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Barcelona Overview

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Barcelona Overview
Travelers to Barcelona soon discover that Gaudí's famous buildings are only the beginning—beyond Modernisme, the Catalan capital is home to renowned museums, quirky 100-year-old shops, and restaurants offering new takes on traditional Mediterranean fare.
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    The Catalan Capital at a Glance
    Made up of different neighborhoods that almost feel like autonomous villages within the city itself, Barcelona is nearly impossible to get to know all in one trip. But a good starting point is Barcelona’s Left Eixample neighborhood (Esquerra de l'Eixample), home to monuments and museums as well as quirky stores and cafés. For a night out, barhop on narrow streets in the Gothic Quarter, or dance until the sun comes up in one of the many nightclubs. Don’t miss the trendy shops and cozy cafés in El Born, or masterpieces by Gaudí and his contemporaries on Passeig de Gràcia.
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    Barcelona’s Iconic Sights
    The towering church of Sagrada Família, carved with biblical scenes, the mosaic-covered dragon at Parc Güell, the undulating façade of La Pedrera—architect Antoni Gaudí is responsible for many of Barcelona’s most iconic sights, and his contemporaries largely took care of the rest. But Barcelona isn’t just about Modernista buildings. A stroll down the main street of La Rambla, snapping shots of flower stands and living statues, is also an iconic Barcelona experience. Afterward, take a turn around La Boquería Market, capture the geese with your camera at the cathedral, and spend an evening watching the Montjuïc Magic Fountain at Plaça Espanya.
    Photo by Flash Parker
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    Catalan Cuisine
    Food and wine traditions vary widely across Spain and even within Catalonia. In Barcelona, expect menus inspired by seasonal produce, seafood, and fresh and cured pork. Bars specializing in cuisine from other Spanish regions are common, as is international cuisine, particularly Italian and Asian. Sausages and cured meats are considered an art form; Catalonian charcuterie like botifarra, fuet, and llonganissa are served in salads, bean stews, and on top of the local classic, pa amb tomàquet—bread with tomato, olive oil, and garlic. No matter the meal, it’s not complete without a glass of cava—a sparkling white or rosé wine from Catalonia—and a tallat, an espresso with a dollop of milk.
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    Festivals and Culture
    Long an industrial city, Barcelona maintains a comfortable balance between work and pleasure, tradition and innovation. Squares and street-side terraces are packed with locals out and about, interacting with neighbors and friends. Beyond day-to-day pleasures, Barcelonans love to celebrate on a larger scale. From the four-day citywide tribute to La Mercè, Barcelona’s patron saint, to Barcelona’s most famous neighborhood bash, La Festa Major de Gràcia, there are plenty of occasions for celebrations. Christmas brings the Santa Llúcia Market, presents from a caga tio Yule log, and candy from the folkloric Man with Many Noses. In spring and early summer there are massive music festivals like Primavera Sound and Sónar.
    Photo by Lucas Vallecillos/age fotostock
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    Cool Catalan Boutiques
    Barcelona has something for every shopper. With stylish high-end storefronts including Burberry, Gucci, and Santa Eulalia, Passeig de Gràcia is the go-to location for luxury buys. For the city’s oldest shops, some of which have been in operation for a century or more, head to the Gothic Quarter. Seekers of antiques and vintage goods will find numerous cozy shops to explore in the up-and-coming Raval neighborhood. At the Encants flea market, bargain for the best deal on old and new treasures of every order. Visit the Gràcia and El Born neighborhoods for a concentration of boutiques featuring work by independent local designers. Foodies will delight in the covered markets and in the tiny, traditional artisan shops scattered around town.
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    Essential Information
    Summer brings steamy weather and is peak tourist season. For better weather, late fall and early spring are the best times to visit, and for the shortest lines at Sagrada Família, January and February are ideal. No visa is necessary for Americans visiting for 90 days or less. Travelers can choose from the metro, trains, buses, and taxis for the trip between El Prat Airport and Barcelona proper. Explore the historic quarter and central neighborhoods on foot; public transportation and taxis can get you everywhere else. Locals speak Catalan and Spanish. The currency is the euro. Tips are welcome but not expected: giving spare change is fine, and a tip of 1 euro or more is generous in most restaurants, hotels, and taxis. Electricity is 220 volts, so bring an adaptor.
    Photo by Colleen Costello