Barcelona might have already been tried and tested as a top 21st-century tourist destination by many, but it also has unparalleled appeal for intrepid road-trippers looking for that unique blend of history, culture, timeless architecture and a temperate climate to be enjoyed right through the year.
With its irresistible array of tapas bars and a buzzing night-life long into the small hours, not to mention some of the best art galleries outside of Paris and Milan, this sparkling capital of Catalonia is an A-list sightseeing city with the added bonus of being located right in the heart of one of southern Europe’s most appealing coastal regions.
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Barcelona has a medieval district like no other, the world-famous Barri Gòtic (Gothic Quarter) where its old-world atmosphere blends seamlessly with the Modernist magic of Antoni Gaudí’s avant-garde architecture. We’re talking about his stunning Basílica de la Sagrada Família, arguably the world’s most unconventional religious structure which stands proud in one of the city’s prime central locations.
Nearby lies La Rambla, the Barcelona’s majestic tree-lined boulevard (and very much the beating heart of the city) that divides the Old Town into two equally fascinating parts. This is where visitors and locals alike merge together on its broad pavements to browse in shop windows, marvel at all the amazing street entertainment and enjoy a leisurely stroll before dinner.
And if you have time to visit one museum before leaving this great city, make sure it’s the Museu Picasso de Barcelona which occupies five magnificent palaces built in the heart of the Gothic Quarter in the 13th and 14th centuries. The collection comprises more than 4,000 of his works, including several from his Blue Period.
A world of wonder awaits travellers looking to explore the city’s surrounding areas, all of which are easily accessible to those who choose to rent a car in Barcelona with Auto Europe. Heading north takes you straight to the Costa Brava, a region famous for its fine sandy beaches and quaint little fishing villages where the freshest fish and seafood dishes are served straight off the boat.
Rivalling Barcelona in historic importance is Girona, a city notable for its medieval heritage and very much the cultural centre of the Costa Brava. Nestling on the banks of the River Onyar, this ancient walled city has many important sights, such as its old cathedral featuring a rare Romanesque cloister and the second-largest vaulted nave in the world after St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican. Other highlights of the Costa Brava include the imposing Benedictine monastery of Montserrat and the ever-popular Dali Theatre-Museum in Figueres.
But as its name suggests, the Costa Brava is mostly synonymous with the sea and some of the most enchanting beaches in whole Spain can be found along this idyllic stretch of golden coastline. There are several to choose from, some of which are hidden gems, such as Cala Sant Francesc and Cala Sa Forcanera (both in Blanes), Platja de Castell (much frequented by the likes of Marlene Dietrich and Salvador Dalí in years gone by) and Platja de Treumal, considered one of the most typical beaches in the whole of the region.
Travelling south from Barcelona leads you to the aptly named Golden Coast (Costa Dorada), a region bursting with attractions, historic monuments, peaceful villages and, of course, pristine Mediterranean beaches. Some of the places you simply cannot miss in the Costa Dorada include Universal’s PortAventura Theme Park (one of Europe’s best), Tarragona’s medieval quarter, the monasteries of Poblet and Santes Creus and the well-preserved mosaics on display at the Mausoleum of Centcelles.
Heading away from the coast into the Spanish interior affords visitors a true taste of the real Catalonia, a land of great diversity with a variety of landscapes and motoring routes ranging from lush green hills, vast agricultural plains and the snow-capped mountains of the Pyrenees far in the distance. And if you keep driving along the excellent A2 motorway you’ll come to the beautiful city of Zaragoza, a treasure trove of cultural and historical attractions, most notably the Church of Our Lady of the Pillar, the first-ever Marian church in Christendom.
Have a great trip!