Superbly illustrated, with a handy flip-out guides and a detachable map, this colourful guide is perfect for delving deep
Barcelona. Much-visited, but rarely investigated. Everyone who’s been anywhere neat the Catalan city has walked Las Ramblas, gazed up at Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia, and probably been to his stunning Park Güell, too. But what do you do on a second visit? We took the Marco Polo Travel Handbook to Barcelona to find out.
The Handbook begins on a rare low-point, with a slightly awkwardly thick cardboard cover flipping-out to reveal a double-page of nailed-on highlights, as if you needed convincing to go to Barcelona. Here’s where a map of the centre would be useful, within easy reach, though personally I prefer a single-stage cover. However, the next few pages go on to list the major and the lesser-known highlights with page numbers (though why mention Tibidabo mountain and its marvellous views on one page, but miss it out of a themed-list over the page entitled ‘Fantastic views’?).
There’s a further half-page of the major sights grouped A-Z, which does help for quick reference, before the handbook delves into Barcelona’s history, politics, and everyday life. The authors have done really well here, with lively historical background interspersed with useful, on-the-street information. A boxout on how tourism brought tapas to Barcelona from Andalusia, for example. Even more impressive, within a section on customs and language is a dissection of the castells – human towers – that feature in Barcelona’s festivals. Not only is there a list of festivals you’re likely to see castells, but there’s a lovely graphic that breaks-down what castell member wears, and how the castells are measured. It’s great work.
While the first half of the book is dedicated to themed and ‘best of’ chapters – on shopping, hotels, tours & guides, museums etc. – the Handbook really gets its mojo on in the second half with a simple, easy to use A-Z guide to all the major sights in Barcelona. Some sights get a special treatment; Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia pages get the usual, exhaustive practical information, but also has a fold-out double-page of sections of the building not to miss, as does the Museu maritim, which gets a graphical map. It’s touches like this that let the traveller be self-contained, and able to run around the major sights where necessary, but delve deeper into detail elsewhere. And we’ve got to mention the full map at the back, which is tucked into a cellophane pocket. Great idea! There’s also a Metro map back there.
However, what we like most about this Handbook are the Insider Tips; a mention of a particular cafe’s speciality is highlighted in yellow, while boxouts are peppered throughout with eye-catching warnings about restaurants that need to be booked online in advance, or the best place for a budget lunch with a view. In a city that’s swarming with tourists often paying through the nose for poor quality food, it’s advice like this that’s really useful – and it made our (third) trip to Barcelona even better than the first. It’s also tougher than most guidebooks, so ought to survive several trips more.