BARCELONA

While history indicates that the Iberian Laietani tribe may have first inhabited this area, the earliest records show that Barcelona began life when it was founded by the Phoenicians and the Carthaginians. They christened their newest acquisition Barcino after one of their esteemed rulers who was known as Hamilcar Barca, and they held onto their prize until the Romans arrived and occupied the city between 15 and 13 BC. The Romans were so proud of this particular conquest that they named Barcelona the capital of the region in the third century, and the Roman influence can still be felt and seen today thanks to the remains of underground stone corridors, ancient city walls and massive temple columns. The city was used by the Romans mainly as an army base and a stopover for many of their trade routes.

After the Romans, Barcelona was occupied by the Visigoths in the 5th century AD, followed shortly by the Moors in the 8th century. Because of the city’s location by the sea, Barcelona was considered worthwhile invading, and throughout the 10th century the city was one of the most important areas in the Mediterranean. Around this time, the entire region was divided into counties, and the county of Barcelona was considered the most important by far.

In the year 988, Count Borrell II secured the county of Barcelona's independence from the Carolingian empire. He then expanded the entire region, and it later became known as Catalonia. In the 18th century however, this growth and success came to an end. The independence of the region of Catalonia was compromised as a result of who they supported in the War of Spanish Succession and the city began to decline as a result of its marginalisation. It was not until the end of the 19th century that Barcelona regained its former glory. During this time, several walls in the city were demolished and removed so that the surrounding villages could be added to the city. The economy grew and prosperity returned to Barcelona. However, this elation was short lived. In 1935 the Spanish Civil War partially destroyed the city and it became used mainly for industrial purposes.

In the 1960’s, Barcelona became a tourist attraction, the arrival of tourists creating more employment and growing the economy once more. But it wasn’t until the country’s dictator Franco died, that Barcelona’s locals truly felt free. With his death bought the end of the suppression of the citizens of Catalonia and their culture, allowing the city to grow into the vibrant metropolis that it is today.

The real beauty of Barcelona lies in the treasures left behind from each of these periods in history. Those visiting today will find themselves enriched by history that goes far beyond the vast Roman ruins and the Gothic churches. You'll also be transported back through the ages by way of the many majestic cathedrals that are straight out of the 14th century, which include the Cathedral La Seu. Incredible plazas and masterpieces in sculpture may still be seen throughout the city, and the many one-of-a-kind architectural creations by Gaudi, which include the Casa Mila, the Casa Battlo and the Palau Guell, are not to be missed.

Antoni Gaudí

When you think of Barcelona, you think of the city’s incredible architecture, and Antoni Gaudí is a part of that architecture. Gaudí was born in 1852 and lived until 1916. Within his lifetime, the architect made many striking and revolutionary pieces, both small and large, around the city. The city of Barcelona was his canvas: a place where he could give homage to his creativity. One of the most famous architectural pieces by Gaudí is La Sagrada Família, a stunning basilica which has since become the emblem of Barcelona. The construction of this church is still in full swing and isn’t expected to be completed until 2026…

1. Sagrada Familia

La Sagrada Familia is the most popular attractions in Barcelona, attracting nearly 2.8 million visitors each year. Construction began in 1882 and continues through today, making it the largest unfinished Catholic church in the world. Antoni Gaudi took over as architect the following year and worked on it until his death in 1926. It’s just over 70 percent finished now. Current architects are following Gaudi’s design, which is based on Gothic and Byzantine styles, with 18 towers of varying heights, each dedicated to a different biblical figure. Visitors will be captivated by the design elements and the religious symbolism built into all the spaces of the church. The church was consecrated in 2010, allowing services to be held onsite.

2. Gothic Quater

It is located in the oldest part of Old Town Barcelona. Some say the quarter dates back 2,000 years, but what travelers will see today isn’t that old: a maze of narrow streets flanked by buildings from medieval times to the 19th century. Travelers will see the Jewish Quarter, considered the Gothic Quarter’s prettiest section; walk the paths where a young Picasso went to school; eat at Can Culleretes, the oldest restaurant in Barcelona, dating to 1796, and shop at the colorful Boqueria market.

3. La Boqueria Market

Foodies may think they have died and gone to heaven when they visit La Boqueria Market, a colorful market in the old town. Located just off La Rambla (This is probably the city’s most famous street and is a bustling hive of activity), the market dates back to 1297 when meat was sold at the city gates. More than meat is sold there today. There is an array of foods, from farm-fresh produce, seafood, spices and candies being sold by more than 200 stalls. Buy the fixings’ for a picnic lunch or eat at one of the many restaurants before continuing sightseeing.

4. Parc Guell

With other major works in the city including La Casa Batlló and La Pedrera, this has to be one of Antoni Gaudí’s most celebrated and it is certainly one of the most emblematic of Barcelona. The area was originally meant to be a residential property development with Gaudi doing much of the planning and landscape design. Only two houses were built and the land was later sold to the city of Barcelona and turned into a park. It is home to the famous Salamander sculpture, as well as other buildings and structures designed by the architect. With stunning views of the city, this is a magical experience. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

5. Casa Mila

Built between the years 1906 and 1910, Casa Milà (La Pedrera) was the last civil work designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi. The colorful building is considered one of the artist’s most eccentric and enticing architectural creations with not one straight edge on the exterior. Tours of the interior and the incredible roof structures are available. It also hosts a large exposition of Gaudi works, covering Sagrada Familia and Casa Batlio, not only La Pedrera itself.

6. Tibidabo

Travelers who want panoramic views should go to the top of Tibidabo, at 512 meters (1,880 feet) high the highest mountain overlooking Barcelona. The easiest way to get there is via Spain’s first funicular. But there’s more than just stunning views on this mountain top. There’s the Sagra Cor church that took 60 years to build and is topped with a sculpture of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Sharing space with this impressive church are an amusement park and a telecommunications tower. All three are visible from Barcelona below.

Can Paixano

TAPAS & SPARKING WINE

Known simply as La Xampanyeria, the Champagne bar, by most of Barcelona, Can Paixano is a beloved institution in these parts. The homely tavern in the seaside district of Barceloneta has been serving up its delicious Berenguer Ramon brands of Cava since 1969 and you sense neither the decor, nor half of the staff, has changed much since then. On top of its era transcending charm, a glass of the sparkling stuff is absurdly cheap at between 95 cents and 1.40 euros, although you will be asked to invest in some bocadillos (sandwiches) or tapas, if you want to keep drinking. That is hardly a problem as the sandwiches are equally economically priced. No surprise then that between 7pm and 10.30pm (closing time), Can Paixano is absolutely rammed full of hungry and thirsty patrons, but if you can deal with the crowds it is well worth the experience. Caution, as it is closed on Sundays. They also have a new kiosk bar at the Encants flea market.

PARADISO BAR

Paradiso is hidden away in the alluring Barcelona neighborhood of El Born, just a block in from the ever-popular Barceloneta beach area. Like any proper speakeasy, it IS s incognito. The only giveaway is the line for getting in. If Paradiso sounds too pricey to be true, don’t be fooled. They maintain their standard of creating remarkable cocktails at affordable prices. Their menu also features other tapa styled small plates. Even if you have to wait in a line around the block, it will be well worth it. 

Currently Paradiso is voted as the World's 3rd best Bar in 2022 (www:the worlds50best.com) and you can clearly see why. The majestic curved wooden panelling of Paradiso’s front bar is the last thing you expect to see after walking through the fridge door at the back of a pastrami shop in Barcelona’s trendy El Born district. To match the stunning décor, owner Giacomo Giannotti and his team have worked hard in Paradiso’s off site laboratory to develop its Universo menu, which physically lights in the dark. The element of surprise continues with the elaborate drinks on the glowing menu, such as Space Colada and the Volcano Negroni, which is served alongside a mini dry ice volcano erupting over the glass. However, as well as its show stopping cocktails, Paradiso also has its own signatures, including the Great Gatsby and Supercool Martini, which uses ‘supercooled’ water to build an iceberg in the glass before creating a personalised Martini right at your table

DR STRAVINSKY

Also on the World's 50 Best Bars list, they create crazy, yet wonderful Cocktails. Already when you step in through the doors you can see that this is not your ordinary bar. The walls are covered with shelves filled with lots of glass jars with herbs and flowers. Upstairs you can see what seems to be an antique laboratory. And that is indeed what this place is all about: experimenting with fascinating flavours.

The bartenders here are the best in their class, so they know what they are doing. It is fascinating to watch how they prepare the drinks, it is nothing less than a show. The cocktail menu is equally mind blowing, and I can assure that you will need plenty of time to decide what drink to order. I wanted to try every drink on their menu and it is very difficult to stop after one. One of their stellar drinks is Camp Nou, a refreshing cocktail made with dill, cilantro and thyme syrup, house distilled gin, lime and camomile. It will leave you speechless.

Popular food

1. Paella

No foodie trip to Spain would be complete without a paella feast! This iconic rice and seafood dish actually originates from Valencia and was originally made with beans and meat instead of fish a shellfish.

2. Bombas

During the dark days of the Spanish Civil War, Barcelona was fraught with danger. Anarchists and revolutionaries roamed the then slummy streets of Barceloneta (now the city’s glitzy seafront neighbourhood), hurling handmade grenades in their fight against General Franco’s Fascists. These tiny grenades turned out to be extremely effective, and inspired a local (and highly imaginative) chef to create what is now one of Barcelona’s most iconic tapas dishes, “la bomba” (or the bomb).

It’s basically a tennis ball-sized potato croquette served with two different sauces: a white garlic allioli that represents the string fuse that the anarchists would light before launching their grenades, and a rich and spicy red sauce that represents the bombs’ explosive qualities. Not only are bombas delicious, but they are quite literally an edible piece of Catalan history, a must for all foodies in Barcelona!

3. Calçots and romesco sauce

The calçot is a type of green onion that is native to the region of Catalonia. They come into season at the end of winter and the locals celebrate their arrival with wild street barbecues. These sweet onions (and all sorts of meats) are grilled to enjoy with homemade romesco sauce, a traditional Catalan salsa made with hazelnuts, almonds, and red peppers. It really is the ultimate foodie fiesta!

4. Esqueixada

Probably the most authentic Catalan salad you can eat, this light and rustic feast is made with “bacalao” (or raw salted cod) and served with romesco sauce, tomatoes, onions, and black olives. It’s fresh and zesty, perfect with a glass of sparkling Catalan Cava!

5. Pa and Tomàquet

It’s true what they say: “The simple things are always the best.” And it’s especially true in this case. Translated literally as “bread with tomato,” this is an essential dish that can be enjoyed as an accompaniment with every meal from breakfast to lunch and dinner. It’s basically bread-rubbed with garlic and the juice of a tomato and seasoned with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Some places even serve the ingredients separately so you can make it yourself.

6. Escalivada

Like so many of Spain’s iconic dishes, escalivada is all about showcasing the quality of each ingredient. It’s made simply by grilling eggplant and red peppers over an open wood fire and serving them on toasted bread with lashings of quality olive oil, garlic, salt – and if you’re lucky, anchovies. It’s simple, but spectacularly delicious.

7. Mató

France may be the most famous country in Europe when it comes to cheese, but with its quantity, quality and diversity, there’s no denying that Spain is a close contender. And in Barcelona, or anywhere else in Catalonia for that matter, the one cheese you simply must try is mató. Soft, sweet, and spreadable (a lot like ricotta), the Catalans eat this unsalted goats cheese with honey and walnuts – the perfect regional dessert!

8. Crema Catalana

Last but not least, crema Catalana! Made with a creamy vanilla custard and blow torched until it forms a glassy crust, you may well recognise this as “creme brûlée.” In fact, it’s basically the same thing – the Catalans will tell you they created first, the French argue that they did. Either way, once you crack open the crunchy top layer with your spoon, you’re sure to fall in love!

Paella
Calcots and romesco sauce
Bombas
Esqueixada
Pa and Tomaquet
Escalivada
Mato
Crema Catalana

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