There’s more to Barcelona than Gaudi…

Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya views cr Beccy DownesA few weeks ago I posted my Barcelona – 10 Ten Experiences piece. I travelled to Barcelona with my friend Beccy Downes, also a writer, and thought it would be interesting to show you how different two pieces written in response to the same trip can be. Here’s her piece on Barcelona.

Anyone visiting Barcelona will have heard of the work of Gaudi, and there is no doubt that the Sagrada Familia and Parc Güell are unique and stunning to visit.  But what else is there?

For a quick break in Barcelona, the ‘Hop On, Hop Off’ Bus Tours are perfect.  Faced with the challenge of seeing as much as we could in three days, I found that the commentary really helped me to focus, not only on what I had intended to see, but on the things I enjoy that hadn’t even occurred to me to seek out.  The tours all start at Plaça de Catalunya.

FC Barcelona cr Beccy Downes As a football and sports fan in general, I relished the chance to see the impact that sporting events have had on the city.  Having regularly seen and heard about the famous FC Barcelona on the TV, Camp Nou was an obvious early stopping point.  I was immersed in the culture of this football club when first stepping through the gates; in awe of the surroundings which encapsulate the 98,787 seater stadium, a village of eateries and merchandise stores line the approach…player and sponsor images adorn the outside of the stadium itself, although there are a few statues and plaques which pay homage to the club’s auspicious history too…

FC Barcelona sculpture cr Beccy Downes A stadium and museum tour is available for fans of both the club, and wider football in general.  It currently costs €23 for adults, €17 for children aged 6-13 (price taken from Club website) and includes the pressroom and commentary box, the trophy room, and even the players tunnel and dressing room. I didn’t have time to try this out, but if the official club shop is anything to go by, it promises to be a Barcelona FC-themed assault on the senses!

Olympic Stadium cr Beccy DownesAnother stop on the bus tour takes you up Montjuic (which has its own story – you’ll hear it on the commentary) and to the site of the great 1992 Olympic Games. Although I was fairly young at the time, I can still remember being stirred by the Freddie Mercury and Monserrat Caballe song which became the theme for the Games, and when I caught sight of the sheer magnificence of the stadium, I felt a slight tingle as I imagined what it might have been like to stand there surrounded by the thronging crowds…

Olympic Stadium horses cr Beccy Downes

The ambience, even on a quiet day, is majestic – from the horses leaping from atop the stadium wall, to the layers of fountains flowing on three levels below the stadium, I spent some time just taking it all in…with the impressive telecoms tower designed by Santiago Calatrava to resemble the Olympic flame looming above.

Olympic Stadium communications tower cr Beccy Downes

Another stop on the bus tour, which I had no idea was even there until sheer awe of the view made me disembark, was the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC). Even if art is not your thing, the two Venetian style towers that flank the approach, the fountains which dance in front of the museum (I didn’t get the chance to see them at night but the night bus tour takes in this experience during summer for an additional cost) and the view of Barcelona from the very top of the hill directly outside (see top of post), makes the climb very much worthwhile. There are escalators to help if you find walking uphill a bit difficult.

Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya Beccy Downes

And of course, something that you might forget when visiting Barcelona, believing it to be the ultimate city break, is that it’s actually pretty darn close to an absolutely superb seafront. The hotels and casino which make up the Port Olimpic marina were built in readiness for the Olympic Games (the sailing events took place here and the athletes stayed here during the games), but some of the accommodation has since been sold as high value apartments to residents of the city – a lot of the architecture here, as with many of the buildings around the city, is unusual to say the least, and there’s some outstanding artwork too, including Frank Gehry’s giant goldfish!

Gehry's Fish  cr Beccy Downes

And finally, the nearby Barcelonetta beach is the ideal place to take the weight off your weary feet, feel the warmth of the Spanish sun and enjoy a cocktail or two. ¡Salud!

Barcelonetta beach cr Beccy Downes

Cocktails cr Beccy Downes

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Barcelona – 10 Top Experiences

Parc Guell Barcelona cr Judy DarleyThink of Barcelona, and what comes to mind? It’s one of those cities that’s far larger than itself, with a personality and reputation so distinct that long before you walk the streets paved with art (literally, thanks to the likes of Joan Miro), spied the towering twisted of Sagrada Familia or breathed in the air at Barcelona FC, you’re likely to have a pretty firm impression of what you’re in for.

But how much will that impression match up to reality?

Well, that all depends on when you visit, your mood, the tourists and locals you encounter. Because each day in Barcelona is different, and every alleyway, road and cable car leads to a new experience. You’re bound to come up with your own, but for now here are my top ten.

1 Listen to the song of the Palau Nacional

The beautiful Palau Nacional houses the MNAC, the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. As you enter the museum you’ll find a flight of stairs leading up to the roof terrace, offering sweeping views over Plaça d’Espanya and the city beyond. Hang about a bit and you’ll hear the haunting murmur of the wind creeping through crevasses and around the turrets – as though the angel perched on top is uttering a lament in the voice of the sea.

Ciutadella Park boating lake cr Judy Darley

2 Go boating at Parc de la Ciutadella

Along with the parrots, pigeons and tourists, the locals flock to this large leafy park on weekends and bank holidays. It’s a big enough space to ensure it never feels crowded, and there’s a great little boating lake where you can row to your heart’s content. Just don’t fall in – that water is a worryingly vivid shade of green!

Montjuic cable car cr Judy Darley

3 Travel by cable car

What better way to see the city, and scale the heights of Montjuïc? Recently refurbished, it’s a lovely way to swoop 84.5 metres over the inclines of Montjuïc and take in the views over the port from the top of the hill. It costs around €10, so not too pricey either.

Sardines cr Judy Darley4 Sample some local cuisine

Everyone says it, and it’s true, the tapas and pinxos are to die for. The seafood, like these beheaded sardines, are highlights, as are the salty fried Padron peppers. Save room for dessert – the turron ice cream is the perfect end to any meal.

5 Cuddle up to some art

A rotund little fella stands outside the Fundacio Joan Miró and he’s definitely friendly. Venture inside to see the great artist’s sculptures, paintings and remarkable tapestries, mostly named Bird, Woman or Woman and Bird.

Sagrada Familia bougainvillea cr Judy Darley6 Gorge on Gaudi

Even if you can’t face the hours of waiting to get inside, hop off the tourist bus at Sagrada Familia to ogle the extraordinary neverending story of Gaudi’s masterpiece. Each façade has different points of interest, and the cranes themselves add to the striking scenes. I couldn’t resist photographing the builders too – thanks to Gaudi’s legacy they’re now part of something remarkable.

Parc Guell The Dragon cr Judy Darley

Talking of Gaudi, of course you need to visit Parc Güell. Yes, it’s crowded, yes, the toilets are horrible, but the setting and the many glories from the Greek Theatre (aka the Nature Square, pictured at the top of this post) to the sweet dribbling dragon, make this all worthwhile.

Then there’s the Casa Batlló and Casa Milà aka La Pedrera, and numerous other Gaudi bits and pieces to enjoy.

7 Walk la Rambla de Mar

Once you’ve experienced La Rambla (keeping a tight grip on your belongings) keep going until you pass onto the Rambla de Mar, a bridge that stretches out onto Maremagnum, a leisure complex with shops, restaurants and cinemas. On busy days the press of people will force you to take your time. I recommend pausing at one of the seats to enjoy views over the water and of the Stargazers, two white buoys topped by skywards-facing figures by Robert Llimós.

Poet and playwright Pitarra cr Judy Darley8 Seek out something literary

There are no shortage of literary haunts in Barcelona, where you can listen to up and coming poets and writers share their work – and possibly even have the chance to perform your own. The city also offers up plenty of statues and monuments to poets, including this one of Pitarra, a poet and playwright from Barcelona, set just off La Rambla beside La Plaça del Teatre. For a more romantic literary homage, head back to Montjuïc where each of the gardens is named after a poet who wrote in Catalan.

Dragon Without Saint George by Andres Nagel cr Judy Darley9 Play ‘spot the art’

Okay, a pretty easy one, as artwork crops up all over the city – even children’s slides are works of art in Barcelona. This one by Andrés Nagel is called Dragon Without Saint George, and sits close to the Barcelona’s Sants railway station.

The Communications Tower Bacelona cr Judy Darley10 Gaze at an immense Olympic flame

… or rather, a communications tower designed to represent an athlete carrying the iconic flame. This one caught me by surprise. While the height of the tower means you spy it from afar, it’s only when you enter Barcelona’s Olympic Stadium that you grasp the sheer scale and majesty of Santiago Calatrava’s creation.

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