According to Mastercard’s annual Global Destination Cities Index, Barcelona was the 17th most visited city in the world in 2018, and the fifth in Europe, with 8.6 million annual tourists (after London, Paris, Milan and Palma de Mallorca).
The survey results reinforce Barcelona’s burgeoning global status since it hosted the 1992 Olympic Games, and reflect the city’s diverse attractions as a chic and cosmopolitan 21st century metropolis.
Barcelona truly has it all, starting with an exceptional location in the north-eastern corner of Spain, extending to the French border, Andorra and the Pyrenees, and home to one of the Mediterranean’s key ports, with picturesque coastal resorts just a short distance away.
Josep Tarradellas Barcelona-El Prat Airport is south-west of Barcelona city, just under 20 kilometres by road.
Barcelona’s first human settlements date to Neolithic times, with the actual city being founded by the Romans at the end of the first century BC. The remains of this early Barcino colony are still visible in the old town.
Barcelona was under Muslim rule for two centuries and, following the Christian Reconquest, it became one of the main Crown of Aragon residences. The mediaeval period established Barcelona’s position as a major economic and political focal point in the western Mediterranean area, highlighted today in the city’s Gothic Quarter.
Struggles from the 15th to 18th centuries to maintain its independence led to Barcelona suffering an extended period of decline. In 1714 the city fell to Bourbon troops, and Catalans’ rights and privileges were suppressed.
From the mid-19th century, the development of a textile industry helped Barcelona regain some of its cultural identity during a period known as the Renaixença.
The restoration of democracy after General Franco’s death in 1975 enabled Barcelona society to recapture its economic strength and restore the Catalan language, culminating in the 1992 Olympics that definitively consolidated the city’s blossoming global status.
Places of Interest
Barcelona is an enchanting blend of Catalan art nouveau, modernisme and contemporary architecture – plus a wonderfully diverse array of public parks and gardens, with fountains, lakes, sculptures and children’s play areas. Barcelona is flanked by two green “lungs”: the Parc de Collserola, a protected natural site, and the Parc de Montjuïc, on a hill that includes the Botanical Gardens.
Barcelona’s Port Olympic marina is one of the city’s most popular leisure areas, offering water sports, beaches and restaurants serving exquisite seafood cuisine.
Located on the famous La Rambla, the Boqueria was named the world’s best food market at the 2006 World Union of Wholesale Markets Congress in Washington.
Then, of course, there is architect Antoni Gaudí, and some of his most striking buildings: on the corner of Carrer Provença, Casa Milà and its undulating forms resembling ocean waves of the ocean; Casa Battle, recalling the legend of Saint George and the dragon; and his iconic work, the Sagrada Família, an unfinished minor basilica that looms majestically over the Barcelona skyline.
Things to Do
Barcelona’s flagship museums offer a captivating mix of art, culture, science and entertainment, including Egyptian mummies, remnants of the city’s Roman origins, and contemporary works of art.
Visitors can also enjoy a journey through centuries of art at prestigious galleries that come under the umbrella of the Catalan Association of Art Galleries; and book tickets for the best concerts and exhibitions held in Spain – and, indeed, Europe – throughout the year.
For families, Barcelona offers an extensive range of activities, including sailing, having fun at an amusement park, seeing sharks up close, stroking a dolphin and, for the more active, riding on a roller-coaster.
As a city known for never going to sleep, Barcelona’s nightlife is an alluring magnet for the international electronic music scene and top DJs, as well as offering a wide cross section of other musical genres including jazz, rock, Latin rhythms and pop.
Barcelona has five kilometres of expansive beaches with golden sands and shallow waters. They are popular recreational hotspots for both locals and visitors, with excellent amenities and services. The beaches are accessible for people with reduced mobility and are conveniently located for public transport and moving around by bike.
Further afield, in other towns along the 95-kilometre Barcelona coast, there are 100 beaches including tiny coves, family-orientated enclaves and naturist havens.