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Barcelona Spotlight

Catalonia's cool capital is stylish, sunny, progressive, and laid-back

By Anja Mutic

February 8th, 2007

Barcelona is the buzzword of the moment. One of Europe's most fashionable cities, this Mediterranean beauty by the sea treats stimulates your senses with every step: Fanciful Modernist architecture and medieval buildings sprinkle its streetscapes, first-class museums provide just the right dose of culture, the celebrated Catalan cuisine draws food lovers in droves, hopping nightlife can't be beat, and cutting-edge shopping provides plenty of consumer fun. Progressive, cool, cosmopolitan, and chic, the city has inimitable style and plenty of substance to boot.

The urban renewal that led to Barcelona's rebirth was kick-started by the 1992 Olympics, and today the city is brimming with confidence – a metropolis for all seasons. The capital of the autonomous province of Catalonia, its friendly people are extremely proud of their rich heritage that even includes their own language, a Romance mix of French, Spanish, and Italian. Despite their patriotic pride and separatist leanings, however, most Catalans will happily respond to enquiries in Spanish. With the incredible influx of international tourists over the last decade, English is spoken widely, especially by employees of the tourist sector and by younger generations.

The attractions of the old town that spread up from the waterfront are the perfect introduction to your three-day visit. Stroll on the tree-lined La Rambla promenade, visit the medieval cathedral of Barri Gòtic, wander around trendy El Born, pop in for a look at the Picasso Museum in La Ribera, and roam bohemian El Raval and its centerpiece – the Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona. Venture to the elegant neighborhood of L'Eixample for a look at its Modernist landmarks, including the iconic Sagrada Familia. Another must-see is the verdant hill of Montjuïc, with its clutch of stellar museums like the charming Fundació Joan Miró and the expansive Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya. If you have five days, do all that and spend some time along the waterfront, from the gentrified Port Vell area to the fishing enclave of Barceloneta to glitzy Port Olímpic. A week will give you plenty of time for in-depth exploration of the old city and its plentiful historical sites, soaking up the Modernist delights in L'Eixample, and squeezing in some leisure time by the sea. Take an outing to the delightful barrio of Gràcia, with its surreal Gaudí-designed Parc Güell, as well as a foray to the hill of Tibidabo, topped by a fun amusement park and affording jaw-dropping vistas. With all that entices, Barcelona simply begs for a visit.

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