The endless battle between Barcelona and Madrid. The two cities are different, and it’s difficult to understand the rivalry between them and the never ending questions underlying this competition – Barcelona or Madrid? I asked a Spaniard in Merida whether the Spain v Portugal World Cup game would elicit Spanish passion. He responded by saying there is more passion between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid fans (Spanish nationalism v Catalan pride).
Barcelona is a city that has boundless amounts of attitude, drawing passion from its Catalan culture. You can feel the energy. It is noisy and atmospheric. It is vibrant, mesmerising and just a little strange with its architecture. This is a city that draws significant numbers of tourists. Residents have demonstrated against the tourist hoards. Yet, you do not get the feeling that you are unwelcome.
Is Madrid a real city and Barcelona only a tourist trap? These two cities are so different. How can you make a parallel between Madrid’s monumental architecture and Barcelona’s Gaudi or between the capital’s collection of art and Barcelona’s much talked about nightlife and sunny beaches? In Barcelona, you will find yourself stopping to catch a glimpse of architectural creations, especially those from Gaudi. And, like most European cities, it is an easy, yet vast, city to walk.
Barcelona has risen to be the ultimate city on people’s bucket lists. It is often described as their most favourite city. We had come to the end of our Spanish adventure and already found Spanish cities that we adored – Granada and Sevilla, for example, both blew us away and other parts of Spain offered a great insight into Spanish culture or history. It would be hard for any other city to compete.
This is a progressive city, having banned bullfighting. The roof terrace of the Las Arenas bullring turned shopping centre is one of Barcelona’s most accessible viewpoints with panoramic views of the surrounding area and Montjuic as well as Placa d’Espanya and the Joan Miros sculpture in the distance.
Montjuic is easily accessed and dates back to 1929, originally the national palace built for the Barcelona International Expo. It really is a wonderful place to see and photograph some of the best views in Barcelona. This is an imposing building with a spectacular view, and at its foot is the Magic Fountain, which, alas, was not operating when we visited.
At Port Vell, you’ll be greeted by the sight of a large column, atop which sits the statue of Christopher Columbus, the famous Italian explorer who married a Portuguese noble woman. He is largely responsible for opening up the Americas to European exploration.
A popular place to eat in Barcelona is in the salty backstreets of Barceloneta. This waterfront barrio was originally where the city’s fishermen lived and is still a district to eat tapas and seafood in Barcelona. It is here that we enjoyed a lovely dinner overlooking the marina.
Santa Maria Del Mar was built in the 1300’s at the height of Catalonia’s maritime and mercantile superiority. The cathedral is a fine example of Catalan Gothic architecture, soaring belltowers, beautifully detailed masonry and magnificent interior.
To get a feel for Barcelona, walking the city’s ancient Ciutat Vella (Old Town), which includes the neighbourhood of El Gotico, is inspiring. A walk through the Gothic Quarter, getting lost in the warren of tiny, shaded passageways, provides both pleasure and the experience of time travel. There is something about the grand and, at times, slightly spooky streets that make you want to linger. If there ever was an ideal place to get lost, the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona would be it – meandering through the endless maze of intriguing alleyways, quaint shopfronts, lovely squares and plazas and Gothic architecture. This is Barcelona’s historic centre and dates back to pre-Roman times. The area is a maze of tiny streets that turn around on each other and open into squares or wider streets. Barcelona’s character is evident everywhere the alleyways take you, from the bars and shops, to the balconies above. The Gothic Quarter is a treasure just waiting for you to discover.
The Royal Palace, located in a courtyard known as the Placa del Rei, is believed where King Fernando II and Queen Isabel welcomed Christopher Columbus upon his return from the New World.
El Born cultural centre is housed in a building that was formerly El Born market, which opened in 1876. An archaeological site was found in the subsoil, revealing traces of the demarcations of streets and houses Barcelona of the 1700s, serving as a testament both to life in the city and the consequences of the siege of 1714.
The Fossar de les Moreres (Grave of the Mulberries) is a memorial square adjacent to the basilica of Santa Maria del Mar. The plaza was built over a cemetery where defenders of the city were buried following the Siege of Barcelona at the end of the War of the Spanish Succession in 1714.
Parc de la Ciutadella is a city centre park dating from the 19th century, and the earliest green space in Barcelona. This was a perfect place to grab a breather from our exploring. Its best known feature is likely the large water garden, which was one of the earlier works in the city that Gaudi was involved with, although he wasn’t well known at the time and his involvement was fairly minimal. It’s a grand construction, topped with giant golden horse drawn chariots.
The Arc de Triomf is the triumphal arch in the city built in reddish brickwork in the Neo-Mudejar style. It was the gateway to the exposition. The arch stood at the end of the boulevard that led to the exhibition grounds in the Parc de la Ciutadella.
Placa de Catalunya, a lively square and meeting place, marks the physical and symbolic heart of Barcelona, and the autonomous community of Catalonia as a whole. It is where La Rambla starts…or ends, depending on your start point. For us, Placa de Catalunya was the end of Barcelona’s iconic La Rambla, a colourful boulevard known for its countless shops, restaurants, cafes, flower stalls…and pickpockets.
La Rambla is the heartbeat of the city. You can’t visit Barcelona without making a visit to this popular bustling city street, a little like Champs Elysee or Broadway. It is where you can watch the people go by. It is here that we enjoyed a flamenco show at Tablao Flamenco Cordobes. We walk the famous La Rambla, lined with tall plane trees. Consider this boulevard as the city’s nerve centre. At night, it becomes a lively place with bars and cafes hawking for your custom.
The city offered us a new and different perspective to Spain, different to what we had already seen through other parts of this vast country. It was more expensive than the other Spanish cities visited and had a big city vibe, much like Madrid. Whilst we had heard and read about Barcelona’s reputation for petty crime, we were cautious, but it did not stop us from enjoying Barcelona’s vibrancy, attitude and pleasing architecture.