The Catalonian capital and second largest city in Spain, Barcelona is a truly sophisticated world travel destination, reaching the pinnacle of its cultural renaissance in just the last few decades. With all of these European cities enticing travelers with their old buildings and mementos of age-old civilizations, streets bright with foliage and sidewalk cafes, modern “placas”, and a raring nightlife are a fresh breath of contemporary air.
Long a Spanish gateway to the rest of the world due to its enviable position on the Mediterranean, modern advances in economics, industry, art, fashion, and (one of our favorite departments) world travel have made this metropolis one of the best places to visit in all of Europe. But despite the beach basking and club queues on Barceloneta, the raucous roars erupting from Nou Camp and the bustle of Spain's busiest tourist street, Las Ramblas, there are plenty of landmarks that will keep your eyes glued to the past. Barri Gòtic (the Gothic Quarter) is your most revealing glimpse of historic Barcelona, with its centuries-old buildings and cathedral giving way to tapas bars and lively placas like the ever-popular Placa Reail. Then again, the architect, Antoni Gaudi, has left his distinctive modernist mark all over the city. The unfinished La Sagrada Familia,Parc Guell, Montjuic, and a handful of buildings along Passeig de Gracia all sprout like implausible portals into some fairy-tale world, leaving you to wonder just what may await you around the next corner. Far more can be learned about Barcelona's museums and other attractions on our culture page. Don't wall yourself into the city unless you absolutely need to (i.e. zombies plaguing the countryside), especially when destinations as enticing as the Costa Brava and mountain ranges like the Pyrenees are a day trip away. The swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving in the Costa Brava, particularly in the Medes Islands and Cap de Creus, are among the best in Western Europe, while skiers, hikers, and climbers prefer the challenges of Cadi-Moixero Natural Park, Ordesa and Monte Perdido National Park, and the numerous smaller forest parks in the region. Then again, ancient culture and adventure serendipitously coincide in the cliff-side monasteries of Sant Miquel del Fai and the Santa Maria de Montserrat. Dig through our adventure listings for a better sense of all that awaits on Barcelona's doorstep.
If you've yet to realize, this city of over 1.6 million people earns its stripes by accommodating the interests of many a traveler. You've got the intoxicating nightlife of Eixample and Gracia, delicious Catalan cuisine like seafood paella in the seaside neighborhood of Barceloneta, and the tourist-free authenticity of El Born, all of which join the everything else we've previously mentioned to create a world travel destination that should have your “inspiration radar” going off like crazy. Not that you were worried, but the host of the 1992 Olympics has still got it.