8 things to do if you’re visiting Barcelona for the first time…

Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia in Spain, is considered one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. A lively city, where the old and the new mingle in a unique way. Barcelona is hard to be described in just eight things but these eight things suggested here are a good start.

MNAC gardens and Font Magica

1. Τake an afternoon walk around MNAC and Font Magica : MNAC (aka Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya), housed in Palau Nacional, is a very interesting museum with an excellent collection of Romanesque church paintings and Catalan art from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, including Modernisme. But even more interesting is to take an afternoon walk in the surrounding area. The site was selected to host the 1929 International Exposition, which was the first huge project to reconstruct the city. Palau Nacional, Placa D’ Espanya, Avinguda De La Reina Maria Cristina, Font Magica and the pillars based on the campanile of St Mark’s in Venice were all part of a larger project that transformed the entire area. The huge stairways, the cascading fountains and the gardens are all spectacular and along with the magnificent view of the city will make your walk spectacular. Come here during sunset to watch the Font Magica show, when the fountain “dances” to the rhythm of popular music (for info about the show check here).

Alley in Barri Gotic

2. Discover medieval Barcelona : Barri Gotic (English : Gothic Quartet) is the centre of the Old Town and the true heart of the city. Despite several changes during the 19th and early 20th century, many of the buildings date back to Medieval Times. The main attraction in the quarter is the gothic Catedral de Barcelona dedicated to the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia. Its construction took place from the 13th to the 15th century. The most interesting part of the cathedral is the cloister, which encloses the Fountain of the Geese (Font de les Oques), which provides a home to 13 white geese. The number of the geese is explained variously by the story that Saint Eulalia was 13 when she was martyred or that she suffered 13 tortures. Around the Catedral, Barri Gotic is a labyrinth of small streets and alleys, opening out into squares. El Call, the medieval Jewish quarter, is located within the area. Stroll around, get lost in the streets of the quarter and feel that you could meet Columbus walking around, like he did in 1492 after his return from the New World.

Barceloneta and L’ Estet Ferit

3. Lie in the sun at Barceloneta : Barceloneta is a fishing village, which lies in a part of the land that cuts the old harbour on the one side and the sandy beach on the other, just below the city centre. The neighbourhood with its narrow streets was built to accommodate the citizens who lost their homes due to the construction of the Citadel and their houses were built low-raised so as not to obstruct the view of the sea. Barceloneta was the former home of fishermen and fish traders, but now it is a popular touristic area, renowned for its little cafes and restaurants. The beach especially is a wonderful place for walking or lying in the sun. There are numerous streets artists and sand sculptors here, who will make your visit even more interesting. On the beach, you will also come across the famous sculpture “L’ Estet Ferit” by Rebecca Horn, which is a tribute to the sailors of the area and resembles an abandoned lighthouse.

Casa Amatller and Casa Batllo

4. Follow the Modernisme Route : Barcelona is a city characterized by its Modernisme buildings. The Modernisme Route is an itinerary that takes you through the work of architects like Gaudi, Montaner and Cadafalch, who together with others, made the city the world capital of Modernisme. The Route is designed by the city’s tourist office and you get to know impressive palatial residences, amazing houses, a hospital but also shops, lampposts and benches. You could either buy a ticket which will grant you access to the interior of some of the buildings and a guidebook or just download the map and make the tour all by yourself. You can follow the Route with the aid of signs on the ground. These are small red paving stones set into the pavement that mark out the main sections of the Route. During your walk you will admire dreamlike buildings like Casa Mila, Casa Batllo or Casa Amatller that cannot be described and have to be seen in order to believe that they actually exist. The crown jewel of this Route is of course Sagrada Familia (for detailed info and the map check here).

Sagrada Familia

5. Admire the greatness of Sagrada Familia : Nothing could prepare you for the feelings and thoughts that are going to fill your heart and mind, once you stare for the first time at Sagrada Familia. Basilica I Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia is the magnum opus of the world famous Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi. Although incomplete, the church is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Gaudi became involved in 1883, taking over the project and transforming it with his unique vision and architectural style. Gaudi spent the last 16 years of his life as a recluse on the site but when he died in 1926 less than a quarter of the project was completed. The church is crammed with symbolism inspired by nature and striving for originality. It has been said that Sagrada Familia is like a book in stone with elements representing Biblical events or crucial aspects of Christian faith. There are three facades at the exterior, the Passion, the Nativity and the Glory (under construction) and the naive at the interior have pillars that resemble the trees of a forest. The crowd of visitors is always massive, so the best way is to buy tickets online, which you will give direct access at a certain time. Plan your visit and buy tickets from the official site.

Leftovers of Rich Man’s paella in 7 Portes

6. Taste “Rich Man’s” paella :  Paella is a traditional Valencian rice dish but its modern form originated in the 19th century in the area around the Albufera lagoon. Mixed paella is a free-style combination of meat, seafood, vegetables, and sometimes beans. Lourdes March (a food historian) notes that the dish “symbolizes the union and heritage of two important cultures, the Roman, which gives us the utensil and the Arab which brought us the basic food of humanity for centuries” (which is rice). Barcelona due to its strong fishermen tradition and world-famous culinary scene is one of the best places in Spain to taste this exceptional dish. Our favourite place in the city is 7 Portes (14 Passeig Isabel II), a historic establishment, which for 183 years retains the same quality. Here you could choose between 5 variations of the dish, but the most famous and delicious is Rich Man’s paella which includes chicken, pork, cuttlefish, sausage, lobster and prawns. The place is usually full so make a reservation via their site.

Ciudad Condal and Irati Taverna Basca

7. Have a night out with tapas and sangria : Tapas need no introduction. They are the most famous Spanish dish and they are always served with alcohol. They are not meant to be a meal, therefore there are only tapas bars. Tapas are small plates or bites that can be any type of food – from nuts, olives, and assorted cheeses to roasted meats and stews. But the most important in tapas-bars is the socializing of people while drinking and eating. A variation of the tapas is the Basque pintxos. They are called pintxos or pinchos because most of them have pincho (spike), typically a toothpick, through them. At a pintxos bar you pay by counting the toothpicks on your plate. Around Barcelona there are hundreds of places to taste tapas or pintxos and it is a hard task to choose the best ones. Everyone, local or tourist, has a favourite one. Our favourite places are : Ciudad Condal (18 Rambla de Catalunya) for tapas and excellent sangria and Irati Taverna Basca (17 Carrer del Cardenal Casanas) for pintxos.

Main Concert Hall of Palau de la Musica

8. Indulge in the magic of Palau de la Musica : Palau de la Musica Catalana, designed by the architect Lluis Domenech I Montaner, is considered by many as the most beautiful concert hall in the world. In 1997 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is typical of Catalan modernism in the way the curves predominate over straight lines, dynamic shapes and lines are preferred and the rich decoration emphasizes floral and organic shapes and icons. The central concert hall, with 2.200 seats, is the only one in Europe that is illuminated entirely by natural light during the daytime. What dominates the hall is an enormous skylight of stained glass designed by Antoni Rigalt. Some experts claim that the acoustics of the building are not perfect. But believe me, once you enter this spectacular building, you will be struck with awe and you won’t notice any imperfections to the sound. In my opinion, do not take a guided tour but buy tickets for a concert and admire the building as it I meant to be admired (information about tickets and shows could be found here).

La Ramblas

I am sure someone else will suggest eight other things to do in the city. For example, I have not put in my list La Ramblas, because I think any visitor would inevitably come across this lively central pedestrian street. Barcelona is a city with many faces and there are hundreds of different things to do.

Indulge in the magic of Barcelona and let your instinct and feelings guide you.