12 Ideas to explore Barcelona

1. Roman Barcino: The founding of a city

The Roman walls that surround the heart of Barcelona embrace Bàrcino, which existed from the 1st century BC to the start of the Middle Ages. A city that began as a small colony and gradually grew to briefly become an imperial city.


2. Medieval Barcelona: The “Ciutat Comtal”

In the Middle Ages, Barcelona became the Ciutat Comtal (Count’s City) and its political importance increased. It became the seat of the main political institutions in Old Catalonia and that favoured the development of trade which, in turn, led to the city’s growth and expansion, and the construction of some magnificent Gothic-style buildings.


3. Modern industrial city

At the end of the 17th and beginning of the 18th centuries, Barcelona continued to be a dynamic city linked to other parts of the world but it suffered some long sieges during some protracted wars that left deep scars. However, thanks to the fighting spirit of its inhabitants, it enjoyed a resurgence at the end of the 18thcentury as the driving force of an industrial development that took root in the course of the 19th century.


4. Contemporary BCN: From the 20th to the 21st century

While the city’s industry and population were growing, social and political events, notably the Spanish Civil War and the long period of dictatorship that followed, set the tone for a time of upheaval. At the end of the 20th century, with the arrival of democracy, Barcelona rose again like a Phoenix, determined to become a great 21st century metropolis.


5. Barcelona, a city with culture

Barcelona boasts an immense cultural heritage. The city’s past is very closely linked to a body of culture and artthat has become a source of inspiration for the generations of today.

As a Mediterranean city, Barcelona offers a wide range of recreational options and these embrace all the disciplines related to the world of culture. In the city you can find one-hundred-year-old theatres dedicated to opera and music such as the Gran Teatre del Liceu and the Modernista Palau de la Música Catalana. There are also excellent and modern auditoria as well as major institutions devoted to the plastic arts, centres catering for the most avant-garde art forms, venues for scenic innovation, theatres staging the classics and art galleries and spaces devoted to heritage art.


6. Barcelona, modernist city

Barcelona and its home-grown art nouveau movement, modernisme, go hand in hand. The style emerged in all its glory at the end of the 19th century to reveal itself in hundreds of extremely beautiful buildings which line the way. Let yourself be captivated once again by these masterpieces in a style full of opulence, fantasy, symbolism and colour. 

It is the Eixample district, and more specifically the area known as the "Quadrat d'Or" (Golden Square), which contains the greatest number of modernista buildings, although this architectural style can be found in many other places around the city.

In the old town, Ciutat Vella, there is the incomparable Palau de la Música, and in the Parc de la Ciutadella, the building which is home to the Museu de Ciències Naturals i Zoologia. The Hospital de la Santa Creu i Sant Pau is one of the nine modernista masterpieces in Barcelona which have been declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO. Barcelona is certainly the European city where art-nouveau architecture has the greatest presence in the physiognomy and personality of the city.


7. A city to enjoy food in

Barcelona has a great selection of restaurants, loads of variety and something for every taste and budget. The Catalan capital is also the cradle of some of the most celebrated chefs in the world, including Ferran Adrià, Carme Ruscalleda and Sergi Arola.

Few cities in the world can guarantee, in the way Barcelona does, a top quality gastronomic experience. What's on offer is a good example of the marvels of Mediterranean cuisine from Catalonia, a marriage between mountain and sea, meat and fish. But instead of resting on the laurels of tradition, Barcelona's cuisine has evolved and, thanks to its particular innovations, has become one of the city's best calling cards as far as the world is concerned.


8. Charming corners

Hidden away off the beaten tourist tracks, down little side streets, there are an infinite number of truly Barcelona recesses that people often know nothing about, even those who live here. Squares, cloisters, alleyways, walks and paths that belong to another era and evoke a Barcelona that, at first sight, appears not to exist: one that maintains the essence of the town or village that every city neighbourhood used to be.


9. Iconic shops

Among Barcelona's small and medium-sized shops an important role is played by the centennial establishments, some of which preserve their Modernista decor. They can be found in every district and are deeply rooted in their neighbourhoods. They have seen history flow past and different generations have passed through them.


10. City of design

There are lots of fashion shops in Barcelona, full of domestic and international brands. In the city centre, around Plaça Catalunya, are shopping streets like Portal de l’Àngel and Carrer de Pelai. Luxury brands can be found on Passeig de Gràcia, which has been compared to Fifth Avenue in New York and the Champs Élysées in Paris.

Fashion designers with their own labels account for a sizeable number of smaller establishments that proliferate in neighbourhoods like the Born and the Ribera, the Gòtic and Gràcia. Elegance and good taste are the trademarks of local commerce: this can be seen in the products on sale and in the originality of the establishments, many of which are located in old, completely renovated buildings. These shops add beauty and style to Barcelona's idiosyncrasy. Bookshops, establishments selling the most sybaritic food products, antique shops, curiosities, designer products, art galleries, textiles and shoe shops, shops specialising in everything imaginable and some things that are not, including wax products, board games, cutlery, fishing accessories, rope-soled shoes and sheet music. All of this and more is to be found in Barcelona's retail network, which retains the popular character of expert shopkeepers while also incorporating the more cosmopolitan, multilingual perspective of large chain stores. Going for a stroll, looking, smelling, choosing, tasting, buying... or not. Going shopping in Barcelona can be a real sensory experience.


11. Slow shops

Many shops in Barcelona support sustainable consumption. So it is easy to find organic food outlets that meet the Km 0 code: organically grown products purchased directly from local producers. There are lots of specialist shops selling agricultural produce, such as wine and virgin olive oil, and others where you can find non-food products like handmade trainers.


12. Barcelona walks

The Mediterranean climate and the size of Barcelona make walking around the city a pleasure. There are lots of different walks to be done: the old neighbourhoods, like the Gòtic, Ribera, Raval and Barceloneta, invite you to wander around narrow streets, following your intuition to find interesting places. But you can also choose themed routes, in order to organise and make the most of your walk.

If you want to make the best use of your time and see more than one neighbourhood in a day, the best option is to use public transport and start walking when your reach your chosen destination. You can walk around the city, but sightseeing on foot is tiring. If it is a sunny day, you can always stop off in one of the city's parks or gardens to get your breath back.