A weekend discovering the history of Barcelona
Article updated 28 August, 2019.
From Roman times to modernism, via the middle ages, the history of Barcelona is rich and fascinating. Take a weekend to explore the city's past!
Barcelona is an ancient city. Founded by the Romans in the 3rd Century BC, it was successively inhabited by the Visigoths, the Moors and the Franks, who held back Arab invaders. Later, the city was remodelled by the Castillian royal family, who built a fortress, consolidated their control over Barcelona, and crushed the locals’ dreams of independence.
Still later, the strategic location of Barcelona enabled it to play a key role in the industrial revolution, and the increasingly prosperous city grew to encompass an increasing variety of economic activities and a growing population.
Everything seemed to be going well until the outbreak of anarchy, civil war and the Franco dictatorship, which marked a significant setback in the city’s fortunes. The 1992 Olympic Games played a significant part in the re-emergence of Barcelona as we see it today.
Barcelona’s identity has been forged over centuries of chaotic, and fascinating, history. Follow us to find out more!
Getting to Barcelona
Before you can start exploring Barcelona’s historic past, you need to find a way of getting there. Choose your time machine: plane, train, bus, car or even cruise ship? In any case, read our tips in the Getting there section in order to find out the best ways of doing things without breaking the bank.
Find somewhere historic to sleep
If you’re a history lover, you’re bound to enjoy staying somewhere with its own historic charm. Stay at the Vrabac, a lovely little hotel in the Gothic quarter, or at the Retrome, a Bed & Breakfast housed in a modernist apartment.
If your budget allows, splash out on a stay at the Hotel España, an Art Nouveau gem just next to Las Ramblas.
Saturday: stroll around the historic centre and visit some iconic shops
Lose yourself in medieval Barcelona
A walk around the streets of the Old Town is a truly magical experience, packed with elegant residences, cathedrals, little squares and fountains. The atmosphere is special and incomparable. Take time to immerse yourself in the life of the Gothic quarter and the Born – you won’t notice the time passing!
- If you’re just staying for the weekend, time is of the essence. It’s a good idea to book a private tour in order to get straight to the heart of the quarter on a made-to-measure visit, from Roman times until the medieval period.
Browse iconic shops
There’s an incredible range of ancient and iconic shops in Barcelona. Packed with charm, they’re well worth a trip, even if shopping isn’t really your thing.
See our selection of Iconic shops around Las Ramblas and Barcelona’s historic shops around the Via Laietana.
Sunday: Modernist Barcelona
Admire the city’s Art Nouveau heritage
After spending Saturday walking around the oldest part of the city, devote your Sunday to a more recent period, one which was jut as decisive for Barcelona’s history: the Art Nouveau period. To make the most of your visit, take a private tour. You’ll discover lots of fascinating things about the architecture you see along the route, and about the period of its creation.
- All of the details of our recommended made-to-measure visit are in this article. You’ll see the Casa Batlló, the Pedrera and plenty of other less well-known, but just as interesting, architectural wonders.
If the guided tour is beyond your means, why not try our free walking tour of Catalan Art Nouveau? Pretty good for a Plan B!
Experience Roman Barcelona
To discover the city’s ancient origins, you’ll need to head downwards to find the remains of Roman Barcelona. The City History Museum houses a surprising archaeological crypt, and access is free on Sundays from 3pm.
Historic places to eat
Tapas and savoury specialities
What appeals more: seafood tapas in a family-run restaurant (a point of reference in Barcelona) or a hip restaurant housed in a former brewery? Well, actually, you may not need to choose: there’s enough time in a weekend to try both!
If you get peckish during your exploration of Art Nouveau, take a look at our article Eating nearby Casa Batlló and la Pedrera.
Since you’re on holiday, don’t forget to treat yourself from time to time!
Fancy a hot chocolate, Barcelona-style, with churros or melindros? Our top picks have everything you need.
Or how about homemade cakes in a historic cellar? In that case, the Caelum tea room is the place for you!
One more for the road?
Finish your history-themed weekend in style at the Marsella Bar, with a trip back in time to bohemian Barcelona in the early 2oth Century. Cheers!
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