From Tapas to Architecture – The Barcelona Experience
Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia, named European Region of Gastronomy in 2016, in recognition of its regional specialties, cuisine and reputation as a wine tourist destination. It's no surprise that the city is renowned for its foodie scene, but it's equally famous for its architecture, mainly due to the legacy of Catalan Antoni Gaudí, whose apex of achievement is the still unfinished Sagrada Família.
A visit to the famous La Boqueria offers a first-hand experience of Barcelona's culinary celebrity. Visitors and locals alike flock to this market, located just off the central thoroughfare of La Rambla and bursting with local produce. Fruits and vegetables are stacked neatly in endless rows, and fishmonger slabs are laden with gleaming fresh seafood. La Boqueria has its origins in medieval times but was established at its present-day site in the 1840s. Other worthwhile city markets housed in historic buildings include the Modernist Galvany and Llibertat. You can visit the main food markets in the city as part of a gastronomic tour arranged by the concierge at Fairmont Rey Juan Carlos I.
If you fancy rubbing shoulders with the locals on a tapas crawl, head to the neighbourhoods of Barceloneta, Gràcia and Born. Although the Spanish tradition of offering a free tapa with a beer is becoming less common, you can still find it in Barceloneta. At the Cal Chusco bar a beer comes with patatas bravas (fried potatoes with spicy tomato sauce), a slice of tortilla or cured jamón. Also in Barceloneta, El Vaso de Oro is a narrow, traditional bar that serves homemade tapas and brews its own beer. In Gràcia district, visitors can scribble graffiti on the walls of La Pepita bar, which offers imaginative tapas. In Born, the popular El Xampanyet bar, founded in 1929 and lined with wine barrels, offers tapas accompanied by Vermouth on marble tables.
Dine as the locals do and head out for tapas around 19:30. Spaniards love sharing tapas, ordering four to five of them for four people. Also look out for pintxos, bite-size Basque-style tapas, traditionally served with cocktail sticks, which are counted at the end for totting up the bill. Vermouth has become fashionable again in Barcelona, so on a weekend morning, join city inhabitants for an aperitif before lunch.
The doyen of the Catalan Modernist movement, Antoni Gaudí's original stamp is ubiquitous in Barcelona, from the soaring spires of the Sagrada Família to the ceramic and stone of houses like the Casa Vicens, Casa Batlló and La Pedrera, also known as Casa Milà with its distinctive curved façade. Northeast of the city centre, the novel Parc Güell was originally designed as an estate with private houses but became a public park in the 1920s. Its imaginative features include Gaudí's trademark mosaics, a columned marketplace and snaking viaducts.
Barcelona's answer to London's Gherkin, the 144-m-high Torre Agbar was designed by French architect Jean Nouvel and is a relatively recent addition to the city's skyline. Another contemporary landmark, Frank Gehry's El Peix is a huge golden-coloured steel fish overlooking the Olympic Marina. Further south along the waterfront in Port Vell is Roy Lichtenstein's Barcelona Face, a 15-m-high sculpture of a Pop Art head covered in Gaudí-style mosaic tiles.
Barcelona's Best Buildings
If you want to explore Barcelona's main sights with a knowledgeable guide, book a tour with the concierge at the Fairmont Rey Juan Carlos I. To avoid the crowds, come to the city in January or make sure you visit the most popular places later in the day. The Fairmont Rey Juan Carlos I is a sight in its own right and was designed by the award-winning Barcelona architect Carlos Ferrater Lambarri. You don't have to go far from the hotel to find other architecturally interesting sights. Nearby is the 14th-century Gothic monastery, the Reial Monestir de Santa María de Pedralbes; the Parc de Cervantes, an expansive park featuring extensive rose gardens; and Camp Nou, home of Barcelona FC.
Hidden Architectural Highlights
Although visitors are familiar with the main sights such as the Gothic quarter and Cathedral at the heart of the city and Gaudí's inimitable Sagrada Família, Barcelona has a wealth of other architectural gems. Off the tourist trail is the Parc del Laberint d'Horta, an Italian-designed landscaped park in the Horta and Guinardó districts to the north of the city centre. Dating from the late 18th century, it has an eponymous maze of cypress hedges. Despite being in the Gothic Quarter, the diminutive cobbled Plaça Sant Felip Neri is tucked away in a quiet spot and is full of history. A peaceful retreat away from the hustle of the city at the base of Montjuïc hill, the Jardins del Teatre Grec are worth a visit for their colorful flower displays and impressive city views. The gardens and their amphitheater formed part of Barcelona's 1929 International Exhibition. Head just west of the gardens for another superb panoramic vista from the roof of the CaixaForum cultural centre, housed in a former Modernist factory.
After exploring Latin America for years, from the deserts of Baja California to Mayan temples, Jo Williams moved to Spain where her work appeared in Time Out, Footprint Travel Guides, Glamour magazine and travel websites. A professional travel writer and editor for over 15 years, she also creates digital content for major global brands.
Sagrada Familia, Barcelona by Matthew Dixon
Casa Batilo close up, Barcelona, Spain by jenifoto
Night view of Placa Reial in Barcelona by JackF
Spanish potatoes patatas bravas for tapas by larik_malasha
Tapas Pintxo goatcheese parsley pistachio crusty bread by MaleneRauhe
Detail of the bench by Gaudi in Parc Guell by s_t_v
Barcelona Gothic quarter by peresanz
Panoramic view of a garden with a maze by AygulSarvarova