BARCELONA, Oct 19 — Forget about taking a siesta; Spain’s second largest city is a hive of attractions, activities and architectural gems that will keep you riveted day and night. To soak in the essence of Barcelona, here are the landmarks you should not miss — and you can cover them all over one weekend.
Mercat St Josep de la Boquiera
Rambla, 91 Opens 8am-8.30pm, Monday-Saturday http://www.boqueria.info/
Start your day surrounded by the freshest Spanish bites at the best market in the world, as awarded by the 2005 World Markets Congress. With a long history that dates back to 1217 when it started as an open-air bazaar, Boqueria Market is still today the city’s go-to place for choice ingredients, both fresh and dry, or to attend gastronomy events and cooking classes at the Culinary Classroom upstairs.
The market proper is spread out over the ground floor, a maze of over 100 stalls including many specialty providores who each sell just one type of produce, but offer astounding varieties of them.
At the eggs stall, for example, suitably decked out like a barn complete with wooden sculpted chickens and ducks, your choice extends well beyond the usual poultry variety to include gigantic emu and ostrich eggs.
The mushrooms stall is like a fairytale garden of delights with all manners of fabulous fungi sold by weight while the candy shop will make Willy Wonka turn green with envy with its plethora of colourful sugary creations in whimsical shapes.
Don’t leave without breakfasting at Bar Pinotxo, a Ferran Adria-recommended stall that’s an establishment in itself, known as much for its silky cafe con leche (thick milk coffee) and Catalan delights like cigrons (garbanzo beans with blood sausage, pine nuts and raisins) as it is for the owner, the always-smiling Juanito.
To find this 14-seat kiosk, look for its namesake Pinocchio hanging above the counter.
Boquiera is located along the 1.2km-long boulevard, with a big section closed to vehicular traffic, that’s lined with trees and populated by stunning period buildings tenanted by fashion brands, restaurants and cafes.
All manner of street art can be seen here, from a Joan Miró tile mosaic on the ground near the Liceu Theatre to caricature artists and various sculptures. But take a closer look at the latter; many of them are actually human statue artists in elaborate get-ups busking for a living.
Stroll the length of La Rambla towards the north and this sprawling square is where it actually begins, as do eight other main streets in the city. Designed by Puig i Cadafalch, the same architect behind Gothic castle Casa de les Punxes, the square came into being circa 1925 and is to Barcelona as Trafalgar Square is to London.
This popular meeting point is the ideal spot to take a breather and people-watch, shaded by trees that block out the frenzied traffic around and with benches placed near the centre to rest on.
If you want to take in all of the square and the city in one view, head to El Corte Inglés, Spain’s answer to Selfridges that was founded in Madrid and has stores across the country.
The outlet at Catalunya is the largest and from their ninth-floor La Rotonda restaurant, you can look out over parts of the city. Grab a coffee while you’re here and find a spot on the roof terrace.
La Pedrere de Caxia Catalunya
Passeig de Gracia, 92 Opens 10am-8pm daily http://www.fundaciocatalunya-lapedrera.com/
Recharged after that coffee and views, it’s time to hit the streets again — unless you’ve been distracted by the shopping at El Corte that is. Leg it about 15 minutes from the Plaza and you will reach this Antoni Gaudi masterpiece, designed as a private residence and completed in 1912.
Also known as Casa Mila, it’s a cultural centre of sorts that captures the life of Barcelona’s bourgeois in the early 20th century by way of a fully-furnished recreated apartment, an auditorium and reading rooms that promote Barcelona culture through concerts, workshops and film screenings.
The attic exhibits the surrealist architect’s many works in detail but it’s the roof deck that’s not to be missed — a playground of the wildest imaginations, where alien-like “heads” crown stone columns and are linked by curved bridges to large honeycomb-patterned “bells”, and there are surfaces covered by ceramic pieces.
Join the night tours to discover “Secret Pedrera”, with options to include dinner at its in-house cafe and in summer, end your evening with a jazz concert on the roof.
Le Sagrada Familia
Carrer de Mallorca, 401 Opens 9am-6pm daily, October-March; 9am-8pm, April-September; 9am-2pm, 25-28 December and 1-6 January http://www.sagradafamilia.cat/
If you like what you see at Casa Mila, you’ll be positively bowled over at this Roman Catholic church that’s also on the Gaudi trail and is still at various stages of construction — a process that has taken a staggering 132 years to date and has an estimated 12 more years to go.
Every single feature of the colossal structure reflects Catholic elements, from the 18 towers of differing heights (12 for the apostles, four for evangelists and two dedicated to Mary and Jesus) to sculptures and scriptures decorating every square inch of the facade.
Awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1987, some sections have been open to visitors for a while now, including a gift shop, museum and some of the towers which are accessible via a ticketed lift; you can descend on foot afterwards to access unique vantage points. The parish church held its first mass in 2010 and now holds daily services.
Montcada 15-23 Opens 9am-7pm, Tuesday-Sunday; free admission every Thursday from 7pm-9.30pm; closed Mondays except public holidays
Pablo Picasso may have lived most of his life in France but Barcelona was where the father of the Cubism movement considered his home. The artist himself initiated the idea of establishing a gallery of his pieces in 1960 and three years later, an early incarnation of the museum welcomed its first visitors.
But the Musee Picasso as it is today only opened in 1983, a full decade after Picasso’s passing. More than 3,000 pieces of his works are showcased in a permanent exhibition, which makes it one of the world’s most extensive collections of Picasso’s art under one roof — or actually, five.
The museum is spread out over five stone mansions built in the 14th and 18th century. Come early to beat the queues and yes, there’s always a long one.
Barcelona’s subway system is fairly well-connected, placing you within easy reach of the city’s top attractions. The Metro stations themselves are often worth a second look, dressed in striking contemporary designs or doubling up as galleries for various works of art.
Along the new L10 line, for example, you can view photography installations by Ramon Parramon while the Drassanes station is a sleek showcase of organic shapes and furnishings that mirror the subway cars. There are three stations near Musee Picasso but it’s Liceu that will place you on the right track to your next destination.
Avenguda Francesc Ferrer i Guardia, 13 Opens 9am-8pm, Monday; 9am-12am, Tuesday-Thursday and Sunday; 9am-3am, Friday; 9am-4am, Saturday http://www.poble-espanyol.com/
Barcelona is definitely a Holy Grail for architecture aficionados, who not only worship at all the Gaudi landmarks but also make a beeline for this open-air gallery that was designed as an Iberian village filled with replicas of 117 buildings, streets and squares from around the country and that showed off the various architectural styles.
Like Plaza Catalunya, Poble owes its conceptualisation to Puig i Cadafalch and was initially meant to last only six months — that was the duration of the Barcelona International Exhibition 1929, for which this village was built.
It proved itself so popular that its demolition never took place and it stands today as the city’s fourth most-visited attraction.
Magic Fountaion of Montjuic
Placa Carles Buigas Show times Every half hour between 9am-11pm, Thursday-Sunday (30 April-30 September); every half hour between 7pm-9pm, Friday-Saturday (1 October-30 April)
From Poble, a short walk will take you to this eye-catching landmark that, like Poble, was also built for the Exhibition. Join the crowds in the evening and be mesmerised by the coloured lights, music and water “acrobatics”.
The fountain pumps about 2,600 litres of water per second and performs up to 30 choreographed arrangements. It’s a true spectacle and a great way to end your day, and wrap up a whirlwind weekend in Barcelona.
Vivian Chong is a freelance writer-editor, and founder of travel & lifestyle website http://thisbunnyhops.com/