Explore the lively side of Spain
With warm golden sand and aquamarine water on one side, and the jagged mountains of the Pyrenees on another, Catalonia is one of Spain’s treasured regions. Located in the northeast corner of Spain, ask a local and they’ll tell you that Spain is located in the southwest corner of Catalonia. With fantastic regional cuisine, stunning landscapes, vibrant nightlife and fiercely independent residents, Catalonia has four distinct and diverse provinces worth exploring — Barcelona, Girona, Lleida and Tarragona.
Spain’s second-largest city, Barcelona, is located along the coast in the middle of Catalonia. Home to more than 1.5 million residents, Barcelona is a vibrant and bustling city. History comes alive through the architectural ingenuity of Antoni Gaudí at Casa Batlló, Casa Milà (also known as La Pedrera) and perhaps the most recognizable, Sagrada Família. Under construction for more than 100 years, the outside is imposing and breathtaking at the same time. Stroll through another Gaudi masterpiece, Parc Güell. Whimsical building designs, vibrant statues and colorful tile and glass works are intertwined among the natural beauty.
For sports enthusiasts, check out Camp Nou, where FC Barcelona has been thrilling fútbol fans and maintaining a fierce rivalry with Real Madrid. During game days, pack into the stadium with 99,000 of your newest friends, or take a break from the crowd and enjoy cold sangria while watching at a local bar. On non-match days, you can explore the facility with a tour, which takes you through the entirety of the enormous stadium.
Need to expend some energy? Mix it up at Eclipse Barcelona at the W Hotel. Located on the top floor, pulse-pounding beats and signature cocktails are combined with an amazing 360-degree view of the city and coastline. Dress to impress, and be sure to make reservations in advance. If Ibiza-style clubbing is more your style, check out Pacha Barcelona. Internationally known DJs spin house and techno styles in the trendy neighborhood of Barceloneta. Take a breather on the stunning terrace overlooking the beach.
Northwest of Barcelona, Girona is the quieter sibling of Barcelona. Girona is rooted deep in tradition; some of the Roman ruins in the city date back to the first century B.C. You can walk along the Passeig de la Muralla, the city’s former defensive walls, and take in the spectacular views of the town. Navigate through the narrow passages and patios of the Jewish Quarter (El Call), a reminder of the influence of the Jewish culture in Catalonia.
If you’re craving beach time, Costa Brava will not disappoint. Not nearly as crowded as those in Barcelona, discover stretches of warm, sandy beaches and hidden bays, some of which are only accessible by boat. Take a trip off the beaten path to Sa Caleta. This cove of aquamarine water isn’t much of a sandy beach, but more of fantastic snorkeling spot. Explore the teeming sea life among the rocky shoals. Don’t want to get your feet wet? Hike up the hill to the castle ruins perched above the water. Sa Tuna is a quiet outlet reminiscent of Cinque Terre in Italy. Surrounded by a quaint fishing village, this charming small beach has calm and tranquil waters.
Perhaps the least known of the four provinces, Lleida is the only landlocked province in Catalonia. This province is an excellent agricultural and wine producing region. Bordered by France and Andorra in the Pyrenees, Lleida is the leading ski and winter sports destination in Spain. In the summer, enjoy hiking and traversing through Catalonia’s only national park, Parc Nacional Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici. Or take a walk among history in Vall de Boí. Explore the nine 11th-century churches that make up the Catalan Romanesque Churches UNESCO World Heritage Site designation.
After taking in a beautiful Catalan sunset, head over to Capi’s Music Bar in the heart of Lleida. This music venue is known for great live shows from local talent, as well as up and coming international artists. During the summer, enjoy delicious eats and inventive drinks on their outdoor terrace. ¡Bon profit!
If you take the train from Barcelona to Tarragona, the southernmost Catalan province, consider making a stop along the way in Castelldefels. Cutting through mountains and winding along the rugged coastline, it will likely be one of the most picturesque train rides you’ll remember. Located approximately 40 minutes from Barcelona, this charming beach town is worth a visit. With most of the locals taking advantage of the golden sand, the touristy vibe is kept to a minimum. Stroll along the wooden promenade and take in the view. Enjoy authentic beachside tapas from one of the many bars located a few meters from the water’s edge.
As you make your way into Tarragona, take pause at the breathtaking panorama of the Mediterranean from the Amfiteatre romà de Tàrraco, a second century amphitheater facing the sea. The area is home to the oldest Roman settlement on the Iberian Peninsula. Travel a few kilometers outside of the city to find the well-preserved Roman aqueduct, Pont del Diable.
Tarragona is also home to more than 80 kilometers of pristine beaches, known as Costa Daurada. The largest stretch of fine, golden sand is Cunit Beach. With seven breakwaters, the Mediterranean laps gently at the shore in man-made lagoons. Take a break from the warm rays of the sun and peruse the charming shops along the beachfront. Or sip the day away with delicious local wines and sangria while nibbling on tasty tapas such as spicy Patates Bravas.
Whether you bask in the warmth of the sun along Costa Brava or Daurada, take in the sweeping views of rocky coastline from the train, or gaze in the stunning sunset of the Barcelona skyline from one of the hottest clubs in town, Catalonia is sure to captivate your spirit.
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