Barcelona’s waterfront: 7 things you can’t miss

After years of Barcelona’s access to the sea being obstructed by warehouses and railway tracks, things changed in a major way with the creation of an ambitious recreational and commercial area along the waterfront in the early 1990s.

Today the sun sparkles off modern, shiny architecture, and visitors flock to the attractions lined up by the water. Come here for a spot of yacht-watching and a drink or two, fanned by the sea breeze, as part of your Barcelona holidays. With edifices glinting in the sunshine and a beautiful boardwalk, the waterfront represents modern Barcelona in all its glory. Have a stroll and take in the salty air that nods to the area's maritime industry past, making it a memorable part of your visit to Barcelona.

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Maritime Heritage

Begin a tour of the waterfront at the Columbus Monument, at the foot of the Ramblas. To the right is Les Reials Drassanes, a great medieval shipyard comprised of 16 bays, which now houses the beautifully renovated Museu Marítim.

Port Vell

At the other side of the busy Passeig de Colom is an undulating wooden walkway and footbridge called the Rambla del Mar, which stretches across the mouth of the Port Vell. It crosses over to the Moll d’Espanya and Maremàgnum, a commercial centre with plenty of shops, bars and restaurants – some with terraces which are a great place to sit and watch the harbour activity. On a nice day, the alfresco tables are packed with people making the most of the setting. Sitting in the sunshine, drink in hand…this is the good life. The port is busy with yachts, cruise ships and ferries to Mallorca and Italy. Overhead, cable cars link Montjuïc with the Torre de Jaume I and the Torre de Sant Sebastià in Barceloneta. The World Trade Center, a hotel and complex of offices designed by I.M. Pei, appears to be floating in the harbour.

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Families and fish-lovers head for L’Aquàrium, one of Europe’s largest aquariums, which has a spectacular glass tunnel running through its huge Oceanarium. Children will absolutely love it. The Oceanarium allows visitors to walk beneath the water for more than 80 metres with just a few inches of glass separating them from the sharks and other sea life above. This is also a great option to have up your sleeve if you’re unlucky enough to catch some rain while in the area.

On the boardwalk

On the mainland, the Moll de la Fusta, the old wood-loading quay, was transformed into a broad promenade in the 1980s, and redesigned and landscaped after the 1992 Olympics. You can’t beat strolling along here in the early evening, when the day’s colours are changing and the water is shimmering. Where the Moll d’Espanya joins the promenade stands American pop artist Roy Lichtenstein’s colourful surrealist sculpture, called the Barcelona Head (El Cap de Barcelona).

Marina Port Vell

Heading towards Barceloneta, you skirt the Marina Port Vell, a harbour for luxury yachts and chic motor cruisers. On the Moll de Barceloneta, in a stylishly renovated warehouse complex, the Palau de Mar houses the Museu d’Història de Catalunya, which is good fun as well as informative. A restaurant with a stunning view is on the top floor. Along the Passeig Joan de Borbó, which runs parallel to the quay, numerous popular restaurants have outside tables to enjoy.

Las Golondrinas

Get a different perspective on the city with a trip of on one of Barcelona’s special ferries called Golondrinas (Swallows), which are moored opposite the Columbus Monument. These boats have been taking passengers round the harbour ever since the 1888 World Exposition. A boat trip is a relaxing way to see waterfront sights and take a break from all the walking you’re likely doing!

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