One of the biggest reasons to travel to Barcelona has to be its culture. It has an intact old town (Ciutat Vella) where the Medieval structures of the Barri Gòtic share space with cathedrals, public squares, and pedestrian markets. It has the Modernist creativity of Gaudi in its parks and monuments and one of the most heavily touristed areas in all of Spain in the Las Ramblas neighborhood. There are also plenty of museums, one of Europe's biggest football clubs (FC Barcelona), and a number of attractions and upgrades that remain from the hosting of the 1992 Olympic Games. If you're a fan of culture, Barcelona is undoubtedly one of the best places to visit.
The place to start when exploring the culture of Barcelona is unquestionably the Ciutat Vella. Barcelona's proud heart, this is where most tourists flock and also where you'll find yourself if you want a taste of the city's heritage. The oldest buildings are located in the Barri Gòtic, as well as a handful of exceptional plazas. The lovely Gothic Cathedral of Santa Eulàlia is a structural highlight, while the Plaça Reial is one of the most attractive plazas anywhere, with its Gaudi-styled lamp posts, burbling fountains, and palm trees. The Plaça del Rei, Plaça Sant Felip Neri, and the Plaça del Pi are all social hubs of attractive architecture and terraced seating for those who want to kick back and relax with a drink.
Las Ramblas, a part of the Raval neighborhood and the larger Ciutat Vella, is probably the busiest street in the city. A main thoroughfare made up of streets with “rambla” in the name, it is known for its performers, open-air markets, and anything else that follows at the slightest whiff of tourism (including pickpockets and other unsavory types). Still, Las Ramblas is a must at the very least for its indelible energy, as well as the art on tap at the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art and Centre d'Art Santa Mònica.
Barceloneta is another section of the Ciutat Vella and is known particularly for the ocean-side activities around both the Olympic Port (many restaurants, shops, and a casino) and Port Vell (Europe's second largest aquarium, an IMAX, and much more). The zoo in the Parc de Ciutadella is also a very popular attraction. Other areas of interest in the Ciutat Vella include the La Plaça Catalunya, the most central plaza in the city and an excellent place to stop and get your bearings; the Born neighborhood, a less crowded version of Las Ramblas where the locals eat and play; and the UNESCO-certified Palau de la Música Catalana, an incredible modernist structure where you can listen to the symphony.
Speaking of modernist architecture, if you want to see what all of this Gaudi talk is about, visit the Eixample district, just inland from Ciutat Vella. One highlight is the unfinished wonder that is La Sagrada Família, a massive and intricate church that is awe-inspiring both inside and out. A walk along Passeig de Gracia will reward you with a view of other modernist structures that include both La Perdrera and Casa Batllo, both Gaudi creations that utilized not a single right-angle in their construction. Otherwise the district is unremarkable and somewhat disorienting with its rows upon rows of tall, rectangular housing.
Another part of the urban area worth exploring is Gràcia, an area north of the city famous for Güell Park (known for Gaudi's terrace) and some narrow, romantic streets and tiny, vibrant squares. Finally, Sants-Montjuïc should be a part of any cultural tour particularly for its museums, although the view from the hill overlooking the city is quite a sight, especially in the evening. The Plaça d'Espanya with its “magic” fountain is also great for an evening stroll, perhaps after a day of visiting the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya (with its stellar collection of Romanesque art), the Picasso Museum, the architectural marvel that is the Mies van der Rohe Pavilion, and the El Poble Espanyol (a cultural village that spotlights famous Spanish structures and hosts modern art). Even better, watch the football club send fans into a frenzy at Nou Camp (Europe's biggest stadium) and find yourself riding the wave of revelers right into our nightlife section.
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