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Barcelona: the Catalan Capital of Character

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With its popularity having soared in recent years, Barcelona now welcomes 20 times the number of tourists per year than it did just two decades ago.

It may be Spain’s second city, but with its radical politics, abundant art installations and modernist architecture, the Catalan capital is in pole position when it comes to character. With long sandy beaches, sun loungers and bars to boot, Barcelona offers the best of a city break and beach getaway all rolled into one.

With daily coaches to and from London, Paris, Madrid and many more, Barcelona is well connected with the rest of the continent.

Upon arrival at Barcelona Sants coach station, the first thing visitors should do is head straight to the train station and buy a multi-use metro ticket. Ticket books can be used by multiple people and come with ten uses per book, saving you over fifty percent compared to paying for individual journeys.

Twentytú is a thoroughly modern eco-hostel located near Glòries metro station, less than half hour from Barcelona Sants. The hostel has a gorgeous rooftop terrace, kitchen facilities, bustling common area and a free continental breakfast. Rooms are clean and comfortable and private rooms come with their own TV and en suite bathroom.

Twentytú Hostel's roof terrace

If you’re feeling peckish after check in, head to MACBA, a contemporary art museum in the Raval, near Universitat metro station. MACBA is a popular hangout for skateboarders, long boarders and everything in-between. The museum plaza is surrounded by dozens of trendy restaurants and tapas bars. Pop into Kino Café for some tasty Patatas Bravas, calamari, ice-cold beer and affordable Mojitos.

A short walk from MACBA is La Rambla, Barcelona’s main shopping street and one of the city’s biggest attractions. Located along La Rambla, near Liceu metro station, you will find the Mercat de Sant Josep, better known as La Boqueria. This 19th century market is one of the largest in Barcelona and by far the most beautiful. With its ornate stylings and fantastical arrangement of food and drink, it really is a must see.

Those looking for something a little more substantial than tapas should head back towards the Universitat metro, where located between halfway between it and Catalunya, the next station along, they will find Bacoa Gourmet Burger. Bacoa serve delicious made to order burgers with fries, rustic potatoes or patatas bravas on the side in a swanky, laid back environment.

Colour overload at La Boqueria

The chain has a few stores throughout the city and those looking for scenic views to accompany their burger should head to Carrer del Judici, where they will find a Bacoa situated right by the Playa de Sant Sebastià, the largest stretch of Barcelona’s beaches. Just East of Sant Sebastià is Port Olímpic, a gorgeous marina built for the 1992 Summer Olympics. This separates the older stretches of Sant Sebastià and Barceloneta from the newer, artificial beaches built specifically for the Olympics. The newer stretches of beach boast soft imported Egyptian desert sand and crystal clear waters, while the more established Barceloneta stretch holds host to some of the biggest bars and nightclubs in town, such as Opium and the world famous Pacha.

Barcelona Beach

From the Port Olímpic, walk straight along the Carrer de la Marina, or take the metro, to the Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudí’s famous cathedral and perhaps Barcelona’s most iconic landmark.

The towers of the stunning cathedral currently stand at around eighty meters high, and upon its expected completion in 2026 will reach a staggering final height of 171 metres. The interior of the cathedral is truly spectacular and the way in which the ancient story of the birth, life and passion of Jesus Christ is retold through thoroughly modernist architecture is breath taking. Beautiful stain glass windows flood the building’s interior with light and illuminate the sculptures and carvings that make the Sagrada Familia a cathedral truly unlike any other. Many visitors will undoubtedly want to see more of Gaudí’s work, so take the bus to Park Güell on Carmel Hill, home to many of Gaudí’s creations and the Gaudí house museum.

The view from Park Güell

Barcelona is a huge city with lots to see and things can become overwhelming fast, so for a change of pace consider booking yourself a place on a laid back bike tour. Fat Tire Bike Tours run daily city tours at 11am and 4pm in the summer months, lasting approximately four hours. Highlights of the tour include Citadel Park, the Sagrada Familia, the bull fighting museum and the Palace of Catalan music. Tours will stop at the beach midway through for lunch or dinner at a lovely tapas bar.

Four hours of cycling is sure to work up an appetite so those looking for a quick and tasty meal should head to Pikio Taco. Situated directly opposite Generator Hostel near Diagonal station, Pikio Taco is a kind of taco tapas bar, serving up platters of tiny tacos and other appetizing Mexican street eats. The menu is simple but well executed and diners can mix and match various flavours of delicious miniature tacos in the comfort of an urban eatery surrounded by some very artsy décor. The chicken nachos and Iberian pork tacos are not to be missed.

A selection of tapas style tacos at Pikio Taco

For something a little more formal, head to the Las Arenas shopping mall near Tarragona station. Once Barcelona’s second biggest bullfighting ring, the structure was repurposed as a shopping mall after Catalonia outlawed the blood sport in 2010.

Atop the circular mall sits a number of restaurants all boasting spectacular views of the city at sunset, so make sure to reserve a table by the window. Restaurante Tagliatella is a wonderful Italian restaurant located on the roof, serving giant crispy pizzas and huge pasta dishes cooked to order. Prices are reasonable and well worth the journey, even if for the views alone. Round it all off with a drink or two at the ever busy Placa Reial and sit and take in the sights on Twentytú’s rooftop bar.

Alternatively, those who still have the energy can round off their evening by venturing up to the Bunkers del Carmel. Located not too far from Park Güell, the Bunkers del Carmel are relatively unknown civil war bunkers located on the Carmel hillside towards the edge of the city. A relatively quiet area boasting some spectacular views, the bunkers are the perfect place to see the sunset over Barcelona after a long day spent exploring the Catalan capital.

The author enjoying the view from the bunkers after a fruitful few days of discovering what Barcelona has to offer

 

Coaches provided by Eurolines, passes start from €195 for 15 days and can be purchased from www.eurolines.com/en/eurolines-pass/

Accommodation provided by Twentytú Hostel and Hostelworld. http://www.hostelworld.com/hosteldetails.php/Twentytu-Hi-Tech-Hostel/Barcelona/63807 

Bike tour provided by Fat Tire Bike tours. Prices start from €22 for students. http://barcelona.fattirebiketours.com/ 




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