Spain’s Catalonian capital brims with cultural vibrancy. Ashlee Starratt discovers its essence.
It’s not often a city is built around an artist’s vision. Yet Barcelona stands as much in the indelible embrace of Antoni Gaudí as it does the lingering echo of medieval antiquity – a beacon in a land of artists. For this is a nation from whose tangled roots sprung the branches of Surrealism and Cubism that shaped Spanish contemporary art. Gaudí, Picasso…Dalí. Contained within the heart of Catalonia is a vital essence of sorts where expression breeds in its most enlightened form. And Barcelona, its capital, is a testament to its actualisation.
The second-largest city in Spain with a population of 1.6 million, Barcelona is best explored on-foot – a feat made easy by an accessible bus and metro system that spans the city from its centre to the outer suburbs. Mediterranean breezes, Catalan architecture, vibrant street life, and art and culture for miles are just some of the dalliances that will keep you lingering along its cobbles. Oh, and the food – which is an art unto itself.
Take your time to wander through its iconic Gràcia neighbourhood and take in the Festa Major happening mid-August, ride the funicular or brave the epic trek by dragon staircase up to the pinnacle of Parc Güell. With some of the most stunning vistas out over the city, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is an Art Nouveau garden-city commissioned in 1900 to artist Antoni Gaudí by Catalonian entrepreneur Eusebi Güell. It was opened as a public park in 1926 and you can wander through its mosaic tableaux as nature blends with the surreal (don’t miss out on the Hall of One Hundred Columns).
As the summit and descent to and from the park is hungry work, follow your inner rumblings to any one of the city’s hundreds of tapas cafés and restaurants. Pro tip: Look for the spot with the longest line-up of locals – as that’s usually where the best fare can be found. Spanish life moves languidly and is meant to be savoured and enjoyed – and meals are no exception. More intrepid foodies can craft their own culinary adventure at the Abaceria Central Market where mouth-watering sensory overload awaits among its stalls.
No visit to the Catalonian capital is complete without exploring the epochal Sagrada Familia – Antoni Gaudí’s basilica monument consecrating the intertwined bond between faith and the divine workings of nature. You’ll be humbled by its beauty and the celestial mathematics found within its architectural facades as you let the din of the city fade away among its columns and porticoes.
Here, art is sanctified in its most sacred form on the bedrock of a city that’s stood through the centuries as a bastion of its expression.
Top five things to do
1. Take the ultimate footie fan tour of FC Barcelona’s Camp Nou home-base.
2. Lick up the best gelato in Barcelona at Gelaaati di Marco.
3. Grab the train for a day-trip to the Dalí’ Theatre-Museum in Figueres.
4. Take a medieval night-tour on the darker side of history.
5. Get up-close with the wildlife at Zoo Barcelona.