Step inside the magical city that is, Barcelona —the capital of Spain’s Catalonia region.
If there’s one place that’ll bring a sense of magic to your life, it’s Barcelona. This small yet astonishing city is a place full of hope and passion. The locals are friendly, the expats are grateful, and the sights are just plain mesmerising—which is why I consider myself lucky to have lived there for a brief period of my life.
So let’s dive right in and explore the glory of Barcelona—the do’s & the don’ts, the breathtaking (architectural) sights, and the food.
- Learn the basics
While almost anyone you meet in Barcelona will speak English to a certain degree, it is of course great manners to learn the most important words in Spanish:
- Hello, how’re you? –¿Hola! Que tal? (O-LA KWE-TEL?)
- I’m good – Muy bien (MOI BEE-UN)
- Please – Por favor (PORE FA-VOR)
- Thank you – Gracias (GRA-SE-AS)
- Additionally, remember to roll those r’s if you’re able to!
- Embrace the Spanish lifestyle
You may believe that the Spaniards still adhere to that wonderful notion of siesta, but this isn’t quite the case. Sure, in the smaller towns it may still be ‘a thing’ but in Barcelona, you won’t be given an hour or two off work in order to take a nap. Many shops however will close around noon, and this is to give the employees a lunch break.
When it comes to dinner time, you can expect to eat around 21:00 – 23:00. An early 18:00 dinner in Barcelona is a strange and foreign concept.
Another thing to mention, is that Spanish culture is all about being together, having a good time, enjoying the moment, and not over indulging. You’ll see friends drinking beers together on any given evening, and while they may end up spending hours doing so, they will not become legless. This is because socialising is the most important thing, not the heavy drinking.
Lastly, Spanish folk are always up for hanging out, doing things, and having fun. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a work day or a weekend, mid-afternoon or midnight, they’ll be keen to meet, have a beer, and enjoy a few laughs.
You may be used to leaving a 20% tip on your bill, but in Barcelona it is not necessary.
- Talk politics
Barcelonians are very patriotic of their city and consider themselves to be separate from the rest of Spain. In fact, flags of Catalonia can be seen hanging out of nearly every apartment window. For that reason, try not to get too political.
- Be disrespectful
Other than that, Barcelona is a stunning place with lovely people and if you merely adhere to one rule of thumb—that is, respecting others, you’ll have an amazing experience!
One of my ultimate favourite spots in Barcelona is the breathtaking views from the Tibidabo Mountain. In order to get there, you can hop on the L7 metro towards Tibidabo, and then get on the funicular that’ll take you to the top. Upon arrival, you’ll see the colourful rides that make up the amusement park, as well as the Temple Expiatori del Sagrat Cor. When you’ve climbed the stairs to the temple, you’ll be able to see far and wide, the views of Barcelona city. I also recommend going at sunset to get the best views.
Park Güell—an amazing creation by Antoni Guadí (1852–1926), is a mixture of beautiful gardens and architectural grace, decorated exquisitely with his signature mosaic work and city views. And if you’ve done prior research on Barcelona, you’ll realise that this amazing architect is responsible for a number of astonishing buildings in Barcelona. Such as…
Yet another magical piece by Guadí that was, in fact, the last piece he worked on before giving sole dedication to The Sagrada Familia. The Casa Milà is an unconventional modernist building and, despite the outer appearance, is actually an open quarry.
A visit to Barcelona is not complete until you have spent a considerable amount of time gawking at The Sagrada Familia—an unfinished Roman Catholic church designed by Guadí. The construction of this beautiful sight began in 1883, and at the time of Gaudí’s death, he had spent a quarter of his life dedicated to the project. Today, it is estimated to be complete by 2028, but despite the ongoing works, it is still possible to go inside and take a look at the amazing work that has been done thus far.
If you’re looking for that real European experience, the Gothic Quarter is the way to go! It’s a series of narrow medieval streets filled with bars, clubs, cafés, and restaurants. The best part is that you can roam freely, either alone or with friends, sans a guide, and simply photograph the beauty and enjoy the scenery (for free).
This large food market dates back to 1217 and is the most popular in Barcelona, full of vibrant colour. It is at La Boqueria that you will find olives, meat, cheeses, seafood, and fresh fruit in abundance.
La Barceloneta Beach
La Barceloneta is Barcelona’s most famous beach and is a perfect way to spend an afternoon. Lined with places to eat, shops, and views, you can either enjoy a day lazing on the beach or browsing the area. It’s also a great spot for pop-up’s during summer! But bear in mind that Barceloneta is saturated with vendors trying to sell you things (beer, cocktails), and offer services (massages, hair braiding), which can be either a blessing or an annoyance.
What’s also cool about Barceloneta, is that you can take the Port Cable Car which offers panoramic views of the city.
The home to FC Barcelona, Camp Nou is the spot for those who are soccer/football fanatics. The stadium was complete in 1957 and is the largest stadium in Spain as well as in Europe. Here, you can visit the museum—which displays the five European cups, experience the thrilling feeling of entering the field of play from the tunnel, as well as sit on the first team bench!
Found in the centre of Barcelona, Plaça Catalunya is a large square dedicated to shopping, sightseeing, art, cafés and restaurants. With El Corte Inglés—Europe’s biggest department store in the area, as well as tons of other trendy store, a walk around Plaça Catalunya is a day well-spent.
Montjuïc is a broad shallow hill in Barcelona that allows spectacular views of the harbour. And the best part is—there are several cool ways to get there. You could opt for the funicular, a cable car, or Barcelona’s Port Cable Car. And once you’re on top, you can check out Montjuïc Castle (where you’ll see the swimming pool that Kylie Minogue used in her video, Slow), and the Joan Miró Foundation—a museum dedicated to Catalan artist, Joan Miró’s work.
Fun fact! The Mountjuïc funicular opened in 1928 and at that time, it was considered the fastest cable railway in the world, carrying 6000 people in one hour.
Arc de Triomf
Built by architect Josep Vilaseca i Casanovas, the Arc de Triomf is a triumphal arc that was used as the main gate for the 1888 Barcelona World Fair. Additionally, this architectural piece is a symbol of individuality for Catalonians living in Barcelona as they see themselves as separate from the rest of Spain.
One of the best traditions I adopted when living in Spain was their breakfast of choice—pan con tomate, which is so simple yet so tasty. This is basically fresh bread topped with tomato (sometimes squashed so it’s like a paste), jamón (cured ham), and drizzled with olive oil. And while I preferred it without the jamón, it is a cheap and delicious breakfast.
Then, when it comes to lunch and dinner, tapas is of course a big thing. The people of Barcelona can be seen enjoying small portions of several dishes, such as homemade croquettes, crumbed meat, grilled fish, meatballs, cold meats, patatas bravas (potatoes with a special spicy sauce), and olives. Additionally, you can opt for a larger portion of those dishes if you so prefer.
And so it was written—a concise and informative piece on the beautifulness that is Barcelona! If you’re planning a visit—I’m jealous, as I have left a piece of my heart in that city. But if you’re going a little more South of the equator, consider a peek at Cape Town—South Africa’s top city full of beaches, mountains, and unspoiled beauty.
Feature image credit: Sapiens