For centuries overlooked by its cultural and political rival Madrid, Barcelona truly came into its own with the advent of modernism. Indeed, the names best associated with the Catalan capital are like a ‘who’s who’ of modernist art and architecture: Gaudi, Picasso, Dali and Miro, all of who have contributed to the city’s unique identity and character.
It was the 1992 Olympic Games, however, that truly transformed Barcelona from a relatively run-down industrial port to the popular holiday destination of today.Following years of neglect under the bullying dictatorship of General Franco, who punished the city for its culture of Catalan separatism, the redevelopment work for the Olympics saw the industrial landscape town down and focused on the rejuvenation of the sea-front into an area for leisure.
Since then, locals and tourists alike have benefited from several excellent beaches fronting onto the Mediterranean Sea, including the Mar Bella, Nova Mar Bella and the Bogatell, allowing Barcelona to become a destination that combines the attractions of a beach holiday with the cultural richness of a city break.In addition to the rejuvenation of the port, over the past couple of decades, the compact centre of Barcelona has now been smartened up, with wandering the winding streets and alleys of the city among the most rewarding things a visitor can do.
Almost cutting the centre in two, Barcelona’s most famous thoroughfare, Las Ramblas, serves not only as a useful orientation point for tourists but has, for many years, served as the preferred location of locals to see and be seen during the ritualistic early-evening stroll.Today, Las Ramblas is the site of bustling markets of all descriptions-though animal-lovers may find the livestock and pet stalls a rather uncomfortable sight- while entertainment is provided by buskers of varying skills and abilities.
After getting some sense of the city’s layout, visitors can then wander through the largely pedestrian-friendly city centre, with the majority of Barcelona’s finest sites and attractions within comfortable walking distance.The works of two of the most famous artists associated with the city are displayed within specialist museums, namely the Fundacio Juan Miro and the Picasso Museum, both of which also host guest exhibitions from around the world, while an exploration of the city’s history is available to visitors at the National Museum of Catalonia.
Slightly out of the centre, though both easily accessible with the efficient Metro System, are the two finest monuments to Barcelona’s most famous architect, Antoni Gaudi.Famously working on the principle that there are no straight lines in nature, both the unfinished cathedral the Sagrada Familia- which George Orwell famously despised- and his garden complex at Park Guell are suitably flamboyant works, representing a complete break with traditional styles.
Just as famous as the city’s culture is its vibrant nightlife. As befits its Mediterranean location, the seafood on offer in Barcelona’s restaurants is on a par with anywhere else in the world and diners with varying budgets are able to take advantage of this.Given that dinner is eaten no earlier than nine or ten o’clock in the evening, the city’s bars and clubs, where the emphasis is on contemporary cool these days, don’t open until late and certainly don’t get busy until the early hours of the morning.Fortunately, Barcelona also boasts a number of chic hotels, carrying on the tradition of modernist design, while the affordable, more traditional rooms on offer in and around the Gothic Quarter also make an excellent base from which to explore the city whilst getting a feel for the day-to-day life.
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