If asked me where my favourite city in Europe is, I’d say “Barcelona” in a heartbeat. It all started for me during one of our many lets-skip-class-during-exchange-and-backpack-around-Europe trips. Coming from Oktoberfest and a jaunt through Germany, we hopped on a plain to Spain and Barcelona was the first stop.
I immediately fell in love with the city. If I were to sum it up into one thing, what makes Barcelona such a great city in my eyes is that it really has a bit of everything. From food to culture to history and entertainment, there’s never enough time to explore everything in Barcelona. Think about it, 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. I can go on and on but you get the picture!
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.
Three reasons why I keep going back 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 than 3 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.
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.
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 it’s 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 uber 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.
These three reasons 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.