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Pocket Guide: Barcelona

In every sense, Barcelona has become one of the hottest destinations in Spain. With its surreal architecture, designer boutiques, and contemporary cultural scene, this seaside city embodies a cosmopolitan vibe like no other. Cutting-edge performances take place in medieval quarters, and economic activity churns as people hit the beaches. Barcelona has a personality all of its own and despite being the most popular Spanish destination, its identity is quintessentially Catalonian.

Surrealist cityscapes

It won't take long before you run into an example of what sets Barcelona apart. The Modernist movement (Art Nouveau's Iberian manifestation) takes its most spectacular form in the city's fantastic architectural creations, most famously Antonio Gaudi's Sagrada Familia, the gothic cathedral which has been under construction since 1882. Bike it or bus it around to discover the urban tableau. Or, head to Parc Güell for an original and interesting park that offers more than just green space.

The painter Joan Miró another Barcelona native. The Miro Foundation holds the largest collection of his work anywhere. The famed Picasso Museum is also a must, as is the Dalí Museum in nearby Figueres. Take a walk down Las Ramblas, Barcelona's tree-lined thoroughfare, and spend some time with the unique human statues, a surreal form of living art.

Catalonian identity

Regional differences in Spain are pronounced and Barcelona is fiercely proud of its Catalonian roots. Manifested most obviously by language, the Catalonian identity has a long history that can be traced back to the ninth century. Banned under Franco, the Catalan language now flourishes, and has undergone an astounding resurgence in recent years.

This independent spirit infuses the city with life. From tall castellars (human towers) at festivals to fusion cuisine to rival Paris or New York, Barcelona is a creative and vibrant metropolis with one eye on the Mediterranean and the other looking toward the hills (try the funicular up to Tibidabo hill).

Late nights and into the dawn

Barcelona comes to life after the sun goes down. The Barri Gótic is Barcelona's oldest section, but it's also home to some of the trendiest bars. Mix with the locals in the La Raval neighborhood, eat tapas at sunset, and go clubbing until dawn. It's all on the agenda in a city where midnight is just the start of the evening.

Your Barcelona city tour can take you to bullfights in the Gothic Quarter, to Europe's biggest football stadium, or to a flamenco show. Come in June for the Sonar Festival and experience electronic music beyond measure.

Since hosting the 1992 Olympics, Barcelona has seen revitalization that has never slowed. It's a vibrant mix with new hip addresses and old markets with fresh produce. Its depth and complexity befit the capital of Catalonia and at the break of dawn, it may feel like the capital of the world.