Barcelona
  Barcelona
Exploring

Downtown Barcelona's main artery, La Rambla is a large commercial avenue with a tree-lined median that extends from Plaça Catalunya, located north of the Plaza de la Paz, to the south, where stands a column topped with a statue of Christopher Columbus. A model of the Santa María is moored at the dock of the delightful neighbouring port. On the esplanade, the Royal Shipyards, dating back to the 14th century, are home to the outstanding Museu Marítim (Drassanes Avenue s/n, tel. 34 93 342 99 20, www.museumaritimbarcelona.com).

East of La Rambla, the stunning historic downtown area (Barri Gòtic), with its narrow streets lined with palaces and small churches, wraps around the Cathedral (Plaça de la Seu, tel. 34 93 315 11 11), which is famous for its spire. A marvellous example of Gothic Catalonian architecture, it was constructed between the 13th and 15th centuries. Many of this neighbourhood's buildings were built on the ancient Roman Wall. One example of this is the Archdeacon's House (11th century), which is flanked by two towers. Dating back to the 15th century, the Palau de la Generalitat combines Gothic and Renaissance architectural styles. An impressive staircase leads to a courtyard filled with orange trees.

To the east, the Plaça del Rei, one of the most beautiful in Barcelona, is actually one of the interior courtyards of the former Royal Palace. From here, you can see the Chapel of Santa Agueda, the massive Tinell hall and the gorgeous Casa Padellás, a 15th-century Gothic palace that houses the Museu d'Història de la Ciutat (Plaça del Rei, tel. 932 562 100). Here, an underground path leads visitors on an exploration of ancient Roman streets that were discovered during archaeological digs. The nearby Museu Frederic Marès (Plaça de Sant lu, 5-6, tel. 93 256 35 00, www.museumares.bcn.es) features both a section devoted to religious art and a "sentimental" floor... The Ajuntament, the city hall that sports a spectacular Gothic facade, stands at Sant Jaume Square. Along Montcada Street, toward the southwest, you will find the most beautiful residences in old Barcelona. One of them, the Aguilar Palace, houses the Museu Picasso (Montcada St., 15-23, tel. 34 93 256 30 00, www.museupicasso.bcn.es), which is primarily dedicated to the artist's youth. The Església de Santa María del Mar (Plaça de Santa Maria del Mar) is a gem of Gothic design.

Dominating the city, the hill of Montjuïc was fortified during the 17th century and hosted the 1929 Barcelona World's Fair. A replica of various national monuments, the Poble Espanyol (Marquès de Comillas Ave., 13, tel. 935 086 300, www.poble-espanyol.com) was built during the same period. Spectacular views of the city and port can be had from the top of the hill, which can be reached by funicular or cable car. There are several museums at Montjuïc: the Catalunya National Museum of Art (Palau Nacional, Montjuïc Park, tel. 93 622 03 76, www.mnac.es), one of the world's most interesting Roman and Gothic art museums, the Fundació Joan Miró (Montjuïc Park, s/n, tel. 93 443 94 70, www.bcn.fjmiro.es) and the Museu d'Arqueologia de Catalunya (Passeig de Santa Madrona 39-41, www.mac.es).

The Eixample neighbourhood, north of the city, features a monument that is emblematic of Barcelona: the Sagrada Familia church (www.sagradafamilia.org). Began in 1883 and still incomplete, this is Gaudí's amazing masterpiece, a testament to this phenomenal architect's very personal style. The building is crowned with spires which bear witness to Gaudí's penchant for symbolism and expressive forms inspired by nature. Another of Gaudí's creations, the Casa Milà (Provença 261), is also worth a visit. Further north, Güell Park was also designed by Gaudí.