Legend has it that Hamilcar Barca of the Carthaginians originally named Barcelona “Barcino,” after his family. Back then, it was just a humble fishing village. Its close proximity to the unspoiled beaches of the Mediterranean Sea made it a strategic place to establish a settlement; its temperate climate made it even more desirable.
By 15 BC, the Romans had turned Barcelona into a military camp. Though nearby Tarragona overshadowed Barcelona for a time, the city continued to grow in population and stature as the years passed. Despite that it was a Roman territory, the empire overlooked Barcelona, perhaps too embroiled in empire-building elsewhere. For a time, the city even minted its own currency.
Romans weren’t the only ones who took notice of Barcelona’s strategic position; the city was sacked by the Visigoths in the early 5th century AD, by the Arabs in the 8th century, and finally by the Franks under Louis the Debonair in the year 801.
For a time, Barcelona was central to Spanish trade and commerce, but with the discovery of the New World, Spain’s royalty cast their gaze on the country’s westernmost port cities, from which trade ships set off on transatlantic voyages, and Barcelona’s level of importance fell.
During the second half of the 20th century, Barcelona experienced massive immigration from other regions of Spain. As its population soared, it rapidly grew into a modern city, a center of culture and wealth, and one of the Mediterranean’s most treasured destinations.
Barcelona Lifestyle and Culture
There’s always something new to see and do in Barcelona. The city is replete with cutting-edge art galleries and architecture, thrilling sporting events, colorful festivals, and intriguing museums. In this cosmopolitan capital, you’re likely to see trendsetters dressed in the very latest from top designers, stroll streets lined with inventive restaurants and hear the hottest dance music pulsing from within trendy nightclubs.
As hip as Barcelona is, it upholds a healthy respect for tradition. Many of its most popular festivals date back hundreds of years. The Festa de la Mercè, for instance, honors the city’s patron saint in much the same way it always has: with dancing, fireworks, human towers, fire-breathing dragons, and a parade of giants. That mysterious dance you may witness is called the Sardana. It dates back to at least the 19th century and is probably much older. You’ll also find that many shopkeepers still observe the tradition of siesta, closing for two hours for a long lunch or an afternoon rest.
Barcelona is at once ancient and modern, traditional and forward thinking. It’s a place where you can lose yourself in history, or experience modern life to its fullest.
Barcelona Sights and Landmarks
If you’re a fan of spectacular architecture, you’ll adore Barcelona. Famed architect Antoni Gaudí, the legendary Catalan modernist and surrealist, called Barcelona home and his work adorns the city. Experience the majesty of the still unfinished La Sagrada Família Cathedral, a stunning church that merges Gothic design with the organic splendor of Art Nouveau. Tour Casa Batlló and see the whimsical sights of Park Güell. You’ll marvel at the stylings of this revolutionary genius.
Sant Pau Recinte Modernista is a must-see. This cultural and research center and UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the largest Art Nouveau sites in all of Europe. Take a stroll among its glorious buildings, citrus trees and lavender, and set aside time to take in all the little details. They are simply breathtaking.
Barcelona’s main streets converge at Plaça d’Espanya. The central plaza was designed in 1929 for the International Exhibition and is a baroque-influenced masterpiece. The ornamental fountain is truly a sight to behold, and offers ideal photographic opportunities.
Barcelona Entertainment and Activities
When you’ve had your fill of Barcelona’s architectural wonders, there are plenty of cultural and entertaining attractions where you can indulge your sense of fun and mingle with local Catalans.
Camp Nou is one of the biggest stadiums in the world, home to one of the world’s most popular soccer teams. There’s nothing quite like the thunderous roar of the crowd when FC Barcelona scores a goal. Tours are available for die-hard soccer fans.
At Aeroteca, you can pilot flight simulators that place you 30,000 feet above the ground. More than your average motion simulators, they provide a thrillingly realistic dimension to a unique experience.
Learn more about the Spanish Civil War during a tour in Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter. The tour guide is known for his engaging style and encyclopedic knowledge of historical events, and the tour consistently receives glowing reviews.
Or you can experience a day on the ocean aboard the Gemini, a lovingly restored racing sloop built in 1947. The skipper’s laid-back demeanor makes guests feel quite at home, and he may even let you take a turn at the tiller.
Barcelona Restaurants and Shopping
Barcelona is a feast for the senses, but it’s a special treat for the taste buds. To start, top-rated Arume Barcelona serves up Spanish fusion fare that is truly inspired. The lamb is the subject of particularly high praise, but the creative tapas and the refreshing gazpacho get plenty of attention, as well.
Baribau Gastro Bar is an elegant, unpretentious, and delicious late-night eatery. The service here is exemplary, and the food and wines will surely impress.
Bar Clemen’s boasts some of Barcelona’s best seafood. If you’re craving fresh-caught octopus, razor clams, oysters, and shrimp, you can’t go wrong here.
If you’re hungrier for fashion than for food, Barcelona is a fashion hub of Spain. Stores from all the top designers are here, alongside some local boutique shops with more unique offerings. Head to Bulevard Rosa in the Gothic Quarter (Barri Gotic) for the latest, and for an array of intriguing antique shops.
The Centre Comercial Maremagnum is a huge shopping mall at the seaside complex of Port Vell, complete with bars, restaurants, an aquarium, and movie theaters. Whatever you’re looking for, you’ll find it here.
But perhaps Barcelona’s favorite pedestrian zone is Las Ramblas. Full of flower shops, booksellers, and gastronomic delights, and home to Barcelona’s premier boot maker: Corbeto’s Boots, where you’ll find carefully crafted footwear and accessories galore.