Dismissed a scant two decades back by sophisticated travellers and even by the travel industry as a charmless, grimy industrial city, Barcelona has staged the biggest comeback since a down-and-out singer named Frank Sinatra resurrected his short career in 1953 by playing Maggio in From Here to Eternity. Now, Barcelona is considered a prime travel destination, and with good cause: it is a modern city in the heart of old Catalunya where the hip and chic lifestyle co-exists and complements age-old customs and culture.
This fascinating fact of the hip and chic co-existing with tradition and custom illustrates itself when compiling or reading a list, "Top Five Things to See in Barcelona." While Kyoto may trump Barcelona for history and Dubai may lead the pack for ever-changing modernity, which other city can match the following assortment of delightful diversions:
1. La Rambla
What the Via Veneto is to Rome, La Rambla is to Barcelona. And what the Via Veneto was to the 1960s, La Rambla may well be to the 2010s. Its atmosphere varies almost by the furlong because this 'happening' promenade is so varied: lined with hotels, cafes, and interesting little shops, La Rambla also has Old World artisans and craftsmen selling their wares, street-performers, flower-sellers, the odd gypsy fortune-teller, and even an erotica museum!
Overall, it is high-end at its northern half but becomes intriguingly disreputable at the south end. Though sometimes knocked as being 'touristy', this long pedestrian boulevard is vibrant and long stretches are authentic. As the city itself steadily gains a reputation as one of Europe's chic hotspots, La Rambla increasingly becomes a Continental attraction.
2. Gaudian Architecture
Antonio Gaudi's unique and eye-catching architecture defines Barcelona. The most renowned and magical of his buildings is the La Sagrada Familia. This colossal yet very intricate building has been under construction since 1882 and is projected to be completed half-a-century from now! It is best described as a quasi-Gothic temple reminiscent of . . . nothing you've ever seen before!
Parc Güell is an entirely different but equally inspired creation of the master architect. Entering it is like stepping into a fantasy film: colonnades rise naturally from the cliffside as hand-painted and mosaic walling leads you to dozens of palm-shaped pillars supporting the canopy. On the terrace you can enjoy a stunning view of the city or, if tired, have a seat on . . . an undulating sea serpent!
3. Poble Espanyol
If you're in Barcelona for a couple of days but wish you had two weeks to travel the length and breadth of Spain, do it - just visit the aptly-named 'Spanish Village'! Poble Espanyol is a microcosm of Spain: over a dozen different architectural styles of the entire country are replicated here in a single village; not as a hodge-podge, but a harmonious complement.
Similarly, you can savour the flavours from Andalusia to Galicia. Traditional but dying methods of production are very much alive here; Old World artisan-made crafts ranging from loom-woven fabric to hand-painted ceramic are prepared in your presence and available for purchase. The Poble even has a puppet-making shop. So this is where the Von Trapp Family bought their 'Lonely Goatherd' from!
4. FC Barcelona and Camp Nou
Barca's footballers are globally reckoned to be football's wizards. And you may see Wizards Treasure in Camp Nou's museum; the stateroom for one of the most stunning trophy collections anywhere. The 'VIP Tour' gets you up close and personal with the press room, the players' benches, even their dressing room.
Over and above visiting the stadium, try to take in a match Ð after all, the current Barca team, European and World champions, is widely hailed as one of the best ever. If you love the Fine Arts but are not a Sports fan then be aware that Puyol, Iniesta, Xavi & Co. are sports' answer to the Bolshoi Ballet. Watch Messi dribble and you'll wonder how the ball got stuck to his feet! For if these footballers are wizards, Messi is surely the Gandalf.
5. Museu Picasso
The man whose name is synonymous with painting happens to be Spain's favourite son and Barcelona has an entire museum dedicated to that man, Pablo Picasso. Housed in a beautiful former palace, the Picasso Museum contains possibly the most comprehensive collection of Picassos - about 4000 works from all his phases, including the seminal Blue and Rose Periods.
Further, Picasso painted starkly different subjects - compare Le Moulin de la Galette and Science and Charity at the Museum. The collection does not stop at paintings; it encompasses sculpture, collage, ceramic, bronzes, posters, and much more. The holdings are so vast that all pieces are not exhibited concurrently; rather, at any given time a subset of the collection and discrete exhibitions are on view.
Whatever you are finally going to see and visit in Barcelona, the chances that you will come back soon for another visit are quite high! When planning your visit to Barcelona, take a look at our BCN.travel portal. You will find the widest range of Barcelona Tours and excursions.