The city of Barcelona lives and breathes football
THERE is so much for football fans to see in the Catalan capital, and not just at the Camp Nou or RCDE Stadium.
While the whole world looks to the Catalan capital every time it hosts an ElClásico match, the city lives and breathes football 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, even if you don’t play football.
However, there is much more football than living in Barcelona. Most of the most popular tourist attractions have links to FC Barcelona or other football clubs in the city (RCD Espanyol, for example).
The focal point of most football fans’ visit to the city is FC Barcelona’s Camp Nou or RCD Espanyol’s RCDE Stadium, either to attend a match in person or to visit its impressive museums and tours.
1. Las Ramblas / Canaletes
Barcelona’s central Las Ramblas avenue, which links the commercial and shopping areas with the Mediterranean Sea, is an ideal place to soak up the city’s atmosphere on arrival.
At the city end of Las Ramblas sits the Font de Canaletes, a modest fountain which comes alive whenever FC Barcelona win a trophy, with fans congregating to celebrate into the night. The tradition dates back to the 1930s, when the city’s first sports newspaper La Rambla had its offices right here. The fastest way in those pre-internet days to learn your team’s results was to gather outside and wait for the editors to hang out a blackboard with the score scribbled on. How times change!
A short five-minute walk away is former Barça striker Luis Suarez’s ‘Chalito’ restaurant, at Rambla Catalunya, 12, where fans of all clubs are welcome to tuck into South American-inspired fast food.
2. Gaudí, architectural visionary and football fan
Early-20th-century visionary Antoni Gaudí is the most celebrated Catalan architect of all time and visitors to Barcelona often visit at least one of the famously unfinished Sagrada Familia cathedral, the magical Parc Güell or the Art Nouveau Casa Vicens museum.
However, few of those visiting his works today will be aware that Gaudí was actually a huge football fan. He loved the game to such an extent that the stadium of the first football team in his Catalan hometown of Riudoms was built on land donated by his family back in 1923.
It is not known if Gaudí attended the very first Barcelona Derby on record in December 1900, but work was ongoing at the Sagrada Familia site at that time, when the teams played out a goalless draw walking distance away at the Camp de l’Hotel Casanovas.
That location is now home to the Hospital de Sant Pau, another striking building from the Catalan Art Nouveau movement, designed by Gaudí’s contemporary Lluis Domenech i Montaner, currently open to the public as a museum and gallery.
FC Barcelona’s first-ever game was played in 1899 at the Velodromo de la Bonanova, then a multi-sports ground just outside the city centre. It is now the quiet Turo Parc, a small secluded park close to the bustling Diagonal avenue.
By 1922, Barca had moved further out to Les Corts, the neighbourhood where the Camp Nou stands today. Visitors to the stadium might first stop at the atmospheric Cementerio de Les Cortes, the final resting place of departed Blaugrana heroes including club founder Hans Gamper, László Kubala, César Rodríguez, Paulino Alcantara and Josep Samitier.
RCD Espanyol also moved around a lot in their early days, playing some of their first games on fields beside the city’s famous Plaza de Toros de las Arenas bullring. With interest in bullfighting having fallen in the region over the years, Las Arenas has been redeveloped into a multi-use building featuring modern exhibition spaces, an extensive shopping centre and various restaurants.
Overlooking the city of Barcelona is the mountain of Montjuïc, with its multi-purpose Estadi Olimpic Lluis Companys which still boasts its beautiful 1920s Art-Nouveau facade.
Montjuïc hosted the only Catalan derby Copa del Rey final to date, won 1-0 by Barça in 1957. It was also the main stadium for the 1992 Olympic Games, at which Pep Guardiola, Luis Enrique, José Emilio Amavisca and others won gold in the final of the football tournament.
RCD Espanyol called the 60,000-seater stadium home between 1997 and 2009, celebrating many special nights there including the club’s 100th anniversary, before moving to the RCDE Stadium in the city’s suburbs.
The Estadi Olimpic now regularly hosts American football, rugby and athletics events, as well as music concerts from top international acts such as Bruce Springsteen and Coldplay. It can be visited for free most days of the year and the stunning views of the city and the sea from the top of the hill alone merit the climb up.
FC Barcelona fans will spend time there at the Estadi Olimpic in the 2023/24, when the first team play their matches there during the Camp Nou’s redevelopment.
Montjuïc is also home to the Pompeya tennis club, whose restaurant witnessed one of the most famous moments in Blaugrana history back in December 2000 when former player-turned-director Charly Rexach wrote out a first contract for then-12-year-old Lionel Messi on the back of a napkin. The rest, as they say, is history.
5. To the beach for a game
The easiest way back to the centre from Montjuïc is to take the cable car down to the Barceloneta port area. From there it’s just a raking Sergio Busquets or Sergi Darder diagonal ball to the beach, another of the city’s must-visit places.
Further along the water, past the Parc de la Ciutadella and the Casino, is the Bogatell beach, where permanent goalposts are fixed into the sand just waiting for impromptu games of beach football to break out.