This spring I spent 33 days traveling through Europe and I must say Barcelona was my favorite! I’m not sure if it was the architecture, the food, the ease of getting around, or the fact I was traveling with a best girlfriend. I honestly could not possible tell you everything I love about Barcelona so I created an outline for a "quick look" into a few things you may want to know before you go .
While traveling through the region you will notice red and yellow striped flags different from the Spanish flag. If you are considering traveling to Barcelona it would be respectful to understand that in the eyes of the Catalans Barcelona is considered Catalonia and not Spain. Catalonia (consisting of 4 providences:Barcelona, Girona, Lleida and Tarragona) has been part of Spain since the 15th century, when King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile married and united their realms. However, there has been a struggle for independence from Spain between Barcelona and Madrid for centuries. Mostly because Catalan economy props up smaller less developed parts of the country.
On 27 October 2017, the ruling separatists in the Catalan parliament declared independence. Angered by that, Madrid imposed direct rule by invoking Article 155 of the constitution - a first for Spain. The Spanish government sacked the Catalan leaders, dissolved parliament and called a snap regional election on 21 December 2017. In June 2018, Catalan nationalists regained control of the region from Madrid's direct rule after a new government was sworn in. It’s confusing and unclear as to where it all stands today but the Catalan pride is apparent throughout the city.
Catalan is a Romance language like Spanish but is not a subset of Spanish itself. In fact, the Catalan language is closer to French and Italian than Spanish or Portuguese. You will be glad to know English is widely spoken, especially in the tourist industry.
Of course you can’t think about Barcelona without Antoni Gaudí coming to mind. The creator of La Sagrada Familia, Casa Battló, La Pedrera, Park Güell, among others, are main reasons tourist flock to the area. These are the most unique and colorful architecture ever built and a must for your bucket list! I recommend a visit to the Familia Sagrada around sunset as the colors glow through the stained glass and wash across the stark white room.
It is spectacular! Gaudi probably has the most unique and distinctive architectural style. His buildings are strikingly radical in design and color. However buildings throughout Barcelona have their own unique character with romantic curled iron balconies, ornate stone motifs and draping foliage. I was particularly obsessed with the hanging iron light fixtures, and art instillations all over the area. As you tour the city notice the rich history in the various styles of architecture ranging from the gothic pointed spires atop the Barcelona Cathedral, to the modern phallic design of Jean Nouvels Agbar Tower.
Look for Fernando Botero’s Cat sculpture “Gato” in the Raval neighborhood or Caballo, a muscular horse with extremely tall legs and a small head residing in Terminal 2 of the Barcelona airport. It seemed there was something spectacular around every corner.
Travel Suggestion: Due to the mass influx of travelers to the city many popular attractions are now limiting the number of visitors allowed on the premises at any one time. It is highly suggested you purchase your tickets in advance or you may miss the opportunity if you wait to purchase on site.
Honestly, I never had a bad meal in Barcelona, and basically lived off Tapas all day long. The day would start by walking through the back streets of the city stopping for cava and tasty morsels every couple of hours. It was a fun way to explore different neighborhoods and sample multiple dishes. There are fantastic eateries everywhere you go. Tapas can be eaten almost any time throughout the day but be prepared to sit and enjoy. Just because these are small plates doesn't mean its fast food.
If you want a sit down meal Lunch in Spain is usually at 2pm, although anytime between 1pm to 3pm is acceptable. Spanish dinner goes from 8pm to midnight. Most restaurants open either at 8pm or 8:30, and close their kitchens around 11.30 or midnight.
These small dishes of food are served to be shared. They can vary widely and cover anything from a bowl of almonds or olives, to a plate of grilled prawns or blistered peppers. Not to be confused with Pinchos which are like mouth sized Tapas always served atop bread. On menus you will often see the dishes marked with two separate prices - one for Tapas and one for Raciones. This will simply be the same dish, but a bigger portion of it - ideal for when you're really hungry.
Some must try foods:
My favorite and slightly addicting are the Pimientos de Padrón also known as blistered peppers. These small peppers are about 2 inches long and usually mild in flavor. Roasted and sprinkled with salt flakes, they are a perfect paring with cold beer or cava.
Also try...Croquettas, Iberico ham, Spanish Omelet which is eaten at all times of the day, Manchego cheese, Patatas bravas, Arroz Negro and Calamari, Cuttlefish, or squid.
Drink the Cava, which is a Spanish sparkling wine, and try a churro with rich hot chocolate.
The Mercado de La Boqueria is an overload of piled high color ranging from fresh fruit, to nuts, candy and fish. This is still a food market used by the locals but has become over run with tourist. If you have never been to a big market then its worth a stop but if time is limited and you are not shopping to cook your own meals you can probably bypass this site.
If you have a special diet such as vegan check out this great blog The Vegan World by Caitlin who currently lives in Barcelona.
You will notice even the beaches are unique each with their own landmarks and vibes. No matter which beach you choose, the Mediterranean sun shines down majority of the year. Overall the beach stretches about 4 kilometer long and is divided in eight sections each with their own character. Be aware that some are clothing-optional, so you'll see your fair share of nude sunbathers who don't care at all about hundreds of people walking within ogling distance. Don’t be nervous basically the beaches are family friendly. The sandy beaches offer a variety of facilities to include public restrooms, showers, food, and activity options. Lounge chairs, umbrellas, and sports equipment are available for rent or purchase a 15 euro blanket from one of the many vendors walking the beach and soak in the sun and surroundings.
Yet another option (and my favorite) is to sit in the shade and enjoy tapas and libations at one of the many beach cafes called chiringuitos.
For a nice list of recommended Barcelona beach Chiringuitos, visit Timeout.com blog
While biking, skating, or just strolling the boardwalk along the beach Look for: Frank Gehrys Fish Sculpture and The Wounded Star by Rebecca Horn.
As the daughter of a paraplegic, I am inherently aware of handicap accessibility in any given situation. While traveling through Spain, Barcelona in particular, I noticed the presence of wheelchairs not usually seen in other parts of Europe. Barcelona is surprisingly accessible. Not only the streets, and tourist venues but the beaches! Nova Icaria Beach, in particular offers the assisted bathing service and the following amenities: Reserved parking bays for people with reduced mobility, wooden walkway to the water’s edge, side platforms for wheelchairs, preferential zone for disabled bathers, changing room and adapted toilet, umbrellas, and shower cubicles with seat.
At many tourist attractions wheelchair users can get in for free, or a reduced rate, and often can skip the lines.
At some locations such as La Pedrera accessible visits come with a free audio guide and can be booked in advance by emailing: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Even the busses and Cable Cars are completely adapted for wheelchair users, and friendly staff members are available to assist. Bravo to you Barcelona!!!
For more information on accessible travel I recommend you visit Curb Free with Corey Lee.
Sight Seeing/Getting Around:
There are multiple ways to get around Barcelona.
*Cab:Sometimes you just want to get to your destination quickly so hail a cab. They are not that expensive. If coming from the airport into the city be prepared to pay about 30 Euro.
*Metro. The metro is great with stops all over the city. A single ticket will cost you 2.20 euro or buy a pass for up to 5 days for 35 Euro and have unlimited trips to include metro from the airport.
*Uber/Cabify: Yes, even Barcelona has Uber and Cabify. The government suspended them for a while but they seem to be operating as of May/June 2019!
*Walk. Get off the beaten path and get lost on some back local roads. This is where you usually find the hidden gems and really feel as if you are part of the Catalan culture.
*Rent a bike and tour the back streets of the city. There are multiple bike companies offering daily tours. Taking a bike tour is a great way to burn off all those tapas, see the city, and get a little education all at the same time. If your in the area for an extended period of time you can rent electric assisted bikes seen strategically placed through out the area.
*Schedule a private tour. See the city without the hassle of busses, navigating a map, and waiting in long lines. Consult your friendly travel agent (ahem) for assistance in planning some unforgettable possibilities like a tapas tour or cooking class.
*Double decker bus: My favorite! Find your way to Plaça de Catalunya a lively square in the heart of Barcelona. This is your central hub! Walk around and below (underground) the square you will find several information booths that can answer many of your questions.
Buy a ticket for the hop-on/hop-off double decker bus and tour the city. There are 3 colored lines that have different yet overlapping routes.
Travel hack. Start early to position yourself in the front row top deck of the bus. Wear a hat and glasses, smuggle on a tiny bottle of cava and some crisp, and take advantage of the tour around the city that can last up to 2 hours. Then decide where you would like to go back and visit for an extended period of time.
Rainy Day Option:
Visit the Aquarium. When I was there with my son many years ago we were fascinated by the cuttlefish tank. The creature danced, changed colors, and then disappeared in a cloud of ink. It was so cool it kept me from wanting to eat them (for a while).
Find your way to the famous street of La Rambla. This is an extremely crowded pedestrian street but a great place to people watch. Navigate your way through the crowds of people, and be overwhelmed with all the shops, restaurants, and street artists. At some point stray down a side street and explore off the beaten path. Move toward the water where you will eventually run into Mirador de Colom Circle. You know your there when you see the statue of Christopher Columbus atop the 60 meter high column pointing over the water. On the marina side of the street in front of the many fancy yachts, you will find local artesian selling their wares. Everything from leather jewelry, baby clothes, masks and straw hats. Perfect for taking something special home and supporting local artists. This area is also a major stop for the local busses and a good place to start walking toward the many beaches and restaurants.
Public announcement: Be aware of pick pockets. It happens. Many people now hold their backpacks on their fronts as they walk through crowded streets. If you are sitting outside be aware of where you place your phone or wallet. Runners will quickly scoop your phone right off your table if in reach and be gone in a flash.
Barcelona is fantastic for shopping from the espadrilles to leather. Make sure when you make a purchase you ask the business to write up your tax free form (VAT-value added tax). This will give you the opportunity to reclaim the taxes on purchases that add up to at least 90 euro. You have the option to receive cash back or put the money back on your credit card.
Tax Free Hack: Trust me on this. Get your money back before you go to the airport! The process at the airport is multi step, which can make it a very lengthy process. Gather all your receipts and go to the underground information center in the center of Plaça de Catalunya located at the end of La Rambla.
If you are flying out of Barcelona give yourself plenty of time to get through security. Not only do you go through the usual procedures but there is also a passport check before you can enter the gate terminals.
One of my favorite movies is Woody Allens Vicky Christina Barcelona.
2 American girls (Rebecca Hall & Scarlett Johansson) arrive in Spain for a summer vacation at a family friend's (Patricia Clarkson)home in Barcelona. While visiting an art gallery one evening, they meet seductive painter Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), who invites them for a weekend of food, art and sex. The plot really intensifies when his fiery former lover (Penélope Cruz) arrives on the scene, making for a very crowded situation.
Just a touch of sexy fun but my favorite part of the whole movie is the soundtrack that made me fall in love with Spanish guitar!
I realize this is not your typical "Eat Here, Do This" blog. Barcelona is so full of amazing neighborhood squares, restaurants and sights you really cant go wrong. I do suggest starting with a tapas tour to get the lay of the land and try some great dishes with a local. Or do something different like take a cooking class or get outside the city for a wine tour. Just get out there and explore! You are sure to find your own favorite place and create your own special memories.