The tour starts at Las Ramblas, Barcelona’s most famous boulevard, right in front of the Liceu Opera House - destroyed three times and still standing today.
A stroll down Barcelona's main pedestrian road, the Ramblas, is a freefall into sensory overload.
The Ramblas, which means "stream" in Arabic, is an endless current of people and action. At the lively La Boquería produce market, locals shop in the morning for the best and freshest selection of meat, fruit and veggies. They say if you can't find it in the Boquería...it's not worth eating!
East of the Ramblas is Barcelona's Gothic quarter, the Barri Gòtic, which centers around the colossal Cathedral. The narrow streets that surround the cathedral are a tangled but inviting grab bag of undiscovered Art Nouveau storefronts, neighborhood flea markets (Thursdays), musty junk shops, classy antique shops and musicians strumming the folk songs of Catalunya (the independent-minded region of northeast Spain, of which Barcelona is the capital). Look up at the wrought-iron balconies, whose bars barely contain their domestic jungles.
A creative spirit is part of the ebb and flow of daily life in Barcelona. Modern artist Joan Miró lived in the Barri Gòtic. His designs are found all over the city, from murals to mobiles to the La Caixa bank logo. If you enjoy his childlike style, ride the funicular up to Parc de Montjuïc, and peek into the Fundació Joan Miró, a showcase for his art.
The Barri Gòtic was also home to a teenaged Pablo Picasso. It was in Barcelona, in the 1890s, that Picasso grabbed hold of the artistic vision that rocketed him to Paris and fame. The Picasso Museum, in the La Ribera district, is far and away the best collection of the artist's work in Spain. Seeing Picasso's youthful, realistic art, you can better appreciate the genius of his later, more abstract art.
For a refreshing break from the dense old city, head north to the modern Eixample neighborhood, with its wide sidewalks, graceful shade trees, chic shops, and Art Nouveau frills. Barcelona was busting out of its medieval walls by the 1850s, and so a new town - called the Eixample, or Expansion - was laid out in a grid pattern. The original vision was an egalitarian one: Each 20-block-square district was to have its own hospital and large park, markets, schools, and daycare centers.
But over time the Eixample became a showcase for wealthy residents and their Catalan architects, who turned the flourishing Art Nouveau style into Modernisme, their own brand of decorative design. Buildings bloom with characteristic colorful, leafy, and flowing shapes in doorways, entrances, facades, and ceilings.