The capital city of the “autonomous” Catalonia province in north-eastern Spain
(at least as long as Catalonia doesn't achieve actual independence). It is one of the great European cities and a tourist magnet of the highest order. And that quite deservedly so. It's a splendid place. For the dark tourist, however, it offers very little, but that includes some excellent tours
on the topic of the Spanish Civil War
What there is to see:
Barcelona was a key “theatre” of the Spanish Civil War
, especially in its earlier phases. The topic is somewhat less suppressed here as it is, for instance, in the capital Madrid
, but to get some proper insights and to find the various locations of significance in this context it is best to go on a special guided walking tour:
Less established and almost a “secret”, forgotten spot in the same context is the Fossar de la Pedrera
. The latter was the location of a mass grave for victims of the White Terror. There are a few memorials here, as well as a monument commemorating the Holocaust
Furthermore, the site is so significant because a) it also honours the victims of the Franco era following the war as such (i.e. Franco's revenge), and b) this is a rare site where the role of anarchism in the conflict and the whole history of local political culture is acknowledged.
Unfortunately, the site, in a hidden corner in Montjuic cemetery, is far from easy to get to and the regular tourist information services ignore or shun it (cf. Madrid
). However, the same service that runs the regular Civil War tours also offers special guided tours to this secluded spot. And, again, that's certainly the best way of visiting the site.
The rest of the Montjuic cemetery may of course also be worth a look around. Furthermore, it is home to a Museum of Funeral Carriages (at 56, Mare de Deu de Port, open Wednesday to Sundays 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., free).
When I was in Spain
in spring 2015, I was told by two Barcelona-based British guides (see Civil War tour
) that there are increasingly concrete plans to finally set up a dedicated Spanish Civil War Museum in Barcelona. It remains to be seen if/when these plans may actually come to fruition, but it if they do then that would be a major boost to the city's dark-tourism portfolio (and its darkometer ranking) too. Let's keep fingers crossed. If I hear more about this, I'll post new info here. If you do before I do, please let me know (contact me
in the far north-east of Spain
on the Mediterranean coast, 65 miles (100 km) south of the border with France
, but over 300 miles (500 km) from Spain's capital Madrid
Co-ordinates and Google maps locators:
Fossar de la Pedrera:
Cathedral and Gothic Quarter:
Access and costs:
easy to get to, a bit more expensive than other cities in Spain
, but still reasonable.
Getting to Barcelona is easy by train or plane. Trains connect northwards to the similarly efficient French
railway network, and if you rather want to fly in, Barcelona has Spain
's second largest and busiest international airport (after Madrid
's), and plenty of connections, including budget airlines. Trains are the best way to get to the city centre from the airport.
Getting around within this sprawling big city is aided by an excellent public transport network, especially the fast, efficient and economical metro. There are also buses and trams, but these will rarely be needed by tourists. Except perhaps for getting to the Fossar de la Pedrera independently (line 21, from Avenida Parallel, or line 9 from Placa Catalunya).
Within the city centre – and even beyond, walking is by far the best way to get around if you possibly can. I found Barcelona one of the most rewarding cities for walking.
options are plentiful and good bargains can be found, even if the general price level is a bit above that found in many other cities in Spain
). One mid-price hotel I can recommend is the Barcelo Sants at the train station of the same name (convenient for arriving at and departing the city), if mainly for its outrageous space-station-like design elements. You feel like you're in the film “2001 – a Space Odyssey” (and that is deliberate!). It is, however, a good walk or a few metro stops out of the city centre.
Food & drink
can also cost a little more here than in other parts of Spain, but the choice is overwhelming. I'd recommend staying away from the tourist trap restaurants along the sightseeing hotspots. Rather venture into more local areas and you might get much better food for far less money. Another cool way of saving is to go to one of the splendid food markets and just grab some snacks. By the way, the ubiquitous Spanish “tapas” are available here too, but locally the sort that is more commonly called “pintxos” is especially popular here (like in the Basque country too).
Time required: For just the few dark bits, a single day could be enough, at a push. However, this city deserves at least a couple more days of exploring. And if you want to go deeper, even a whole week would be too little time.
Combinations with other dark destinations:
Barcelona is a useful point of entry for going to the Terra Alta region and the Ebro battlefields
of the Spanish Civil War
, just a couple of hours away by train or car.
And thanks to the excellent rail links, even Madrid
is just a few hours away by high-speed train. And en route, Zaragoza makes a good base for an excursion to Belchite
(which, however, requires a car).
See also under Spain
Combinations with non-dark destinations: The prime attraction of Barcelona is its cityscape itself. Sure, there are museums, bars, sports, fashion, cultural offerings, but nothing beats just wandering the streets here. And there are great contrasts to be had – from the ancient “Gothic Quarter” to the elegance and flamboyancy of the “Modernisme” buildings of Gaudi et al. in the Eixample district to some ultra-modern architecture. Furthermore, the local neighbourhoods just outside the main tourist drags can also be very pleasant to explore. After a day I basically gave up on public transport altogether and just walked everywhere … although my feet felt it after a couple more days. Great city.
If one had to pick out one iconic attraction of Barcelona it will have to be the Sagrada Familia. This Catholic church is generally regarded as eccentric architect Antoni Gaudi's masterpiece. That's despite the fact that he died in an accident (run over by a tram) in 1926, at an early stage of the construction, and his work remains unfinished to this day.
However, in recent years efforts have been stepped up to achieve the goal of completing the construction by 2026 (in time for the centenary of its designer's death). You can tell which bits are recent additions – look for the clean concrete – and which are original. There seems to be a certain shift in style too – especially the more recent statuary appears a lot chunkier and “cubist” than the older ones from the 1920s.
The Sagrada Familia is surely an impressive sight, though some say, less favourably, that it's basically just the world's most hyped-up building site. But it is certainly immensely popular. You can view the church for free from the outside at any time, but to get inside you need a ticket (expensive and you need to book ahead online or risk standing in line for hours).
More (and complete) examples of the Modernisme style (which is a Catalan branch of art nouveau, really) by Gaudi and his contemporaries can be found in various locations in the Eixample district, the best known and most flamboyant are the Casa Mila and the Casa Batllo, both on Passeig de Gracia. But there are plenty more architectural gems to be spotted in this area.
The Barri Gotic, the medieval Gothic Quarter, radiating out around the cathedral, is a cool warren of cobbled (and mostly pedestrianized) alleys and little squares full of (very) olde worlde charm. The neighbouring La Ribera quarter is similar and a bit less touristy, and also full of interesting little shops.
Speaking of shopping, Barcelona is also one of the world's prime hotspots for fashion and design (probably ranking third after Milan and Paris) – and this shows in the extraordinary shop window designs you can find here. This is window shopping on a different level to most other places.
For sports and in particular football enthusiasts, the city is of course also the holy grail home of the famous F.C. Barcelona. In fact, the club's museum at the gigantic Camp Nou stadium is one of the most visited attractions in the city!
The 1992 Olympic Games have left their mark on the city too, especially on the waterfront at the Port Olimpic, but also in Parc de Montjuic.
In the marinas along the central part of Barcelona's waterfront you can spot plenty of luxury yachts – playthings for the obscenely rich. On a lower key, the city also has its own beaches just a little further out.
Moreover, Barcelona is also a regular port of call for cruise ships – that bane of contemporary tourism. At least Barcelona is big enough and a major tourist destination anyway, so it doesn't make such an awful lot of a difference when a couple of these monstrous floating horizontal skyscrapers spill out their tight-scheduled cargo into the city.
- Barcelona 01 - Sagrada Familia
- Barcelona 02 - where Star Wars meets Jesus
- Barcelona 03 - iconic representation
- Barcelona 04 - Modernisme architecture
- Barcelona 05 - Casa Mila by Antoni Gaudi
- Barcelona 06 - other pretty architecture
- Barcelona 07 - contrasting with the 1970 Edifici Colon skyscraper
- Barcelona 08 - cathedral
- Barcelona 09 - gothic quarter
- Barcelona 10 - narrow streets
- Barcelona 11 - wide boulevards
- Barcelona 12 - Placa Espanya
- Barcelona 13 - former bullring converted into a shopping centre
- Barcelona 14 - marina
- Barcelona 15 - playthings for the obscenely rich
- Barcelona 16 - Montjuic
- Barcelona 17 - reflective
- Barcelona 18 - owl advertising lights
- Barcelona 19 - dragon advertising umbrellas
- Barcelona 20 - a trace of socialist realist art
- Barcelona 21 - a city of fashion
- Barcelona 22 - inspirational
- Barcelona 23 - Catalonian and European statements by flag