Barcelona is the most sophisticated and cosmopolitan city in Spain. Second only to Paris for renowned art and celebrated food, many world-class travelers consider Barcelona the Crown Jewel of Europe. It’s certainly more of a hip, fun place than Paris or London and my favorite city in the entire world. And it will be your “most fav” after a visit, too.
Barcelona has the best aspects of traditional Spain but heavily influenced by modernity. You will be awed by the exquisite art and exhausted by the variety of restaurants and nightlife that provides a 24-hour movable feast.
Of course, Barcelona’s preeminent architect is Antonio Gaudi. His ingenious and unusual designs transformed Gaudi from being a mere mortal into an oft-used adjective. Having too many frills or going over-the-top artistically is being “gaudy”. You know, kind of like your first college girlfriend decked out for Mardi Gras. The term describes his work perfectly.
As the capital of the Catalonia region, Barcelona has a population of 1.6 million and is world-renowned for its prestigious sculptures, paintings, and fetching architecture that spans 2,000 years of European history. Majestic facade columns, towering cathedrals, unique hidden cobblestone alleys, and scenic plazas offer grand walkabouts you’ll never forget.
- Don’t rent a car. Use taxis and various ride-sharing apps. You’ll actually enjoy walking around the venues outlined below. Even if you want to visit Badalona and Montserrat, tour buses are your best bet to avoid the hassle of dealing with traffic and parking.
- Make sure your mobile phone works in Spain. Don’t leave home without consulting your mobile carrier.
- Leave your laptop at home; you’re going on vacation, for heaven’s sake. But if you absolutely must use a computer, Barcelona hotels have excellent computer centers and good Wi-Fi.
Visit Park Gϋell
Speaking of Gaudi, this impressive park reflects his whimsical thinking about nature, history, and politics. Opened in 1914, Park Gϋell’s visitors are greeted by a giant, multicolored mosaic salamander at the entrance. And you will resemble that creature after drinking a few too many sangrias for lunch and walking up the hill to the park in that Caledonian heat.
This park has quiet lakes, tree-shaded walking paths, exotic Gaudi artifacts, and a grand view of Montjuic on the near horizon.
See God at the La Sagrada Familia
You’ll be thunderstruck and inspired by this Gaudi masterpiece of a church. You’ll also be lost for words and astounded at the amazing architecture, vaulted ceilings, and over-the-top exterior Passion Façade. You will never witness such soaring beauty and grace in one building. God must surely live in this church when visiting earth.
There is no point in coming to Spain, let alone Barcelona if you don’t explore this basilica. I went twice and was even more dazzled the second time.
Investigate the Gothic Quarter
The Gothic Quarter is the oldest section of downtown Barcelona since it used to be a classic Roman village. You will enjoy the twisted alleys and labyrinth of streets that blossom into small squares and unique plazas. No cars or taxis allowed so wear your best walking shoes. Not to worry, however, there are lots of small shops and cozy restaurants to keep you refreshed.
Eat, Pray, Love at La Rambla
Just a few blocks Southwest of the Gothic Quarter, La Rambla is a fascinating tree-lined street that’s only a mile long but is jam-packed with more bars, restaurants, clever shops, and food stalls than most towns. Eat tapas, devour plates of Jamon Iberico (cured ham), and enjoy the best ice cream you’ve ever savored.
If you can’t find it on La Rambla, it doesn’t exist. You can even find furniture and hardware stores on some of the hidden side streets.
La Boqueria is a charming public market in La Rambla that sells fresh seafood, has butcher shops, and boasts a dizzying array of fruits and vegetables stands. It’s where many Barcelonans buy their groceries. You’ll love sitting at one of the numerous stalls eating a steaming plate of garlic-roasted razor clams while watching all the locals mingle with tourists.
Tour the Picasso Museum
This classic museum houses an expansive collection of more than 4,200 pieces created by the 20th-century master, Pablo Picasso. What else do you need to know?
Eat Roast Suckling Pig
You MUST try the great Spanish dish of roast suckling pig at the El Rincon restaurant just one block West of La Rambla. Only young piglets that were still suckling on their sow qualify. But don’t think about that small detail.
Sucking pigs create an unforgettable combination of tender, succulent pork and crackling skin seasoned to perfection. It’s fascinating to watch the cooks prepare your meal over an a large open-fire pit. If you can’t handle the suckling pork, you’ll love their Paella. Get there before 9 pm, however, because the queue expands dramatically after people conclude their bar hopping. Remember, the Spanish don’t even start partying until after dark.
Get Your Groove On at the Jamboree Jazz Club
After dinner, get your dance moves ready. Listen to great big-band music, drink Sangria, and mingle with this serious party crowd. Things don’t really start jumping until after 10 pm, so don’t worry about missing some of the festivities. But don’t even think about keeping up with these professional party-goers because they can rumba until 5 am..and you can’t.
Visit Casa Batllo
If you can drag yourself out of bed the next day, tour Casa Batllo at center city; it’s one of Gaudi’s most popular masterpieces. The building is often described as Modernisme or Art Nouveau style of architecture. Textile magnate Josep Batllo hired Gaudi to refurbish his home in 1904; the rest is history, as they say. The whole building has nary a straight line and the exotic stonework supplemented by colorful, inlaid broken ceramic tiles will test your photography skills. As with most of Gaudi’s work, you won’t believe it until you see it.
This historic low-grade hill was the actual birthplace for Barcelona back in the day and served as a Jewish (Juic in ancient Catalan) burial ground. It evolved into the city’s main quarry and was used by farmers to grow produce and herd livestock. Montjuic’s elevated position also helped the locals control access to the Llobregat River, an important medieval trading route.
Of course, Montjuic has been transformed into an elegant tourist destination that showcases much of Barcelona’s expansive history and offers majestic views of the city. The scenery at night is especially magical.
Fine Dine at Tickets
This lively haute-cuisine bistro has already earned one Michelin Star. It features an array of tapas and dishes that were once created at the legendary elBulli restaurant just a few miles North of Barcelona. elBulli was rated the best restaurant in the world three consecutive years before changing venues.
Tickets is a stylish place with small tables and elegant furniture that speak to its continuing effort to earn a second Star. Try their signature dish: a basil air waffle with Scamorza cheese.
Gamble at the Casino
The elegant Casino Barcelona is located on the waterfront and is a great change of pace. Play roulette, try your hand at poker and Blackjack or gamble on the slot machines. Who knows, you might be able to recoup the cost of that exquisite meal at Tickets. Proper ID is required, however, so bring your passport.
Toast the Monkey in Badalona
Just 8 miles to the northeast, this quaint little coastal village is often dubbed Barcelona’s “Little Brother.” Make sure to visit Santa Maria Church in the Dalt de la Vila area at the foot of Badalona’s main hill. This district is a great place to get lost among the maze-like streets and plazas that display whimsical pastel-colored homes adorned with beautiful local flowers.
Of course, you must toast the Drunk Monkey near the waterfront. This frolicking bronze statue depicts a grinning monkey raising a bottle of “Anis Del Mono” liquor, a local brand of anise. There isn’t a better venue to take a bunch of fun selfies in all of Spain.
Other Points of Interest
If you have any time and energy left after experiencing the above schedule, you will also find these venues interesting and memorable: Barcelona Aquarium, Olympic Stadium, The Zoo, and Montserrat Monastery, about 40 scenic miles North of Barcelona.
Michael Hervey is a freelance writer who lives in Los Gatos, California.
He graduated from Penn State University with a B.A. in Political Science and worked in a Wall Street bank before setting off on a life of discovery and adventure. He joined the United States Marines, attained the rank of Captain, was a fixed-wing/helicopter pilot, and a Squadron Legal Officer. He also held senior sales positions in the semiconductor, software, and wireless industries
Harold has written seven (7) eBooks on travel, food, and business plus numerous articles and blogs about lifestyles, current events, and politics.