Barcelona's history has bounced around like a soccer ball, but that's to be expected when people — a group that has included Carthaginians, Castilians and Catalans — have been living in the area for 37,000 years. Throughout most of it, Catalans have worked to preserve their own identity, which they defend fiercely, even in soccer.
Must see: The architectural style of Antoni Gaudí makes his gigantic Sagrada Familia Basilica the most visited site in the city. It's been under construction since 1882, and it's not done yet. Lesser known but no less interesting: Park Güell, a quirky place with a mosaic dragon fountain, multicolor tile benches and tree-like stone columns, and Casa Batlló, a six-story house with a colorful façade that looks like skulls and bones.
The soccer scene: The city has two major teams: Barcelona (Barça) plays at 99,000-seat Stadium Camp Nou, and Espanyol plays at 40,500-seat Stadium Cornellá-El Prat. Popular places to watch matches on television are at the city's many pubs, such as Kitty's Irish Bar (5-7 Nau Santa María, 011-34-93-2-80-36-75) and Michael Collins Irish Bar (4 Placa de la Sagrada Familia; 011-34-93-4-591-964, www.michaelcollinspubs.com). You might need earplugs in Bar Llopart (28 Carrer del Guadiana, 011-34-934-21-75-40). Mau Mau Underground is a former warehouse converted to a lounge bar specializing in gin, vodka and soccer (35 Fontrodona; 011-34-606-86-0617, www.maumaunderground.com). Futbolmania — called "Spain's biggest specialist football store" — stocks all manner of soccer items in its 11,000-square-foot retail space (25 Ronda de Sant Pau; 011-34-93-4-437-824, www.futbolmanianet.com).
Beware: Petty street crime and scams as well as pickpockets in and around La Rambla near the port and ferry terminal. Tourist magnets, crowded spots and beaches have the highest reported incidents of crime.
Best time to go: Although the soccer (fútbol here) season runs September to June, the best weather for attending matches is in September and October and April to June. The most interesting and competitive games are the finals in May and June. El Clásico — the matches between rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid — changes dates from year to year depending on the standings. For other sights, spring to autumn is the nicest time of year.
Airfare: $1,132-$2,039.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
This is one of eight stories about the world’s most-fanatical soccer cities so you can applaud or cry with the locals — or enjoy some crowd-free tourism while their eyes are elsewhere.