centre), Barcelona-Passeig de Gràcia (near Carrer d’Aragó on Passeig de Gràcia, in the centre of the city) and Barcelona-Estació de França, Avinguda Marquès de l´Argentera (on the edge of the old town next to the seafront district of Barceloneta).
From Estació de Sants and Passeig de Grácia there are several connections per day to Cerbère (France), connecting there on trains towards Marseille and Nice. There are also one or two direct “Talgo” trains a day from Sants to Perpignan, Beziers, Narbonne and Montpellier in France.
Overnight Trenhotel trains operated by Elipsos run daily from Paris-Austerlitz, while departures from Milan and Zurich are every second day. All trenhotels trains terminate at the Estació de França station. Prices start at €74 for second class.
The city’s port is one of the busiest on the Mediterranean, with nine passenger terminals, seven for cruise liners and four for ferries. Large cruise ships dock 1-2 km to the southwest. Many offer bus-shuttles to points near the south end of La Rambla.
You can arrive to Barcelona by boat from the Balearic Islands, Genoa, Rome, Livorno, Sardinia, Tangier, and Algiers. From Rome (Civitavecchia) it is actually cheaper than the bus. The ferry docks almost directly on Las Ramblas.
Eurolines, Megabus and a number of other companies run coaches from across Europe and North Africa to Barcelona. Because of the city’s geographical location, nearly all coach services from the rest of Europe to Spain and Portugal stop here.
There are several main roads leading to Barcelona from France and Spain and traffic is usually relatively light outside of peak hours. The AP-7/E-15 comes from France (via Perpignan) in the north and from the eastern and southern Spain (via València and Tarragona) in the south. The UAB is right next to this motorway and is signposted.
The C-16/E-9 also comes from France, but further to the west (via Toulouse). The C-16 goes to the centre of Barcelona. To get to the campus, take the C-58 just south of Terrassa and follow the signs for “UAB”.
The AP-2/E-90 comes from central and northern Spain (via Zaragoza and Lleida) and connects with the AP-7 approximately 70km to the south-west of Barcelona.
The Barcelona Bus Turístic links all of the Barcelona tourist sites you could possibly want to visit, and more. It has three routes (map provided as you board), including a northbound and a southbound line that leave from opposite sides of the Plaça de Catalunya. Each takes 1-2 hours. The hop-on/hop-off arrangement lets you make a spontaneous stop without any worry, so you can while away the hours as you wish, see what interests you, then get back on any later bus at that or any other stop.
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Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, is up there with the most visited urban destinations in the world – and it really is worlds apart. But what makes this city special? According to so many glossy tourist magazines and travel guides, visitors should dwell enthusiastically on outrageous and otherworldly architecture, hip bars and designer boutiques – and they're right; but Barcelona is more than the in-thing. Far exceeding the flavor of the moment, Barcelona nurtures its artistic refinement, strength of culture and long line of ancient history with pride, whilst taking a sure-footed step into a future of self-renewal and progressive attitudes. Barcelona does all the important bits that make up the world's most visited metropolises, and does them with flair, and with soul. Think Barcelona, and one particular name might spring to mind. Gaudi's fantastic architecture further seduces visitors and solidifies the city's image as an eccentric, energetic, creative, and stylish hub, simultaneously telling the tales of the past and reinventing itself. The Güell Palace is one of the main bucket list items to be ticked off during a visit here, and Barcelona's pièce de résistance, the Sagrada Familia, is an enduring symbol of the city – its Modernista legacy.