This is article number 3 from a series of articles called ‘Pack your bags and go to…’ where I feature countries, regions, cities, islands, well or less-known places which had a strong impact on me during my travels and which I recommend with all my heart. For previous articles, click here.
Barcelona is a world-renowned destination but there are still many people left who say ‘Barcelona’ and immediately think at FC Barcelona, Sagrada Familia and maybe the 1992 Summer Olympics. But Barcelona means so much more than this!
I had the privilege of pursuing my Bachelor degree in Tourism there, work and live for 3 years in this magical city from 2008 until 2011. Since then, I have visited it and thought about it countless times because Barcelona feels like HOME for me. It is the only place in the world where I see myself living long-term and I will probably return there someday.
*Read also: Barcelona – Home Is Where Your Heart Is
I could talk about this destination for hours, days and probably weeks but for now I will try to make a resume and show you why you should pack your bags and go to Barcelona as soon as possible. There is a reason why is in top 5 most visited destinations in Europe and one of the most famous worldwide!
FC Barcelona. Messi, Iniesta, Xavi, Neymar, Puyol, Suarez…everybody has heard of them! FC Barcelona means a lot for the city and for the Catalan people. It is a symbol of the Catalan nationalism – ‘Mes que un club’ meaning ‘more than a club’ – and it represented their Catalan identity during General Franco’s dictatorial regime. It is one of their biggest prides. FC Barcelona is a record breaker football team, maybe one of the best teams of the century with some amazing and talented players, normal and humble players and probably that is why everybody respects and loves them. If you happen to be in Barcelona when they play an important match on Camp Nou, grab a ticket and experience the support of the crowd. Or just go in a bar and watch the match alongside local people. Or celebrate the victories with the fans at Font de Canaletes on Las Ramblas, just near Plaza Catalunya.
Gaudi, its fabulous vision in architecture and magnificent art works. 7 of his works were declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO between 1984 and 2005 – Sagrada Familia, Parc Guell, Casa Mila/La Pedrera, Palau Guell, Casa Vicens, Casa Batllo, the Crypt in Colonia Guell – and all are located in Barcelona, except Colonia Guell in the metropolitan area. He was a genius, had an unique style and was heavily influenced by his three passions in life: architecture, nature and religion.
Catalan Modernisme. It is a type of Art Nouveau but heavily influenced by the Catalan culture and identity, an artistic movement which had its main center in Barcelona in late 19th century-beginning of the 20th century. Gaudi is the most famous architect of Modernisme worldwide, but there are others also. Lluis Domenech i Montaner, the designer of Palau de la Musica Catalana and Hospital de Sant Pau, both included in the UNESCO Heritage List in 1997. Josep Puig i Cadafalch who designed the Casa Marti building (the ground floor belongs to Els Quatre Gats restaurant where modernist artists used to meet, even Picasso spent time here) and the Eixample district, characterized by long straight streets, crossed by wide avenues and square blocks with round corners.
Districts which still maintain their unique vibe. The reason is because they are mainly divided based on historical divisions.
The old Barcelona consists of Barri Gotic (narrow cobbled streets, city walls, lots of plaças/squares, great shopping), El Raval (infamous for cabarets, prostitution and crime, about 50% immigrant community, safer than before), El Born (authentic, cultural, nightlife, lower prices) and Barceloneta (former fishermen village, close to the beach, views to the port, great for eating fresh fish or seafood).
Some of them were former towns annexed by the city of Barcelona in the 18th and 19th centuries: Gracia (artistic and bohemian, small streets, cosy bars, cafes and restaurants, mix of elderly population and youngsters), Les Corts (financial and business district, exhibition centers, good hotels, elegant buildings), Sarria-Sant Gervasi (peaceful, residential, village vibe), Horta-Guinardo (hilly landscape, steep streets, lots of green areas), Sant Marti (very large, part Olympic, part former poor and industrial area, nudist beaches, now going through a major urban regeneration).
Others joined Barcelona in the 20th century (Nou Barris, Sant Andreu) and others were built for other purposes, like Villa Olimpica and Poblenou for the 1992 Summer Olympic Games and given for local use once the event finished (they are an integral part of Sant Marti).
Then, we have Eixample (modernist architecture, elegant Passeig de Gracia, lots of museums and attractions, residential buildings with a big interior yard) and Sants-Montjuic (mix of different neighborhoods, most important being the Montjuic hill area – former military fortress, home to various Olympic venues and sports facilities, lots of outdoor space with fantastic views over Barcelona).
*Read also: The Olympic Side of Barcelona
Parks and outdoor area. There is a total of 68 municipal parks: 12 historic parks, 5 thematic (botanical), 45 urban, 6 forest parks, which cover about 10% of the city, but the surface grows every year. The biggest one is Montjuic (203 ha), followed by Parc de la Ciutadella (31 ha, including the zoo), Guinardo Park (19 ha) and Parc Guell (17 ha), plus many other smaller parks. Due to its awesome climate all-year-round, you can spend lots of time outside doing sports, going for picnics or relaxing with friends and family. Only a part of the Tibidabo mountain belongs to Barcelona, but it definitely offers some amazing views towards the city and the sea, also great for hiking, biking or jogging.
Beaches and the Mediterranean Sea. Although there are far better beaches in terms of length, wideness and type of sand outside Barcelona, the 7 inner-city ones covering almost 5 kms cannot be neglected either, as they have great facilities, entertainment spots, lots of bars, restaurants and clubs around them, plus they get very crowded in summer. San Sebastia and Barceloneta are the largest and oldest ones, Nova Icaria and Bogatell are also very popular, Mar Bella and Nova Mar Bella have some nudist spots, whereas Levant beach and the Forum bathing area have only a few years of existence. There are a lot of options for water based activities, such as sea tours with catamarans, sailing on boats or yachts, fishing, kayaking, paddle-surfing or parasailing.
All sorts of events – festivals, traditions, international exhibitions, musical or sport events, business or technology. There is always something going on in Barcelona and on every taste. Festivals and local traditions that are worth experiencing are: Dia de Sant Jordi on April 23 (a type of Valentine’s day with exchange of roses and books), Fiesta de Sant Joan in June (summer solstice with bonfires, fireworks and outdoor fun), Festa Major de Gracia in August (street festival in the Gracia district), La Merce Festival in September (major street party with human towers, parades, concerts, fire runs). As for sports, Barcelona is host to many marathons, motorsports events (F1, Moto GP), teamsports (basketball, handball, waterpolo) also gather an important crowd. Major artists, both local and international, come to perform at Palau de la Musica Catalana, Gran Teatre del Liceu, Teatre Nacional de Catalunya, Palau Sant Jordi or Estadi Olimpic. Sonar and the Primavera Sound are two major music festivals.
Amazing nightlife. My best nightlife memories are from Barcelona, as I used to go out quite often when I was living there and had the chance to experience some great bars and clubs. Again, there is something for everyone: elegant and posh (Sutton, CDLC, Opium, Shoko), jazz (Jamboree, Harlem Jazz Club), live music (Sala Apollo, Razzmatazz, Bikini), outdoor (La Terrazza), karaoke, flamenco or student places. The latino music is also popular, as there is a big community of people from South America, there are either dedicated bars/clubs (Mojito, Antilla) or thematic parties in other venues. The gay community is also rich, mainly in the Eixample area, with the famous Arena group and its venues.
Variety of food. There are several markets opened daily, the most popular being La Boqueria in the city center just by Las Ramblas, plus each district has at least one public market, if not three or four of different sizes. The number of restaurants is quite big and they provide all sorts of cuisines: Catalan, Spanish, Mediterranean, Italian, French, American, South American or Asian. There are 22 restaurants with Michelin stars, quite a bunch are run by famous Catalan or Spanish chefs: the Adria brothers, Ferran and Albert (El Bulli, Tickets, Bodega1900), Jordi Cruz (ABaC), Cristian Escriba (Escriba bakeries), plus many others who are divided between locations in Barcelona and inner-Catalunya. Eating and drinking out with friends and family is a major part of the Spanish culture and Barcelona fits the trend.
There are so many things to say about Barcelona, but I will end here and save some information for future articles, where I will detail some of things mentioned earlier. I hope I managed to make you curious, excited and more determined to visit it. Until now, I haven’t met anyone who has gone to Barcelona and said he didn’t like it, actually most of the people fall in love with it and want to go back as soon as possible.
I am one of them…I fell in love with it long time ago and I am still not cured. 🙂
*Read also: The Moments I Fell in Love with Barcelona
What do you feel about Barcelona? Have you been there? Share in a comment below.