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Exploring Barcelona, Spain
Barcelona is over 2500 years old and is home to 1.5 million people. It has morphed into one of the most popular destinations in Spain. The Olympic Games were held there in 1992, promoting mass tourism. Usually thought of as a city of culture, Barcelona also boats a beautiful coastline.
Flights to Barcelona International Airport are available from most international airports. The airport is approximately 20 minutes from Barcelona by bus, hire car and taxi, and half an hour by train.
Bus stops are right outside the terminals. Buses leave every 80 minutes, and go as far as the Plaça d`Espanya. From there, you can catch a taxi to the city centre. Taxi stands are also by the terminals. Barcelona taxis are black and yellow, and provide 24-hour service.
Turning right from Terminal B or left from Terminal A leads to the footbridge to the Renfe Rodalies suburban train station. The train stops in four places in central Barcelona, and leaves every half an hour.
What To See
The Cathedral de la Sagrada Familia is the incomplete work of Antonio Gaudí. He died in 1926, before work on the building had been completed. For me, it was easily one of the most impressive pieces of architecture in the city, despite still being under construction. In the museum, you can find out more about it. Entry is 10 €, with an additional 4-5 € for an audio guide, which I found to be well worth the extra charge.
La Ramblas (also known as Las Ramblas and literally translated as "dry flowers" in Arabic) is a pedestrianised boulevard and is frequently used as a meeting place for the locals. The trees lining the streets offer welcome shade in the often unbearable summer heat. The bird market is worth a stop. Also worth a look is the Palau de la Virreina, an 18th Century rococ mansion. Near to the Palau is the most vibrant markets of La Rambla - the Mercat de la Boqueria. To the south of this is the Mosaic de Miro, where one of the pavement tiles has been signed by the artist. The subsequent part of La Rambla contains the Gran Teatre del Liceu, a 19th Century opera house. After this, La Rambla takes on a seedy note, with strip clubs and peep shows galore. The Monument of Christopher Columbus is situated at the end of Las Ramblas. It is a 60m high column erected in 1888 as a tribute to the explorer. You can travel to the top of the monument by lift. The view of Barcelona from the top is breathtaking. It is open daily from 10am to 6pm. To the west of the monument, on Avinguda de les Drassanes, the Reials Drassanes - the Royal Shipyards - contain the Maritime Museum, where you will find plenty of maritime objects such as boats, ships` figureheads and galleys from the 16th Century.
The Museu Picasso is the most frequented museum in the city. Situated on the Carrer de Montcada (originally the approach to the Barcelona port) in three stunning stone mansions, it has a particular emphasis on Picasso`s Blue period, with work from the 189Os. The second floor houses work from 1900-1904.
The Plaça Catalunya (Square of Catalunya) is where all of the roads in Barcelona start from, meaning you can travel to anywhere in the city via bus, taxi and metro from here.
The Port Olimpic has a picturesque marina. I spent a lovely afternoon there in the summer heat, sitting in the shade by one of the restaurants, and very much enjoying the view.
Montjuic is the hill which looks over the city from the southwest. It houses art galleries and leisure attractions, as well as Anella Olimpica - the main sites from the 1992 Olympic Games. On the north side is the Plaça de Braus Les Arenes, which used to be a bullring in which the Beatles held a concert in 1966. Behind is the Parc Joan Miro, in which is Dona i Ocell sculpture (Woman and Bird). Nearby is the Palau Nacional containing the Museu Nacional d`Art de Catalunya with a good selection of Romanesque art. Below the Palau Nacional is a series of fountains, the biggest of which, La Fon Magica, boasts lights and music in the evenings in summer. In the northwest is the Poble Espanyol (`Spanish Village`). At first it seems hideously tacky, but offers a fascinating insight into Spanish architecture with replica copies of building from all of the Spanish areas. Further down the hill, you can take a look at the Fundacio Joan Miro, a gallery for Joan Miro, who is considered to be the greatest Catalan artist of the 20th century. The gallery is the single biggest display of his work.
Tibidabo is a 542m (1778 ft) high hill situated in the wooded range forming the backdrop to the city. On a clear day, it provides a stunning view of the city. The locals enjoy the Parc d`Atraccions amusement park, with rides and even a House of Horrors. A glass lift travels 115m to an observation area at the Torre de Collserola telecommunications tower. If you don’t fancy that, the Temple del Sagrat Cor, is Barcelona`s version of the famous Sacré Coeur in Paris. Above are two churches, one on top of the other. The uppermost church is topped by a giant Christ and contains a lift all the way to the roof.
Where To Eat
If you’re looking for quality food, check out Els Quatre Gats or the Casa Calvet. The latter is found in the ground floor of a building that Gaudí designed when he was young. They offer good quality food, with a vast price difference between the set menu and a la carte.
The Gothic quarter is home to vegetarian restaurants, including La Flauta Màgica (on the Calle Banys Vells) and Govinda (on the Plaza Vila de Madrid). Both are recognized for organic food.
Els Quatre Gats (4Gats)
Carrer Montsio 3 bis
Tel: +34 93 302 41 40
Fax: +34 93 317 40 33
Carrer de Casp 48
Tel: +34 93 412 40 12
Fax: +34 93 412 43 36
La Flauta Màgica
C. Banys Vells 18
Tel: +34 93 268 46 94
Barcelona is a shopper’s paradise, boasting around 35,000 shops. The 5km shopping line takes in the whole of the Ramblas. Most of it is pedestrianised. Shops include designers like Versace, Giorgio Armani and Calvin Klein. You will also find Spanish shops selling stylish European clothes and accessories. Most of the non-designer shops can be found on the section of La Rambla leading from the waterfront to Plaça de Catalunya and down to Passeig de Gracia. This is considered to be the best shopping area in Barcelona. A special bus service called the Barcelona Transport runs along the shopping line. It departs weekdays from 7:30am to 9:45pm, and from 9am to 9:20pm on Saturdays from the Plaça de Catalunya. The all-day T-shopping Card ticket (8€) lets you get on and off the bus (complete with leather seats) to your heart’s content. Almost every shop in the city is closed on Sundays.
The winter sales start on the 10th January, and the summer sales on the 5th July. Big department stores such as Elcorteingles and Fnac usually open at 9am or 10am and stay open until around 8pm, as do the shopping complexes such as El Triangle. Smaller shops usually close from around 1:30pm to 5pm for siesta.
Where To Stay
For a tight budget, Hotel Abalon is five minutes from the Sagrada Familia. Rooms include full bathroom, telephone and satellite television, optional Internet connection and air conditioning, and start from around 55€ per person (per night). It welcomes families and tourists who want to feel “at home” without paying a fortune. The continental buffet serves breakfast from 7:30am to 11:30am.
Antibes is a two-star hotel in the commercial and cultural section of Barcelona. It is a ten minute walk from the metro, six minutes from the Sagrada Familia and fifteen minutes from La Rambla. Single rooms start at 57 €, and double rooms start at 69 €. Breakfast costs an additional 4.75 €, and parking is an extra 12 €.
If you`re prepared to pay a bit more, the Abba Rambla is a three-star hotel situated in the heart of Barcelona, a couple of minutes away from the Ramblas. Rooms include a plasma TV and a minibar . The hotel also has wireless Internet connection, 24-hour reception service, a laundry service, snack-bar and lounge and full facilities for disabled guests. Rooms start from 53 € per person (per night).
For those who want luxury, the Hotel Arts Barcelona is one of the most popular five-star hotels in the city. Situated near the picturesque Port Olimpic, it offers panoramic views. There are terraced gardens and an outdoor swimming pool. The restaurants and bars have outdoor terraces. The hotel is near to the city centre and is only 100 yards from the beach. La Rambla is also just a short walk away.
Hotel Arts Barcelona
Carrer de la Marina 19- 21
Tel: +34 93 221 1000
Fax: +34 93 221 1070
Sally Aquire is an international freelance writer. She has been published in Handbag, Hot Psychology and Australian Tennis. Her work can be viewed at http://sallyaquire.tripod.com.