Living in Barcelona

IESE’s campus is located just minutes from the center of Barcelona, one of Europe’s most dynamic cities and a thriving business and industrial hub. It rests in a basin surrounded by mountains and bordered by the Mediterranean Sea. It is the capital of Catalonia, one of Spain’s most autonomous communities and throughout the centuries has flourished as a center of art, education and maritime trade.

Despite a population of over 2 million, Barcelona is a surprisingly easy place to find your way around in. It originally developed as a series of largely self-contained neighborhoods. These neighborhoods have retained their separate identities and functions through to the present day. Most items of historic interest are in the old town, which –despite its confusing streets and alleys– is small enough to master quickly on foot. A couple of central park areas, formerly defensive positions for various city rulers, hold the majority of Barcelona’s best museums. The excellent public transportation system and a decent map are all you need to find your way around the regular grid pattern of streets and avenues. Barcelona’s neighborhoods and architecture are a living testament to the city’s history.

It is almost impossible not to have fun in Barcelona! The city has an active cultural life, with the city government (Ajuntament) and Catalan government (Generalitat) continually organizing and sponsoring exhibitions, concerts and other events, many of them for free. Useful information you can find in La Guía del Ocio and at barcelona-on-line.

Being Spain’s second largest city, Barcelona has its own unique and fascinating culture. Do not miss the following top 10 things to visit in Barcelona:

  • 1. La Rambla
    Barcelona's most famous pedestrian boulevard is hugely popular with tourists and locals alike. Sit and watch the people go by at one of the many outdoor cafes and restaurants. Sights include the Columbus monument at the end of the Rambla, the Gran Teatre del Liceu (La Rambla, 61-65), Plaça Reial and the Mercat de la Boqueria (La Rambla, 85-89). A good place to find English and other foreign-language newspapers and books at any of the many newsstands.
  • 2. Barri Gòtic
    Or Gothic Quarter. Here’s where you’ll find the real Old Barcelona. Wander down the narrow streets to find hidden plazas and the many bars, cafes and restaurants. Plaça de Sant Jaume is where the main government buildings are located. The cathedral, located in this quarter, is also well worth a visit.
  • 3. Port Olímpic/Barceloneta
    Barceloneta has some of the city’s finest seafood restaurants and allows easy access to the beach. Port Olímpic is a more upmarket area redeveloped in time for the 1992 Olympics held here. At Port Vell, you will find the city’s aquarium, the largest in Europe, and Maremagnum, a modern shopping center with lots of bars, restaurants, a movie theatre and other fun activities.
  • 4. Tibidabo
    One of the two big hills overlooking Barcelona. Getting there is half the fun, as you take the funicular straight up the steep hillside. There is an amusement park at the top, as well as the Temple del Sagrat Cor, the church that can be seen from almost anywhere in the city.
  • 5. Parc de la Ciutadella
    One of the few big green spaces in Barcelona. Take a walk around and enjoy the tranquility. At the south end of the park you’ll also find the city zoo. The Museum of Natural Sciences is also here. Open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
  • 6. Montjuïc
    The other hill overlooking Barcelona. Another fun trip just getting there if you take the funicular. There’s a lot to do once you’re there. Poble Espanyol is a touristy but interesting model Spanish village. The Olympic stadium is also located on Montjuïc. You can visit the Fundació Miró, a gallery featuring the work of one of Catalonia’s greatest artists, Joan Miró. At the top of the mountain you will find the historic Castell de Montjuïc, which dates from the late 17th century.
  • 7. Ruta del Modernisme
    Visit some of Barcelona's famous Modernist style buildings around town. Key buildings include La Pedrera, a residence built by Gaudí (Passeig de Gràcia, 92), Casa Batlló, also by Gaudí (Passeig de Gràcia, 43) and Casa Lleó Morera (Passeig de Gràcia, 35) by Modernist architect Domènech i Montaner. Also, don’t miss Parc Güell, a fascinating imaginative park designed by Gaudí, or the Sagrada Família, Gaudí’s masterpiece. This impressive Modernist structure has been under construction for more than 100 years and is not yet half completed. You can climb up the towers for an awesome view of the city. To tour the Modernist sights, pick up a copy of the map with routes and descriptions at Palau Güell (Nou de la Rambla, 3-5), the Modernisme Center (Plaça de Catalunya) or Casa Lleó Morera (Passeig de Gràcia, 35).
  • 8. Museums
    Museu Picasso, Museu de la Ciència, Museu de la Història de Catalunya, Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Museu de la Història de la Ciutat, Museu Marítim and Fundació Miró.
  • 9. Montserrat
    An 11th -century monastery built upon some of the most dramatic and impressive mountain peaks around. Great place for hiking (or even rock climbing) after you’ve seen the famous Virgin of Montserrat, a black virgin who is the patron saint of Catalonia, and heard the famous Choir of the Abadia of Montserrat sing. Get there by taking the FGC trains from Plaça Espanya, and purchase a Tot Montserrat card, which covers transportation from Barcelona, elevated train ride, funicular and even lunch at the restaurant there.
  • 10. Sitges
    A fashionable beach resort town to the south of Barcelona. Well known for its excellent beaches, seaside walks and friendly plazas. At night, it’s quite festive with a host of nightclubs, cafes and terrace restaurants.

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Desiree Elisabeth Janssen