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With mountains on one side, the sea on the other and an exciting urban hub in between, Barcelona has to be the ultimate city destination. The home of modernist artist Gaudi and with a cultural verve unmatched in Spain, the capital of Catalonia is a jumble of fantastical and modern buildings, medieval streets and lively beaches.
Locals still mention the 1992 Olympics as a watershed for the city. It spurred a decade of redevelopment, particularly along the seafront and port area, helping Barcelona transform into a vibrant metropolis.
Nowadays, Spain’s second largest city is at least the cultural equivalent of Madrid but tensions with the capital have even led to a growing campaign for independence among the Catalan people. For the moment though, Barcelona remains an integral part of Spain.
Although a very modern city, Barcelona remains a stronghold of traditions, divided into 10 districts, each with its own character. The Gothic Quarter, stretching from the seafront to La Rambla, is where the city’s oldest buildings can be found – there are numerous historic churches, including the grand cathedral, La Seu, as well as countless bars and shops.
La Rambla, the most famous road in Barcelona, runs through the heart of the city; it was described by the Spanish poet Lorca as “the only street in the world I wish would never end”, and is essential viewing.
As for the architecture of Antoni Gaudí, his most famous work is La Sagrada Familia in the Eixample district. This spectacular dreamlike cathedral is still being worked on nearly a century after the artist’s death. Parc Güell is a metro-ride away on the hill of El Carmel in the Gràcia district, while his many buildings such as the colourful and amorphous Casa Batlló are must-sees.
With so much to do in the city, it’s easy to forget the beautiful nature that surrounds Barcelona. In the north stands Mount Tibidabo, while overlooking the sea is the looming hill of Montjuïc. Of course, if you don’t fancy climbing them, you can just stick to the beaches – saving your energy for the nightly parties.