Day-trips from Barcelona are easy and popular, particularly up or down the coast to one of the beach resorts that city dwellers have appropriated for themselves. The best coastal destination is Sitges , forty minutes south along the Costa Daurada, though there are plenty of other traditional beach bolt-holes closer to the city, like Castelldefels (on the way to Sitges) or those of the Costa Maresme to the north - all connected to Barcelona by very frequent train services that run throughout the summer. Further north still are the resorts of the Costa Brava, though these are rather too far from the city to be considered as day-trips. In any case, the southernmost Costa Brava resorts, closest to Barcelona, are also the least appealing. If you want some sand and sun, stick to Sitges.
Otherwise, the one essential excursion is to Montserrat , the extraordinary mountain and monastery 40km northwest of the city. Montserrat warrants a full day (possibly even an overnight stop), which can include the short journey on to the little-visited town of Manresa , further north. If Barcelona's varied church architecture inspired you, there are a couple more towns in the same general direction - Sant Cugat del Vallès and Terrassa - which retain fine medieval examples. The other route out of the city, due west, leads through the wine-producing towns of Sant Sadurní d'Anoia and Vilafranca del Penedès , both of which can be seen in a pleasant day's excursion with enough time for a wine-tasting tour.
With more time and the inclination you could also see something of Barcelona's neighbouring Catalan towns and be back in the city the same day. To the south of Barcelona, beyond Sitges, lies Tarragona and its Roman sites; to the north, inland from the coast, are found medieval Girona and the renowned Dalí museum at Figueres. For details of how to get to each town, see the relevant "Practicalities" sections; each account also includes full accommodation and service information, if you feel like spending a night away from Barcelona.
Recreational space has always been high up the list with every redesign of the city. Recently, peripheral bits of industrial wasteland have benefited from the drive to provide some greenery and relative peace, but the late nineteenth-century expansion of Barcelona relied instead on transforming previously fortified, and very central, sections of the city. The quickest respite from the centre, and one which can be slotted quite comfortably into a day's pottering about the old town, is the Parc de la Ciutadella , lying east, and within easy walking distance, of the Barri Gòtic. Once the site of a Bourbon fortress, this is a formal park, with a zoo, museums and other attractions spread about its paths and gardens. To the south lies the beach, stretching from the fishing (and seafood-eating) district of Barceloneta , jutting out into Barcelona's central harbour, to the continually expanding Parc de Mar , which has totally transformed a previously redundant section of the city's coastline.
As Barcelona grew more prosperous throughout the nineteenth century, the Barri Gòtic was filled to bursting with an energetic, commercial population, and by the 1850s it was clear that the city had to expand beyond Plaça de Catalunya. The plan that was accepted was that of an engineer, Ildefons Cerdà, who drew up a grid-shaped new town marching off to the north, intersected by long, straight streets and cut by broad, angled avenues. Work started in 1859 on what became known as the Ensanche in Castilian - in Catalan, the EIXAMPLE , or "Widening". It was soon a fashionable area in which to live, and the moneyed classes started moving from their cramped quarters by the port in the old town to spacious new apartments and business addresses. As the money in the city moved north, so did a new class of modernista architects who began to pepper the Eixample with ever-more striking examples of their work, which were eagerly commissioned by status-conscious merchants and businessmen. These buildings - most notably the work of Antoni Gaudí, Lluís Domènech i Montaner and Josep Puig i Cadafalch , but others too (see "Modernisme") - are often still in private hands, restricting your viewing to the outside, but they turn the Eixample into a huge urban museum around which it's a pleasure to wander.
The Eixample is still the city's main shopping and business district, spreading out on either side of the two principal (and parallel) thoroughfares, Passeig de Gràcia and Rambla de Catalunya , both of which cut northwest from the Plaça de Catalunya. The former features several of the best-known examples of Barcelona's modernista architecture, including the famous " Mansana" de la Discòrdia ("Mansana" is adopted from the Castilian manzana , or "block") and Gaudí's La Pedrera . The latter is the district's most attractive avenue, largely pedestrianized and sporting benches and open-air cafés. Almost all the things you're likely to want to see are on the eastern side of the Rambla de Catalunya - an area known as Dreta de l'Eixample - and south of the wide Avinguda Diagonal , which slices across the entire Eixample. There's less to get excited about on the west side of Rambla de Catalunya - the so-called Esquerra de l'Eixample - which housed many of the public buildings contained within Cerdà's nineteenth-century plan. Nevertheless, certain areas provide an interesting contrast with the modernista excesses over the way, particularly those urban park projects close to the Sants Estació which heralded a movement known here as nou urbanisme .
If you're not interested in shopping or architecture, it's not immediately clear why you might spend time in the Eixample, though one bonus is that many of the buildings also contain noteworthy exhibitions and museums; the Fundació Antoni Tàpies is Barcelona's latest gallery dedicated to the work of just a single artist. Moreover, the Eixample contains the one building in the city to which a visit is virtually obligatory: Gaudí's extraordinary Sagrada Família church, beyond the Diagonal, in the northeast of the district.
As the Eixample covers a very large area, you're unlikely to be able to see everything we've described as part of a single outing. Instead, take public transport where you can to individual sites and then walk around the surrounding area; all the relevant details are given in the text. You'll find plenty of reasonable places to stop for lunch if you're looking to break up your day's foot-slogging around the streets, and you may well be in this part of town at night, too, since many of the city's trendy designer bars and restaurants are found here.
Rising over the city, southwest of the Barrio Chino, the steep hill of MONTJUïC is by far the largest green area in Barcelona and contains the most of interest, and you'll probably want to reserve most of a day, or perhaps even longer, to spend on its substantial attractions. It takes its name from the Jewish community that once settled on its slopes, and there's been a castle on the heights since the mid-seventeenth century, which says much about the hill's obvious historical defensive role. But since landscaping at the beginning of the twentieth century, and more pertinently since the erection of buildings for the International Exhibition of 1929, Montjuïc has been the city's greatest cultural draw , with its five museums, various gardens and the famous Poble Espanyol (Spanish Village). The architecture may prove disappointing if you've been inspired by the remnants from 1888 in the Ciutadella park; modernisme was a spent force by 1929 and the Neoclassical monumental designs here seem bland by comparison. However, spurred on by the Olympics, a new spate of building and improvement work produced some rather more unorthodox designs. With these set alongside the few unusual relics from 1929, Montjuïc has never looked so spruce.
The hill covers a wide area so if you want to see everything you'll have to plan your visit fairly carefully around the various opening times
It is a telling comment on Barcelona's character that one can recommend a single street - the Ramblas - as a highlight. No day in the city seems complete without a stroll down at least part of what, for Lorca, was "the only street in the world which I wish would never end". Littered with cafés, shops, restaurants and newspaper kiosks, it's at the heart of Barcelona's life and self-image - a focal point for locals every bit as much as for tourists. There are also important buildings and monuments along the Ramblas, visits to which can punctuate a stroll from end to end. But it's the street life itself which is the greatest attraction - one to which you'll return again and again.
The Ramblas bisect Barcelona's old town ( La Ciutat Vella ), which spreads north from the harbour in an uneven wedge and is bordered by the Parc de la Ciutadella to the east, Plaça de Catalunya to the north and the slopes of Montjuïc and the Eixample neighbourhood of Poble Sec to the west. Contained within this jumble of streets is a series of neighbourhoods - originally separate medieval parishes and settlements - that retain certain distinct characteristics today. Some of these old town neighbourhoods are accessible by diving off the Ramblas into the side streets as you go - like the Barrio Chino (or Raval ), the city's still functioning but reduced red-light district, or the area back from the harbour around c/la Mercè. But by far the greatest concentration of interest is in the cramped Barri Gòtic , which curls out from around the cathedral. Here you'll find the city's finest medieval buildings and churches tucked into jumbled streets and alleys, along with several museums (a couple decidedly offbeat), and the surviving portions of walls and buildings dating back as far as Roman times. East of here, across the broad Via Laietana , the old town streets continue in La Ribera , encompassing two of Barcelona's most favoured sights: the graceful church of Santa María del Mar and the showpiece Museu Picasso .
Until the Eixample stretched out across the plain to meet them, a string of small towns ringed the city to the north. Today, they're firmly entrenched as SUBURBS of Barcelona, but most still retain an individual identity worth investigating even on a short visit to the city. Gràcia , particularly - the closest to the centre - is still very much the liberal, almost bohemian stronghold it was in the nineteenth century, with an active cultural life and night scene of its own. Apart from mere curiosity, each of the other suburbs also has a specific sight or two that makes them a worthwhile target. Some, like Gaudí's Parc Güell , between Gràcia and Horta , and the Gothic monastery at Pedralbes , are included in most people's tours of the city, and for good reason. Other sights are more specialized - like the football museum at FC Barcelona's superb Camp Nou stadium or the ceramics collection in the Palau Reial - but taken together they do help to counter the notion that Barcelona begins and ends in the Barri Gòtic. Finally, if you're saving yourself for just one aerial view of Barcelona, wait for a clear day and head for Tibidabo , way to the northwest: a mountain with an amusement park and a couple of bars with the best views in the city.
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