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Sightseeing in Barcelona

Barcelona can be a walkers’ paradise, with its charming green walks and architecturally rich boulevards. Be sure to steer clear of the crowded, congested and polluted areas of the city. You can ramble through the Rambla de Catalunya , one of the most captivatingly colourful boulevards. To absorb some splendid architecture, trace a route through Barcelona’s numerous plaças or squares. These wide-open spaces, many of them historic and beautiful, will transport you back to the days of yore.

Palau Reial or the Royal Palace, is one of Barcelona’s landmarks. This palace is a fine example of medieval architecture. The building has an exceptionally beautiful wood-panelled banquet hall, with a series of porticoed galleries rising five stories above it. Once the home of the counts of Barcelona, the palace later became the royal residence of Aragon. Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand received Christopher Columbus here after his voyage to the New World, and also met a Native American within these walls.

Attached to the Royal Palace is the Museu de Història de la Ciutat , a museum that traces the history of Barcelona from its days as a Roman colony to the present. Housed in a 14th century villa, the museum has an impressive collection of Roman and medieval artefacts.

Among the best-known squares are the Plaça del Rei , supposedly the oldest in the Barri Gótic, where Columbus was received on his return from his historic voyage, the Plaça Rius I Taulet, renowned for the beautiful clock tower which stands in its centre and the popular Plaça Reial. The last-named is a lovely and colourful square, surrounded by apartments owned by the rich and famous - including Nobel laureate author Gabriel García Marquez. Sunday morning sees the Plaça del Reial at its liveliest, with people trading and selling coins and stamps.

Barcelona is home to some splendid museums and fine buildings. The Museu Picasso is situated in the picturesque Carrer de Montcada quarter of town, an area of lovely old buildings, painstakingly restored and redecorated. The Museu Picasso is Barcelona’s tribute to one of the world’s greatest painters. The museum contains an excellent collection of Picasso’s work - definitely the best in Spain, and also among the best in the world. Besides the permanent displays, there are also regular temporary exhibitions held throughout the year. The museum is open from 10 am to 8 pm Tuesday to Saturday, and from 10 am to 3 pm on Sundays. The entry fee is waived on the first Sunday of the month.

The mount of Tibidabo , named after a verse from the Bible, forms the northwestern boundary of Barcelona. This is a mountain that soars up to 1745 ft and offers a stupendous view of the surrounding area. On a clear day, it is said that you can actually see as far as the island of Mallorca, and even Montserrat and the Pyrenees. At the peak of Tibidabo is an amusement park that offers lots of great rides and plenty of fun for kids. (Incidentally, if you’re wondering which Biblical verse the mount is named after, it’s `Haec omnia tibi dabo si cadens adoraberis me’- “All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me”- Satan’s words to tempt Christ).

The Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Familia and the Gaudi Museum is the work of Barcelona’s most famous architect, Antoni Gaudi. The Temple is one of Barcelona’s most striking pieces of modern architecture. Although unfinished at the time of Gaudi’s death, the Temple is truly spectacular, with eight spires soaring up to a height of 100 metres (it is believed that Gaudi planned a total of 12 spires, to represent the twelve apostles).

Work is currently underway to complete the building, but it is possible for visitors to roam around the premises and to take an elevator to the top of the tower for a view across the city. Inside the temple is the Gaudi Museum, an exhibition dedicated to the life and work of the architect; it also includes a history of the Sagrada Familia.

Considered to be one of the finest examples of Catalonian Gothic architecture, the Catedral de Barcelona is a fine basilica, built largely between the 13th and 15th centuries. Once described by the historian Cirici as `the loveliest oasis in Barcelona’, this is one building you can’t afford to miss. The cathedral has three wonderfully illuminated naves - high bell towers and beautifully sculptured choirs and Gothic arches. The cloister has a series of vaulted galleries, fabulously decorated with carved vegetation and forged iron grilles. It is also the home of a fine museum of medieval art, which contains some excellent works, including Bartolomé Bermejo’s La Pietat.

The Museu Nacional d’art de Catalunya is housed in the Palau Nacional and contains one of the best collections of religious art in Europe. Included in the items on display are a huge number of altarpieces, icons, carvings, frescoes and the like, brought here in the 1920s from churches in the Pyrenees, mainly to save them from destruction. Most of the exhibits are Romanesque or Gothic, and many are fine examples of traditional art. Also included in the museum’s collection are works by masters such as Velazquez, Mirador and Zurbarán. Founded in the early 14th century, the Monestir des Pedralbes is known both for its splendid architecture and for the excellent collection of art which it houses. The convent, set up for the Clarist nuns in 1326, has a lovely chapel with a rose window and impressive murals. The cloister, housed in an unusual three-storied structure, is acknowledged by many to be the best in Barcelona. Within the former dormitory of the nuns (a chamber of elegant pointed arches and high windows) is housed the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection, a large selection of works by greats such as Tintoretto, Rubens, Tiepolo and Velazquez.

Barcelona has a number of other interesting buildings, both public and private houses, which are known for their architectural excellence. Included in the list are Casa Milá known for its curved stone façade; the Gran Teatre del Liceu , which is said to be the most beautiful opera house in Europe and the wonderfully colourful music hall known as Palau de la Música Catalana. Even if you don’t have the time to specifically go to any of these places, just stroll down areas like the Eixample, and you’re bound to see some interesting sights and some good architecture.

Bullfights , complete with blood and gore, are organized in Barcelona’s two bullrings on Sundays between March and October. Check local newspapers for more details.

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