By James Cox
If you’re looking for a city break, think Barcelona. The city guarantees sun, good food, shopping, and culture. Situated on the Mediterranean sea you can jump right from a busy day wandering the city’s streets into the sea. Whether you’re there for a short break or a longer period, these are five attractions not to miss out on.
Las Ramblas is the heart of the city, you really cannot miss it. It’s just as popular with the locals as it is with tourists and you can find literally anything on the stalls that line the street. There are also an abundance of restaurants but you would be well advised to avoid what the locals call street vendors, let’s leave it at that. However if it’s a bargain you’re looking for you can find anything, souvenirs, clothes, books, tickets for walking tours or FC Barcelona matches, ice-cream, seeds (for legal things of course), jewellery or anything else. Las Ramblas stretches 1.2 kilometres from Plaça de Catalunya in the centre to the Christopher Columbus monument at Port Vell. The towering statue casts a huge shadow which looks spectacular in the sun. You could spend anything from a few hours to a day happily wandering Las Ramblas and when you reach Port Vell the magnificent harbour is the perfect place to take a break. One thing to be wary of on Las Ramblas is pickpockets. While this is true in every major city, pick pocketing is particularly prevalent in Barcelona. The city holds the unwanted title of being the European capital for pick pockets and Las Ramblas is an easy destination for them given the high density of tourists. This should in no way put you off visiting Barcelona or Las Ramblas but it’s just something to be aware of. Strolling up and down the bustling activity of Las Ramblas really gives you a sense of the vibrant city. It makes you feel like you’re at the heart of Barcelona, you get the sense Las Ramblas has been untouched by time. It could be 2015 or 1970, the sounds and smells are the same.
This is off the beaten track but the aquarium is well worth a visit. T Admittance is only €20 and it would be a good place to visit in conjunction with your visit to Las Ramblas because it’s at the heart of Port Vell where Las Ramblas ends. It is the largest Mediterranean aquarium in the world containing 450 different species. The highlight is the ocean tank which is home to sharks, rays and a whole host of other larger fish. The unique 80 metre “shark tunnel” allows you to walk underneath the tank to get a close up view of the sea predators. Indeed, you catch a sense of what it may like to be their prey, fear not however theres a solid tank saving you from becoming their dinner.
For football lovers or those with no interest in the game a visit to the home of FC Barcelona is a highly enjoyable way to spend an afternoon. Tickets for the Camp Nou are €20 with concessions for larger groups and can be done with a tour guide or without one. The stadium is steeped in history and is guaranteed to dwarf any arena you’ve visited with a capacity of 99,354 making it the largest stadium in Europe. The circular arena has a colliseum like feel to it and the club’s trophy room is worth the admittance alone. The first team often hold open training sessions in the pitch beside the entrance to the arena so you might be lucky enough to see Messi and co making the magic happen if you happen to be there at the right time. Even better you could see the team in action with a full stadium roaring on the team, tickets can be purchased at stalls all along Las Ramblas. No need to be afraid of scalpers either as these are all Barcelona accredited sellers.
La Sagrada Familia
You don’t have to be religious to recognise the magnificence of Gaudi’s famous cathedral. Once the atheists among you see if you might even have an epiphany, and if not the stunning architecture won’t leave you feeling disappointed. The UNESCO world heritage site is one of the most popular attractions in Barcelona. This means there are huge queues to get inside literally morning, noon and night. The throngs of people snaking around to get their chance to see inside is a sight in itself. Fear not though even walking around the outside is well worth it and if you’re determined to brave the queue, just make sure to be there before 10am.
The Gothic Quarter
The Gothic Quarter is the centre of the old city of Barcelona. Walking along the narrow streets feels like taking a trip back in time. The buildings are mostly preserved and have a medieval feeling to them. For those of you who burn easily in the midsummer height (ignoring your mammy’s nagging to wear factor 50) the many squares in the Gothic quarter offer some shade while not completely blocking out the midday sun. While there were some updates to areas of the Gothic Quarter around the 19th and early 20th century, the remains of some of the old Roman buildings in the city can be seen. The most spectacular of these is the Roman Wall in the North of the Gothic Quarter. The remains of this huge structure are an absolute must see. And who said the Irish didn’t go everywhere the Roman’s did? At the northerly point of the Roman Wall a single Irish pub called Dunne’s faces the ancient structure with its beer garden boasting a great view. Sláinte!