Michelle and I grew up speaking Spanish, as most of our family originates from the island of Puerto Rico in the Caribbean. Our mother had always talked about potential vacations to Spain, but none ever came to fruition; until we decided to go on our own. Michelle and I thought about Mallorca, Ibiza and the center capital of Madrid, but we ultimately figured we’d save those for when we all as a family decided to go together. Not that choosing Barcelona was settling, but it was definitely the best option for us, seeing that we were two 20-somethings wanting to explore and just have fun. Barcelona was the perfect choice for a sister trip!
There was something so comfortable about being in Spain. It wasn’t so much that there wasn’t a language barrier, seeing that Catalonians speak Catalan more than they do Castilian Spanish (which is the dialect that all Spanish speaking countries speak, apart from Catalonia/Barcelona), but it was more so how we felt around the people and the culture.
People were very chilled out, stores closed mid-day so that people could rest and take siestas, everyone was drinking in the middle of the day, eating anything they craved and enjoying the gorgeous summer heat as they should. It was a heat that was rich in the best Vitamin-D supplement. It felt so warm and refreshing. There was such a great, lively energy in Barcelona. The Catalonian capital city truly encompassed the definition of positive vibes. Even our Airbnb host, who is originally Danish, explained how incredibly different his native country is to his new home. But despite those differences, it wasn’t hard for him to get used to. After learning the social behaviors of people in Denmark, we knew his explanations and discoveries of the Spanish to be true.
We had three full days to explore Barcelona. Of course, in a thriving city with so much going on both during the daytime and the night, three days wasn’t as much as we wanted by the end of it, but it was enough. Our apartment was centrally located, funnily enough in a very Dominican and Puerto Rican area, called Paral.lel. We felt right at home.
The Metro was also right down the street from us. Efficient, easy to use, incredibly clean and sort of like a mini-art gallery within, we definitely loved (and recommend) using this type of transit to get around. That’s not to say that taking cabs in Barcelona are as expensive other cities, even using the Euro, but if you want to cheaply travel around the city, most people use the transit system because of how reliable it is.
When exploring its history, Barcelona revolves around two people and their contribution to Spanish history, art and architecture: entrepreneur Eusebi Güell and architect Antoni Gaudí. Almost every well-known attraction for visitors is in some way or another tied to either one or both of these men. The work of Gaudí is so weird yet so incredibly unique, colorful, vibrant, and something we said looked straight out of a Tim Burton style theme park that everyone manages to become enamored with. And with good reason. It was interesting to learn about both Spaniards’ relationship and how much Barcelona was shaped by Gaudí’s work.
Of course, the highlight of any of his work is the incredible, unfinished masterpiece that is the Sagrada Familia Basilica. Construction on the Basilica began in 1882. 44 years later, in 1926, the year of Gaudí’s death, the church had yet to be completed. To this day it is unfinished. The current architect assigned to the structure, who is trying to match exactly how Gaudí would have wanted it, is aiming for completion in 2026, as an 100 year mark since Gaudí’s passing. I’m not entirely sure what type of architectural style it is, because of how many towers and sections the basilica has, but what I do know is that it is stunning — and probably one of the most complex churches in the world. Michelle and I didn’t get a chance to go inside, because of the very strict rules that the Spanish have when entering holy places and areas of worship (actually, this happened to us twice, so be mindful of wearing appropriate clothing when entering Barcelona’s many churches), but I can only imagine how it looks from the inside — with the stained glass windows — if it looks as gorgeous on the out.
Now, for the good stuff.
Where To Visit:
Sagrada Familia Basilica – A must see – even if it’s from the outside. We didn’t go in ourselves, but there were A LOT of people visiting the basilica in July (high tourist season), so maybe it was for the best. It was one of our bike tour stops and we learned so much about it from our guide. Maybe best to learn Catalonian history this way instead of using an audio guide at Sagrada. I hear admission is a bit of a steep price, anyway.
Park Güell – Another one of Gaudí’s masterpieces, even if it isn’t named after him directly. This park is one of the famous landmarks in all of Barcelona. It’s in books, travel guides, posters, you name it, you’ll see it. The same colorful shapes and distinctive style for which the architect is known takes grander form here. The park is situated on a hill, but the climb isn’t terrible. We met a painter on our way up who made huge canvases and sold them for relatively cheap. Apparently, he’d been working on the hill since the 50s and has grown to love the park more and more every day, which made us smile. The park is expansive, with gardens and awesome structures. It is SUPER touristy but well worth the visit.
Barri Gothic – The center of old city Barcelona, we think it’s one of the coolest parts of the city. Many of the buildings date back to the Medieval times with very little renovations done to the area. The streets within form like a maze with alleyways leading to random squares and open spaces. Talk about broody.
Las Ramblas – A tree-lined pedestrian walkway, the liveliness of Barcelona stretches along this street. Of course, because of how much traffic the street gets from tourists, it has become a place where thieves and pickpockets thrive. Be mindful and always eye your belongings! It might be best to avoid this street very late at night, but in the daylight, a lot of character emerges here. One place to definitely check out is the colorful market to the left of the street walking north, La Boqueria. Sweets, fruits, meats, vegetables, bread, trinkets. Anything edible can be found here. Tidbit: the fruit juices/smoothies are so refreshing!
Font Màgica de Montjuïc – If you’re looking for a light show, then look no further than Barcelona’s magic fountain. On Thursdays (which, luckily, we were there for one), thousands of people show up to see the fountain play music, light up, change colors and cast fireworks. The creator of the fountain, Charles Buigas, had been creating illuminated fountains from 1922. In 1929, the first show at Montjuïc took place. The surrounding Montjuïc area is also historic and a great place to explore.
Parc de la Ciutadella – One of the city’s biggest and most beautiful parks (and Barcelona’s only park for a short while after creation, mid-19th century). The park holds a lake, a fountain, a zoo and is center to Catalonia’s Parliament. It is one of those areas that foreigners and locals alike visit and relax in. Across the park, just north of the Passeig de Pujades, stands Barcelona’s own Arc de Triomphe. Apparently, after rejecting the Eiffel Tower to be built here, the city settled on a less impressive, brick red arch modeled after Paris’. Sorry, Barça.
Museu Picasso – If you’re a lover of art and of Picasso’s in general, then definitely check this museum out. Some of his most renowned works are located here and not only the Cubism style for which he is known. You’d be surprised at the kind of work he did before the “shapely people” began. The area around the museum, Jaume, is also a very unique area, with lots of cafes and sweet shops.
Nightlife – Nightlife in Barcelona is a HUGE part of the culture. People actually party every single night and a lot of times until sunrise. Maybe that’s why siestas in the middle of the day are so necessary. We did a bar crawl with a bunch of people, but as Americans, we couldn’t handle staying out past 2 am — which is when people apparently show up to clubs! It was fun, but maybe we’ll stay out longer when we visit Ibiza. 😉
Paella & Seafood – Naively, we thought that since we were going to a Spanish speaking country, they’d have lots of food we were used to…rice, beans, avocados, plantains, the works. We were surprised, though we shouldn’t have been, to find that seafood is what the city revolves around. It was hard on Michelle being vegetarian and me not liking seafood as everything had fish in it. We ended up eating at a Mexican-Spanish taco place which was extremely delicious regardless.
Barceloneta – The people thrive off beach life in Barça. Many beaches are crowded and full of people unafraid to show everything off. I loved the lack of modesty — Americans really need to get over themselves. Apparently, the sand in Barceloneta is imported from parts of Africa. The beach isn’t the cleanest, but still, it attracts lots of natives and tourists, day and night, when all the dancey beach clubs come to life (but remember, not before midnight).
Barcelona was enchanting and somewhere we’d really like to go back to. Spain and Barcelona might have their issues, but the people’s way of life is something I wish, in some ways, New York could adapt to. We were uplifted during and after this trip and ready to take on the last city on our Euro trip once we left Barça’s El-Prat Airport: LONDON.