All of that sun, sea, and sangria can go straight to the head in Gaudi’s architectural wonderland — Barcelona. You might’ve seen the sights and tasted your way through town, but here are 10 things you probably don’t know about the Catalan capital.
- 1. The Roman side of the city
- 2. Beaches were permanently closed
- 3. There are 9 UNESCO World Heritage Sites
- 4. Barcelona has a ghoulish underground
- 5. Barcelona’s experience with anarchy
- 6. How the city broke a record
- 7. La Sagrada Familia nearly wasn’t
- 8. FC Barcelona is owned by its fans
- 9. Gaudi died accidentally
- 10. Barcelona speaks Catalan
1. The Roman side of the city
These days Barcelona is known for its vibrant nightlife, but it wasn’t always so care-free. Before discos and drinks, there was the Roman predecessor, ‘Barcino’. Not exactly a modern metropolis, Barcino was a small city that had been colonized by Roman Emperor Augustus. The Emperor was so proud of his conquered town, he had a temple built in his own honor. Fortunately, you can still see it in the Gothic Quarter on your next trip!
If you’re looking for the whole story, you can head to the Museo d’Historia de Catalunya for all the juicy details. All 2000 years’ worth, that is.
2. Beaches were permanently closed
If you wanted a beach day in Barcelona before the 1990s, you were out of luck. Until the Olympic Games of 1992, there simply weren’t any! To prepare for the upcoming games, 4.5 km (2.8 miles) were cleared to make the beaches we know and love today. And that wasn’t all the city prepared. Roads, sewage systems, and green spaces were also expanded so Barcelona looked its best for the coming crowds.
The best way to see the city and soak in the Mediterranean sun today has to be on two wheels. If you find yourself in Barcelona, this three-hour bike tour lets you pedal at your own pace through the city’s liveliest neighborhoods, and of course, the beaches.
3. There are 9 UNESCO World Heritage Sites
One of the things making Barcelona so significant is that it’s home to 9 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Don’t think that’s a lot? To give you an idea, there are only 23 across the entire United States!
Of course, no visit to the city would be complete without diving into the genius of Gaudi (7 of the 9 sites are his!). Through this Gaudi walking tour you can deep dive into “God’s architect’s” personal playground, including La Sagrada Familia and La Pedrera.
Barcelona is waiting whenever you’re ready for a visit!
4. Barcelona has a ghoulish underground
If you’re looking to see something spooky, visiting a deserted underground metro station could be just the ticket. Hidden deep under the bustling streets of Barcelona are 12 “ghost stations” (some of which are reportedly haunted!). During the Spanish Civil war, the metro stops served as air-raid shelters before being later abandoned.
If you’re a fan of ghost stories, you’ll hear more than enough ghoulish tales on a Ghost Tour around the Gothic Quarter.
5. Barcelona’s experience with anarchy
Relaxing in the sunshine with sangria in hand can make it hard to imagine the tougher times of Barcelona’s past. In the 1930s, however, the city was anarchy, with street battles between rival political groups becoming more and more common. That all came to an end during the Spanish Civil War when Franco came to power.
Looking to learn more about the city’s complex history? With a Barcelona Card you can explore Barcelona unbridled. You’ll gain access to 25 museums and free public transport, you might give tour guides a run for their money!
6. How the city broke a record
Every year the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), hands out awards recognizing a person’s contribution to architecture. Usually, the prize goes to an engineer, artist, scholar, or of course, an architect. But just once, it went to an entire city — that’s right, it went to Barcelona. RIBA gave the award to the city in recognition of its radical urban transformation leading up to the 1992 Olympics.
On this bike tour, you’ll learn about the “Olympic effect” while you cycle through the city center.
7. La Sagrada Familia nearly wasn’t
The Sagrada Familia is the famously unfinished masterpiece of Antoni Gaudi — construction is ongoing 138 years later! Despite the lengthy build, plans were almost canceled altogether. In 1936, at the height of the Spanish Civil War, revolutionaries broke into Gaudi’s workshop, destroying his original drawings and plaster models.
It took a whopping 16 years to piece back together the original model. So it’s no wonder the real thing is still under construction.
8. FC Barcelona is owned by its fans
Most football clubs have supporters who pay to watch their team every week. But not every club is owned entirely by its members. That’s exactly what makes FC Barcelona so special. With about 140,000 members, or ‘socis’, the team has become one of the world’s most successful fan-owned clubs.
On a visit to Camp Nou, you’ll get a chance to walk onto the field of Europe’s largest stadium. Follow in the footsteps of footballing greats like Maradona and Ronaldinho, even if just for a day!
9. Gaudi died accidentally
The iconic architecture of Catalonia’s most famous artist ensures that Gaudi’s legacy will live on for centuries. Despite all the beautiful landmarks he left behind in Barcelona, his death came unexpectedly. While working on his latest project with no end in sight — La Sagrada Familia — he took a break and went on his daily walk to confession. Sadly, on June 7, 1926 he was accidentally hit and fatally wounded by a city tram.
If you want to pay your respects with a trip to his final and largest project, the otherworldly Basilica, you’ll get to see some of his sketches up close. You can start planning now for when the doors reopen.
10. Barcelona speaks Catalan
The proud Catalan identity of Barcelona is reflected throughout the city, right down to the naming of the streets and the language taught in schools. After years of repression under General Franco, the city reclaimed its Catalonian identity in 1975. Today, 80% of the population can speak Catalan, with almost half speaking it as a first language.
If you’re looking to get under the skin of the culture, the Palau de la Música Catalana is the place to start. Plus, it’s where the Orfeó Catala choir has rehearsed for over 100 years: if you swing by at the right time, you might just catch them.