• Image about Barcelona
Exciting Barcelona street life amazes the young and the young at heart
Patrick Escudero/Corbis

On the trip into Barcelona from the airport, it’s hard not to notice that the people who have the most stunning view of the city and its harbor are overwhelmingly dead. Not overwhelmingly dead as in really dead, but as in the deceased far outnumber the living.

More than 1 million people are buried in Montjuïc Cemetery, enjoying priceless views of Spain’s second-largest city and the sparkling Mediterranean. If ever there was a plot to die for, it’s located here.
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The Rambla seen from the Columbus Monument
Gina Martin/National Geographic Stock

“Nice, eh?” the cabbie asks, jerking his head toward Montjuïc hill. “Cemetery.”

I’m in no position to disagree, since I’m fairly gaping at the site myself … after initially mistaking it for a massive condo development. But it makes me wonder what kind of city would reserve its best real ­estate for the type of person who isn’t all that concerned with location, location, location. In this life, anyway.

As it turns out, Barcelona is the kind of city where 1.6 million living residents are happy to share their 2,000 years of history (it began as a Roman colony), architecture, cuisine and culture with about 5 million visitors a year.

“There are so many wonderful cities in Spain and Europe, but Barcelona has this certain vibe, a certain feel that’s just so … so Barcelona,” says Silvia de Blas, director of the Grand Hotel Central, a 147-room gem in the city’s Gothic district.

“It’s hard to sum up Barcelona in just a few words,” she says. “I always tell people that you just have to explore and find out for yourself.”
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Antoni Gaudí’s Parc Güell
Chris Hill/National Geographic Stock

That journey may as well start out on the Rambla, Barcelona’s pedestrian boulevard and defiant holdout against all things corporate, shiny and buttoned-up. Think of the Rambla as Times Square stretched out about three-quarters of a mile, but with zero neon. Flowing with locals and tourists alike, the Rambla is an eye-opening magnet for commerce and humanity with its almost-anything-goes attitude.