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Catalan Culture in Barcelona

<em>Modernista</em> Masterpieces
Catalan Culture in Barcelona
Barcelona is home to some of the most striking art in Europe. Here, fanciful wrought iron balconies on modernista facades coexist with graffiti and skyscrapers; churches and museums host priceless artifacts and artwork.
By AFAR Editors, AFAR Staff
Angelo Cavalli/age fotostock
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    <em>Modernista</em> Masterpieces
    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 Família are museums, shops, restaurants, and covered markets housed in modernista buildings. A few off-the-beaten-track structures in the style include the Hospital Sant Pau, designed by Lluís 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.
    Angelo Cavalli/age fotostock
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    Museums and Galleries
    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. Cultural hubs like the National Art Museum of Catalonia and the Archeological Museum of Catalonia host large collections of priceless objects hailing from different eras and distinct parts of the world, as well as items specific to Catalonia. At the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art (MACBA), the remarkable collection of modern art, dating from the 1960s to present day, is rivaled by the museum's light-filled Richard Meier–designed building. Stunning collections pay homage to Spanish and Catalan greats at the Picasso Museum, the Joan Miró Foundation, and the Antoni Tàpies Foundation. Quirkier smaller-scale galleries and showrooms in Raval, El Born, and Eixample highlight local and international artists on the rise.
    Photo by Javier Larrea
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    Peaceful Sacred Places
    Peaceful Sacred Places
    The 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 FC 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 Temple of the Sacred Heart of Jesus 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 Lucas Vallecillos/age fotostock
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    Wander Narrow Streets and Hidden Squares
    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 Magic Fountain of Montjuïc show.
    Photo by Gerry Walden/age fotostock
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    Antiques and Artisanal Cheese at the Street Markets
    Antiques and Artisanal Cheese at the Street Markets
    Fresh produce, artisanal 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 handmade charcuterie and bread at traditional covered markets like 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 colors and sizes. Secondhand treasure hunters can bargain for deals on old books, clothes, electronics, antiques, and more at the Encants Vells flea market (Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays) and San Antoni Sunday flea market. In December, travelers can browse traditional holiday decorations and handicrafts at the Santa Llúcia Fair.
    Photo by Chris Ciolli
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    Public Art, Graffiti, and Fountains
    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 the San Antoni Market, check out the facade of La Carbonería, once Barcelona's most famous squatters' 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 Díaz 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
    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 Park Güell is a must-see; go on a weekday to avoid the crowds. The cloisters at the Monastery of Pedralbes enclose shady gardens with fountains and citrus trees, a destination for peace and quiet.
    Photo by Sherry Hardage