Originally established by the Romans, Barcelona is a city with a rich cultural history. Today, it serves as the capital of Catalonia and is still one of the busiest port towns in the Mediterranean. In addition to being an economic powerhouse, it is one of the top tourist destinations in Europe, drawing sports and art enthusiasts alike. Visitors can wander through the streets of the city and experience the whimsical genius of Antoni Gaudí firsthand, relax on a boat in the sunny harbor, or cheer on their favorite sports teams in one of the city’s many world-class stadiums.
Barcelona's old town, or Ciutat Vella, is the heart of the city. It's made up of many small neighborhoods, full of old-world character, linked by narrow, winding streets. Students, foreigners and artists thrive in this area, attracted by its sense of history and cosmopolitan feel along with its trendy bars, concert halls and good restaurants.
Start your tour from Plaça Catalunya and take Les Rambles (or Las Ramblas in Spanish) towards the sea. On the right, you'll find the Raval district with its museums, art galleries and notorious red-light area, Barri Xines. On your left, the medieval Barri Gòtic (Gothic Quarter) is home to the cathedral, the peaceful Plaça del Pi, art galleries and lots of cafés serving delicious hot chocolate. If you go even further left, across busy Via Laietana, you'll come to Born Market, in La Ribera district. This trendy neighborhood is also home to the graceful Santa Maria del Mar Church and the impressive Museu Picasso.
When the old town became overpopulated in the mid-19th Century, the city expanded inland, north of Plaça Catalunya. The streets of the new suburb, called L'Eixample (The Extension) were laid out in a grid pattern. Catalan modernista (Art Nouveau) architects designed a number of striking buildings in the area around Passeig de Gràcia and Rambla Catalunya. You'll find the extraordinary Sagrada Familia on the right-hand side of L'Eixample if you're coming from the Old Town. This controversial church, unfinished because of the untimely death of its architect, Antoni Gaudí, in 1926, has become the city's most visited monument.
As Barcelona expanded further north, more new neighborhoods were built. Villages were absorbed within the city boundaries giving rise to districts like the charming Gràcia, Les Corts, Sarrià and Hortà-Guinardò, up in the hills. The working-class neighborhood of Sants marks the city's southern boundary and has excellent public transport to the center.
Montjüic Hill, in the southwest of the city, offers many attractions including the Olympic Stadium and other facilities used for the 1992 Olympic Games, along with the impressive Fundació Miró. The best way to get to the hill is to take the cable car from the nearby harbor. Barcelona's other major green area is the 1800-foot (549-meter) Tibidabo Hill to the northwest, with its panoramic views of the city, amusement park on the summit and Torre de Comunicaciones de Collserola (Collserola Communications Tower).
Both Montjüic and Tibidabo offer good sports facilities as well, like tennis, jogging, and horseback riding. It's easiest to get there by car, though you could also take the cable car to Montjüic, which the kids would love. The cable car also offers a great view of the city.
The mild Mediterranean climate and calm seas mean you can sail and windsurf all year round from Port Olímpic (Olympic Port). Little boats (golondrinas) leaving from the harbor will take you on a sightseeing tour of the city's waterfront and nearby coastline. The fishing district of Barceloneta offers excellent seafood restaurants. Ultra-modern Maremagnum has busy bars with outdoor terraces, discos, shops and cinemas. You'll also find trendy open-air music bars in Port Olímpic in the summer. Half an hour's journey to the south, Sitges' pretty beaches attract a cosmopolitan crowd. For more peaceful surroundings, head north to one of Costa Brava's deserted coves.
Sant Adrià de Besòs - El Fòrum
Constructed and remodeled to host the Fòrum de Les Cultures in 2004, this area located to the north of the city has bloomed as a new cultural center. The beautiful architecture, designed by Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron, as well as the numerous events that take place in the ultra-modern location of Parc del Fòrum, attract thousands of visitors every year.