Things to Do in Barcelona - page 3
If you’re eager for views of the sea, lots of photo opportunities, and wide, open spaces, then head toward the northernmost coastline of Barcelona to the Parc del Forum. This architectural park of sorts was built in 2004 for the Universal Forum of Cultures, and continues to serve as a giant venue for events and exploration.
Though many of its attractions come and go — such as Primavera Sound, an annual music festival that takes place in June — the forum is always a worthy destination, beyond just checking out the architecture. Go there to visit the natural history-focused Museu Blau, which is situated in the park’s iconic triangular-shaped Forum Building; to take a dip in the Mediterranean from the sand-free, direct-to-the-water Forum marina and bathing area; or to let the kids burn off some energy at the seaside play area.
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.
Though Egypt may not come to mind when you think of Barcelona, think again, as the city’s Egyptian Museum displays an impressive collection of some 1,000 ancient artifacts from the African country. The pieces once belonged to the museum’s founder, Catalan Jordi Clos, and are now on display in the intimate and relatively crowd-free galleries found just off the main drag of Passeig de Gracia.
The diverse permanent collection spans everything from ceramics to jewelry, mummies, and a host of items related to the culture and funeral practices. Meanwhile, rotating exhibitions offer other themed looks into Egypt’s distant past. Cap off your visit with a snack at the outdoor terrace and a visit the museum’s Egypt-inspired store.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
It might seem next to impossible to find a quiet getaway in the big Barcelona city, but Plaça Sant Felip Neri offers you just the perfect escape from all the hustle and bustle. This seemingly hidden square, with its trickling fountain and shade-offering trees, is located in Barcelona’s Gothic quarter and is enclosed by old-world buildings.
It’s more than just a tranquil respite, though, but also an important, albeit tragic part of Barcelona history. Indeed, this is where you’ll find the square’s namesake church, which was bombed during the Spanish Civil War in 1938, killing many people, most of whom were children. The church’s heavily bomb-pocked walls serve as a still-visible reminder of this sad event. Come here to contemplate the square’s somber past while you savor a moment of quiet and calm.
More Things to Do in Barcelona
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.
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.
Barcelona’s busiest market and arguably one of Europe’s most popular food markets, La Boqueria Market, or Mercat de La Boqueria, is a vibrant hub of Barcelonian culture. The market boasts a long history, with the spot being used as a meat market as far back as the 13th century, but today the market is held in the Mercat de Sant Josep market hall in La Rambla, a Modernist iron and glass canopy built in 1914. Whether you’re sourcing ingredients for the perfect paella or just soaking up the unique atmosphere, few experiences are as quintessentially Barcelonian as haggling for produce in the city’s liveliest market.
Over 200 stalls stand in the market and weaving through the crowds of locals and tourists, there’s a myriad of produce on display. Piles of fresh fruits and vegetables, pails of glistening olives and huge slabs of cheese and foie gras line the stalls, alongside an array of local seafood and varying cuts of meat, including the odd pig head.
The Picasso Museum (Museu Picasso), located in El Raval district, is Barcelona's most visited museum and occupies a medieval mansion that's worth a look for the architecture alone. But inside lay the greatest treasures - the works of Pablo Picasso. The artist had a strong connection to Barcelona, living in and studying mostly in the Ciutat Vella neighborhood from 1895-1904.
The Picasso Museum - or Museu Picasso - is divided into various periods of the artist's career, starting chronologically with his earliest sketches and self-portraits then progressing on to his moody Blue period and ending with his study of Las Meninas by Diego Velazquez.
Pieces are displayed to give each one adequate attention but with over 3,800 paintings the exhibit is by no means sparse.
A soaring, shimmering glass and concrete edifice in the Raval, Barcelona’s Museum of Contemporary Art was designed by US architect Richard Meier and completed in 1995, spearheading the once-tatty district’s revival. Its matt-white interior is flooded with natural light and creates the perfect backdrop for the museum’s 5,000 paintings, sculptures, images and conceptual pieces, which are shown in ever-changing temporary exhibitions running for between three and six months. Featuring avant-garde artists from the latter half of the 20th century, the collection is rich in international names such as Paul Klee, Dieter Roth and Jean-Michel Basquiat – among many others – but specializes in the works of celebrated Catalan artists including Antoni Tàpies, Miquel Barcelò, Susana Solano and Pere Jaume. The museum also has a library, a well-stocked bookshop and café as well as Saturday morning workshops for families visiting with young kids.
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.
From Roman times to the present day capital of Catalonia, the city of Barcelona has hundreds of years of history and many stories to tell. The Barcelona City History Museum preserves and communicates the historical heritage of the city for locals and visitors alike. There are multiple exhibitions throughout the city with present findings, as well as facilities for ongoing research.
The museum conserves many of the Roman sites of Barcelona as archaeological sites — while others like the city's Palau Reial Major and the Jewish Quarter date back to the Middle Ages. There are also a fair number of sites related to more modern significances, including Franco and the Spanish Civil War or iconic architect Antoni Gaudi. The museum itself was inaugurated just after the end of the Spanish Civil War, in 1943. Its headquarters at Casa Padellas is a prime example of a Catalán gothic courtyard, and contains an entire preserved quarter of the ancient Roman city of Barcino.
Though Barcelona’s Sants Station gets the most train and foot traffic, the city’s França Railway Station wins when it comes to overall style. Considered by many to be the most beautiful station in town, it’s a sumptuous mix of architectural styles, featuring shiny marble floors, Art Deco detailing, and sunshine-lit, domed platforms.
The station dates back to the International Exhibition in 1929, and was later renovated for the 1992 Olympics. Once serving as the terminus for trains coming from and going to other places in Europe — namely, France — it’s now a hub for local trains (with international trains now traveling in and out of Sants).
Tucked down a side street in Barcelona’s Barrio Gotico (Gothic District), Els Quatre Gats (meaning ‘The Four Cats’, or ‘a few people’ in Catalan slang) is one of the city’s most famous bar-restaurants and a memorable location to sample some delicious traditional Catalan cuisine. The Parisian-style tavern was the brainchild of local businessman Pere Romeu, taking its inspiration from Paris’ atmospheric cabaret bar, Le Chat Noir (The Black Cat), and creating a bohemian ambiance that immediately resonated with the city’s artists and writers. Opening its doors in 1897, Els Quatre Gats quickly amassed a number of legendary patrons, becoming the favorite haunt of Picasso, who held his first 2 exhibitions in the main dining room, and a popular meeting point for revered architect Gaudi.
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.
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