Barcelona’s renaissance can be traced back to 1992, the year the Olympic torch arrived in the city, but 14 years later, the Catalan capital is still seeing phenomenal growth in the number of visitors.
It’s easy to see why though, as it offers visitors a mild, northern Mediterranean climate, a healthy dose of culture, and what seems like an almost infinite number of bars and restaurants. It is also easy to see why Barcelona was chosen to host the ’92 Olympics as it is home to one of the greatest sporting clubs on earth, Futbol Club Barcelona.
Barcelona was first made easily accessible to the UK by easyJet, and the dramatic increase in tourism is undoubtedly as much due to the availability of cheap flights as to the desire to visit Barcelona.
These days there are dozens of flights to Barcelona operated by budget airlines in the UK, Germany, Scandinavia, and Eastern Europe. At the same time, Ryanair flies into Girona-Costa Brava airport and Reus from several countries, including the UK and Ireland — both these airports are less than 2 hours from Barcelona.
The latest country to be able to easily experience the charms of Barcelona is the United States, with Delta now operating direct flights from New York and other locations.
Where to stay
Probably your first thought will be a hotel, but there are also good deals on short-term apartment rentals. Usually massively renovated, apartments can be suitable for up to 10 people, although some of them are in Barcelona’s less salubrious neighborhoods – if in doubt you should ask your rental agency.
Barcelona has a decent list of hotels too, although award-winning Hotel Arts is a little too far from the real action to be considered by anyone wanting to get in the thick of it. Hotel Majestic is just a few minutes from Plaça Catalunya though and so perfect for seeing the sights – Gaudí’s Casa Batllo and La Pedrera are a stone throw away — and has a first-class restaurant and rooftop pool too.
Other notable hotels include Le Meridien, just off the Ramblas, while directly opposite Barcelona’s cathedral is Hotel Colon. Of course, there are plenty of hotels offering slightly less in the way of luxury too.
Although your time may be short, there are some things you just cannot afford to miss in Barcelona. The first of these is a simple walk down the Ramblas. Although rather touristy these days, it remains somewhere to watch life go by while soaking up some of Barcelona’s atmosphere. There are plenty of bars and cafes on the Ramblas, so when you feel like a rest for a coffee or a beer, you just need to grab a table and attract the attention of a waiter.
You should also not miss any of Gaudí’s fantastic architecture, from the iconic Sagrada Familia cathedral, still unfinished after more than a century, to Casa Batllo and La Pedrera on Passeig de Graçia. And one much overlooked Gaudí project is the Parc Güell, again uncompleted, but fantastic to walk around to marvel at his designs. There you can also visit a museum dedicated to his life and work.
As these sights are rather spread out, you are best off taking the tourist bus from Plaça Catalunya. The bus allows you to hop on and off where you like on a tour of the city that allows you to take in all the best sites, including the Gaudí wonders. For around 15 Euros for a day, it is excellent value, and its route allows you to get an overview of much of Barcelona without wearing your shoe leather too much.
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Food and drinks
One of Barcelona’s great benefits is the number of restaurants and bars, and good restaurants abound. Many visitors are surprised at how cheap restaurants can be, perhaps compared to the menus in London, Paris, and Rome, but to find good food for a reasonable price you need to follow one simple rule – stay away from the Ramblas, Maremagnum — near the old port — and the Port Olimpic.
One area that has been gaining in popularity for a few years now, first with the locals and now with tourists too, is the area known as El Born. Consisting of a maze of streets that at one time were virtually a complete no-go area, the area today has a real buzz, and the best restaurant to eat in is any that has a table for you.
Remember that the Spanish eat late and so restaurants will be empty before nine o’clock, but where is the fun in that? And instead of a sit-down meal, you can also trail from bar to bar eating some of the delicious tapas that appeals to you – particularly recommended are the Basque tapas bars you find in the area. Read this article on Vacation destinations of Europe.