Things to Do in Barcelona - page 4
Opened in 1906 as a part of the Royal Academy of Arts and Science of Barcelona, the Teatre Poliorama continues to be a center of Catalan culture and arts. With around 700 seats, the formerly cinematic theater is a smaller, more intimate venue. Designed by architect Josep Domènech i Estapà, it first opened in 1894. Historically the theater played films, with the introduction of mostly Catalan stage productions after its renovation in 1903.
Many important Catalan performances premiered here until the Spanish Civil War. During the war the building was seized and became the scene of armed battles recounted in Hemingway’s ‘Homage to Catalonia.’ Today the theater holds regular performances of both opera and flamenco, often with live music. There are also musicals and comedy shows shown on occasion. The clock located at its entrance is considered to be the official time of Barcelona to which everyone sets their watch to. It was the first electrical clock in the city.
The historic heart of Barcelona is the Cuitat Vella, or Old City, home to the majority of the city’s tourist attractions and encompassing the districts of El Raval, Barri Gotic, La Ribera and Barceloneta. With its abundance of iconic architecture, world-class museums and historic sights, most visitors to the city find themselves spending the majority of their time in the Cuitat Vella.
Las Rablas is the Old City’s main thoroughfare, separating the residential neighborhood and red light district of El Raval from the largely pedestrianized Barri Gotic, or Gothic Quarter. The Barri Gotic makes a popular starting point for a walking tour of the city, with sights including the historic Placa del Rei; the 14th century Palau Reial Major; the Gothic Barcelona Cathedral; the glitzy shopping street of Portal del Angel; the lively La Boqueria food market; and several Gaudi masterpieces, including the Palau Güell.
One of the most famous points of interest on Montjuïc is the Poble Espanyol. The so-called "Spanish Village" was built for the 1929 International Exhibition to show off models of the architecture specific to each region in Spain.
Visitors ambling through the mixed-and-matched village will find themselves one minute walking down a street characteristic of the Basque region, and the next, standing before a home reminiscent of the Andalucian style. Also included are copies of Galician and Castilian architecture and, of course, Catalan dwellings.
Filling these buildings are various craft shops left over from the International Exhibition that are still churning out keepsake crafts. There are also several bars, cafes and shops throughout to quench every thirst, appetite and need for a souvenir.
If you haven’t heard of Barcelona’s Plaça de Sant Jaume, then its City Hall — called the Casa de la Ciutat, in Catalan — should give you reason to pay this square a visit. The headquarters for local government, the building features a grand façade, which dates back to 1847, and an open-once-weekly interior that you’ll be keen to fit into your travel schedule.
That’s because behind its commanding but relatively simple exterior, there are some pretty exquisite treasures discover, such as the building’s medieval-style 14th-century Saló de Cent, and its mural-covered Hall of Chronicles. The plaza itself is pretty noteworthy too, as this was once the site of the Roman forum, and is also home to the Palau de la Generalitat de Catalunya (the seat of Catalan government), whose dome-topped building sits just opposite City Hall.
At the heart of Barcelona, the Gran Teatre del Liceu is one of the most important opera houses in all of Europe and one of the most impressive sights of the city. Since its opening on La Rambla in 1847, it has been a cultural, artistic, and political hub for Catalonia. The theater was originally opened as a music conservatory and performance venue for students. It was kept up by private shareholders as opposed to government or monarchy for many years. It survived a major fire in 1994, after which the building was fully restored, updated, and transferred to public ownership. The original foyer, staircase, and main facade are still intact.
The theater is a major venue for classical music, opera, and dance in Barcelona. Many of the world’s most famous opera singers have performed on its stage. Its beautiful interior is worth seeing even if you’re unable to attend a show.
Plaça de Sant Jaume’s Palau de la Generalitat de Catalunya is much more than just a building with a pretty neoclassical façade: this is the seat of the Catalan government, from where 100 presidents have governed. Constructed between the 15th and 17th centuries, the building is a symbol of Catalan perseverance, having stood the test of time through many historic challenges.
It’s not just special because of its history, either. Apart from the attractive dome-topped exterior, its interior is perhaps even more impressive. It features a Gothic chapel, elaborate ceremonial halls, loads of paintings and sculptures, and a sunlight-filled Courtyard of Orange Trees, or Pati dels Tarongers — among other Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance elements.
One of Barcelona’s coolest neighborhoods, the student and art quarter of Gràcia showcases a different side to the city, with its laid-back bars and restaurants, and traditional Catalonian feel. Connected to the city by the Passeig de Gràcia, the residential area is popular among those looking to rent cheap accommodation on the outskirts of the city and a number of travelers escape to Gràcia to sample the city’s most bohemian haunts.
Placa del Sol is at the heart of Gràcia, where clusters of tapas bars and terrace restaurants serve up an array of traditional Catalan cuisine, but the area is most famous for the Parc Güell, one of the city’s most celebrated parks. The iconic gardens perched on the hill of El Carmel were designed by Antoni Gaudi between 1900-1914 and form a key part of Barcelona’s UNESCO World Heritage listed ‘Works of Antoni Gaudi’.
Many come to Barcelona to see the structures of the city designed by famous architect Antoni Gaudi, with his distinct vision and trademark use of intricate mosaics (called trencadis.) Not many get to learn about the process and create their own mosaics, which is where the Mosaiccos workshop comes in. With classes and activities suited for all ages, participants learn the technique, choose their design, and then craft a unique handmade souvenir. The most popular workshop is called the “Gaudi Experience,” which allows visitors to not only see but create the art itself.
There is also a shop on site with unique gifts all crafted in this broken tile and glass style. Culturally decorative mosaics have been a tradition for more than 1,000 years. It’s a hands-on way to experience the distinctive design and style that has shaped the city of Barcelona.
Whether you like your animals fluffy or ferocious, they’ll be something that fits the bill at the Barcelona Zoo, one of the city’s most family friendly attractions, spread over 14 hectares within the Parc de la Ciutadella. Over 7,000 animals and 400 different species call the zoo home, with everything from dolphins to rhinoceros living in quarters that mimic their natural habitats.
Since opening its gates in 1892 to showcase the private fauna collection of Lluís Martí, the zoo has expanded its scope to include dedicated breeding programs and preservation work with species under threat of extinction. The zoo’s most famous resident, Snowflake – the world’s only known albino gorilla – sadly died in 2003, but there are plenty of other creatures large and small to entertain the crowds. Bornean organutans, a Sumatran tiger, a giant anteater, hippopotamuses, giraffes, elephants, flamingos and even miniature Shetland ponies all call the zoo home.
More Things to Do in Barcelona
If you’re a fan of music, or simply a fan of American-style food, then add Barcelona’s Hard Rock Cafe to your list of things to do in the coastal Catalan city. Located in the metropolis’s main square, Plaça de Catalunya, the classic international restaurant serves up the same crowd-pleasing fare that you’ll find in its restaurants around the world.
But of course expect to find a whole new set of intriguing rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia too. Highlights include a jacket worn by Michael Jackson during his Victory tour, a guitar from the collection of Jimi Hendrix and a teddy worn by none other than Madonna. Apart from all the collector’s items, the restaurant also hosts events, such as live music, usually on Sundays. And just as tasty food, good service, and Rock ‘n’ Roll are standard here, so is the onsite shop, where you can get your hands on that much-coveted Hard Rock Cafe Barcelona T-shirt.
Montjuïc is the hill situated on the southwestern border of Barcelona. The name of the hill translates to "Mountain of the Jews," which refers to the Jewish cemetery and possible settlement there at one time. Home to Barcelona's World Exhibition in 1929 and then the 1992 Olympics, Montjuïc has been developed to include a number of attractions, including museums, theatres and clubs. An old castle still stands on the hill as well, dating back to days when political prisoners were executed en masse by the Spanish government.
Popular attractions include the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya and CaixaForum, both of which house interesting collections of art, ranging from medieval to modern. Other famous points of interest are the Poble Espanyol - Spanish Village - and Joan Miro museum. Come nightfall, find people from all over the city perched on ledges to watch the spectacle that is La Font Magica show, a colorful water display in the main fountain that is set to music.
Barcelona visitors keen to have a shopping experience beyond the hustle and bustle of Passeig de Gracia or the tourist shops of Las Ramblas will find just what they’re looking for at Diagonal Mar. This shopping center, located north of the city’s tourist center, offers 150 different stores, including a range of Spanish and international brands.
The mall also has loads of other mall amenities, from an upper-level food court to kid play area, and even free WiFi. You can also to there for entertainment, too, by catching a flick at Diagonal Mar’s movie theater (which features movies in original, English-language version). The center’s location also provides a good excuse for you to explore this less-touristy part of town by taking a short walk to the nearby beach, or even by heading southwest along the coastline, toward the city, to explore Barcelona’s industrial-meets-innovation Poblenou neighborhood.
There are many reasons to head up to Montjuïc hill’s Olympic Ring, and Palau Sant Jordi is certainly one of them. Designed for the 1992 Olympics, the indoor stadium played host to events including gymnastics, handball, volleyball, as well as various competitions during the Paralympics.
On the outside the structure looks like a square spaceship of sorts, and on the inside it’s nothing but beautiful light that pours through the building’s famous window-checkered ceiling. Today the stadium — which can hold over 16,000 people — still hosts top sports competitions, as well as events, and high-profile concerts for artists ranging from U2 to Bruce Springsteen and Rihanna. Go there to see a show yourself, or simply to admire Palau Sant Jordi’s exterior as you explore the Olympic Ring and its other sights, including the Olympic Stadium and Esplanade.
In the northeastern suburbs of Barcelona, El Poblenou (‘new village’ in Catalan) is sandwiched between the Mediterranean Sea and the Avinguda Diagonal, which slices through the modern heart of the city. As one of Barcelona’s former working-class districts, Poblenou had a somewhat neglected feel prior to the 1992 Olympic Games, which saw vast swathes of the city scrubbed clean and regenerated. It was given a thorough facelift and today the chimneys of the former textile works stand side by side with warehouses converted into gentrified loft apartments. Along with the advent of the gleaming Torre Agbar – brightly illuminated at night – and other sleek modern skyscrapers, Poblenou has gained a reputation for being the home of technical innovation and sparkling creativity.
The Gaudí House Museum (Casa Museu Gaudí) was the home of architect Antoni Gaudí for the last 20 years of his life (1906-1926). It was opened to the public as a museum in 1952 to celebrate the centennial of his birth year.
The house itself was built under Gaudí's direction, the pink exterior and dramatic spire reflecting the artist's unique style. Inside the house, the rooms have been maintained to look how they did while inhabited by Gaudí. Pieces of furniture the artist designed fill the house, and walls are covered with his drawings and other original artwork. There is also a quaint garden behind the house featuring sculptures and an archway by Gaudí.
Tucked away among the countless alleyways and courtyards of Barcelona’s atmospheric Barrio Gotico (Gothic Quarter) east of Las Ramblas, triangular George Orwell Square is named after the English author whose novel Homage to Catalonia was published in 1938 after he had spent six months fighting for the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War. He lived in the square briefly and a small plaque marks his house. Formerly a grungy backwater of the Barrio, the square has been radically refurbished and cleaned up alongside much of Barcelona’s Ciutat Vella (Old City), and now has a lively, Bohemian atmosphere; it is surrounded by tall, narrow townhouses decorated with wrought-iron balconies and by cafés, bars and (many vegetarian) restaurants, whose tables spread out on to the square in sunny weather. Standing tall in the center of the square is a bizarre, swirling metal installation by Surrealist Catalan sculptor Leandre Cristòfol.
Down the centuries the Port de Barcelona has played a strategic role in the development of the city it serves; its geographical location on the Mediterranean Sea made it an important trading port that brought great wealth into Catalonia. Today it is a major stopover on cruising itineraries as well as the base for ferry services to the Balearic Islands and Mediterranean ports such as Rome, Genoa and Algiers; it is currently being extended in a development that will see it double in size and capacity.
Port Vell is adjacent to the ferry port, an historic area of fishing fleets and marinas into which new life was breathed in 1995; it is Barcelona’s number-one spot for destination shopping and dining, strolling along the seafront promenades and taking boat trips out onto the Med. It’s also the place to learn about Catalan history in the sprawling 19th-century Palau de Mar and travel by cable-car high above Barcelona to the museums and Olympic stadium at Montjuïc.
Barcelona is filled with parks and unique art, and the Parque del Laberinto de Horta is one of the city’s oldest and least well known. The historic artistic gardens are part of a large former estate, containing both an 18th-century neoclassical garden and a 19th century romantic garden. The neoclassical garden was designed with the help of an Italian architect, while the romantic garden added details such as gazebos, waterfalls, and additional beds of colorful flowers.
Once the site of garden parties and socialite events, it was handed over to the city of Barcelona by the Devalls family in 1967. Visitors can still see the original mansion that the family once lived in, built in neogothic and neoarabic styles. A stroll throughout the grounds offers views of the many classical statues, fountains, Italian-style pavilions, and the hedge maze that gives the garden its name.
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