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What to do in Barcelona

Culture guide

Barcelona offers a unique opportunity for the tourist on foot to walk from Roman remains to the medieval city, and then to the modern city with its open thoroughfares and grid-iron street pattern. The historic city center is fairly flat, while the modern city fans out towards the surrounding hills, bordered by steep streets that are vaguely reminiscent of those found in San Francisco.


Beginning of Les Rambles at the old harbour
A notable feature is Les Rambles, a boulevard that runs from the city center to the waterfront, thronged with crowds until late at night and lined by florists, bird sellers, street entertainers, cafeterias, and restaurants. Walking along Les Rambles one can see the world-famous opera house El Liceu, the food market of La Boqueria and the Plaça Reial (literally Royal square), with its arches and palm trees, amongst other interesting buildings. It is also worth keeping an eye out for pickpockets, for whom the boulevard is a favourite haunt.
Les Rambles ends at the old harbour, where a statue of Christopher Columbus points eastwards across the Mediterranean Sea to his birth place of Genoa.
Next to it is the Museu Marítim (naval museum), which chronicles the history of life on the Mediterranean, including a full-scale model of a galley. The buildings of the museum are the medieval Drassanes (shipyards), where the ships which sailed the Mediterranean were built. The old harbour offers all kinds of other amenities, including the second largest aquarium in the Mediterranean area.
To the north of downtown is the Parc de la Ciutadella, which includes both the Parlament de Catalunya (Catalan Parliament) and the Parc Zoològic de Barcelona (zoo). One of Barcelona's most famous residents, the late albino gorilla Copito de Nieve ("Snowflake"), lived and died recently at the zoo. The park also contains science museums.


The Sagrada Família church
Outstanding is the legacy of architect Antoni Gaudí, who lived and worked in Barcelona, and who left several famous works like the Palau Güell in the city's old center, the Parc Güell at the northern tip of Gràcia, and the immense but still unfinished church of the Sagrada Família, which has been under construction since 1882, financed by popular donations like the cathedrals in the Middle Ages (However, it is not a cathedral: the cathedral of Barcelona is the Cathedral of Santa Eulàlia, a Gothic building of the late Middle Ages). The Sagrada Família is billed for completion in 2020.
Another very notable modernist building in the older part of the city is the Palau de la Música Catalana, designed by Lluís Domènech i Montaner and built in 1908.
Art visits include the museum of the Joan Miró Foundation, where several paintings and sculptures of this artist are shown, together with guest exhibitions from other museums around the world. There is also a unique museum featuring the lesser known works of Pablo Picasso from his earlier period. The National Museum of Art of Catalonia (in the Palau Nacional left behind by the 1929 Ibero-American Exposition) possesses a well-known collection of Romanesque art, including wall-paintings of Romanesque churches and chapels around Catalonia that have been transferred to the museum. The Contemporary Art Museum is also worth a visit, not only because of its paintings and sculptures, but because of its architecture. The building was designed by the American architect Richard Meier. Visitors should note that the opening times of Barcelona's museums vary considerably and are often highly inconvenient; careful planning is recommended to avoid wasted trips.
In the modern districts of the city are several avenues on which most of the international merchants offering clothing, jewelry, leather goods and other items have their stores. The most elegant avenue is the Passeig de Gràcia, where two Gaudí buildings are situated, the Casa Milà (La Pedrera) and the Casa Batlló, along with buildings by other famous modernista architects: Casa Ametller by Josep Puig i Cadafalch and Casa Lleó Morera by Domènech i Montaner. Several of these buildings and indeed the Sagrada Familia church itself are threatened by Mayor Clos' plans to build a large railway tunnel for high-speed trains under the city's shaky 19th century foundations. In recent years, office developments along Passeig de Gràcia have been allowed to break up the architectural unity of the 19th and early 20th century buildings lining the avenue - a process which shows no signs of slackening. Property speculation is also blighting other areas of the city, including the 19th century Poble Nou district with its many interesting buildings dating from Catalonia's Industrial Revolution. Many of these have now been levelled to make room for the city's ill-starred "22@" project to build an area for ICT-based firms.


"Slash and burn" property speculation in Poble Nou
For spectacular views over the city and the coast line there are two hills. One, Montjuïc hill, is next to the harbour and perched above a large container terminal. On its top is an old fortress which used to guard the entrance to the port. Around the hill are the Olympic Stadium, the Sports Palace, the latter designed by Japanese architect Arata Isozaki, and the Botanical Gardens. Uptown is the hill of the Tibidabo, over 500 meters high, with an amusement park and a monumental church on its summit. The church mosaics provide a curious example of the religious art style much in vogue during the dictatorship.
Barcelona is the home city of two internationally-known football teams: FC Barcelona, also known as Barça, who play at the 100,000 capacity Camp Nou stadium, and RCD Espanyol, who play at the 56,000 capacity Olympic Stadium.
Near Barcelona, in Montmeló, the Circuit de Catalunya racetrack hosts the Formula One Spanish Grand Prix.

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