By Dennis Bunnik
I could see why the tourism chiefs of Barcelona were having a hard time. It was the mid-eighties and the city was competing against the likes of Rome, Paris and Istanbul for visitors.
The only problem is that each of these cities has iconic attractions such as the colosseum, Eiffel Tower and the Blue Mosque but all Barcelona could offer was an unfinished church by an out-there architect.
The start of the solution was the 1992 Olympics and the accompanying cleaning up of the dirtier parts of this port city. The second phase, and the hardest part from a marketing perspective, was to concentrate on lifestyle.
Selling lifestyle is notoriously difficult from a tourism perspective – look at Adelaide as a good example, it’s a great place to live and visitors love it but none of its attractions in themselves are enough to convince someone to go because its real attraction is lifestyle.
So why should you visit Barcelona? Because it’s brilliant! And what makes it brilliant is the vibe of the city, the buzz of activity, the outdoor cafes, the beautiful buildings and the delicious food and wine that is Spain.
The best area to sample everything that’s good about Barcelona is the Old Town. Here you’ll find the La Rambla, Gothic Quarter, Plaza Real, the Barcelona Cathedral and food markets of La Boqueria.
The main avenue of La Rambla leads down to the port and is lined with artists, florists and cafes. You’ll find lots more shops, bars and restaurants in surrounding lanes.
Plaza Real, or Royal Square is a beautiful square lined with cafes and restaurants – this is great place for people watching and sitting back to enjoy the musical and acrobatic talents of Barcelona’s buskers. As in the rest of the city though always be aware of pickpockets.
The food markets of La Boqueria are a must see. You’ll see lots of locals buying their fresh food here but tourists are also well catered for with many stalls selling small samples of the local specialities for 1 Euro. My tip is head straight for the ham and then the fruit. Delicious!
The lanes of the Gothic Quarter are slightly quieter than La Rambla but you can still find plenty of little shops and tapas bars. Here all the lanes appear to lead to the massive Barcelona Cathedral – an impressive building and well worth the visit.
For a bit of green relief in the Old Town head to the ornate Arc del Triomf where gardens will lead you to the large Parc de la Ciutadella. This is the place locals come to work on their tan.
Now about that out-there architect. Gaudi is his name and you can see his stamp all over Barcelona. The most famous sight of all is the Sagrada Familia or church of the Holy Family. It is Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece (work continues to this day). It was started in 1883 and this is where he lived and worked as a virtual recluse for the last 16 years of his life.
Other, more complete and equally striking, pieces of Gaudi’s work can be seen throughout the city – the most famous being the Casa Mila and Casa Batllo. It’s this final building that I really like – it’s beautifully ornate and it looks like part of the façade is melting.
I could have spent more of my time looking at Barcelona’s ‘tourist’ attractions but I didn’t. Instead I did what I think all visitors to this city should do – and that is, head to the nearest tapas bar, café or terrace and join the locals enjoying life.