While once a run-down complex of empty warehouses and railroad yards, an urban renewal program in Barcelona transformed the Port Vell into a waterfront tourism complex that opened just before the 1992 Olympics. With a bounty of attractions, including the Maremàgnum–a shopping centre filled with shops, bars, restaurants and a cinema–and Europe’s largest aquarium; today’s Port Vell serves as the city’s playground and welcomes over 16 million visitors each year.
You can access Port Vell by bus or metro–it has its own stop–or by walking across the Rambla de Mar, a pedestrian walkway that connects Port Vell to Barcelona’s famous commercial center, La Rambla.
Visitors who want some beach action can visit Barceloneta beach, widely considered one of the best urban beaches in the world. Another popular Port Vell tourist attraction is Imax Port Vell, which boasts a 7-story high screen capable of showing films in three different formats.
For an above-water view of the harbor, take a boat or cable car tour of the area. The pleasure boats known as “Las Golondrinas” can take you on a tour of the harbor—or you can board a special catamaran that travels in an 18 mile loop along the Barcelona coastline. To see the underwater attractions, visit the Barcelona Aquarium where you can see over 11,000 different species of aquatic life from 450 species including sharks and stingrays.
To explore the fascinating history of Catalonia, visit the Museau d’Historia de Catalunya. This museum tells the story of Catalonia’s political, social, economic and cultural change from its remote past as a Roman colony to its emergence as a Spanish commercial and artistic hub. At night, Port Vell comes alive with numerous shops, restaurants and bars that offer delicious local cuisine, as well as live music and entertainment.