If asked me where my favourite city in Europe is, I'd say Barcelona in a heartbeat. It's a city that is so easy to fall in love with. The city's incredibly diverse and unique and to get you excited, these are 3 reasons to go to Barcelona.
From food to culture to history and entertainment, there's never enough time to explore everything in the city. With Barcelona you have hidden alleyways, a beach right in the city, a historic fort that can be accessed via funicular, sweeping panoramic views from hilltops, amazing park spaces, the funkiest architecture you'll ever see, modern shopping, a beautiful waterfront, arguably the world's best soccer/football team, and food that will blow your socks away.
Sure some of the nay-sayers will knock the city for it's shadiness or constantly packed streets but hey it's a big city and as a savvy traveller, you just have to play it smart and not paint big bullseye targets on your back.
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Here's what we're covering:
Three reasons to go to Barcelona
I've talked about 5 cities I'd love to go back to but let's dig a little deeper to inspire you to visit Barcelona for the first time or again.
There are so many more reasons to go to Barcelona but here's my crack at it.
The brilliance that is Gaudi
There's honestly no other city I can think of where I've been obsessed with the architecture. The man behind Barcelona's eclectic collection of seemingly random buildings, churches and open spaces is Antoni Gaudi.
His works were Modernista movement inspired but his brilliance took things to a whole other echelon, incorporating natural, organic, fluid forms. Just take a look at Parc Guell, lampposts in Plaça Reial, Casa Batlló and Casa Milà which are all emblematic of Gaudi's personal style.
I'm of course ignoring the big elephant in the room here because I haven't even talked about Sagrada Família yet. Put in charge of the project to build a Barcelona cathedral in 1883, Gaudi imbued his style into its design that focuses on 3 main façades – Nativity, Passion and Glory. The size and complexity of this project was enormous and when Gaudi passed away in 1926, the project was still only 15-25% complete.
What's amazing about the story of Sagrada Família is the spirit of Gaudi transcended his own death with his original designs respected and continuing his vision. The slated completion date is 2026 or 2028.
What makes Barcelona so addictive (if I dare to use that word in this context) is that I've gone back on 3 occasions and with every visit to Sagrada Família, the experience is completely different. Gaudi alone is a reason to visit Barcelona.
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Tapas to delight
While Spanish tapas originated in the Andalusia region of the country, this type of cuisine and very good examples of it can be found in Barcelona.
So what is tapas? Well its basically small appetizer sized dishes meant for sharing and can be served either hot or cold.
What I love about tapas is that not only can you try a large number of dishes instead of being stuck with one and it's just overall a much more social dining experience being able to share everything.
My first introduction to tapas was in Barcelona of course, on a little dive tapas bar named Can Paixano.
Found on a nondescript alleyway of the Barceloneta neighbourhood, it's hard to miss this place just because of the amount of people spilling out onto the streets because people are packed like sardines in there.
What made my visit there so memorable was not just the food and my sampling of sandwiches, sausages and cava (Spanish sparkling wine) but it was so much more about the experience.
Granted, I was shoulder to shoulder with other locals, throwing my hands up in the air because it was impossible to read anything off the menu that's completely in Catalan, I just started pointing to random things behind the glass and finding myself nodding in approval as I washed it down with a glass of deep rose colored wine.
Fast forward 8 years and wanting more tapas, I found myself at Cervecería Catalana and while it was a completely different experience from Can Paixano, again I was blown away by the variety of dishes we tried, atmosphere and service.
You definitely don't want to miss out this quintessential Spanish cuisine.
Endless streets to get lost in
I hope I'm not the only one but I love walking up and down the main artery of Barcelona – La Rambla.
Sure it's touristy and sure you have to watch your bag or duck away from babies tossed right at you but there's something about the energy, excitement and adventure here that keeps me coming back.
It'll feel like sensory overload at first with souvenir hawkers, buskers, artists, mimes and living statues, but if you look a little deeper, you start to appreciate the this window into Catalan culture and the intriguing architecture that flanks both sides.
But wait there's more! From the main La Rambla street, there are an infinite number of ways to explore. Like your very own choose-your-adventure book, you can turn right or left in alleyways that splinter in any which way and discover brand new plazas or squares, hidden churches filled with history, art galleries, fresh food markets and eateries to stop you in your tracks.
There are two key areas not to miss as you make your way around the maze of streets.
La Boqueria is a large public market filled with fresh local foods. This is a great place to soak in the sights, sounds and smells of the rich bounty of meats, seafood, fruits and vegetables.
If you're hungry, there are also quite a few food stalls that will give you a flavour for some of Catalonia's gastronomical specialities.
Plaça Reial is also a great plaza for a pitstop, known for coming alive at night and a popular meeting spot for locals.
If you happen to be here on a Sunday, you might get a glimpse of the the locals that congregate here for the stamp and coin market.
Activities in Barcelona to check out
As you're planning your Barcelona itinerary, make sure to consider a few of these top-rated activities. Some of them you might not've expected!
Skip the line tickets: With massive queues at pretty much all of the major sights in the city, your best bet is to purchase them ahead of time for:
City Bike Tour: Experience Barcelona from a unique perspective with this small-group bike tour that visits the Gothic Quarter, Olympic Port, and popular Gaudi sites like the iconic Sagrada Familia.
2 Hour Sailing Trip: Memorable sailing from Port Vell for an incredible view of the city from a luxury yacht.
Costa Brava Kayaking: Kayak along the coastline of the Costa Brava in this unexpected experience from Barcelona.
Secret Camp Nou Tour: Get an insider's look at FC Barcelona's Camp Nou stadium with a guided tour with a sports journalist.
Paella Cooking Class: Learn how to cook a traditional Spanish seafood paella with a visit to La Boqueria as well.
When planning a trip to Barcelona, there are a couple of basic questions that always come up whether related to the above 3 reasons or not. Let me help answer them!
Summers are the busiest and hottest times to go so if possible, avoid those months. Shoulder season are fantastic times to visit the city as it stays comfortably warm. This means that March – May and September – November are great months to visit.
There is a very convenient 35 minute transfer from the Barcelona airport to the city center via the Aerobús.
Avoid changing money at the airport or anywhere along La Rambla as the rates aren't as good. You can try to hunt for reputable money changers but honestly my best advice is to bring a debit card and withdraw money from an ATM. Just be sure to check to see if the ATM charges a withdrawal fee as some do and some don't. All ATMs let you know about this fee before you go through with the transaction so you do have a chance to cancel.
Public transportation is excellent and you'll find yourself most likely using their subway. To make things easier, I recommend picking up a Hola BCN public transportation card which comes in 48, 72, 96, or 120-hour segments.
Yes you absolutely need to as the lines can get disastrous if you don't plan in advance. Buying them will make your trip stress-free and save a ton of time.
While you may want to visit a restaurant like Can Paixano at its busiest to experience it in full but if not, I'd recommend going when it first opens in the evening which in their case is 7PM.
Yes, while often exaggerated, there are many pick pockets in the city especially where there are large tourist crowds such as along La Rambla. Travelling smart and heightened awareness required in the city.
Travel smarts apply in Barcelona and this means making sure you always make sure your zippers are closed. If you can, keep your bags in front of you. On subways, make sure your backpack is in front. If you keep your wallet and phone in your pant pockets, make sure they're secure and in your front pockets.
These three reasons to go to Barcelona are just the tip of the Sagrada Família spires. What about you? I'd love to hear why you love Barcelona and what brings you back again and again.
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