Catalan Culture

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Catalan Culture
Barcelona is home to some of the most striking art in Europe. Here, fanciful wrought iron balconies on Modernista façades coexist with graffiti and skyscrapers; churches and museums host priceless artifacts and artwork.
Photo by Aubrey Dunnuck
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    Modernista Masterpieces
    Art Nouveau fans will feel instantly at home in Catalonia’s capital city. Modernisme, as the Catalan art nouveau movement is known, lurks around every corner. Beyond masterful monuments like Gaudí’s Casa Batlló and the Sagrada Familia, there are also museums, shops, restaurants, and covered markets housed in Modernista structures. A few off-the-beaten-track Modernista structures include the Hospital Sant Pau, built by Domènech i Montaner, which is home to historical hospital archives and a new knowledge and research center; and Palau Güell, one of Gaudí’s first important architectural projects.
    Photo by Aubrey Dunnuck
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    Museums and Galleries
    Art and artifact aficionados will wish for longer opening hours once they realize the sheer number of museums throughout the Catalan capital. National museums like the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya and the Museu d’Arquelogia de Catalunya host large collections of priceless objects hailing from different eras and distinct parts of the world, as well as items specific to Catalonia. Stunning collections pay homage to Spanish and Catalan greats at the Museu Picasso, the Fundació Joan Miró, and the Fundació Antoni Tàpies. Quirkier smaller-scale galleries and showrooms in Raval, Born, and Eixample highlight local and international artists on the rise.
    Photo by Stefano Politi/age fotostock
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    Peaceful Sacred Places
    Sagrada Família isn’t the only important religious building in town: Gothic churches shade city squares; an ancient Jewish synagogue is hidden away in the city’s Gothic Quarter; monasteries loom over lush grounds in Barcelona’s outskirts and surrounding areas. If you are looking for peace and calm, search out the small stained glass tribute to F.C. Barcelona in Santa Maria del Mar Basilica, or watch the geese in the cloister at Barcelona’s main cathedral. Atop Mount Tibidabo, snap pictures of the Templo de Sagrado Corazón de Jésus and the sweeping views of the city from above. Lovers of the outdoors can spend a day hiking in nearby mountains—stopping in beautiful natural and man-made spaces to pray, meditate, or just relax.
    Photo by Chris Ciolli
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    A Lively Local Theater Scene
    Barcelona might not compete with Broadway, but the local theater scene is worth exploring. The highest concentration of theaters is along the Avinguda Parallel, but many playhouses are scattered throughout the city. Local, national, and international productions are available in Spanish, Catalan, and occasionally English, and range from adults-only burlesque to family-friendly circuses. Most productions run multiple shows a day on Thursdays through Sundays. Listen to an evening of arias at the Modernista opera house El Liceu (La Rambla 51–59). Catch a steamy cabaret show at El Molino, Barcelona’s Moulin Rouge. And come summer, reserve your outdoor seats at the Teatre Grec (Passeig de Santa Madrona, 36).
    Photo by Igor Gonzalo Sanz/age fotostock
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    Get Your Catalan Groove On
    What Barcelona lacks in flamenco, Spain’s most famous musical tradition, it more than makes up for in the sheer variety of music available. On weekends and holidays, visitors can watch locals dancing the sardana—a circle dance strongly linked to Catalan identity—in city squares. Musicians of all calibers take their instruments to the streets and the metro in search of tips. Rumba Catalana, a musical style originating with Barcelona’s Roma gypsy population, is on offer year-round. Live jazz and blues are easily available at clubs like Café Milano. Dance enthusiasts will want to reserve tickets to see a show at El Mercat de les Flors.
    Photo by Darius Koehli/age fotostock
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    Wander Narrow Streets and Hidden Squares
    A decidedly walkable city, Barcelona is best explored at a leisurely and undirected wander. Happening upon the city’s many hidden squares and side streets is much preferable to an afternoon spent staring at maps. More often than not, narrow streets and tiny plazas in Gràcia, El Born, and the Gothic Quarter host the coziest bars and the quirkiest shops. But no visitor to the Catalan capital should miss the city’s major plazas and avenues, such as La Rambla. Also be sure to stroll alongside the Modernista buildings and streetlights on Passeig de Gràcia. In the Plaça d’Espanya, spend an evening watching the Montjuïc Magic Fountain show.
    Photo by Gerry Walden/age fotostock
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    Classes for Many Catalan Crafts
    From Catalan cuisine to arts and crafts, chances are that if the locals know how to do something, they’ll teach a class about it. Cooking classes are the most popular, and can be modified to meet personal preferences and skill levels. Flamenco lessons are available from local schools like Barcelona Flamenco (Nou de la Rambla, 42), where classes are taught in four languages. Jewelry, crafting, and other creative workshops offer the opportunity to make your own souvenirs. Every day except Sunday and holidays, Barcelona Turisme offers one or two hour classes in trencadís, the mosaic technique used by Gaudí. Improve your picture-taking skills by signing up for a photography workshop or tour with Barcelona Photography Courses.
    Photo by Ronija Rieger/age fotostock
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    Antiques and Artisan Cheese at the Street Markets
    Fresh produce, artisan cheeses, original art, and vintage books—all of these are best found in Barcelona’s markets. Vendors hawk the catch of the day along with hand-made charcuterie and bread at traditional covered markets like La Boqueria and Santa Caterina. On weekends, artisans display original art, accessories, and clothing in squares and pedestrian side streets around town. In the Plaça del Pi, painters sell pieces in a myriad of colors and sizes. Secondhand treasure hunters can bargain for deals on old books, clothes, electronics, antiques, and more at Els Encants (Mon, Wed, Fri, and Sat) and San Antoni (Sun) flea markets. In December, travelers can browse traditional holiday decorations and handicrafts at the Fira de Santa Llúcia.
    Photo by Chris Ciolli
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    Public Art, Graffiti, and Fountains
    Art waits around virtually every corner in the Catalan capital. Beyond the city’s architecture—many of the buildings are works of art themselves—Barcelona boasts massive outdoor sculptures in parks and public spaces, striking graffiti murals in surprising locales, and beautiful fountains adorning many of the city's squares. Near San Antoni Market, check out the façade of La Carbonería, once Barcelona's most famous squatter house, which is painted to look like a hot-air balloon floating out of the city. Along the Barceloneta boardwalk, you’ll see sculptures by Javier Mariscal and Lautaro Diaz Silva, as well as the famous “Barcelona Face” sculpture by Roy Lichtenstein.
    Photo by Chris Ciolli
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    Relax in Barcelona’s Green Spaces
    Visitors to Barcelona looking for a breath of fresh air can relax in formal rose gardens, Modernista playgrounds, or sandy avenues lined with rows of palm trees—all without even leaving the city. Farther from the city center are lesser-known gems like Cervantes Park and Labyrinth Park—beautiful gardens in the neoclassical and Romantic styles, which are just outside the typical tourist radius. Gaudí’s Parc Güell is a must-see; go on a weekday to avoid the crowds. North of the city, day hikers can spend hours wandering the forested hills at Montseny Natural Park.
    Photo by Sherry Hardage