Three days in Barcelona – the little mountain and its magic fountain – day 3
So far in our 3-day tour of the city we’ve soaked up the atmosphere of the old town and immersed ourselves in Modernista masterpieces. On our last day, it’s time for a change of pace. We’re going to head for the hills – the lush green area of Montjuïc, to be precise. Although not particularly high, Montjuïc rises up abruptly from the low, flat plain on which central Barcelona sits and as a result it provides the perfect hang-out for most of your final day in the city.
As a visitor it can be easy to forget that this metropolis is the capital of Catalonia, a region of Spain that sees itself as a separate entity to the rest of the country. However, if you want to try and understand this city, even at a glance, it’s important to bear this in mind. We’ve decided to provide two options to start the day – one distinctly Catalan and the other about as Spanish as you can get.
09:00 – Option one – Camp Nou
Let’s be honest, for a lot of people Barcelona means one thing – football and the stomping ground of the mighty FC Barcelona. Located in an uninspiring suburb of the city, Camp Nou is the largest stadium in Europe, with a capacity of just under 100,000. The stadium’s museum is the second most visited museum in Catalonia and offers different insights into why Barça is, to quote the team’s motto, ‘more than a club’. The experience includes a tour of the stadium with behind-the-scenes access and a major multimedia presentation on the team’s history.
Or option two – Poble Espanyol, the ‘Spanish Village’
If football’s not your thing, another interesting way to start the day is to head to the Poble Espanyol on the lower slopes of Montjuïc. Four times the size of FC Barça’s football pitch, the complex is a huge open-air museum made up of a whole village of buildings representing each region of Spain. For some it’s slightly kitsch, and can be thronged with tourists. On the other hand, now that its buildings have had a chance to age (it was constructed as part of the Barcelona International Exposition in 1929) the whole complex has a more authentic, ‘lived in’ feel.
A major draw is the thriving craft market, with lots of little workshops that provide an original source of holiday souvenirs. If you’re travelling as a family, there’s also a treasure hunt around the village for kids to enjoy.
12:00 – the magic of Miró
If you decided on Poble Espanyol, you’re already in the part of the city with the greatest concentration of must-see monuments – this is the area surrounding Montjuïc, and it will easily keep you occupied for the rest of the day. A slightly more highbrow, though equally fun destination, the Fundació de Joan Miró is next on your list. Founded by Catalonia’s most influential artist, Miró himself, this gallery is dedicated to showcasing his greatest works.
You can easily wander around the bright and airy building taking in the playful and colourful character of Miró’s legacy. At the same time the gallery really excels at giving you a deeper understanding of this artist, and an excellent audio tour in various languages is well worth paying a little bit extra for.
13:30 – take in some culinary art
As you get further up Montjuïc, and away from the city, there are fewer opportunities to find restaurants. A really nice option though is to plan ahead and take a packed lunch with you – there’s nothing better than enjoying a picnic of tortilla and Cava on one of the grassy slopes. If you do fancy dining out, you could treat yourselves at the 5-star Miramar hotel, which sits imperiously at the eastern side of Montjuïc. For lunch in a Modernista setting, there’s La Font del Gat restaurant, which is just a little further down the hill from the Joan Miró museum. It offers a good-value lunch menu although the fountain it’s named after is a little underwhelming.
15:00 – a palatial perspective
The area around the Plaça de Espanya is like no other in Barcelona. Stand at the entrance to the sweeping Avinguda de la Reina Maria Cristina, set between two sentinel-like Venetian towers, and you’ll see your next destination atop the hill. The Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC) is housed in the grandiose national palace, and its epic surroundings were created to host the 1929 International Exposition. Almost a century later it’s lost none of its grandeur.
MNAC contains an awe-inspiring collection of art spanning an entire millennium. It’s well worth taking the time to appreciate this world-leading collection and its magnificent home. The fresco ‘Christ in his Majesty’, which was painstakingly transferred from its original home in a Pyrenean church, is probably the main highlight if you’re pushed for time.
17:00 – get a sense of Olympic history
Montjuïc was also the focus of the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games, and you can appreciate the legacy of this epoch-making event by walking slightly further up the hill from MNAC. The Anella Olímpica, the ‘Olympic Ring’ is the main collection of buildings, including the massive Olympic Stadium. Look out for the footprints of world-renowned athletes on the pavement outside. One sight you can’t miss is the controversial communications tower, which is one of the most iconic features of the Barcelona skyline. (Apparently it represents an athlete carrying the Olympic torch – judge for yourself.)
As you continue to climb Montjuïc’s slopes, take your pick from multiple routes that meander past several gardens to the castle at the top. (If that sounds a bit ambitious, you can always hop on the Telefèric cable car from the Avinguda de Miramar).
18:00 – the summit of your trip
Once you reach the castle, head inside and mount the ramparts (entrance is free after 3pm every Sunday) for a spectacular view over the city and port. The castle itself has a dark history for Catalans – repressive governments brutally asserted their authority from this base for centuries. However, given that it dates from the 18th
century, it’s unusually well preserved. From the green Collserola mountains to the sparkling Mediterranean, you’ll be able to pick out most of the sites that you’ve visited over the past three days.
And for the grand finale? Try and time your descent back to the Plaça de Espanya to coincide with one of the evening shows at the Magic Fountain (they start around 9pm). The spectacle of music, light and water is surprisingly moving, and is a fitting way to round off your three days in this charismatic city.