Barcelona is located in the Catalonia region of Spain
. Catalonia has its own culture and language that sets it apart from other parts of Spain. Barcelona is the region's capital and has many different areas to explore. If you are a tourist, chances are you will spend the majority of your time in the Ciutat Vella, or the 'old city' district. Here you will find an endless array of tapas bars, cafes, shops, and the distinct Spanish style of architecture.
Exploring Barcelona Part 1: El Raval
Ciutat Vella is split into a series of neighborhoods each with its own flavor and energy. The neighborhood of El Raval lies on the western side of La Rambla, the city's most famous avenue. It was once known for prostitution and crime but is now experiencing a renaissance. It has become a hot spot for nightlife, restaurants, and culture.The northern edge sits just below the University of Barcelona. Next to the University is the Center for Contemporary Culture and the Museum of Modern Art. The area is packed with bohemian types sipping coffee con leche
, reading, and cruising on skateboards. If vintage clothing is your thing this is the area for you. The prices are comparable to American vintage shops and they are abundant. The clothing ranges from your average thrift shop gear to formal wear. It is also easy to get a vegetarian meal here if you are feeling overwhelmed by the Catalonian pork fetish.Dining here runs the gamut. For more contemporary food, titillating cocktails, and a cool vibe try Dostrece Restaurant. They put a modern spin on Catalonian classics and the ambiance cannot be beat. If you have dreams of suckling pig and bacaloa (salt cod) in a traditional setting go no further than Rincon de Aragon. Every employee greets you as you enter the door and they truly make you feel at home. Jamon hangs from the ceiling and the open kitchen displays the delicacies being prepared. If you are a foodie seeking the authentic this is the place. El Raval has many layers to uncover and wandering its streets could occupy you for days. One other hidden gem is the Hospital de la Santa Creu. It no longer serves as a hospital but encloses a gorgeous courtyard that should not be missed. Reaching El Raval by Barcelona car rental
is easy as you can access it from Placa de Catalunya a central square, head down La Rambla and then head west down any side street.
Exploring Barcelona Part 2: Barceloneta
In the second installment of our trip taking an in-depth look at Barcelona, we will look at the ocean side neighborhood of Barceloneta. If you are looking for something more Mediterranean and less metropolitan, then Barceloneta is just what you're looking for. Barceloneta has something for everyone. It has the Barcelona Aquarium for nature lovers, the beach for those looking to sunbathe, and it has the Maremagnum for the shoppers. As far as malls go, the Maremagnum is excellent. It is located right on the water, has an adjoining IMAX, and has top notch restaurants. You will not find the typical food court here.Nothing says Mediterranean quite like a sun drenched stroll down Passeig de Joan de Borbo. The street is lined with moored boats and palm trees on the western side and seafood restaurants on the eastern side. When searching for the perfect paella here's a tip: the crowded restaurants are crowded for a reason, and the same goes for the empty ones. A little wait might just pay off in the long run. After a seafood lunch or dinner at one of the many outdoor dining options, enjoy a gelato or chocolate treat as they can easily be found here as well.If swimming is your goal then I would recommend a ten minute stroll down the boardwalk to Bogatel Beach. It is possible to swim directly at Barceloneta Beach, but as the locals will tell you the water gets cleaner the further you get away from the commercial port. At Bogatel Beach you will find more cafes, one of which is directly on the beach. The food here will not blow you away but it does the job. There are beach chaise lounges that can be rented as well as umbrellas for the fair skinned among us. Something to keep in mind is that many women go topless which is not something every American tourist is accustomed to. Barceloneta is easily accessed by car by Via Laietana, one of the main arteries in the city which runs parallel to La Rambla. Avinguda Litoral runs the length of the coast and by driving down this route you can reach many of the outlying beaches that are less busy and more pristine. For this purpose having a car can be essential.
Exploring Barcelona Part 3: El Gotic
The romantic ideal of the old European cities with their narrow winding streets, lined with iron balconies may well have originated in El Gotic. It is a labyrinth of plazas, churches, museums, and shops. If you want to while the hours away shopping and exploring, this is the place to do it. There are many particular points of interest here, but the neighborhood itself is the main attraction. It was the heart of the original city and walking down its streets feels like traveling back in time. El Gotic is home to the Barcelona Cathedral, or Cathedral of Santa Eulalia, who is the patron saint of Barcelona. It is an imposing structure and it dominates a large open square lined with shops and cafes. If you have never tried tapas El Gotic is an amazing place to start. The neighborhood is bordered by La Rambla and I would caution diners to stay away from La Rambla for tapas. On La Rambla all the menus will be in English and you can find many all you can eat meal deals, but
the food is subpar and the atmosphere is synthetic. To really experience tapas you have to dig a little deeper. This may mean pointing at the food you want and struggling with the language barrier but the food will be much better. My top recommendation for tapas in El Gotic is Cala del Vermut on Carrer de les Magdalenes. The walls are plastered with editorials heaping praise on their food and pictures of the owner with Spanish superstars including Penelope Cruz. Once you taste the food it is easy to see why it garners so much attention. The food is transcendent. The squid stuffed with black rice is a revelation. That the sum of its parts should reach such heights will redefine your expectations of finger food. The owner speaks absolutely no English but you can point at what you like in the counter case and she will serve you with a smile.Cala del Vermut is just the tip of the iceberg, locals will go from tapas bar to tapas bar all night enjoying drinks and food from each. It really is a lovely lifestyle. To see El Gotic and immerse yourself in the glory that is Spain.
Exploring Barcelona Part 4: The World of Antoni Gaudi
Gaudi's architecture is unmistakably unique. There are virtually no straight lines. His buildings are giant sculptures, bearing the mark of the artist in a way that the majority of buildings do not. Much of his work is decorated with mosaics and the amount of craftsmanship is self evident in his technique. There is a hand-wrought imperfection in his work that I had not expected. It is different from modern architecture and its brushed steel and glass. Contemporary buildings are sterile and alien and stands apart from their surroundings. Gaudi's work by comparison is organic and seems to reach up out of the ground like the twisting tendrils of a plant seeking sunlight.Gaudi's art is scattered throughout Barcelona. His architecture and the city's identity are intimately linked in the mind's of tourists and locals alike. A good entry point to his work is Casa Batllo. It was designed and built to be a private residence, but the family that owns it has opened it as a museum. The design theme is oceanic and there are rooms where you feel as though you are making your way through the inside of a seashell. It is filled with nooks and crannies that house all types of oddities. In the center of the house there is an elevator and open stairway that leads to the roof. The roof is accessible and opens up to views of the the main thoroughfare Passeig de Gracia below.The next venue designed by Gaudi to visit is Park Guell. Whereas Casa Batllo is in the city center, Park Guell is toward the outskirts of the city. The short journey is more than worthwhile. Walking through the main gates to the park is like stepping into an alternate universe. The buildings are reminiscent of Renaissance Russian architecture that has fallen far, far down the rabbit hole. The park houses the curved mosaic benches that are the perfect vantage point for panoramic views of the city.Lastly visit Sagrada Familia. This iconic cathedral is the symbol of the city. It remains unfinished to this day.Views are often marred by the ever present cranes, but even so it is a sight to behold. Like all of Gaudi's work it defies convention and must be seen to be believed. It appears as though it was fashioned out of clay and sculpted by hand. Arrive early and on a weekday to avoid crowds.These Gaudi creations top our list but there are others.
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