Sagrada Familia cathedral
There is only one way to begin your visit to Barcelona - with a walk through the Barri Gòtic, or the Gothic Quarter. There are few more atmospheric places in the world.
Much of the area is pedestrianised, making its narrow streets perfect for a leisurely stroll, as you pass old antique dealers, as well as the feathers and umbrella merchants located on Banys street. One of the finest sights you'll pass is the Gothic cathedral, known as La Seu, which is located in the centre of Barri Gòtic and is surrounded by Roman remains and various medieval structures.
Head to the Placa Sant Jaume plaza - which has been the heart of Barcelona for 2,000 years - and you'll see the grand 15th century City Hall too. On Sunday mornings, people come to the plaza to dance the Sardana, the national dance of Catalonia - it makes for great viewing.
Café for refreshments...
Once the meeting place of turn of the century artists - including the great Pablo Picasso, who held his first exhibition here - Els Quatre Gats ('The Four Cats') opened its doors in 1897 and is cross between a cafe, bar and restaurant. Pop in for a mid-morning cappuccino and soak up the atmosphere. Meanwhile, for the finest cuppa in town, head to Caj Chai.
Following the tradition of Prague's bohemian tearooms, it offers a range of tea leaves, which come with detailed tasting notes, describing its origins. In summer iced teas are served with a dollop of sorbet. The homemade almond baklava cake is rather tasty, too.
Spot of culture...
Barcelona is of course feted for the architecture of one of Catalonia's most famous sons, modernist genius Antoni Gaudi, including of course the yet-to-be-completed masterpiece that is the Sagrada Familia cathedral.
However, while in the city you should also admire the works of Barca's favourite adopted son, Picasso, with a visit to the great man's eponymous museum. Housing a permanent collection of some 3,500 pieces, the museum is a record of the formative years that the young artist spent at La Llotja art school.
No trip to Barcelona is complete without a visit to the Palau de la Musica Catalana, one of the world's most extraordinary music halls. Located in the heart of the city you can take a guided tour, which leads you up the grand stairs to the main auditorium; its stained glass roof is simply stunning.
If you're blessed with sunshine, take a short train ride out of the city to one of the lovely nearby beaches. Get off at the port of Garraf and find a spot on its small curved beach, sheltered by steep-sided mountains; it is one of the more peaceful, undiscovered beaches, and is great for bathing. Montserrat also makes for a wonderful excursion.
Dominating the landscape to the west of Barcelona, the jagged mountain is considered the spiritual heart of Catalonia; there are many interesting walks through the mountains, with magnificent views of unusual rock formations, and you can also visit the monastery to listen to the famous Basilica choir boy performances.
When in Spain dine like the Spanish. In other words, try some tapas. Inopia is one of the most popular tapas bars in Barcelona, serving a wonderful range of traditional tapas, one of the most popular being patatas bravas (fried potatoes) slathered with sweet, spicy tomato sauce.
You can either stand at the bar, or at the hatch that opens onto the street, or sit at one of high tables at the back. For something slightly more upmarket, Els Pescadors is a first-rate fish restaurant, which has a lovely terrace with tables lined up under a canopy formed by two ancient ombú trees. Try the fried chipirones, followed by the cod and pepper paella.
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