A weekend in Barcelona

Barcelona dips its toes in the Mediterranean, and basks in year-round sunshine. Its skyline is indelibly marked by the visionary architect Antoni Gaudí, whose delirious buildings seem to have magically erupted across the city. Add the fantastic and varied nightlife, discerning cuisine, a nose for the latest and best in fashion and design, and a population bent on having a good time and it’s not surprising that Barcelona has become one of the most visited cities in Europe.

Here is our guide to a weekend in Barcelona, taken from the latest edition of European City Breaks.

Barcelona’s Top Five Sights

If you are only in Barcelona for a weekend, these are the sights not to miss.

Les Ramblas

Les Ramblas features Barcelona's most famous fountain: Font de Canaletes.

Metro Plaça de Catalunya/Liceu, E3/D5.
The best introduction to Barcelona is a stroll down Les Ramblas, the mile-long promenade that meanders down from Plaça de Catalunya to the port. It may look like one street but it is made up of five separate ramblas, each with its own name and characteristics. Together they present an oddly appealing mixture of the picturesque and the tacky: street entertainers, fast-food outlets, crumbling theatres, whimsical Modernista mansions and pretty turn-of-the-century kiosks overflowing with flowers and songbirds. It’s at its best early in the morning and on Sunday afternoons.
Halfway down is La Boquería, the city’s irresistible market, with its wrought-iron roof and Modernista sign. Inside are piles of gleaming fruit, vegetables, fish and other local specialities, plus a liberal sprinkling of tiny bars for coffee or cava. Nearer the port is the city’s 19th-century opera house, the Gran Teatre del Liceu.

La Sagrada Família

Barcelona's most famous church was consecrated by the Pope in November 2010.

C Mallorca 401, Eixample, T93 080 414,
Metro Sagrada Gaudí’s unfinished masterpiece, the Expiatory Temple of the Holy Family, is the most emblematic and controversial monument in Barcelona. The towers measure almost 100 m and the central spire, when finished, will soar 180 m into the sky. The temple is set for completion in 2026, the anniversary of Gaudí’s death. In November 2010, the temple was consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI in the presence of the Spanish King and Queen. Although construction is a long way from complete, the nave has now been covered, an organ installed, and mass is said daily. Gaudí designed three façades for the temple but only the Nativity façade was completed by the time of his death in 1926. The Passion façade on the other side of the church is grim and lifeless in comparison. Inside, work has begun on the construction of four huge columns to support the enormous domed roof. There’s a lift up the towers; brave visitors can climb even higher, before descending via the vertiginous spiral staircase. Underneath, the crypt contains Gaudí’s tomb and an interactive museum.

Barri Gòtic

The Gothic quarter dates back to Roman times.

Metro Liceu, E3.
The Barri Gòtic has been the hub of the city for more than 2000 years. It’s one of the best preserved Gothic quarters in Europe, a dizzy maze of palaces, squares and churches piled on top of an original Roman settlement. The area is grubby, noisy, chaotic and packed with shops, bars and clubs. The streets are just as crowded at midnight as they are at midday. Exploring the narrow alleyways, it’s impossible to miss the Catedral de la Seu (Plaça Nova) with its dramatic spires and neo-Gothic façade. The cathedral dates back to the 13th century and the magnificent interior is suitably dim and hushed. A lift behind the altar swoops to the top for a bird’s-eye view of huddled rooftops. Close by, the imposing medieval façades of the Generalitat (Catalan Parliament) and the Ajuntament (City Council) face each other across the Plaça Sant Jaume. From here, shadowy passages, scattered with Roman ruins and ancient churches, lead to lovely squares such as Plaça Sant Just, Plaça Felip Neri and Plaça del Pi.

Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya

The Palau Nacional was built for the 1929 World Fair.

Palau Nacional, Montjuïc, T93 622 0360,
Housed in the dour Palau Nacional on Montjuïc is a magnificent collection of the best of Catalan art. The highlight is the array of spellbinding Romanesque murals gathered from Catalan churches and displayed on reconstructed church interiors. The Gothic collection reflects Catalunya’s glory years from the 13th to the 15th centuries, with rooms devoted to the three outstanding painters of the time: Bernat Martorell, Lluís Dalmau and Jaume Huguet. The Thyssen bequest, with roughly a hundred masterpieces including works by Fra Angelico, Raphael, Zurbarán and others, has been housed here since 2004. There is also an extensive collection of 19th-century art and sculpture, including wonderful Modernista furniture and objets d’art. Below MNAC, at the top of Avenida María Cristina, is the Font Màgica, Pl de Carles Buïgas, a fountain from 1929 that puts on a fabulous sound and light show; it’s gloriously tacky, yet undeniably magical.

Park Güell

Gaudi's Park Güell garden complex took fourteen years to construct.

C Olot 7, T93 130 488.
Metro Lesseps, then a (signposted) 10-min walk, or bus 24. The Park Güell is perhaps the most delightful of Gaudí’s visionary creations. Two fairytale pavilions guard the entrance, from where stairs sweep up past the famous multi-coloured salamander, which has become one of Barcelona’s best-known and best-loved symbols. The steps culminate in the Sala Hipóstila, also known as the Hall of a Hundred Columns because of the thick Doric columns which support its undulating roof. Gaudí’s talented collaborator, the architect and mosaicist Josep Maria Jujol, was given free reign to colour the vaulted ceiling with elaborate whimsy; look carefully and you’ll see the designs are made of smashed china, ceramic dolls’ heads, wine glasses and old bottles. Above the hall is the main square with its snaking bench, thickly encrusted with trencadís, like the scales of a monstrous dragon. Surrounding it are porticoes and viaducts, made from unworked stone, which hug the slopes of the hillside for more than 3 km. The Centre d’Interpretació del Park Güell, in one of the pavilions, is open daily 1100–1500 and is free. Info at Just off the main esplanade is the Casa Museu Gaudí, housed in the small Torre Rosa, Gaudí’s home for the last years of his life.

This is an extract from European City Breaks - available now from our online shop.
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