Barcelona is the capital and largest city of Catalonia, a region of Spain that lies in the northeastern part of the country. From sandy beaches and rocky mountains to charming neighborhoods and picturesque sights, Barcelona truly has something for everyone. This coastal city was my first stop on a four-week backpacking trip through Spain, Portugal, and Belgium and I couldn’t have asked for a better start to my 2018 adventures. It’s safe to say that, like many others, I fell in love with the Catalan capital… here’s why.
1. The Enchanting Old Town
The Ciutat Vella, ‘Old City’ in Catalan, makes up the heart of Barcelona. Four neighborhoods lie within this district – El Raval, Barri Gòtic, La Barceloneta, and El Born – each with its own identity and individual character. Navigating the cobbled streets and narrow alleyways while gazing at the plants hanging up above, a walk through this part of town is straight out of a fairytale. Decorations are draped from side to side, street art and graffiti add a splash of color to ordinary walls, and string lights brighten up the paths receiving limited sunlight. The city’s largest religious building also stands here – Catedral de la Santa Creu i Santa Eulàlia, Barcelona Cathedral – displaying Gothic architecture at its finest. Among these very streets is where Barcelona’s history began many years ago, serving as a window into the Catalan culture then and now.
2. The Thriving Food Culture
Nestled in the middle of the Old Town is St. Josep La Boqueria, Barcelona’s world-famous market with a history dating back to 1217. The entrance to the market can be found along the 1.2-kilometer pedestrian street called La Rambla, sometimes referred to as Las Ramblas, a highly frequented shopping destination. La Boqueria delivers a unique culinary experience with over 200 traders selling fruits and vegetables, fish and seafood, nuts and legumes, poultry and eggs, and more. Another market in the Old Town is Mercat Santa Caterina, Market Holy Catherina, a more modern market built on the site of an old convent in the mid-1800s. Furthermore, dozens of food markets can be found sprinkled throughout the city’s neighborhoods, each with a different atmosphere but naturally, the same fresh produce.
3. The Stunning Architecture
Antonio Gaudí is an important name in Barcelona since much of the city is characterized by his work. As both an architect and a designer, Gaudí was part of the Modernisme movement and demonstrated his talents through a number of Art Nouveau creations. Speaking to his unique style and remarkable design, seven of his buildings have been named UNESCO World Heritage Sites, three of which include La Sagrada Familia, Park Güell, and Casa Batlló. Also influenced by the Modernisme movement is architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner, the man behind the Hospital de Sant Pau that sits in the neighborhood of El Guinardó. Built in the early 1900s, this 27-building complex demonstrates the merge of architecture and medicine, and while it is no longer an operating hospital, it remains one of the city’s recognized architectural gems.
4. The Flourishing Art Scene
The line between architecture and art is a hard one to draw, especially when both are so embedded in the Spanish culture. Creative expression can be found all around Barcelona, in more places than the Picasso Museum and the pronounced exhibitions and galleries. Quirky sculptures and colorful murals are sprinkled throughout every nook and cranny of the city, street art and graffiti liven up the already energetic atmosphere, and the aesthetic character of the people exemplifies the richness of the Catalan culture. It comes as no surprise that the art scene in Barcelona is a source of inspiration for many.
5. The Bustling Beachfront Boardwalk
The city of Barcelona lies on the Mediterranean Sea and is blessed with a Mediterranean climate, meaning both the beach and boardwalk offer year-round activity. Even though I visited Barcelona in the middle of the winter, people could still be seen laying out on the beach and runners, cyclists, and roller skaters made good use of the boardwalk. Along the part of the boardwalk that passes through the beachside neighborhood of La Barceloneta, cafés and restaurants remain open for business and every outdoor seating area is packed. At the opposite end of the boardwalk, a wavy wooden pier known as the Rambla de Mar leads out to the Maremagnum mall, providing a wonderful shopping experience.
6. The Surrounding Nature
Green spaces are easy to find in Barcelona and the city center is encircled by both parks and mountains. Most notably, Parc de Montjuïc is positioned at the top of a large hill, overlooking the city in one direction and the port in another. Not only does this park offer panoramic views, but it is also the site of the Olympic Games and the 18th-century fortress, Castell de Montjuïc. Approximately one hour by train from Plaça Espanya, the rocky mountain range of Montserrat is another nature area that’s well worth a visit. Montserrat is an all-in-one destination for hiking, rock climbing, and sightseeing – perfect for getting in some physical activity, enjoying the mountain views, and learning the history behind the Montserrat Monastery. I made the journey to Montserrat on my last day in Barcelona and it was one of the many highlights of my trip.
Are you falling in love yet?