Sunday, June 23, 2013

Barcelona, Spain, Europe

So, are you thinking about visiting Barcelona?

By Natalia Ulla Garrido

As someone who currently lives abroad, I find it very encouraging that, whenever I mention to someone that I’m from Barcelona, I get a big smile in return.  Most of the people I have encountered while travelling or living abroad have been to Barcelona, even very young people. It’s a popular destination for those people eager to earn more about Spanish and Catalan culture.

While Spain was for a long time regarded as a tourist destination for British or German families looking to spend their holidays in a warmer climate, drinking beer and disregarding the local culture, things are slowly changing. Barcelona is now considered as one of the most cosmopolitan, innovative, bohemian and cultural cities in the world.

When you think about it, Barcelona has it all: First of all it’s nestled between to mountains, both belonging to the city and easily accessible by public transport.

One of the mountains (Montjuic) is a huge “park”, home to many famous stadiums, swimming pools, actual parks (visit “La font del Gat”, a cute little isolated park decorated with little fountains and gardens), viewpoints, a castle, an outdoor cinema at the base of the castle, tennis courts, horse riding, a whole town-museum (el Poble Español) and even a free indoor climbing tunnel.
The other mountain (Tibidabo), has also a castle and an amusement park, among other things.

But even the urban city itself is full of contrasts. From grand avenues lined-up by breathtaking historical buildings (like the Diagonal), quaint little cobblestoned streets in the old quarter (El casco antiguo), to the modern new “city” built for the Olympic athletes in 1992, along the beaches of Barcelona, which is now a residential and recreation area, full of gardens, sculptures and other street art, palm trees along a beautiful wooden-floored promenade (in some areas it even has outdoor music playing), shopping, restaurants and bars.

When you visit Barcelona, ask yourself
“what kind of visitor do I want to be?” You can be like the typical tourist who will eat Paella on the Ramblas and goes shopping, or you can immerse yourself in the Catalan and Spanish culture, do it like the locals, really soak yourself in the Barcelona. The downside to this is: you will not want to ever leave…..

If you are the first kind of tourist, all you need is a simple guide to Barcelona.
But if you are the second kind, you will enjoy yourself much more if you walk along the streets, taking your time,  taking it all in.

The old quarter, for example, is full of little bohemian cafés, tea houses, little squares featuring art and historical monuments, proper ancient herbalists, old bookshops, art galleries, museums and street performers.

If you visit the main cathedral, and then walk around it, you will find countless Spanish guitarists, playing their sorrowful tunes in a lonely alley surrounded by historical building and gardens.

There are even houses where the local people live, which have remained almost exactly the same for hundreds of years. Some of them still have the metal rings attached to the stonewalls in the courtyards and indoor gardens, where horses and carriages used to be tied to. Some of the streets are so narrow that looking up all you see is old buildings with typical Catalan forged-iron balconies with laundry hanging out, against a blue, cloudless sky.

This area also features a mixture of Muslim/Arabic culture, which you can see in the rich architecture and numerous mosques, but also a mixture of modern cultural influences brought in by the many immigrants, usually from Muslim and Asian origin (kebab shops, halal butchers, ethnic produce shops, etc).

You can reach this area (the centre) by metro, stopping at Universitat (red line) , Plaza Catalunya (red and green line) or Drassanes (green line).

Barcelona, as a cultural city, has many museums, theatres and concert halls. Make sure you don’t miss the Picasso Museum, and the MNAC (Museu National d’Art de Catalunya), at the base of the Montjuic mountain. Outside of it, some nights there is a carefully choreographed light and music show at the Font Mágica de Montjuic (Magic Fountain of Montjuic). It showcases a colourfully lit water spectacle to the sound of classical music, film soundtracks, etc…  (Including Freddy Mercury’s and Montserrat Caballés famous Olympic tune: “Barcelona”).

For live music and theatre, there is the famous “Gran teatre del Liceu” in the Ramblas (Metro: Drassanes),  the Auditori, which is a modern theatre hall (Metro: Marina- red line), among many others.

My top recommendations when you visit, are:

· Drinking absinth at one of the many absinth-drinking bohemian and arty bars and cafés in the old quarter.

· Walk along the Diagonal (street) for gorgeous picturesque buildings, including “la pedrera” (Metro: Plaza Catalunya or Diagonal), shopping and fine cuisine.

· Visiting the Magic Fountain show (Timetable: )

· Lose yourself among the narrow streets in the old quarter, anything and everything can happen there. Eating in beautiful bistros and cafés, exploring many of the bohemian shops (for ethnic clothes, old books, furniture, art, food, musical instruments, herbalists, etc…).

· Visit the Barceloneta area (Metro: Barceloneta or Ciutadella- yellow line) for beaches, shops, seafood restaurants and nightlife, and to see the newly built (1992) “Olympic city”.  You can also reach it from the centre, walking down the Ramblas to the sea (where  stands the famous statue of Columbus, pointing his finger to America. That way you can also see the gorgeous port  (there is an aquarium and an Imax) walk along it, until you reach the Olympic City and the promenade/beaches.

· Visit the Open-air cinema at Montjuic Mountain:  , which sometimes also hosts concerts or even classic Films like “The Phantom of the Opera” with live classical music! You sit on the grass, so bring a blanket. You can buy drinks and food there, or bring your own.

Spanish/Catalan food you MUST try:

· Paella (of course), but eat it in a local place, not a touristy place, or you won’t get the real deal, same goes for Tapas.

· Torrades: These are a Catalan must-eat. They are huge toasted bread slices topped with many ingredients, chesses, cured meats and olive oil.

· Gazpacho: The yummiest and healthiest cold tomato soup, with onion, garlic cucumber, bread, olive oil, etc… all blended into a cream. Goes perfect with the Torrades.

And, whatever you do, always make sure you respect the customs and cultural traditions of the locals, and make an effort to learn some basic Spanish before you visit, you will get much further with the locals by doing so, even if you sound a little stupid. Spanish people take pride in their heritage and their language, and they will appreciate it if you make an effort.


  1. oh wow. I've never been in Barcelona before so I started reading reviews about it and saw this one. As you say, most of the people really likes to go in Barcelona. Your review makes me very excited. I want to be in Barcelona to feel the right of culture there and tracks back the history. I want to visit all those museums and enjoy the memories of the past.

    I really want to see the enjoyable buildings and structures that they have there.Also, I have read that their foods are very interesting to eat, what do you think is the best to try out there?

    I agree with you that everyone should respect each other's culture. We have to preserve what each of us has! thanks for sharing this!

  2. As a taxi driver in St Petersburg, FL, I am proud of you guys in Barcelona and all of Spain for kicking uber out of your country, in US politicians are too greedy and too stupid to deal with uber appropriately.
    Spain gave me hope / thx