Barcelona is a medieval city
surrounded by baroque quarters surrounded by the finest Modernista buildings
(Spanish Art Nouveau, notably the architecture of Antoni Gaudi). For the 1992
Olympic Games the city was blessed with a wealth of modern recreational
With its sunny Mediterranean climate and winter temperatures in the 50s and
60s, Barcelona can be enjoyed as a weekend escape from gloom and grey. The city
is also a good base for exploring the small towns and wild coast of
Here's an excerpt from a 4-star
hotel's information guide: "Supervise and control your luggage: DO NOT leave it
unattended even for a minute. Be extremely careful with your baggage while paying
for your stay." I would have laughed if I'd not recalled that my parents had
their carry-on bag stolen, right from the lobby, while checking into a $150/night
hotel near La Rambla. Their experience is reflected in the architecture of the
Hotel Arts, built for the 1992 Olympics. From the street, the skyscraper looks
like a fortress. There is a moat and no visible lobby. If you drive into the
interior of the fortress you find a small elevator area and some bellmen. Take
the elevator up one floor and you'll find yourself in the lobby.
officially published city guide cautions people with "handbags, cameras, video
cameras, etc." The same guide warns you especially against people offering
flowers on the street getting close to you or someone saying that you have a
stain on your clothing. The thieves of Barcelona seem to be operating a one-city
crusade to recover from English tourists all the treasure lost to the British
Navy in four centuries of war (native Barcelonans blame most of the crime on
Morocan immigrants, in which case much of the booty would drain out south across
the Straits of Gibraltar). Eve and I went to take some pictures in the Parc
Guell. Within minutes of our arrival, a pickpocket had opened her purse and taken
her wallet. The Old Town, away from La Rambla, is particularly dangerous at
night. A lot of restaurants and cafes try to make sure that their patrons still
have enough to pay the bill at the end of the night by hiring private security
guards to stand out front.
The Dorling Kindersley guide advises keeping cards and money in a belt. The
official guide advises leaving your passport with the hotel and carrying a
photocopy. If you're concentrating on photography, your chances of being a victim
rise to nearly 100 percent. If it is cold enough for a jacket, choose one with a
zippered interior pocket and use that for cards and most of your cash. If the
weather is hot, get a money belt. Women should not carry anything valuable in a
purse. Unless you have an assistant whose only job is to safeguard a camera bag,
don't carry extra lenses. One camera. One lens. In your hands at all times.
Note how the girl in the image at left clutches her purse (Parc
Modernista Architecture and Antoni Gaudi
Barcelona offers many of the charms of other European cities, including a
cathedral, Baroque palaces, and a smattering of modern successes. Uniquely,
though, Barcelona displays the work of imaginative architects working from 1885
through around 1910. This was the Catalonian response to the Art Nouveau movement
and the best-known architect is Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926). In one day you can see
most of the important Gaudi buildings.
Start at the Sagrada Familia, the church that Gaudi started in 1883 and that
still isn't done. In the summer, get there at 9:00 am sharp to avoid long lines.
If you are stuck on the line at the ticket booth, be wary of women trying to pin
flowers on your clothing. Once inside, you have the opportunity to take an
elevator or walk to the top of one of the towers on the east side of the church.
If you have any fear of heights or are claustrophic, skip this part of the tour.
The towers are very narrow, the stairs within the towers are only wide enough for
one person, and the bridges between the towers are narrow and packed with people.
Even if you're not normally phobic, you'll probably be a little uneasy.
The museum in the basement of the church is worthwhile. It includes a model
used by Gaudi to determine the structure that would support itself using the
Hop a cab to the Parc Guell, in the northeast corner of downtown. Remember to
watch your camera, wallet, etc., inside the park! The Parc Guell is built into a
hill overlooking the city and you can see down to the Mediterranean. In some ways
this is the most practical spot in the city for making photographs of Gaudi's
work. You won't need a perspective correction lens. You won't have trouble
backing up from the buildings. There won't be a lot of powerlines, cars, and
street signs in the frame.
Hop a cab to the Casa Mila, an apartment house designed by Gaudi. You can tour
a museum on the top floor, the roof with its spectacularly strange sculptures
(one wonders if the building residents wouldn't have preferred a sundeck), and an
apartment with period furnishings.
Walk three blocks south from Casa Mila to the Illa de la Discordia (Island of
Discord), a single block along the Passeig de Gracia containing four Modernista
buildings by different architects. The most interesting is Gaudi's Casa
The Beach Scene
To photograph people enjoying the beach, start in Barceloneta, a complex of
narrow streets and houses built for the working class. The district is surrounded
by a yacht harbor on one side and a sandy beach on the other. There is a covered
market in the main square. Barcelonans predict rapid gentrification of this
district but in the meantime you can get some photos of old neighbors hanging out
laundry and chatting. Unless it is raining, skip the Museum of the History of
Catalonia (photography prohibited; most signs only in Spanish and Catalan).
The Old City
The oldest part of the city is the area around the cathedral, built starting
in 1298. The streets are narrow and open into small squares.
Skip the Picasso Museum but do go into the Museu d'Art Contemporani, a 1995
success by Richard Meier, architect of
Getty, just off La Rambla. The building is much nicer than the art;
photography permitted without flash or tripod.
Note that, according to the concierge at my hotel, the old city is not safe at
Take a taxi to the Fundacion Joan Miro, up on the hill in Montjuic.
Photography is permitted without flash or tripod.
A five-minute walk will take you to the Olympic stadium and its unusual radio
tower. From there a rather tiring 20-minute walk, with occasional views out to
the sea, will take you to Poble Espanyol (Spanish Village). This is a strange
collection of 116 reproduction buildings from different cities in Spain.
Parc de la Ciutadella
Parc de la Ciutadella, just to the east of the Old City, contains a small zoo,
several museums and important Modernista fountains and sculpture.
One of the most famous streets in Spain, La Rambla runs through the Old City
right down to the harbor. The wide center strip is devoted to newsstands, flower
merchants, performers, and hordes of pedestrians. On either side of this strip
are busy lanes for cars and buses. Next to the car/bus lanes are shops,
restaurants, hotels, and the twice-burned opera house.
Pick up a copy of Guia del Ocio (
www.guiadelociobcn.es) at a newsstand for full
listings of photography shows at galleries and museums.
Just for Fun
The one absolute must for nightlife
in Barcelona is a concert at the Palau de la Musica Catalana, a Modernista
triumph in the Old City. Stop by the hall during the daytime to buy tickets at
the box office and also to by tickets for a guided tour in English during the
day. The acoustics of the hall are superb and any group booked into the Palau is
going to be good. It is small hall by modern standards so don't worry too much
about where you sit. The 1980s renovation included the installation of air
It really isn't much of a photographic subject, but L'Aquarium shouldn't be
missed. It is the largest aquarium in Europe and includes two long underwater
tunnels. The aquarium is open until 9:00 pm and is on the harbor, behind the
Maremagnum shopping center, directly across a footbridge from La Rambla. Flash
photography is prohibited. If you're determined to take some photos, be prepared
with a fast lens and ISO 800 or ISO 1600 film.
For English movies, remember to look for "VO" or "VOS" in the listing, unless
you enjoy a dubbed-in-Spanish or dubbed-in-Catalan soundtrack. The only cinema
devoted to "version original" movies is Icaria, a 15-screen complex in the
basement of a shopping center just northeast of the Hotel Arts (Port
For more adventurous nightlife, pick up a copy of the Time Out Guide to
Shops and Photo Labs
For standard professional camera
gear, visit ARPI on La Rambla. Since they carry Hasselblad, Linhof, and Rollei
they can presumably direct you to the best labs in town. For one-stop shopping,
including a traditional souvenir selection, try the huge department store El
Corte Ingles ("The English Cut", referring to its origins selling men's suits) on
Placa Catalunya (north tip of La Rambla).
For buying food and taking photos of people buying food, La Boqueria on La
Rambla is unparalleled.
For an Internet fix, visit the 24-hour easyEverything cafe on La Rambla.
If you need Internet
connectivity from your room, you're out of luck! As far as I can tell, there
aren't any hotels in Barcelona with 10base-T jacks in the rooms.
Most people would tell you to stay on or just off La Rambla. If you want to
step out of your hotel into a crowd, a hooker (after 10:00 pm), a pickpocket
(anytime), etc., this is good advice. If the crowds of La Rambla, especially in
the summertime, put you off, consider going south to the port or north into the
Eixample neighborhood. Remember that Spain is a country of mopeds; any hotel room
overlooking a street will be noisy.
I've stayed in the
Gran Hotel Havana on Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes 647 (+34 93 412 1115,
fax 412 2611). It is just north of the Old City, a 10-minute walk from La Rambla,
a 10-minute walk from the major works of Gaudi, and convenient for driving and
parking. The interior is luxurious wood and green marble, with a glass atrium
illuminating the corridors. If you like the neighborhood and are on expense
account, the Ritz is across the street.
If you want to wake up and look at the ocean every morning, Hotel Arts is for
you (+34 93 221 1000; fax 221 1070). There are 500 rooms packed into one of the
tallest buildings in Spain, smack on the Port Olimpic yacht harbor. Minuses:
you'll be taking a taxi or the subway to the center of town; once you're in the
hotel, you might as well be in Las Vegas.
Readers: If you've stayed in a Barcelona hotel and liked it, please go to the
bottom of this page and click the "add a comment" link to tell the rest of us
about it. Please make sure to include the phone number.
The Michelin Red
Guides are the most reliable source for restaurants throughout Europe. If you
care about food, you'll definitely want the Michelin Red Guide Spain and Portugal
. To an American palette, Catalan cuisine seems to be based
on salt, seafood, and pork. If you like paella, you'll be happy here. If you
yearn for broccoli, you might have to buy it yourself at La Boqueria, the covered
market off La Rambla.
Established in 1870, Restaurant Puda Can Manel is one of the best places in
town for seafood. It is in Barceloneta at Passeig Joan de Borbo, 60. This street
borders the harborfront. Call 93 221 50 13 to reserve a table. The outdoor tables
are ideally positioned to catch afternoon sunshine.
Right on La Rambla you won't find much better than Amaya at #20, close to the
column of Christopher Columbus. Call 93 302 1037 for reservations. It looked to
me as though they might have a non-smoking section.
All of the fast food chains are here. Fresh and Ready is a sandwich and salad
chain with an English menu and a reasonable selection of vegetarian food. It is
the Barcelonan equivalent of London's Pret a Manger.
Dorling Kindersley's Barcelona and Catalonia
is below the standard of the publisher's
other guidebooks, but still useful for a photographer because of the small
snapshots of each site. Thus you're able to make an informed decision as to
whether or not the journey will be photographically worthwhile.
For details on art and architecture, get the Blue Guide to Barcelona
. TimeOut Barcelona
should have the most up-to-date nightlife and beach scene
discussion. You'd think that Lonely Planet
would be good for people on a low budget but the Amazon reader reviews indicate
otherwise (and also warn about being "violently mugged less than a block from my
hotel off of La Rambla").
For authoritative restaurant and hotel recommendations, the Michelin Red Guide
is what you want. Sadly, this is only available in a big book covering
the entire Iberian Peninsula.
You can get a non-stop flight into Barcelona from most European capitals. A taxi
from the airport to downtown is about $15.
Taxis in Barcelona are inexpensive
but you've got about a 1 in 10 chance of a driver taking you around in circles.
Unless you're an absolutely fluent Spanish speaker, point to your desired
destination on a map. The subway and bus system is comprehensive.
American citizens don't need a visa to visit Spain.
The time in Barcelona is GMT+1, i.e., six hours ahead of New York. Thus if it
is 9:00 am in New York, it is already 3:00 pm in Barcelona.
Electricity in Spain is 220V at 50 Hz. Most laptop computer and digital camera
power supplies can function on this power and at most you'll need a mechanical
adaptor, which you can get at Radio Shack before you leave, from the front desk
at better hotels, or from a tourist shop.
The country code for Spain is 34.
Money is the peseta rather than the euro. You can get pesetas with an American
ATM card from just about any bank machine. The exchange rate is usually around
180 pesetas per dollar. After January 1, 2002 the Spanish will start using Euro
bills and coins.
If you rent a car, you'll find that a 100-mile drive from Barcelona will take
you to some of the most interesting sights in Spain. Catalonia has an interesting
coastline, particularly to the north. Little villages and monasteries dot the
You can get around the
tourist areas with English but you'll find a lot of strange food on your plate
and conversations will be limited. The average Barcelonan is not a fluent English
speaker. Partly this may be due to the fact that the population is already
bilingual, speaking Spanish and Catalan.
George Orwell wrote about
Barcelona in the difficult civil war years: Homage to Catalonia
. Robert Hughes, art critic and author of one of the best
histories of Australia, has written a massive history of the city: Barcelona
inform yourself about the unique architecture of the city, you might want to
visit the library and pull out some books on Antoni Gaudi, e.g., Gaudi of Barcelona