Things to Do in Catalonia
La Sagrada Familia is no doubt the most iconic structure in Barcelona. The church, located in L'Eixample, has been a fixture in Barcelona since construction commenced in 1882 and as building continues on today the structure's fame only grows.
Though still a work in progress, the church already is an amazingly intricate structure. Antoni Gaudí spent 43 years on this project and, since his death in 1926, the duty to finish it has been passed on to several architects. Though the responsibility continues to change hands over the years, the architects have all respected Gaudí's vision and have made additions with his design in mind. Inside the church has an impressive stained glass windows line the main room and a lift takes visitors up one of the towers to enjoy the view. Smaller rooms hold exhibits detailing the history and future of the structure. La Sagrada Familia is projected to be completed in 2026, the 100th anniversary of Gaudí.
There are many reasons to fall in love with Girona, but if there’s one thing — one sight — that will make your jaw actually drop, it will probably be the city’s main cathedral. That’s because its Baroque façade stands gloriously atop a massive staircase of some 90 steps. What you’ll find beyond its grand entrance is an impressive Romanesque-meets-Gothic church that claims the widest Gothic nave in the world.
Constructed between the 11th and 18th centuries, the cathedral sits upon the foundations of a former Roman temple. During your visit there, you can scope out its tranquil courtyard cloister, as well as the cathedral’s museum of religious artifacts, which includes noteworthy tapestries. Considering you’ve made it up this far, after the cathedral visit take advantage of your high altitude to go on a stroll along Girona’s ancient walls, which offer unparalleled views of the city.
With its jumble of stone-brick houses clinging to the edge of a soaring basalt cliff and a backdrop of forested mountains, the tiny town of Castellfollit de la Roca offers some striking photo opportunities. From afar, this is one of Catalonia’s most unmistakable postcard images, but looking out from the 50-meter-high clifftop provides an equally mesmerizing view, spanning the lush valleys of the Fluvia and Toronell rivers.
Despite its magnificent location, Castellfollit de la Roca has little more than 1,000 inhabitants, making it one of Catalonia’s smallest towns and the smallest in Girona. Visitors, however, are plentiful and the narrow streets, medieval squares and 13th-century church of St. Salvador offer a fascinating glimpse into a time long gone.
Barcelona's Gothic Quarter (Barri Gótic) dates from medieval times. On the streets, passersby find gems tucked away in the little nooks and crannies.. The area's proximity to La Rambla also contributes to its popularity amongst the young, nightlife-loving crowd. Meeting with friends in one of the several placas (plazas) before heading to dinner or a club is customary amongst the locals.
Besides the thriving night scene, there is plenty to see during the daylight hours. Highlights of the Barri Gótic include Barcelona's cathedral, the political hub of Placa Sant Jaume, and some of Barcelona's best surviving stretches of the Roman walls. Full of history, mystery and culture, this district of Barcelona is worth at least a full day on every vacationer's itinerary.
Welcome to the vibrant Catalan capital, Barcelona! With its laid-back Mediterranean setting, exciting Modernist architecture and labyrinthine Gothic Quarter, Barcelona has enough shore excursions and activities to keep you bar-hopping and sightseeing for days.
Barcelona’s cruise terminals are clustered in historic Port Vell at the foot of Las Ramblas, Barcelona’s most famous thoroughfare. It’s a 10 to 30-minute walk to Las Ramblas and the Gothic Quarter. Most visitors catch a shuttle bus to the iconic Christopher Columbus statue, a minute’s stroll from Las Ramblas. A quick taxi ride to the Gothic Quarter takes only 10 minutes from the port.
It’s de rigueur to take a stroll along tree-lined Las Ramblas, with its flower stalls and singing birds. Drop into Barcelona’s historic market for tapas and champagne, then follow winding streets through the Gothic Quarter to the centuries-old cathedral.
The region of Girona offers so much more than just Catalan culture and historic towns; it’s also got a veritable nature wonderland called Garrotxa Volcanic Natural Park. And volcanic, indeed, as it is home to 40 (dormant) volcanic cones, and 20 basaltic lava flows, making it the most prized volcanic landscape on the Iberian Peninsula.
You can explore Garrotxa’s park by setting off on one of its 28 different walking routes, many of which interconnect, and many that take you beyond the region to others. During your adventures, climb to the top of Santa Margarida volcano to spy the see-it-to-believe-it Roman chapel that sits within it; get lost in the beech tree-filled forests of La Fageda d'en Jordà; and make stops at some of the region’s most beloved villages, such as Olot and Besalu.
Standing tall over a medieval square in the center of Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter, the Barcelona Cathedral (known formally as the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia, or La Seu) is the seat of the Archbishop of Spain and a major landmark of the city. With octagonal bell towers, five aisles and two chapel areas, the hall church has stood since the 13th century. It is dedicated to Saint Eulalia, a patron saint of Barcelona, whose body is entombed in the crypt. Large, colorful stained glass windows look over twenty eight total small chapels inside.
The Cathedral is known for its 14th-century cloister full of palm trees and a lush garden, as well as a massive Gothic portico under which thirteen geese can be found wandering. Each goose represents a year of the life of the young Saint Eulalia. As for the exterior, it is carved in great Gothic style detail — and is particularly beautiful when illuminated at night.
Officially known as Casa Milà, also known as the Milà House, after the man who commissioned the project, this building is called La Pedrera - The Quarry - by the locals because of its uneven stone exterior. One of Gaudí's several works dotting the city , La Pedrera was started as a dual apartment and office block for the bourgeoisie.
Though unfinished, the structure is a popular tourist attraction, where you can visit a floor decorated in the style of its era. The biggest feature to La Pedrera is the rooftop, where you'll find several impressive chimney pots shaped into what look like medieval knights. A fascinating structure, La Pedrera is recognized both as a symbol of the ridiculous opulence of the Catalan elite as well as one of Gaudí's most interesting works.
Girona, easily one of Catalonia’s tourist destinations, is perhaps most famed for its Jewish quarter, also referred to as the Call. Considered one of the best-preserved Jewish quarters in the world, the Call dates back to the 12th century, when Girona was home to a thriving Jewish community. This was, of course, until the Catholic monarchs expelled Jews from Spain in 1492.
Despite this, the neighborhood is still reminiscent of what it would have been like in those times, with its cozy, almost-ethereal interior patios, and its hauntingly beautiful maze of narrow medieval streets. Apart from soaking up the historic vibe while wandering the Call, you may wish to head also to the Museum of Jewish History to learn more about Catalonia’s Sephardic history. Other worthy sights include the city’s hilltop cathedral, the nearby 13th-century Arab baths, and scoping out views from above the walls that surround this old part of town.
Park Güell is known as one of Gaudí's most colorful works and its expansive display of this artist's playful architecture is what makes it one of Barcelona's top attractions. While the park was originally meant to be a housing development for rich socialites, when the wealthy decided not to move to the hilltop, it became a public playground.
Gaudí spent the first 15 years of the 20th century constructing the numerous fountains, pedestrian walkways and benches in his signature style that are still enjoyed by visitors today. One of the most popular spots in the park is at the top of the hill, where from brightly colored mosaic seats you can take in the panoramic view over Barcelona city and capture some great photos of the park.
Another must-see attraction in Park Güell is the Gaudí House Museum. This pink house near the base of the park is where Gaudí spent the last two decades of his life and it is filled with furniture and other works designed by the artist.
More Things to Do in Catalonia
One of Barcelona’s most fanciful works of architecture, the elaborate Casa Batlló was built by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí between 1904 and 1906 and stands on the famous central avenue of Passeig de Gràcia. The building was commissioned by its namesake Josep Batlló and forms one of a number of innovative structures on the street, locally dubbed the 'Mançana de la Discordia' (‘apple of discord’).
The original 19th-century building was completely remodeled Gaudi with an elaborate Art Noveau façade. Inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2005, the Casa Batlló has become one of the city’s most memorable tourist attractions and is often nicknamed the ‘House of Bones’, thanks to its contorted window frames and skeletal pillars.
Las Ramblas, a series of 5 stretches of road that run through central Barcelona, is known collectively just as La Rambla. It's name comes from a stream (raml in Arabic) that used to run along the same path before the land was developed in the 14th century. Now in place of the stream is a 3/4 mi (1.2 km) street with a wide, tree-lined pedestrian boulevard down the middle. Along the path are numerous shops, cafes and bars as well as some interesting attractions.
Both the Wax - Cera and Erotica museums are situated on La Rambla as are the Grand Opera House - Gran Teatre de Liceu - and the city's most colorful market, Mercat de la Boqueria. A large mosaic by Joan Miro is another iconic piece that warrants at least a second look, if not a photo opportunity. La Rambla is filled day and night with snap-happy tourists as well as locals so there is never a dull moment to be had. No Barcelona experience is complete without a stroll down this boulevard.
Passeig de Gracia is one of the most significant avenues in Barcelona. In addition to being home to some of the most celebrated architecture in the city, it is considered to be the most expensive street in all of Spain. Originally known as Carni de Jesus, the avenue began as a rural lane connecting Barcelona with the then-independent town of Gracia. Pursuant to an urbanization project in the 1820s, it was transformed into a wide avenue that eventually became a favorite of aristocrats. Today, it is a popular tourist destination, both for its architecture and for its shopping.
By the early 1900s, Passeig de Gracia featured homes designed by notable art nouveau/modernista architects such as Antonin Gaudi, Pere Falques, Josep Puig i Cadafalch, Lluis Domenech i Montaner and Josep Vilaseca.
Facing the Olympic Village of the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, the Port Olimpic was built as a part of the redevelopment of the area in preparation for the event. With its proximity to the beach area and its iconic art and sculpture, it has become one of the most popular leisure areas in the city.
Surrounded on both sides by skyscrapers such as the prominent Torre Mapfre and the Hotel Arts, the port is a marina for over 700 boats. The view of the many yachts on the water is something to see, as is the masterful copper ‘Peix’ or fish sculpture by architect Frank Gehry. This is also the jumping off point for many sailing trips on the Mediterranean Sea. There are dozens of dining and shopping options along the area, as well as that famous Barcelona nightlife once the sun goes down. The Barceloneta and Nova Icaria beaches can be found on either side.
Located about 30 miles (50 km) northwest of Barcelona is Montserrat - the 'Serrated Mountain'. The mountain gets its name from the rock formations which look like they've been sawed and sculpted.
This unique rock formation is home to a Benedictine monastery and is a famous pilgrimage spot as it is home to the 12th century wooden statue of La Moreneta (The Black Virgin), Catalonia's patron. During the regime of Franco, the monastery continued to hold Catholic ceremonies in the Catalan language and became a stronghold of Catalan culture.
Besides the religious and cultural importance of Montserrat, the mountain also boasts unbeatable views from it's peaks. A cog wheel train takes visitors to a lookout point where all of Catalonia and the Pyrenees can be seen.
Strategically located at the meeting point of La Rambla and Passeig de Gràcia, two of Barcelona’s busiest boulevards, Catalunya Square (Plaça de Catalunya) makes a strategic starting point for walking tours of the city. More than just a navigational landmark, Catalunya Square is also the symbolic heart of Barcelona and the large, tree-lined plaza is abuzz with activity both day and night.
As well as being surrounded by restaurants, cafes and bars, including the iconic Cafe Zurich and the Hard Rock Café, Catalunya Square is also home to large department stores like El Corte Inglés, FNAC and Habitat, a pair of dramatically illuminated fountains and a number of monumental sculptures, including the white marble La Deessa by Josep Clara and Josep Subirachs’s Monument of Francesc Macià.
A small corner of Barcelona's Cuitat Vella, or Old City, El Born lies just south of La Ribera, close to the city’s coastal ports. With its narrow streets and historic squares teeming with cafés, El Born is full of character and a perfect place to escape the bustle of the city’s more touristy areas.
The tree-lined Passeig del Born is at the heart of the district, casting off its origins as a medieval jousting arena in favor of a modern shopping and nightlife hub, presided over by the imposing façade of the gothic St Mary of the Sea Cathedral. A cosmopolitan blend of locals and tourists fill the square’s many tapas restaurants, cocktail lounges and chic wine bars during the evening hours, making it the perfect place to unwind after a day’s sightseeing or catch up with friends in some of the city’s most fashionable haunts.
El Born also houses some of the city’s key attractions, most significantly the Parc de la Ciutadella, or Ciutadella Park.
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.
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.
The Onyar River will likely be your first and most lasting impression of Girona, its rainbow-colored-building-lined waters a warm welcome and unforgettable sight. Their dazzling appearance invites you to journey to the other side of the bank — the eastern side — where you’ll discover more of the city’s treasures, held within its old town.
But before you get there, you’ll likely cross one of the Onyar’s many bridges. Your eye will undoubtedly be drawn to its most peculiar and perhaps even familiar bridge, the Pont Eiffel. Indeed, this red, cage-like crossing is reminiscent of a more famous structure of the same name, the Eiffel Tower. This is, of course, because they share the same designer (the bridge was constructed in 1877, just before the tower). Once you arrive on the eastern bank, feed your river curiosity by visiting Casa Maso, the only waterside building open to the public, and once home to its namesake architect.
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