Things to Do in Catalonia - page 2
Overlooking the southwestern portion of Barcelona, Parc de Montjuic is the city’s green hilltop getaway that is packed with both history and a host of sights. Indeed, it is there that you’ll find the Jewish Cemetery, after which it is believed that the “Mountain of the Jews” is named. Montjuic is also the site of its namesake castle, a military fortress dating back to the 17th century.
But it’s the last century that has brought particular interest to Montjuic: first there was the International Exhibition in 1929, and then the Olympics in 1992. Both of these affairs contributed to the urbanization of this elevated land, and as a result you can expect to find a slew of related sites. These include the water-show-style Magic Fountain, which sits in front of The Palau Nacional, now home to the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya. And then there’s also the Poble Espanyol, a replica of Spanish villages and their various architectural styles.
Looming over Barcelona city center from the 170-meter summit of Montjuïc Mountain, the forbidding Montjuïc Castle, or Castell de Montjuïc, adds a dramatic silhouette to the city skyline. Reachable via cable car from the Montjuic Funicular station, the 17th-century fortress is most popular as a lookout point and the Cami del Mar walking track affords spectacular panoramic views over the city, the distant mountains and along the Mediterranean coast.
Behind the castle’s majestic façade lies a grim and gruesome history, used mostly during the late 19th and 20th centuries to house and execute political prisoners. Anarchists, fascists and Republicans have all met their maker within these walls, most famously Lluis Companys, the President of Catalunya who was executed here by firing squad in 1940.
A large and significant square lined with trees and fountains, Placa Espanya is one of the busiest, most central hubs of activity in Barcelona. Many main roads intersect here, including Para•llel and Gran Via. As it is both a main metro and train stop, it is a common meeting point for travelers and locals alike. It is known for its beautiful architecture, statues, and nearby shopping as well.
The Placa Espanya ends on one side with the Font Magica, or Magic Fountain, a large fountain that becomes a light and sound show in the evenings. On the opposite end lies the Palau Nacional (National Palace,) with excellent city views from its steps. It is scenically set against the tall mountain Montjuic, with the National Museum of Catalan Art (MNAC) located just inside. Two towers on the Avinguda Maria Cristina, reminiscent of those in Venice, stand tall over the square.
One of the trio of striking buildings that make up the ‘Illa de la Discordia’ along Barcelona’s famous Passeig de Gràcia, Casa Lleo i Morera stands proudly beside Gaudí’s iconic Casa Batlló and Josep Puig i Cadafalch’s equally eye-catching Casa Amatller. Elaborately restored in 1902 by architect Lluis Domènech i Muntaner, whose other works include the magnificent Palau de la Música Catalana and the Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau, Casa Lleó i Morera was built in 1864 and takes its name from its original owners, the Morera family.
Finally opening its doors to the public in 2014, visitors can now explore the spectacular modernist interiors of Casa Lleó i Morera. Along with the distinctive ornamental façade, highlights of the building include exquisite stained-glass windows, a series of sculptures by Eusebi Arnau, colorful mosaics by artists like Mario Maragliano and Lluís Bru i Salelles and exquisite furnishings, handcrafted by cabinetmaker Gaspar Homar.
Though Passeig de Gràcia is most famously known for Gaudi-designed masterpieces La Pedrera and Casa Batlló, there’s another curious building to discover here: Casa Amatller. Constructed in the late 19th century, the former home was constructed for its namesake, chocolatier Antoni Amatller, and is just the place to go to see spectacular Modernisme architecture, and minus all the crowds.
Like its neighboring buildings along Passeig de Gràcia’s famous Block of Discord, or Illa de la Discordia, Casa Amatller also mixes things up architecturally, featuring both Flemish and Catalan styles. A visit to its interior is equally impressive, promising exquisitely tiled walls and floors, colorful stained-glass detailing, and rooms decorated with the original furniture.
Though you can get to known Barcelona’s favorite son, Antoni Gaudí, by seeing the sights, you’ll really get a better understanding of the artist by exploring his fantastical world at the Gaudí Experience. This is where you can learn more about the architect via large interactive boards (available in nine languages, no less), and especially by watching the 4D movie, which is what really makes the experience a proper experience.
An experience, indeed, as the movie involves more than just pretty visuals but also moving seats and even other sensory details such as mist. During the adventure, you’ll travel the streets of old Barcelona, exploring Gaudí’s creations and his dreamlike world. Narration-free, it’s an especially ideal way for kids to get a more entertaining look at one of the most intriguing sides of Barcelona.
This delicious museum tells the story of chocolate across Europe, including its history, trade, manufacturing, and various uses. It traces the origins back to South America, when cacao beans were first brought to Europe by Spanish conquistadores. Since the 15th century chocolate played an important role in Barcelona’s economy, with the import and export through its port. Historically the city soldiers were even given pieces of chocolate with bread for breakfast.
It is one of the city’s smaller museums, but is in the top ten in terms of visitors. Fun chocolate experiences, from sculpting or painting with chocolate, are on display. Many of the sculptures are famous Barcelona landmarks made of chocolate. Those who visit do indeed receive a piece of chocolate upon entering, but the smell of chocolate permeates long before then. Tastings are very much part of the experience, so be sure to come hungry.
Tucked down a side street in Barcelona’s Barrio Gotico (Gothic District), Els Quatre Gats (meaning ‘The Four Cats’, or ‘a few people’ in Catalan slang) is one of the city’s most famous bar-restaurants and a memorable location to sample some delicious traditional Catalan cuisine. The Parisian-style tavern was the brainchild of local businessman Pere Romeu, taking its inspiration from Paris’ atmospheric cabaret bar, Le Chat Noir (The Black Cat), and creating a bohemian ambiance that immediately resonated with the city’s artists and writers. Opening its doors in 1897, Els Quatre Gats quickly amassed a number of legendary patrons, becoming the favorite haunt of Picasso, who held his first 2 exhibitions in the main dining room, and a popular meeting point for revered architect Gaudi.
More Things to Do in Catalonia
With its signature red and white brickwork, the Arc de Triomf of Barcelona stands tall in the center of a wide boulevard as a unique piece of architecture in a creative city. Designed by Catalan architect Josep Vilaseca, it was originally meant for an exhibition entrance to the 1888 Universal Exposition, which took place at the nearby Parc de la Ciutadella. It was created with Islamic style influences in the Neo-Mudéjar style, which originated in 12th-century Iberia, and now stands in tribute as a memorial.
Various friezes in stone and tile along the sides of the arch represent advancements in technology, the arts, and agriculture. At the top of the arch are the coats of arms for 49 provinces of Spain, overseen by the coat of arms for Barcelona. Another relief is a symbol meaning "Barcelona welcomes the nations." It now marks the passage of a promenade which is pleasant for long walks. Classical in shape, it now stands as a landmark for the city of Barcelona.
The striking Gothic façade of the St. Mary of the Sea Cathedral, (also known as Cathedral Santa Maria del Mar and Basilica Santa Maria del Maris) one of the most memorable sights of Barcelona’s La Ribera and El Born districts, dating back to the 12th century. Renowned as one of the country’s finest examples of Catalan Gothic architecture, the original cathedral was the work of architects Berenguer de Montagut and Ramon Despuig, whose efforts were partially damaged by a number of fires throughout the 14th and 19th century.
Significant parts of the original cathedral still remain intact, including much of the imposing frontage, accompanied by a number of restorations and additions added throughout the 20th century. The cathedral interiors are far less imposing, with stained glass clerestory windows allowing light to stream into the aisles and a ribbed vault supported by dramatic slender columns.
One of the most popular districts in Barcelona’s Cuitat Vella, or Old City, La Ribera is a charming maze of streets at the forefront of the city’s design, entertainment and fashion trends, earning itself the nickname ‘Barcelona’s SoHo’. Located just east of the central Barri Gotic area and encompassing the historic sub-neighborhood of El Born and the picturesque Parc de la Ciutadella, La Ribera is one of the city’s hottest destinations, teeming with intimate cafés, bijou bars and traditional restaurants.
A number of key architectural masterpieces lie in La Ribera, most notably the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Palau de la Musica Catalana, a modernist marvel designed by architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner and the domineering Gothic Santa Maria del Mar, or St Mary of the Sea Cathedral, built in the 12th century by Berenguer de Montagut and renowned as one of the country’s finest examples of Catalan Gothic architecture.
As the capital of Catalunya, Barcelona is the center of the region’s history; and there is no better place to take it all in than the History Museum of Catalonia. Catalonia has long struggled with preserving its culture and independence, and this museum seeks to raise awareness about the heritage and identity of the Catalan people.
In-depth interactive exhibits focus on the development of Catalonia from prehistory through the growth of various industries to present day. The exhibits focused on the Spanish Civil War and Franco’s rule are particularly well done. The museum explains the occupation of the region throughout the years by the Romans, the Moors, and others — each leaving their own mark on the culture. In addition to the permanent collection, there are consistently good temporary exhibitions as well as a library, restaurant, and open-air rooftop. The museum is housed in the Palau de Mar, which has a history and significance of its own.
Barcelona’s busiest market and arguably one of Europe’s most popular food markets, La Boqueria Market, or Mercat de La Boqueria, is a vibrant hub of Barcelonian culture. The market boasts a long history, with the spot being used as a meat market as far back as the 13th century, but today the market is held in the Mercat de Sant Josep market hall in La Rambla, a Modernist iron and glass canopy built in 1914. Whether you’re sourcing ingredients for the perfect paella or just soaking up the unique atmosphere, few experiences are as quintessentially Barcelonian as haggling for produce in the city’s liveliest market.
Over 200 stalls stand in the market and weaving through the crowds of locals and tourists, there’s a myriad of produce on display. Piles of fresh fruits and vegetables, pails of glistening olives and huge slabs of cheese and foie gras line the stalls, alongside an array of local seafood and varying cuts of meat, including the odd pig head.
It might seem next to impossible to find a quiet getaway in the big Barcelona city, but Plaça Sant Felip Neri offers you just the perfect escape from all the hustle and bustle. This seemingly hidden square, with its trickling fountain and shade-offering trees, is located in Barcelona’s Gothic quarter and is enclosed by old-world buildings.
It’s more than just a tranquil respite, though, but also an important, albeit tragic part of Barcelona history. Indeed, this is where you’ll find the square’s namesake church, which was bombed during the Spanish Civil War in 1938, killing many people, most of whom were children. The church’s heavily bomb-pocked walls serve as a still-visible reminder of this sad event. Come here to contemplate the square’s somber past while you savor a moment of quiet and calm.
The 1992 Olympics were transformative for the city of Barcelona. With the arrival of the games, areas were restored and construction for new structures was initiated. As such, the city was updated and rejuvenated in many ways. One such structure, which remains a draw for visitors today, is the Olympic Stadium — which is now home to the city’s second futbol team, Espanyol. It was originally constructed in 1929 for the International Exposition, and was updated in preparation for the games. It can seat more than 65,000 people. A visit now offers a glimpse into sports history, as well as some great views of the city. It was the venue for both the opening and closing ceremonies of that year’s Olympics. Walking through the competitor’s tunnel, you can really get a feel for how athletes must have felt as they experienced the vastness of the grounds.
Barcelona's Aquarium is one of the largest in Europe and boasts one of the most impressive collections of Mediterranean sealife in the world. You will marvel at the sharks and other creatures swimming above their heads as they walk through the glass tunnels that give a unique view of the animals. You will also have the opportunity to pet a stingray at the touch pool and get an upclose look at nearly 8,000 fish through the floor-to-ceiling glass displays.
A highlight of the aquarium is the Planeta Aqua (Water Planet) exhibit, which features animals, such as the crowd-favorite penguins, that have adapted to changing climates over time. There are also mini aquariums set up throughout the building to allow visitors to appreciate the amazing small details of the ocean's flora and fauna that tend to get lost in the bigger tanks.
A soaring, shimmering glass and concrete edifice in the Raval, Barcelona’s Museum of Contemporary Art was designed by US architect Richard Meier and completed in 1995, spearheading the once-tatty district’s revival. Its matt-white interior is flooded with natural light and creates the perfect backdrop for the museum’s 5,000 paintings, sculptures, images and conceptual pieces, which are shown in ever-changing temporary exhibitions running for between three and six months. Featuring avant-garde artists from the latter half of the 20th century, the collection is rich in international names such as Paul Klee, Dieter Roth and Jean-Michel Basquiat – among many others – but specializes in the works of celebrated Catalan artists including Antoni Tàpies, Miquel Barcelò, Susana Solano and Pere Jaume. The museum also has a library, a well-stocked bookshop and café as well as Saturday morning workshops for families visiting with young kids.
Get closer to Barcelona’s vibrant art scene by perusing the masterpieces of one its most famous artists, Antoni Tapies. Born in Barcelona, Tapies specialized in contemporary art that was dominated by social themes. His work, which was influenced by the likes of fellow Catalan artist Joan Miro, is imaginative and abstract, employing elements beyond just paint and canvas but also rags, paper and other scraps.
Founded by Tapies himself, the foundation serves to promote and provide education around contemporary art. While there, you can explore a collection of his creations, an impressive library, as well as revolving exhibitions by other artists. The building itself is a work of art too: Constructed in the late 1800s, it was considered a pioneer of Modernisme architecture. Meanwhile, you won’t be able to miss the cloud-and-chair sculpture that tops it, which is meant to represent meditative attitude and aesthetic contemplation.
Though Egypt may not come to mind when you think of Barcelona, think again, as the city’s Egyptian Museum displays an impressive collection of some 1,000 ancient artifacts from the African country. The pieces once belonged to the museum’s founder, Catalan Jordi Clos, and are now on display in the intimate and relatively crowd-free galleries found just off the main drag of Passeig de Gracia.
The diverse permanent collection spans everything from ceramics to jewelry, mummies, and a host of items related to the culture and funeral practices. Meanwhile, rotating exhibitions offer other themed looks into Egypt’s distant past. Cap off your visit with a snack at the outdoor terrace and a visit the museum’s Egypt-inspired store.
Things to do near Catalonia
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