Things to Do in Catalonia - page 3
The oldest building in the city’s grand Pedralbes quarter, dating back to 1326, the church and monastery of Monestir de Pedralbes is now a museum and remains one of the city’s most stunning examples of religious architecture. Named for its characteristic white stones (pedres albes), the complex is acclaimed for its Catalan Gothic style, featuring a central courtyard garden, herb garden and fountain. The monastery, which once housed the nuns of the Franciscan Order of Saint Clare, was commissioned by the wife of James II of Aragon, Queen Elisenda, who famously took up residence in the monastery after her husband’s death.
Those interested in uncovering some of Barcelona’s rich religious history will find wandering the museum of the Monestir de Pedralbes an enlightening experience, devoted to showcasing the lives of the nuns who served in the building during the 14th century.
The quirky one-time abode of eccentric traveler Frederic Mares is now a museum devoted to his lifetime’s collection of artifacts – a fascinating space crammed with an eclectic array of curiosities. Open by Mares in 1948 to display his collection, the museum was bequeathed to the city after his death in 1991 and quickly gained acclaim as one of Barcelona’s most distinctive attractions.
If you’re looking for a glimpse into the lifestyle of Barcelona’s upper-class throughout the 20th-century, the Frederic Mares Museum, or Museu Frederic Marès, offers a unique perspective, including a range of daily objects like ticket stubs, train tickets, period clothing, pipes and handbills. The sculpture gallery, featuring a prominent collection of Hispanic works spanning the pre-Roman period to the late 19th century, is one of the most talked about exhibitions, including a fascinating series of polychrome holy carvings.
The sister museum to Madrid’s popular CaixaForum cultural center, CaixaForum Barcelona was inaugurated in 2002 and has since made a name for itself as one of the city’s premium modern art galleries. With a permanent exhibition that features over 700 thematically displayed works, it’s one of the biggest modern art collections in Spain, including works by Salvador Dalí, William Turner, William Hogarth, Joseph Beuys and Sol Lewitt. Along with its 5 exhibition rooms, the center also houses a 350-seat auditorium, a children’s art workshop and a café-restaurant, and hosts a number of temporary exhibitions, art workshops, film showings and concerts.
Even the building itself is impressive, a former factory building designed by Puig I Cadafalch in 1910, which stands opposite the stylish Mies van der Rohe pavilion. Resembling a modernist castle with its intricate crenellated brickwork, the dramatic building now features a striking metal and glass canopy frontage.
The Center of Contemporary Culture of Barcelona (CCCB) will give you goodreason to head into the gritty streets of the El Raval neighborhood, just west of the tourist-filled Las Ramblas. Partially located in a 19th-century almshouse, the urban culture center is a hub for discovery, debate and reflection.
The multidisciplinary institution is noted for its impressive offering of everything from debates, concerts, readings, festivals and exhibitions. Indeed, it’s those conversation-worthy rotating exhibitions that will draw the everyday visitor, so be sure to check the center’s schedule in advance to see what might be of interest to you. And, since the CCCB sits in the El Raval neighborhood, you have all the more reason to wander this often-unexplored part of Barcelona.
With its unique, modern design and interactive exhibits, the CosmoCaixa is frequently recognized as one of the best science museums in Europe. With hands-on displays and activities for both children and adults, the museum explores the earth through environmental and natural exhibits and the skies through its large, 3-D planetarium. There are educational experiments set up throughout, incorporating the senses of touch, smell, and sight.
Visitors enter the museum space (one of the largest in Spain) down an impressive five story winding staircase that ends at an Amazonian tree standing 30 meters tall. One of the most notable exhibits is the “Flooded Forest,” a replica of a tropical rain forest ecosystem in the Amazon with over 1,000 species present. The Geological Wall features cuts of rock formations from around Spain, and topics like evolution, intelligence, and physics can be explored in the Hall of Matter.
Music lover or not, you’re bound to walk away singing a satisfied tune after visiting this museum. Barcelona’s Museu de la Musica sets out to take visitors on an educational and sweet-sounding tour through the evolution of music across culture and time — and all via its on-display collection of some 500 instruments.
While exploring the museum’s exhibits, you’ll have the chance to check out one of the world’s most important collections of classic guitars, and even play some tunes yourself on various instruments via an interactive gallery. The experience is all the more rich given the themed itineraries, including one for the general public, another for youngsters, and others that are more specialized.
Showcasing the plant life of six different Mediterranean climate areas and the Canary Island, the Botanical Garden of Barcelona allows for a trip around the world in one place. Vegetation from Australia, South Africa, Chile, and California over 14 hectares make this one of the city’s biggest parks, and a great place to escape the hectic energy of urban life. The Mediterranean theme allows for a closer comparisons of plants growing in a similar climate worldwide.
The park works to preserve a diverse collection plant species, of which there are over 1,500. There is a fascinating sensory garden which emphasizes touch and smell, as well as a collection of medicinal plants. A wide paved path allows for a leisurely stroll through the different sections. Those interested in local plant life will enjoy the orchard consisting of typical Catalan vegetables.
This small museum is the only one dedicated to displaying Catalan modernisme art. It was converted from a textile factory in 2010, and exhibits some of the finest pieces of art nouveau furniture constructed in Catalunya. Most of the collection comes from two antique dealers, who have added their private collection to be shared with the public. There are over 350 works of art across several mediums, with premier modernista artists like Ramón Casas, Joan Busquets, and of course, Antoni Gaudi. A range of everything from paintings and sculptures to decorative arts and furniture can be found. The museum has become a bit of a cultural center for the city, unique to showcasing this very specific type of art created right in Catalunya. The museum is housed in a modernista building designed by architect Enric Sagnier, with original floors kept intact. Don’t miss Gaudi’s couch designed in the shape of lips, or the exquisite stained glass on the first floor.
The latest addition to the Barcelona Science Museum, Museu Blau opened its doors in 2011, and is housed in the landmark Forum Building - a futuristic blue building designed by architects Herzog and de Meuron.
Devoted primarily to natural history, the highlight of the Museu Blau is a vast permanent exhibition entitled Planet Life, chronicling the history of life on earth through fascinating interactive displays and multimedia exhibits. More than 4,500 items are on display, including animal fossils, dinosaur skeletons, rocks and minerals, along with the skeleton of a whale beached on Catalan shores in 1862.
The 9,000-square-meter museum also features temporary exhibition space, a kid’s discovery zone and a small Mediterranean garden, plus a café and gift shop.
More Things to Do in Catalonia
Barcelona’s oldest and most popular central park, the Parc de la Ciutadella is a picturesque expanse of greenery located just northeast of the city center, not far from the Barceloneta beach. The 74-acre park was designed in 1872 by architect Josep Fontsère, who also created the impressive Baroque Cascada inside the park - a 19th-century triumphal arch and fountain – and was famously assisted by a young Gaudí. At the northern entrance, the landmark Arc de Triomf designed by Josep Vilaseca, serves as the monumental gateway to the park, perched at the head of a wide pedestrian walkway.
Today the park is home to a boating lake, several museums and a much-celebrated series of sculptures, including the modern 'Monument to the World Fair' by Antoni Clavé, a giant stone mammoth, and pieces by Frederic Marès, Eusebi Arnau, Josep Llimona, Pau Gargallo and Manuel Fuxà, among others.
The noble heart of Barcelona’s Old Town, tucked beneath the Roman walls that once ringed the ancient city, the Plaça del Rei is the city’s best preserved medieval square, home to a cluster of grand buildings. Largely celebrated as the most significant remainder of Barcelona’s medieval past, the square now exists as an unofficial open-air museum of fine gothic architecture, with many of the buildings open to the public for viewing.
Once home to the counts of Barcelona and the Kings of Aragon, the 14th century Palau Reial Major, or the Royal Mayor Palace, dominates the square, including the Watchtower of King Martí and the exquisite Salo del Tinell, a Gothic banqueting hall which backs onto the picturesque Palau Reial Gardens. The Plaça del Rei is also home to the Palau del Lloctinent, or Lieutenant’s Palace, where the Archive of the Crown of Aragon is housed and the 14th-century royal chapel of Santa Àgata, most famous for housing Jaume Huguet’s Contestable altarpiece.
Few cities do urban beaches with as much panache as Barcelona and with 4.2 km of sandy coastline, there are plenty of options to choose from. The most popular is the Barceloneta Beach, an easy bus ride from the city center and crammed with locals and tourists during the summer months.
Whether you’re looking to escape the city heat, top up your suntan or take a dip in the cool Mediterranean, Barceloneta has plenty of options to keep beach-goers busy. Sip a sangria at one of the many chiringuitos (beach bars) along the waterfront, join the locals in a game of beach tennis or volleyball; or explore the souvenir stores and cafés crammed along the beachside Passeig Maritim boulevard. Active types can enjoy water sports like surfing, windsurfing and kite surfing or hit the lively boardwalk – a popular spot for walkers, joggers and cyclists.
As the site of the former Roman Forum, Plaça Sant Jaume used to be the center of the old Roman city of Barcino. Originally quite a bit smaller, the large square, which is situated in the Gothic quarter, was partially filled by its namesake church along with its cemetery and other buildings. These days, however, the expansive, cobbled plaza is known as the political center of the city.
Indeed, on one side you’ll set your eyes on the headquarters of local government, City Hall, which features a grand façade that dates back to the late 1800s, and whose interior can be visited once a week on Sundays. Opposite City Hall is the Palau de la Generalitat de Catalunya, the seat of the Catalan government, and from where 100 presidents have governed. It too is open for visits, but only guided ones, which take place the second and fourth weekend of every month.
Some shorelines have lighthouses; Barcelona has the Columbus Monument. Standing 197 feet tall — the top 24 feet of which make up the statue of Columbus himself — the tower is quite hard to miss, especially given its prominent position at the end of Las Ramblas, and along the marina.The monument of Columbus (Colom in Catalan, or Colón in Spanish) was erected in 1888 for the Universal Exposition and in honor of the famous explorer, who returned here after his first expedition to the Americas. Much discussion is made of where he is pointing: some have thought he points to the New World, while others say he points east to his supposed home of Genoa — in reality, however, it seems he points southeast and therefore to nothing in particular but the sea, where he was probably most at home. On your visit here, admire the grand statue from below, or get a look at Columbus’s bird’s-eye view by taking the elevator up to the lookout platform.
Football fans won’t want to miss a visit to the Camp Nou Football Stadium, the home ground of FC Barcelona and the largest stadium in Europe. Inaugurated in 1957, the venue has hosted a number of key international games, including the FIFA World Cup, the European Champions’ Cup and two UEFA Champions League Finals.
During your tour of the 55,000-square-meter stadium, designed by architects Francesc Mitjans, Josep Soteras, and Lorenzo García-Barbón, you'll walk through the players’ tunnel and across the pitch. You’ll also get to visit the Chapel, the TV room, the Press Room, the Sports Medicine Center, the Fundacio Zone, team locker rooms and the luxury Presidential Box. End your visit at the FC Barcelona Museum and have your picture taken with the European Champions Cup.
Before La Pedrera, before Parc Güell, and certainly before the still-under-construction La Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudi conjured up a mansion called Palau Güell. This palatial home was built in the 1880s for one of Gaudi’s main benefactors, Eusebi Güell. The goal was to accommodate the wealthy industrialist’s private and social life, and, after you explore the home, it’s not hard to imagine that Gaudi must have lived up to the task.
Acclaimed for the innovative use of space and light, the Modernist palace is especially loved for its main hall, formed by a parabolic arch design, and which comes complete with a star-pricked ceiling (an illusion created by holes in the roof) and sneak-peek windows from which residents above spied on newly arrived guests below. Given its lower entrance fee (with included audio tour) — as compared to other Gaudi sights — and convenient old town location in El Raval, it makes a worthy addition to any Barcelona sightseeing itinerary.
The elegant Mercat de Born in La Ribera was a complex iron-and-glass structure built by Josep Fontserè in 1876 on top of the 18th-century ruins of Barcelona’s former district of Vilanova de Mar. Closed nearly 45 years ago, the market has now been granted new life as the El Born Centre Cultural, a center curating exhibitions on Barcelona’s history and celebrating three centuries of Catalan identity.
Inside the former market hall are excavations dating from the War of Spanish Succession between King Philip V of Spain and Archduke Charles of Austria. This took place in the early years of the 18th century and culminated in the year-long siege of Barcelona, which was won on Aug. 30, 1714, by Philip V and his Bourbon allies. The date is still celebrated today as the National Day of Catalonia.
Santa Caterina was the first covered market in the city of Barcelona. Since being completely renovated in 2005 with a modern design and colorful, curved rooftop, it has become a celebrated sight in Barcelona. Yet, it stays true to its traditional Catalan market roots. Over 325,000 ceramic pieces were used by architects Benedetta Tagliabue and Enric Miralles to create the kaleidoscope roof, with more than fifty different shades of colors representing the fruits and vegetables sold within. The mosaics recall the Modernista style of architecture Gaudi made famous across the city.
The market sells every type of quality produce and meat imaginable, including fresh pastries and breads. It’s a great place to pick up or simply view the colorful fruit, vegetable and flower stands, along with local meats and fish. Once you’re done browsing the stalls, check out the remains of the 15th century Espai Santa Caterina, the Gothic church the market was built on top of.
One of Barcelona’s most dazzling attractions, the Magic Fountain, or Font Montjuic, was built in 1929 for the city’s World Exhibition, taking 3000 people almost a year to complete, and later restored during the 1992 Olympic Games. Taking center stage in Plaça Espanya at the foot of Montjuic Mountain, the Fountain is celebrated for its spectacular illuminations display, set against the majestic backdrop of the Montjuic Palace.This is no ordinary lightshow – the Magic Fountain does its name justice with a kaleidoscope of shimmering fountains, syncing light, motion and music to dramatic effect. The breathtaking display is held throughout the year on weekend evenings (from Thursday to Sunday during summer), when the series of fountains spring to life each half-hour from 9.30pm until 11.30pm, for a vibrant 20-minute show.
Standing tall in the Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter) of Barcelona, the Santa Maria del Pi is a 14th century church in the Placa del Pi. Its Gothic architecture, including the many gargoyles and the large Gothic arch that frames its entrance, remain well intact. Its octagonal bell tower rises 54 meters high, creating a memorable mark of the history of this area of the city. Its tolling bell can be heard throughout the day while walking around the Gothic Quarter.
Both the church, the square, and the nearby street Carrer del Pi are named for a tall pine tree that once stood in the square. Though it was partially destroyed in a fire in 1936, it was fully restored and reopened in 1940. The basilica has high vaulted ceilings, intricate stained glass windows and lattice work. Its enormous rose window placed at the entrance is of particular note; it is one of the largest of its kind in the world.
Framed by its wave-shaped walkway leading from the city out onto the water, Maremagnum is recognizable from many sections of the Barcelona beaches. The shopping center is home to many big name brands, as well as local restaurants and a cinema. Two floors of shops range from home goods and electronics to clothing and jewelry. You’ll also find Spanish brands such as Desigual, and other European retailers.
Many of the cafes and restaurants are open-air, making them especially nice on a sunny day. People come to leisurely watch boats pull in and out of the nearby port and absorb a bit of the Barcelona waterfront. The structure itself, like many of the buildings in Barcelona, is unique and well-designed. Its curved, mirrored walls reflect the light off of the nearby water and make an interesting contrast to the natural wooden pier. Walking down the central boulevard, Las Ramblas, toward the ocean will lead you straight there.
Lying just to the west of Barcelona’s famous Las Ramblas Boulevard, and home of the gleaming Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA), the Raval is a once-tatty ‘barrio’ (district) that is rapidly cleaning itself up. Historically working class, today new boutiques, art galleries, bars and restaurants are springing up in this inner-city neighborhood at a rate of knots but neglected corners still retain an earthy air and a multicultural blend of Catalan, Arabic, Romanian, Indian and Indonesian cultures. Besides MACBA, the narrow alleys of El Raval are home to the ornate Gran Teatre del Liceu – one of Europe’s foremost opera houses and adorned with Japanese-style decoration – which opened in 1847, Antoni Gaudí’s twisting, fluid Palau Güell and the Romanesque beauty of ninth-century Sant Pau del Camp, the oldest church in the city.
Barcelona’s main bullring was built in the smart Eixample district of the city with a flamboyant Neo-Mudéjar and Byzantine façade by Catalan architect Domènec Sugrañes i Gras, a disciple of Gaudí. Embellished with typical Iberian white-and-blue tiles and towers topped with onion-shaped domes, the bullring was the largest in Barcelona and could seat 20,000, plus another 5,000 standing. The site was inaugurated in 1914, and over the decades, it has featured Spain’s top toreros (bullfighters) – who were nationwide pin-ups – in corridas (bullfights) that reached their height of popularity in the 1950s. However, bullfighting eventually grew increasingly unpopular in Catalan Spain, and it was eventually banned in January 2012, to the disappointment of many local aficionados.
Things to do near Catalonia
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