There are very many interesting and attractive cities in Spain including Granada (see my recent Touring Holiday), Seville, Bilbao and the capital Madrid. What sets Barcelona apart for me is its vibrancy and outward-looking approach to the world, as signified by the statue of Columbus pointing out from the port. Curiously he is pointing East rather than West.
It has long been a centre of the arts and is famous for its avant-garde architecture with Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926) leaving his mark throughout the city. Its sporting significance is recognised by its famous football team, its Formula 1 racing track and its staging the 1992 Olympic Games.
As a Senior I include it in my World Top Ten Cities because I find it pleasantly relaxed strolling around the compact central area near the tree-lined thoroughfares, Las Ramblas, and enjoying the many interesting artistic and architectural features.
I am also fascinated by Barcelona’s key role in the Spanish Civil War. My first stay in Barcelona was in the hotel on Las Ramblas where George Orwell stayed during the war. You can take a tour of some of the key civil war sites in the city.
Of course it has many excellent hotels and some great restaurants, but you will be lucky to get an evening meal before 9 pm, so do as the locals do and enjoy a large lunch in the early afternoon.
Most of my Ten Highlights are within walking distance from Las Ramblas, although you may decide to take the frequent local transport to La Familia Sagrada and Park Güell.
No visit to Barcelona would be complete without a visit to Montserrat 40km to the north-west, a pleasant drive or about 1 hour by train from the Placa d’Espanya station in central Barcelona, followed by a racktrain or cable car ride up the hillside.
• Las Ramblas are a series of tree-lined streets in central Barcelona leading from the port area to Catalunya Square, providing bars, restaurants and endless street entertainment. Stop about half way down at the colourful La Boqueria market which dates back to 1217.
• The Columbus Monument at the port end of Las Ramblas. Take the elevator to a viewing platform for panoramic views of the lower part of the city and the port area.
• Rambla del Mar and Moll d’Espanya. A wavy, wooden bridge, the Rambla del Mar, connects the bottom of the Las Ramblas with the port area and Moll d’Espanya, with its waterside bars and restaurants, shopping centre, aquarium and lots of boats. A bit like the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront in one of my other Top Ten Cities, Capetown.
• The Transbordador Aeri del Port cable car over the port area, which takes you to Montjuïc where a second smaller cable car, the Teleferico de Montjuïc, takes you to the top of the hill. Not to be missed for the great views but not for the faint-hearted.
• Montjuïc (Mountain of the Jews) is a large hill to the south-west of the city centre that can be reached by foot, cable car or funicular. As well as impressive views over the port area, there are pleasant gardens to stroll around and a magic fountain show at night. The Joan Miro museum and Olympic Stadium are nearby.
• Gothic Quarter, the Barrio Gòtico, is reached by wandering off down the side streets to the east of Las Ramblas. You are then immersed in narrow, charming alleyways with laidback, arty bars and cafes. Relax and wander, visiting Le Seu cathedral along the way.
• Casa Milà, also known as La Pedrera, is a unique apartment block designed by Gaudi. The roof has a strange mixture of functional sculptures. Casa Batlló nearby is another unusual Gaudi building with irregular oval windows and flowing sculpted stone work. Seniors get reduced entrance charges.
• La Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece. Allow plenty of time to appreciate this massive, highly decorated cathedral. Free entry for Seniors over 65.
• Park Güell was intended to be a garden city, but is now a great place to wander around and picnic surrounded by Gaudi’s architectural constructions and with fine views over the city.
• Montserrat at over 1200 metres is the highest point in the Catalan lowlands and its strange jagged peaks can be seen from almost the whole of Catalonia. Its Benedictine Abbey has long been an important shrine with a beautiful basilica and an unusual statue of the Virgin called “La Moreneta”, the black one, because of the dark colour of her face. Enjoy the buildings and views and relax with refreshments in the cafeteria before travelling back down.
Several budget airlines fly to Barcelona including Monarch from Birmingham, Gatwick, Leeds/Bradford and Manchester and Jet2 from Glasgow, Leeds/Bradford and Manchester. By carefully choosing when to travel (see my Travel Tip), you could pay as little as £100 return with these two airlines.
Inexpensive travel in Barcelona and its environs is provided by the bus, Metro and rail services.
However on my last visit, I wanted to travel around Catalonia after a couple of days in Barcelona. I hired a car through Auto Europe choosing a hire company that supplied a car with a full tank and returned with a full tank. On a previous occasion in Spain when I hired a car with a full tank to be returned empty, I was much overcharged for the full tank and didn’t use all the fuel.
To avoid all excesses, including tyres, windscreen, keys and undercarriage, I took out insurance with carhireexcess.com for about £2 a day – well worth it for peace of mind when negotiating the Spanish roads!
There is a very wide range of hotels in Barcelona. I’ve stayed at several different ones including Best Western Hotels, Holiday Inn Expresses and the one of the two Hiltons. All will give Senior discount rates, referred to as SENIOR IBERIA at Best Western Hotels. To find out how to get these special rates, see: Hotel Deals for Seniors.