As the World Low Cost Airlines Congress kicks off in Barcelona, Flight journalist Chris Hall shares his tips on what to do and see in this vibrant Spanish city…
Barcelona is one of those cities that reveal more and more of themselves on repeat visits. Home to some of the world’s most impressive architecture, museums and scenery, not to mention a truly excellent atmosphere throughout, it’s almost impossible to characterise neatly. This city is modern, traditional, colourful, bohemian and mainstream all at once. Being the Catalan capital gives it a distinct identity within Spain, yet ironically it probably represents most foreigners’ views of Spain. Most places claim to have something for everyone; Barcelona really does.
Antoni Gaudi’s mind-bending architecture is one of the most obvious reasons to visit Barcelona, but that doesn’t make it any less worthwhile. The Sagrada Familia, in the central Eixample district, is a must-see for newcomers, but take the time to check out Gaudi’s Parc Guell. Situated further north, it’s a popular spot for reflection and people-watching as you sit surrounded by surrealist sculpture and landscaped gardens.
Dating back to the 1992 olympics, Barcelona’s Olympic village has been successfully turned into a tourist attraction that must have more than paid for itself by now – London take note. The modern architecture now houses a selection of shops, restaurants and cafés, as well as being a good spot from which to start a walk along the seafront.
At 542m (1778ft), Tibidabo is the highest hill in the wooded range that forms the backdrop to Barcelona. If the weather’s clear – and in Barcelona that’s a fair bet – it’s a great place for views over the city. The locals come up here for some thrills at the amusement park Parc d’Atraccions, with an array of rollercoasters. Equally breathtaking, however, is the glass lift that goes up 115m to a visitors’ observation area at Torre de Collserola telecommunications tower. The more grounded among you can find solace in the Temple del Sagrat Cor, Barcelona’s answer to Paris’ Sacré Coeur. Looming above Tibidabo’s funicular station, it is actually two churches, one on top of the other. The top one is surmounted by a giant Christ and has a lift to the roof.
A tourist magnet, Barcelona’s de facto high street (actually five streets end-to-end) has nonetheless got more to recommend it than overpriced restaurants and street hawkers. Check out the colourful bird market, the Palau de Virreina and the Gran Teatre del Liceu – the old opera house – as you walk down towards the Placa Reial, one of the cities grandest open spaces.
Barcelona has more than its fair share of museums dedicated to the arts: one good way to make sure you don’t miss any masterpieces is to buy an ‘Articket’ from the tourism board, which covers you for seven of the city’s foremost galleries, including the Museu Picasso, Fundacio Joan Miro and Gaudi’s Caixa Catalunya.
Museums – articket deal
Barcelona is full of traditional markets selling fresh Catalan and Mediterranean food. La boqeria is one of the grandest, oldest and best known, the latter owing largely to its situation just a couple of minutes off Las Ramblas. As well as providing excellent picnic material, you can – and should – sit and sample the quesadillas made there and then. For something more formal, try the nearby restaurant El Quim
Les Quinze Nits is a stylish tapas restaurant which is definitely one to consider if reviews are anything to go by: it overlooks the grand Placa Reial, serves delicious yet reasonably priced food and, not surprisingly, is very popular as a result. They do not take reservations, however.
Fans of fine dining will feel right at home in Alkimia, one of Barcelona’s most fashionable and talked-about restaurants. Nestling in the shadow of la Sagrada Familia, it has quickly made a name for itself serving ultra-modern interpretations of typical Catalan cuisine.
For less extravagant dinners, avoid the tourist traps around Las Ramblas and head into the old quarter, Barri Gotic: explore the narrow, winding streets and you should find plenty of authentic tapas restaurants and cafés.
This is a useful list of some traditional Catalonian dishes that you might like to try if you get a chance.
Barcelona deserves its reputation as a party town, even in a country that lives for late nights. The best areas to target are Raval, Barri Gotic, or Born: that’s where you’ll find the best bars and clubs. Be prepared to go the whole hog; with clubs that don’t open until the early hours of the morning you might find yourself a little stretched if you’re working the next day.
Outside of Barcelona
If you have time, or fancy getting away from the busy city, the surrounding area has plenty going for it. The nearby town of Sitges is a popular mix of medieval and modern cultures; Figueres, a little further afield, is the birthplace of the world’s favourite surrealist, Salvador Dali, and has an excellent museum devoted to him; or for something entirely different, why not take a trip to Montserrat? Ascending the mountain by cable car to arrive at the 16th century monastery makes for quite a pilgrimage.