Frommer's' 15 Must-Do Experiences in Barcelona
It’s not really a shock that Barcelona has become such a hot destination. What is surprising is how long it took most of the world to discover Barcelona’s diverse charms, which draw architecture and design fanatics, foodies, culture hounds, history buffs, and those merely in search of an all-night party. Here are some don’t miss experiences in the thriving Catalan capital.
Barcelona’s pedestrian-only boulevard is anything but commonplace; it’s the epicenter of life in the capital, and joining the vibrant street parade is the best way to immerse yourself in the city. Pick up fresh flowers, kick back at a sidewalk cafe, and come face to face with outrageous human statues (but keep an eye on your belongings!).
Beyond the Gaudí must sees La Pedrera and La Sagrada Família, the L’Eixample grid teems with stunning modernista buildings by dozens of architects, famous and not. Start on Passeig de Gràcia’s stunning Manzana de la Discórdia, and then fan out to see innumerable examples of the modernista craze that took over Barcelona in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And don’t miss an afternoon relaxing on the serpentine, broken ceramic benches high above the city at Gaudí’s Parc Güell.
Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter is a mesmerizing labyrinth of medieval buildings and narrow streets; it’s a joy to take a stroll and discover a quiet square or picturesque patio. Meander down Sant Sever and slip into Plaça Sant Felip Neri or walk along Carrer Banys Nous, which is lined with antiques shops.
Barcelona’s wonderfully evocative food market is a feast for the senses, with hundreds of colorful stalls overflowing with fresh seafood, wild mushrooms, meats, and vegetables. For a special treat, join locals and sample the goods at a kiosk, such as Bar Pintxo or El Quim, for breakfast or lunch at the counter.
This mind-blowing 1908 modernista concert hall draws hordes to its architectural tours. But there’s nothing quite like experiencing a performance here; the spine-tingling monument to Art Nouveau excess takes a backseat to no musician, whether a chamber quartet or Pepe Habichuela.
Led these days by Joan Roca and Carme Ruscalleda, innovative Catalan cooking has given Barcelona the hottest dining scene in Europe. With chic tapas bars and minimalist haunts known for their celebrity chefs, the city has become a destination for gastronomic pilgrims.
Unfazed by today’s fashions and fast pace are authentic, timestopping treasures in the old city, portals to an earlier era: a 1920s modernista chocolate shop; a granja, or “milk bar,” serving thick chocolate drinks as it has for 125 years; and a gourmet food and wine shop in the same family for four generations. All are portals to an earlier era.
Just 2 decades ago, Barcelona turned its back on the Mediterranean and its polluted port; today, the revitalized waterfront is lined with leisurely bike paths and immaculate urban beaches. Take a pit stop at one of the city’s most traditional seafood haunts in working-class Barceloneta.
You can do a tapas crawl anywhere in Spain, but in Barcelona pre-meal snacks are washed down with glasses of cava, Catalan sparkling wine. Xampanyerías are friendly spots where good cheer bubbles over.
Against a backdrop of Gothic palaces, churches, and centuries-old shops, the tangle of dark but suddenly chic alleyways of the La Ribera/Born district is also home to dozens of edgy fashion and home-design shops, a delight to discover.
La Mercé, Barcelona’s signature folklore festival, has something for everyone: castellers (human towers rising eight levels); gigants and cap grosses (massive costumed royal figures parading the streets); and devils running and chasing each other with fireworks in correfocs. It’s a blast and a quintessential expression of Catalan pride.
This Gothic church, in the heart of bustling La Ribera, is architectural perfection, a model of graceful, soaring dimensions. A rare concert here can be thrilling, but it’s also a sublime sanctuary on a quiet afternoon. You might catch guests at a society wedding spilling out onto the steps—which you can watch from a wine bar just across the plaza.
The dreamlike rooftop of Antoni Gaudí’s finest private building is topped by surreal-looking chimneys, but it really comes to life during the summertime evening program of jazz concerts. You can tap your toes, sip cava, and watch the elegant Passeig de Gràcia below turn to night.
Appreciate how Barcelona gracefully stretches from the surrounding hills out to the sea on the old trolley (Tramvía Blau) up to Tibidabo, the hilltop overlooking the city. On a clear day, you can survey the perfect grid system of L’Eixample and maybe even pick out Mallorca in the distant Mediterranean.
Sample even more Catalan flavor just a couple of hours outside the capital: Ride an aerial cable car to Montserrat, a monastery cleaved into a mountain; discover the idiosyncratic spots where Salvador Dalí’s mad genius erupted; or lose yourself in the pristine, ancient Jewish quarter of Girona.