Wandering the streets of Barcelona is like dropping into a time travel machine... just pick your century for architecture, art, culture and music and it's here.
This city offers a step back in history to the roots of the vibrant Catalan culture, and at the same time propels one into the fast-paced high tech modern day city of today.
The legacy of artists such as Gaudi, Picasso and Miro characterize the cityscape. A tour of Gaudi's flamboyant Park Guell is a must with its brightly coloured mosaic fountains and surreal pillar caves.
The Sagrada Familia church is a tribute to the Catalan architect Gaudi's visionary genius. The project was started in the late 1800's and construction is still ongoing. Massive white columns sparkle with the play of light from towering three-storey stained glass windows, and visitors are awestruck by the ornate grand arches and organic curves of the interior.
Joan Miro's eclectic modern gallery high up a mountain overlooking the city is filled with greenways and modernistic sculptures — an inspiring respite from the bustling energy of the streets.
Barcelona's art galleries range from rare medieval collections to modern day. There is an excellent pass you can get called the ARTicket BCN for 30 euros that gets you into six major art galleries. It's very good value for your money although keep in mind some of these collections are so vast you need almost two days inside each one.
If you like unconventional art shows go to the labyrinth-like alleys of the Gothic Quarter and you will see everything from colourful street performers to lively marching brass bands.
You can also join the crowds of tourists on one of the most well-known landmarks in Barcelona, La Rambla, a wide boulevard filled with shops, restaurants and trendy markets.
On your way make sure to stop at the Mercado de La Boqueria; a place renowned for its fresh Mediterranean ingredients such as olives, eggplants, fresh fish, local mushrooms and pasta. Locals and tourists jostle each other to line up for the best deals. There are vibrant piles of kiwis, mangoes, grapes and coconuts alongside fresh veggies. Assorted spiced pork sausages, chorizo, huge arrangements of prawns and large legs of cured ham are displayed with a definite artistic flourish.
Of course a trip to Barcelona would not be complete without experiencing some of the fine Catalan tapas. These are mouth-watering appetizers served on small plates at most restaurants and tapas bars. Tapas are the Spanish way of enjoying food and socializing.
It's fascinating to go into a tapas bar and see all the lively conversations, especially if you like to people watch. Keep in mind that there are tourist traps here, so when checking out a place usually the closer you are to the main high traffic streets the higher the prices.
We walked at least five hours a day to get out and experience the art and culture of the city. We felt very safe at all times, but we were also careful to hide our bags and carry a small pouch with our ID and money under our clothes. Although we never had any trouble, locals told us that there are pickpockets who work the streets.
One of the highlights of touring Barcelona is a day trip to the Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey. Montserrat is home to the black Madonna and the site of the Abbey is perched high on a rocky ledge between towering cloud-covered mountain peaks.
You can take a tour, but we made the journey on our own. The trip takes one hour by train from Placa Espanya. The Montserrat ticket includes both funicular rides to the very top with some incredible vistas. There are a number of spectacular hikes to take that tour the rugged wild terrain of rocky peaks and we found a hermitage cave carved into the mountain dating back hundreds of years.
There is a restaurant and hotel at the monastery and you might want to spend a night so that you can do some of the longer hikes in a leisurely fashion. You have to dress warm and bring drinking water. It is also recommended that you go only on a clear day to make the most of the stunning views.