Mobile World Congress Barcelona: things to do in your free time
Barcelona, the only city to host the GSMA Mobile World Congress, is bursting with great restaurants, chic clubs, creative cocktails, top shops and more.
Thu Jan 30 2014
Welcome to Barcelona! You're here for the biggest global meeting on mobile technology, the GMSA Mobile World Congress. But what will you do in your free time? Lucky for you, you're in one of the most vibrant cities in Europe, and whether you want to spend your hours away from work dining in Michelin-starred restaurants, sipping cocktails by the sea, dancing the night away, or unwinding in a relaxing spa, we've got you covered. The city is full of things to do, from art exhibitions to concerts to local festivals, and even at the end of February, the weather's often good enough to enjoy the winter sun on terraces and in squares, and even along the coast at the beaches. Even if you're only in town for a couple of days, you'll find plenty of things to do in Barcelona.
Ten sights you won't want to miss
One of the most perfect surviving examples of the Catalan Gothic style, this graceful basilica stands out for its characteristic horizontal lines, plain surfaces, square buttresses and flat-topped octagonal towers. There’s also superb stained glass, especially the great 15th-century rose window above the main door. The Santa Maria del Mar also boasts some great real estate. In the heart of the Born district, it's located amid some of the city's top bars, shops and restaurants, and it's a mere stone's throw from the Picasso Musuem (see below). A great place to start exploring this part of town.
- Plaça Santa Maria, Ciutat Vella
By no means an overview of the artist's work, the Museu Picasso is rather a record of the vital formative years that the young Picasso spent nearby at La Llotja art school (where his father taught), and later hanging out with Catalonia's fin-de-siècle avant-garde. The seamless presentation of Picasso's development from 1890 to 1904, from deft pre-adolescent portraits to sketchy landscapes to the intense innovations of his Blue Period, is unbeatable, then it leaps to a gallery of mature Cubist paintings from 1917. The pièce de résistance is the complete series of 58 canvases based on Velázquez's famous Las Meninas, donated by Picasso himself.
- Montcada, 15-23, Ciutat Vella, 08003
Gaudí and Modernisme
The queues at the Sagrada Família can sometimes span more than two city blocks. The wonderful thing is you can appreciate the whole exterior of Gaudí's life's work from the street, but if you haven't got time to visit inside, there are many other Gaudí buildings to get to know in Barcelona. Top among the list is La Pedrera (also known as Casa Milà), situated on Passeig de Gràcia, the city's huge shopping street. Be sure to visit the rooftop for stellar views and incredible architecture, even in the smokestacks. Also on Passeig de Gràcia, you'll find Casa Batlló, one of the most impressive and admired of all Gaudí's creations, jutting out of the skyline in a gorgeous splash of vibrant colour. Heading down La Rambla you'll come to the Palau Güell, Gaudí's first major commission, and the prelude to another collaboration with empresario Eusebi Güell, Park Güell. In the park (which was free until October 2013), you'll see for yourself that the fantastical exuberance of Gaudí's imagination remains breathtaking.
- Sagrada Família, La Pedrera, Casa Batlló, Palau Güell, Park Güell
Remember that Barcelona's Cathedral and the Sagrada Família are two entirely different beasts. The Cathedral is in the centre of town and if you time it right, you can get in for free. You might think if you've seen one European cathedral you've seen 'em all, but we are partial to this one. It's definitely worth a visit, but if you're not in the mood to go in, at least feast your eyes on the wonder from the outside, which, after the years-long renovation, is finally scaffold-free. Glorious.
- Pla de la Seu, s/n, Ciutat Vella
Thronged with tourists searching for a little bit of Barcelona's gastro magic, and usually ending up with a pre-sliced quarter of overpriced pineapple, Europe's biggest food market located smack on La Rambla is still an essential stop. Admire the orderly stacks of ridged Montserrat tomatoes, the wet sacks of snails and the oozing razor clams on the fish stalls. If you can't or don't want to cook it yourself, you can eat instead at several market tapas bars. If you visit in the morning, you'll see the best produce, incluing the smallholders' fruit and vegetable stalls in the little square attached to the C/Carme side of the market, where prices tend to be lower. But if you come only to ogle, remember that this is where locals come to shop. Don't touch what you don't want to buy, ask before taking photos and watch out for vicious old ladies with ankle-destroying wheeled shopping bags.
- la Rambla, 89, Raval, 08002
Sure, it's the dead of winter, but how bad can it be when there are so many days filled with winter sun in Barcelona? You might not want to take a dip in the Mediterranean, but a walk near the coast to breathe in some fresh sea air and clear your head of technology for a while could be a welcome change. And the great thing about visiting the beach in winter is the sea and sand are about as pristine as you'll see them all year.
- Sant Sebastià, Barceloneta, Nova Icaria, Bogatell, Mar Bella, Nova Mar Bella, Llevant, Zona Banys Fòrum
If you're used to being soft-soaped by eager-to-please art centres, you'll have to adjust to the cryptic minimalism of the MACBA, where art is taken very seriously indeed. Yet if you can navigate the fridge-like interior of Richard Meier's enormous edifice, accept that much of the permanent collection is inaccessible to the uninitiated, tackle shows that flutter between the brilliant and baffling, and, most important, are prepared to do your reading, a trip to the MACBA can be extremely rewarding.
- Plaça dels Àngels, 1, El Raval, 08001
'One museum, a thousand years of art' is the slogan of the National Museum, which you can see from the convention centre, and the collection provides a dizzying overview of Catalan art from the 12th to the 20th centuries. The highlight is the Romanesque collection. The display here features 21 mural sections in loose chronological order. A highlight is the tremendous Crist de Taüll, from the 12th-century church of Sant Climent de Taüll. Even 'graffiti' scratchings (probably by monks) of animals, crosses and labyrinths have been preserved. The excellent Gothic collection starts with some late 13th-century frescoes that were discovered in 1961 and 1997, and the Modernista collection is also unmissable. The rich collection of decorative arts includes original furniture from Modernista houses.
- Parc de Montjuïc, Sants-Montjuïc, 08038
At the convention centre you're at the bottom of Montjuïc, and if you head up the steps you get to the National Museum (MNAC, see above) and just beyond that a bit is the Fundació Joan Miró. Approachable, light and airy, the museum's white walls and arches house a collection of more than 225 paintings, 150 sculptures and all of Miró's graphic work, plus some 5,000 drawings. Miró is shown as a cubist (Street in Pedralbes, 1917), naive (Portrait of a Young Girl, 1919) and surrealist (Man and Woman in Front of a Pile of Excrement, 1935). While you're there, don't pass up a visit to the open-air sculpture garden.
- Parc de Montjuïc, s/n, Sants-Montjuïc, 08038
Camp Nou, where FC Barcelona has played since 1957, is one of football’s great stadiums – a vast cauldron of a ground that holds 98,000 spectators. That’s a lot of noise when the team is doing well, and an awful lot of silence when it isn’t. If you can’t get there on match day but love the team, it’s worth visiting the club museum. The excellent audio-guided tour of the stadium takes you through the players’ tunnel to the dugouts and then, via the away team’s changing room, on to the President’s box, where there is a replica of the European Cup, which the team won at Wembley in 1992, in Paris in 2006 and in Rome in 2009. The club museum commemorates the glory years, making much of the days when the likes of Kubala, Cruyff, Maradona, Koeman and Lineker trod the hallowed turf, with pictures, video clips and souvenirs spanning the century that has passed since the Swiss businessman Johan Gamper and the Englishman Arthur Witty first founded the club. The last tour begins an hour before closing time.
- Aristides Maillol, s/n, Les Corts, 08028
Where to eat during the GSMA Mobile World Congress
Get to know Barcelona's vibrant nightlife
Where to go shopping
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The city boasts seven kilometres of golden sands, running from the bustling Port Vell to the upscale Port Olímpic and beyond to the Fòrum. Inevitably, this is also where you'll find some of the city's best seafood restaurants.
A stroll through the medieval alleyways and secluded squares of the Old City is the best possible introduction to Barcelona and the starting point for most visitors upon arrival in the city.
The pedestrianised Passeig del Born, the Born's main artery, is one of Barcelona's prettiest thoroughfares, bookended by a magnificent 19th-century market building and a glorious 14th-century church.
Once a no-go area for tourists, the Raval is being transformed. Some of its gems have been around for years - Gaudí's medievalist Palau Güell was an early attempt at gentrification - but others are newer.
It's often left off visitors' itineraries, but the hill of Montjuïc merits a wander. In summer, the hill is a few degrees cooler than the city below, and its many parks and gardens are excellent places for a shady picnic.
The Eixample is a Modernista showcase: its buildings include the Sagrada Família, La Pedrera and the Hospital de Sant Pau.
Gràcia was an independent town that was swallowed up as the city spread, but it retains its own identity and is one of the most popular and vibrant districts in the city.
Sarrià was its own independent town until 1921, when it was gobbled up by Barcelona and became the city's new uptown area, not only for its geographical location but also for its more posh homes, shops and restaurants.