Barcelona has something to offer everyone, which is why it’s now one of the top tourist destinations in Europe. The narrow, Gothic streets of the old town offer mystique and history, while the modern Eixample district, is full of the latest shops and businesses. In the past three decades the city has gone from strength-to-strength and developed a unique identity within Spain. The Catalan language differentiates the spoken word and the architecture sets the city apart as well.
“I am not from Barcelona,” says double F1 world champion Fernando Alonso, “but I like it very much. I like to go to the tapas bars on Las Ramblas, and it’s always good to watch a football game at the Nou Camp, particularly when my team, Real Madrid, are playing FC Barcelona.”
The Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya is situated to the north of the city. Built as part of the development programme for the 1992 Olympic Games, the track was actually finished in time for the 1991 Spanish Grand Prix.
Did you know?
Until 2005, only world champions had ever won at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. The man to break the pattern was Finland's Kimi Raikkonen.
Barcelona's El Prat de Llobregat airport is 12 kilometres southwest of the city and has connections to all major European destinations. There are trains, buses and taxis connecting the airport and the city. The efficient Metro system provides an easy way for getting around the city centre.
The track is a half-hour drive north of Barcelona. If you're not driving, you can take the train to Montmelo station, which is a half-hour walk from the circuit.
The rise of talented youngster Carlos Sainz, combined with the lasting effects of Spain's Alonso-mania, means the track is packed every year. However, to meet demand, the organisers have increased grandstand capacity and split ticket prices into four groups.
For food lovers, no stay in Catalunya is complete until you’ve tried ‘Crema Catalana’, the region’s famous egg-based dessert.
Where to go?
The Picasso Museum is one of the city’s biggest tourist attractions. Its collection of the Spanish artist’s work houses is the most extensive in the country and one of the most notable in the world.
The city boasts many other museums - the Nou Camp's Football Museum is a must for soccer fans - and for the best sights, start in the ninth century Old Town and walk, looking out for Gaudi’s architecture, the Gothic Monastery in Pedralbes, the Placa de Catalunya, the Olympic Port and Las Ramblas.
Where to stay?
“For me,” says Alonso, “it has to be the Hotel Rey Juan Carlos. It’s beautiful and very comfortable.” It was built in 1992 to put up the Olympic Committee during the Games and its prices reflect that fact.
There is accommodation to suit all budgets, however. Most of the more affordable hotels are located in the Gothic districts, with the pricier places located in the Eixample.
There is everything you could want in Barcelona. As well as the many tourist attractions in the city, you can head to the beach. There is a four-kilometre stretch of coastline within the city limits, most of which is sandy.
Equally, you could head out of town. A two-hour drive to the south will take you to Valencia, home of another great Spanish football club, as well as a race track that itself is no stranger to Formula 1 testing.
“If it were me,” says Alonso, “I’d head to the Sierra Nevada. It’s even better if you are there during the winter months because the skiing’s great!”
Seek out Barcelona’s Montjuich Park, home of the Spanish Grand Prix between 1969 and 1975. Although the circuit itself is gone, you can still drive the route of the track, and the hillside setting offers fantastic views over the city.
Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya
Real Automobil Club de Catalunya
AP de Correus 27
Images © Turisme de Barcelona