Last updated: 01:00 AM ET, Fri December 04 2015

Making Tracks to See the Best of Barcelona

Destination & Tourism | John Roberts | December 04, 2015

Making Tracks to See the Best of Barcelona

Photo by John Roberts

I was sitting in the sun, sipping my beer on the patio outside the Catalan National Art Museum (Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya) and just taking in the awesome views of the city from high on Montjuic, the mountain of Barcelona.  

Big, beautiful Barcelona.  

So much to see in one place that you must come again and again to do it all. That's what I was thinking as I enjoyed my cold beverage after a full day exploring this Spanish gem.

Let's start with the basics. Barcelona is the capital of the Catalonian region on the northeastern coast of Spain, and it's home to about 1.6 million people. The city is a complex mix of unusual architecture, fantastic food and boisterous festivals. And it's all amazingly discoverable on foot!

We visited Barcelona with our cruise ship and rushed through the city to get a sample of the offerings. Because there is so much to do, you never will get bored. With limited time, we picked a few top attractions to visit.  

Along the way, we also stumbled past Gothic estates, imposing cathedrals, charming cafes and a patchwork of courtyards and gardens worth exploring.  

We started at Santa Eulalia Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of Barcelona. This impressive and ornate sprawling church stands in the center of the Gothic quarter and features 29 side chapels, as well as gardens, fountains and resident geese. Outside, street musicians perform amid the bustling crowds.

Wandering the cobblestone streets and alleys, you note people carrying on everyday life popping into and out of residences that sit next to restaurants and shops housed in buildings of varying architectural styles, with Gothic and modern blending. Many residences have wrought-iron balconies that perch over the narrow streets below.

The top attraction in Barcelona undoubtedly is the La Sagrada Familia, a Gothic mashup designed by Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi in 1883 that has been under construction for more than 100 years. It is estimated that it will be completed around 2030. Sagrada Familia will be the world's tallest church, scheduled to rise 565 feet when finished. To tour the breathtaking structure, make reservations online or prepare to wait on a line once you arrive. It's always busy, with 2.5 million annual visits.

Another must-see is La Rambla. The picturesque tree-lined pedestrian street in central Barcelona represents an ongoing festival of humanity. Street performers, musicians, human statues decked out in garish costumes, restaurants, bars and boutiques fill the space, all within sight of historic buildings, a theater and market. Travel along La Rambla and duck down a side street to get to Royal Square, which opens dramatically to reveal a fountain and dozens of pleasant outdoor cafes and restaurants.

In Royal Square, we took a load off and check another item off our list of things to do in Barcelona: tapas and sangria. After working up a thirst and hunger during our frenzied walk around the city, this was the perfect capper. Be warned though: The sangria is potent! Stop at one small pitcher or you'll be stumbling back to your accommodations.  

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