There are few cities in the world that can compete with Barcelona when it comes to capturing one’s imagination. Unique culture, frenzied nightlife, colourful beach life, chaotic festivals: there are a thousand attractions to see and experience… whether on a guided bike tour with us, or on your own.
Some districts best explored by foot include the Gothic Quarter – aka Barri Gotico, El Raval and El Born. These zones are all part of the medieval Old Town and are characterised by narrow streets (so not ideal for bikes, especially during peak tourist season) chockful of boutique shops, tapas restaurants, bars and the odd nightclub. There are also plenty of cultural treasures to unearth such as the remains of Barcelona’s life as a Roman trading post, a small but significant synagogue, some charming squares and hidden courtyards, historic churches and plenty of museums – especially recommended is the Picasso Museum in El Born, which charts the artist’s progression towards Cubism and includes a number of his works inspired by or painted in Barcelona. (Picasso lived in Barcelona from 1895 to 1905 before moving to Paris).
Two of our favourite districts here at Steel Donkeys are Poblenou and Gracia (see our gallery for why!). The former spans a vast area to the North of the city, from the Olympic village right up to Parc del Forum and the city limits. This former industrial zone is undergoing a vast transformation, thanks to the 22@ project, and city officials are intent on developing a second Silicone Valley and technology hub right here in Barcelona. Right now sparkling new office blocks rub shoulders with crumbling factories and squats, whilst a number of creative and artistic projects all take place too. Great parks like Parc Central del Poblenou and Parc Diagonal Mar have added a green element to this intriguing space.
The latter, Gracia, has been the hip place in Barcelona for some time now. This is where the real Barcelonins live, safe from the stampedes of tourists on Las Ramblas, and here you’ll find some of the coolest bars and restaurants in Barcelona and one of the best vibes. Gracia was once a separate village to the rest of the city and has it’s own fascinating history – and every August one of the best street festivals in BCN.
Other great areas to explore include Montjuic mountain, which boasts treasures such as the excellent MNAC museum and Barcelona’s cheesy but fun magic fountain, Tibidabo, another mountain but this time set at the back of the city with sensational views over all and its own theme park up top, and Camp Nou, Barcelona FC’s legendary 99,000-seater stadium. There’s a museum if you can’t get tickets for a match.
Naturally no visit to Barcelona would be complete without paying one’s respects to Antoni Gaudi. His visionary approach to architecture remains the signature aesthetic of the city and it’s safe to say you’ll have never seen a church like La Sagrada Familia before, nor such surreal houses as Casa Mila and Casa Batllo. Parc Guell, aka Gaudi’s garden, is also well worth a visit and its marvellous trencadis-decorated terrace and sculptures feature in films such as Vicky Cristina Barcelona and L’Auberge Espagnole.
Finally, whenever the weather in Barcelona is good (and it usually is!), then you can always hit the city beaches! Barceloneta can get a bit much, with all the hawkers and touts, but further North you’ll find less crowded, or at least less touristy, swathes of sand. For real coastal beauty then the likes of Sitges are only a short train ride away!
Websites with more info about Barcelona