Ports of Call

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Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, is said to have been founded by the Phoenicians, and was once the rival of the powerful states of Venice and Genoa for control of the Mediterranean trade. Today, it is Spain's second largest city and has long rivaled, even surpassed Madrid in industry and commerce. The medieval atmosphere of the Gothic Quarter and the elegant boulevards combine to make the city one of Europe's most beautiful. Barcelona's active cultural life and heritage brought forth such greats as the architect Antonio Gaudi, the painter Joan Miro, and Pablo Picasso, who spent his formative years here. Other famous native Catalan artists include cellist Pau Casals, surrealist Salvador Dali, and opera singers Montserrat Caballe and Josep Carreras. Barcelona accomplished a long-cherished goal with the opportunity to host the Olympics in 1992. This big event prompted a massive building program and created a focal point of the world's attention.

Barcelona, Spain

Bullfighting Season

May - September
The Campo Pequeno is worth a visit, if not for a bullfight, then to view the spectacular Moorish architecture in the largest such venue in the world. Bullfighting schedules vary.

Barcelona Summer Festival

June - August
Popularly known as the Grec Festival, the Summer Festival is the cultural highlights of the summer. National and international theater, dance and music performances, classical and traditional performances are on show at various indoor and outdoor locations around the city.

European Balloon Festival

Thousands gather in the town of Igualada, just 30 miles inland from Barcelona, for this international event. Food and craft booths complete the festivities at one of Europe's largest ballooning events.

Festa Major de Gracia

Late August
The last two weeks of August features a celebration of local art, parades, concerts, floats and arts & craft activities. Brightly decorated streets make room for acrobats, human towers and folkloric performers.

Festival of La Merce

Dedicated to the Virgin of Mercy, the patron saint of Barcelona, this festival showcases a variety of Catalan traditions and mythology. Street music, dancing, parades, fireworks and more fill the streets and Castellers build human towers.

Grand Festival

Once per year every town in Spain hosts their own version of the Grand Festival. In Tarragona, human towers showcase agility and strength. In Berga, performers dressed as fire-breathing dragons and giant demons hurling firecrackers charge spectators down the streets. Dancers and musicians perform at various locations throughout Barcelona.

Off the Beaten Track

The Plaza del Pi is a quiet little square chock filled with cafes and one of Barcelona's most stunning Gothic churches - Santa Maria del Pi. Similar to Montmartre in Paris, this little haven comes alive on the weekends with artists and performers galore. If you're looking to take home a genuine piece of Barcelona - a painting perhaps, the Plaza del Pi may be your best bet. Not far away, on Carrer Palla you'll find an endless number of antique shops; book lovers can detour up Carrer Petrixol to Quera, a quaint bookstore with a selection of maps, old and new.


Bullfighting and castells are deeply rooted in Spanish tradition. In 2004, bull fighting was banned in Barcelona in response to a movement to outlaw the blood sport. The Toto Bravo bulls, bred only in Spain, are the original species of bulls used in bullfighting. In ancient times, toreadors, or bullfighters, sat atop horseback. Over time, they transitioned to the more modern method of fighting on foot. Castellers continue an old Catalan tradition of building human towers, some reaching up to ten people high. The most difficult formations are made with 5 people per floor.