Barcelona has become a summer weekend-break favourite. The Catalan capital has much to offer all year round – from the celebrated design and architecture of Gaudi, to Montserrat monastery and the unique features of Tibidabo, the many famed attractions of Barcelona offer something for most visitors. The city’s cultural history is evident, and is maintained in the form of architecture, sculptures and museums, openly celebrated by residents and visitors alike.
Illuminations, and many decorative nativity scenes appear throughout the city on plazas and in churches. The largest of these is situated at the Plaça Sant Jaume, inthe centre of the Old City. Throughout December, the famous ‘magic fountain’ at Montjuic features a special Christmas water and music show, which may be seen on Friday and Saturday evenings. The Christmas markets of Barcelona are beautifully festive. The Santa Llucia Fair features over 300 stalls offering Catalan gifts and decorations, alongside traditional music and dance shows. With over 30 miles of Christmas lights, the Santa Llucia Market is quite something.
In Barcelona, the traditional aspects of Christmas and New Year that are celebrated in the United Kingdom are complemented by some interesting Catalan cultural beliefs. Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are reserved for opulent meals with family and friends and the Tio de Nadal. Other presents are instead handed out on Epiphany, the 6th of January. On the eve of Epiphany, the Calvacada del Reis is held, a grand parade featuring acrobats, clowns and elves.
Between the award-winning beach, its many pristinely maintained parks, the broad streets lined with grand buildings and its mysterious Gothic Quarter, the city of Barcelona has a lot to boast about. The architectural work of Antoni Gaudí has long been attracting visitors to Barcelona, and his creations are situated throughout the city. The Casa Batlló presents one of the most unusually designed houses in Barcelona, and the picturesque Parc Güell exhibits an array of buildings and sculptures intricately decorated with Gaudí’s distinctive tile work.
Perhaps the most famous of all Gaudí’s work, the Sagrada Familia, sits in the centre of Barcelona. The Basilica has been in construction since 1882, and is still some distance from completion. It follows the plans and vision of Gaudí, who was known for his intricacy and perfectionism. When the building of the church is finished, it aims to have 18 towers: 12 that are dedicated to the apostles, 4 to the evangelists, one to Jesus and another to Mary.
Due to its situation on the coast of a mountainous region, Barcelona is surrounded by an array of stunning vast peaks. Montserrat lies to the northwest of the city, home to the Benedictine monastery. From there, visitors might take a funicular towards the summit, which offers outstanding views of Catalonia. From Montserrat, the view of Barcelona is hidden behind the Tibidabo Mountain.
The Tibidabo Mountain, reachable only via an unusual journey of bus, tram and funicular, offers prime views over the city. It is topped with an amusement park built in 1889, and still features some of the original rides alongside more modern additions. Providing an interesting backdrop to the theme park is a nineteenth-century Neo-Gothic church: the Temple de Sagrat Cor. The church’s interior features historical artworks, and the outside is detailed in design. Visitors to the church may take a lift to the higher levels for a small fee, and the more adventurous might go even higher by climbing the spiral staircase to the very top of the Temple de Sagrat Cor. Here there is a small viewing platform, situated just below the statue that adorns the church. At 575 meters above sea level, the air is thin, and the views are superlative.
Barcelona’s attractions are only enhanced by its love of celebration – in summer there is a busy schedule of festivals and cultural celebrations that take over the city. This celebratory ideology is continued into the winter, with Barcelona’s splendid traditional Christmas markets and elaborate decorations appearing alongside its more whimsical Catalan traditions.
Which other European cities have unique Christmas traditions?