Barcelona cultural holidays

Andy Jarosz's guide to the cultural marvels of Barcelona

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Jules Pearson

Andy Jarosz
HomeAway travel expert

Barcelona cultural holidaysBarcelona may be Spain’s second city, but if you ask its locals where their loyalties lie, many will point to Catalonia ahead of Spain. The capital of this autonomous region of northern Spain, Barcelona's a place where you’re likely to see many Catalan flags adorning apartment windows, and hear the Catalan language spoken throughout its lively streets. The name of Barcelona is known all over the world, and this is largely thanks to the incredible success and popularity of its all-conquering football team.

In the last twenty years, Barcelona has been transformed from a gritty port city to a modern, attractive metropolis that offers plenty to do for its millions of visitors. Yet while many of its rougher edges received a complete makeover, the city has managed to preserve the essence of its colourful history: that of sailors, soldiers, poets, painters and many global travellers who came here to seek new opportunities. As a visitor, you can follow the footsteps of famous names such as Gaudi and Picasso, and retrace the lives of characters in books both fictional (Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon) and non-fictional (Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell). With two thousand years of history behind it, Barcelona certainly offers plenty to do for those looking to explore Catalonian cultural attractions.


The cultural highlights of Barcelona


Sagrada Familia Sagrada Familia

It’s Barcelona’s most striking landmark, and Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece; an essential part of any visit to the city. It was the famous artist’s last big project and he continued working with the builders until his death in 1926. Work is moving at a fast pace now, although Gaudi might not have approved of some of the modern touches being added today. Don’t be put off by the steep entry prices: you’re only getting a tiny part of the experience by seeing the outside of the building. It’s a good idea to arrive early as the basilica gets incredibly busy by 10am.

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Follow Picasso Follow Picasso

Take a walk through the Old Town district (Ciutat Vella) and follow in the footsteps of Spain’s most famous painter. Pablo Picasso came to Barcelona at the young age of 14, and enrolled in the Llotja School of Fine Arts. You can discover his first home at Passeig Isabel II before heading to his favourite café, Els Quatre Gats, the beating heart of bohemian Barcelona in the early 20th century. Enjoy a coffee or a hot chocolate while imagining Picasso’s world here, a little over 100 years ago. Picasso fans will also want to visit the Picasso Museum in Aguilar Place, which houses one of the most extensive collections of the artist’s work.

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Spanish Civil War and George Orwell Spanish Civil War and George Orwell

The name of George Orwell is forever linked with the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, and his famous book Homage to Catalonia tells the story of his time fighting for the anti-fascists in and around Barcelona. The Hotel Continental on La Rambla was his rather comfortable base during the war. As you walk around the old quarters of Barcelona, look out for the odd pock-marked building damaged by bullets or shrapnel. Those keen to explore this part of the city’s history should also take a highly entertaining and informative three hour Spanish Civil War walking tour (in English, through Iberia Nature).

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Gaudi Trail Gaudi trail

Gaudi’s legacy extends well beyond his magnificent Sagrada Familia creation. The fairytale turrets of Casa Batllo along the Passeig de Gracia and the flowing curves of the nearby Casa Mila are classic examples of Gaudi’s passion for original design. For a full overdose of Gaudi style head out to Park Guell, where you’ll find stone dragons, twisted walkways and plenty of colourful mosaics all in the artist’s unmistakable style. It’s a good climb to reach the park, but once you’re up there you'll be rewarded with some of the finest views of Barcelona. The park also contains a small house where Gaudi once lived (it’s now a museum).

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Explore Roman Barcelona Explore Roman Barcelona

Barcelona came into existence in around 15 B.C., and the early Roman settlement of Barcino was home to around 1,000 inhabitants. Remains of the Roman city can still be explored within the modern metropolis around the Gothic Quarter. The Roman walls at Plaça Nova are part of a 4th-century gateway into the city; there’s a replica of one of the aqueducts that once provided water near to the gateway. At Plaça Sant Jaume there are the remains of the Temple of Augustus, while by the busy Las Ramblas there is a recently excavated Roman necropolis. Visit the Barcelona City History Museum to learn more of the Roman legacy.

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