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The Best of Cultural Barcelona
Imagine the design of an ideal southern European city, and it’s likely to resemble Barcelona. It would have a medieval heart, with a warren of atmospheric streets but, at the same time, there would be stately boulevards and squares with palm trees. It would have museums of medieval and Renaissance masterpieces, and others focused on famous contemporary artists (Picasso, Miró, and Dalí). It would have a historic cathedral, but then also a basilica that’s already an artistic wonder of the world—and it’s not even completed. 

Throw into the mix a food scene that is legendary, a blissful Mediterranean climate, and residents who are serious about making time to enjoy all that Barcelona offers, and you have a city with undeniable appeals. Here’s an itinerary that tries to cover as many cultural highlights of Catalonia’s capital as possible in a six-day visit—in other words, it barely scratches the surface. 

Start your journey by booking your flight on Lufthansa. With service from 19 gateway cities in the U.S. and a culture of warm hospitality, the airline will get you to Barcelona rested and ready to explore the city.
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    Photo By EHStock
    Day 1
    Take a Paseo
    After you make your way from the airport, head to your hotel—there’s an option for every type of traveler. At the top end, the Mandarin Oriental has a prime location on the Passeig de Gracia, near many of the city center sites, while the Hotel Arts is a quieter, beachfront alternative. The Hotel Casa Camper—yes, as in the Camper brand of shoes—sits in the newly trendy Ravel neighborhood and has quirky touches like hammocks in many rooms as well as an excellent honor bar and buffet that are open all day. If you are interested in a homestay, the Oasis Collections has a curated portfolio of 52 properties throughout the city.

    Once you’ve unpacked, resist the temptation to take a nap and instead start exploring Barcelona with a stroll—or paseo, in Spanish—along its most famous street. The pedestrian-only La Rambla begins at the water’s edge and is lined with cafés, theaters, and florists, whose floral displays spill out onto the street. The Spanish poet Federico García Lorca wrote about Las Ramblas that, “It is the only street I wish would never end.” Despite his wish, it does, after running for three-quarters of a mile, at the Plaça de Catalunya. Along the way, the Boqueria market is a good place to stop and refuel. You’ll encounter locals here to buy fresh fish and produce as well as stalls and small bars serving tapas made with ingredients from the market.
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    Photo By Lobro78
    Day 2
    Gothic Barcelona
    The Barri Gòtic, or Gothic Quarter, is the heart of historic Barcelona. Portions of the ancient Roman walls can be seen here along with the columns from a Roman temple. But as its name implies, the area is best known for its medieval buildings—the cathedral, the remains of one of Europe’s oldest synagogues, and the Plaça Reial, perhaps the most beautiful and famous of the Gothic Quarter’s many squares.

    Stop for lunch at El Quatre Gats—the Four Cats—founded at the end of the 19th century. This café and restaurant could have easily rested on its laurels—once you are known as a haunt of Pablo Picasso, you are guaranteed some steady business—but instead it continues to keep the bar high, serving excellent Catalan dishes.

    Depending on your interests, spend this afternoon at one of two museums in the neighborhood. The Museu d’Historia de Barcelona (MUHBA) includes some 1.5 square miles of excavated Roman and Visigothic Barcelona, and you can wander among the ruins of laundries and other shops. The museum’s other displays recount the story of Barcelona through the medieval and Renaissance periods, while temporary exhibitions cover the 20th and 21st centuries. If you gravitate to modern art instead, the Museu Picasso includes one of the world’s largest collections of the artist’s work. (Picasso lived in Barcelona from 1895 to 1904 before moving to Paris, though he returned repeatedly to visit the city.)

    Just a three-minute walk from the museum will bring you to Bar El Born, a tapas favorite in the area—their empanadas are especially delicious.
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    Photo By Diriye Amey
    Day 3
    Gaudí's Barcelona
    Few architects have done as much to shape the identity of a city as Antoni Gaudí did for Barcelona. It is impossible to see all of his works in the city while still giving each the time it deserves, so consider limiting your visits to just three—one of his residential works, the Park Güell, and the Sagrada Familia.

    The Casa Milà, or La Pedrera, is an apartment block on the Passeig de Gracia that was completed in 1912. Its stone façade that appears like it was molded from clay is still cutting-edge—more than 100 years later. Guided tours include visits to an apartment as well as common areas including the roof with its fairytale chimneys.

    The Park Güell is, along with Casa Milà, part of the UNESCO-recognized list of Gaudí works in Barcelona. The use of the English word “park” reflected a fashion for all things British in Barcelona in 1900, when the park debuted. Gaudi’s design, however, is hardly a typical English garden. The plants are Mediterranean—olive and carob trees dominate— but the main draw is the enchanting architectural elements. A huge terrace with views of the city and the Mediterranean, and sculptures and walls covered in mosaics of colorful tiles.

    After the park, Les Tres a la Cuina is a nearby gourmet store and deli that’s a good place to break for lunch before continuing on to the Sagrada Familia.

    Gaudi’s most famous, and largest, work, this enormous basilica is still not completed. Construction began in 1882 and, currently, it is projected to be finished in 2026, one hundred years after Gaudí’s death. Still, his genius can be appreciated even while the building remains unfinished. Here Gothic elements have been revived with motifs from nature—the church’s columns look like trees carved from stone, floral motifs grace the façades, and stained-glass windows fill the soaring space with an array of colors.

    This evening, complete your tour of Barcelona’s modernisme buildings with a performance at the Palau de la Música Catalana. Tickets for recitals are often available for as little as 20 euros ($23.50) and provide a chance to see the interior of this stained-glass and gilded jewel box by one of Gaudi’s contemporaries, Lluís Domènech i Montaner.
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    Photo By Valerie Hinojosa
    Day 4
    Head to the Beach, or the Hills
    It may feel hard to pull yourself away from Barcelona, but the city is well-located for a number of daytrips throughout Catalonia.

    Fans of Roman history may wish to head to Tarragona, roughly an hour and 15 minutes by train from Barcelona. The city, then known as Tárraco, was established in the 3rd century B.C.E. under the Roman Republic and later visited by Augustus when he was emperor. Its collection of Roman-era ruins—an amphitheater, a theater, and a basilica later converted to a church—earned the city a place on UNESCO’s list of World Heritage sites.

    During warmer months, the beach town of Sitges, halfway between Barcelona and Tarragona, is a popular escape for city’s residents. The compact little town has a waterfront promenade lined with small hotels and cafés; ornate mansions were built by locals who made their fortunes in the New World and then returned home. Sitges is also known for its lively gay scene, with numerous bars and restaurants.

    In the opposite direction, Figueres is just under two hours by train from Barcelona. The town is most closely associated with the artist Salvador Dalí who was born there. The surrealist painter is celebrated in, appropriately enough, a surrealist building, the Dalí Theatre and Museum, with golden eggs topping its exterior walls and a geodesic dome at its heart. The museum opened during Dalí’s lifetime, and he devoted much of his later life to supervising every detail of its design.
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    Photo By Susan Fitzgerald
    Day 5
    The cultural highlights of Montjuïc, in the southern part of Barcelona, merit an entire day. The most striking is the Palau National, an enormous building constructed for the 1929 International Exhibition. It looks like it could be the capitol building of a country, and it has in fact played that part in a number of films. Today it houses the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, best known for its outstanding collection of Romanesque works, many rescued from monasteries and churches.

    Another of Barcelona’s famous artists is the focus of the Fundació Joan Miró. Miró established the museum himself, basing it on his own collection. He worked in a number of different media—sculpture, ceramic, tapestries, and paintings—but one constant in much of his work is a combination of surreal whimsy and modernist influences including expressionism and Color Field painting.

    One of the most important works of modernist architecture, the Barcelona Pavilion, also awaits in Montjuïc. The spare building with marble and glass walls and a small reflecting pool was constructed as Germany’s contribution for the 1929 International Exhibition. Despite its small scale, Mies van der Rohe’s design had an enormous impact—its emphasis on unadorned materials and a simple plan is echoed in subsequent buildings throughout the world.

    From modernist purity to old-fashioned kitsch: the Poble Espanyol qualifies as the latter, given its somewhat odd but charming collection of 117 buildings representing various regions of Spain. It, too, was built for the 1929 exhibition to provide visitors with a countrywide overview. You can travel from the whitewashed villages of Andalucia in the south to the stone buildings of Galicia in the north without ever leaving the poble.

    This evening head to Barceloneta for dinner. The neighborhood was long the home of the city’s fishermen, but it’s now also home to new hotels and restaurants. Whichever waterfront restaurant you choose, you can enjoy a paella made with the very freshest fish.
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    Photo By KavalenkavaVolha
    Day 6
    Before you leave to catch your Lufthansa flight, you might want to use this morning to pick up a bottle of olive oil if you are checking your luggage. Or you could try to squeeze in one more sight—another building by Gaudí, the Gothic Santa Maria del Mar church, or perhaps ascend to the top of the 60-meter-tall (197-foot-tall) Columbus Monument to survey the city, and then continue your own exploration of the world.