Between the crisp sangrias and beautiful beaches, Barcelona is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Spain. However, despite being a part of the nation, the city gives off a different vibe compared to the rest of Spain. This makes visiting Barcelona a unique experience even for the most experienced traveller in Spain.
Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia, a region in the northeastern part of Spain bordering France. When in Barcelona, you will realise that most local information guides and signposts contain three languages: English, Spanish and Catalan, which is mostly spoken amongst the locals.
Due to its history, Catalan would first appear to be a mix of Spanish and French, but is actually not quite any of the two. This perfectly captures the essence of the city. From its architecture, its food culture and even the overall ambience of the city (which feels like a movie set at times), Barcelona is a metropolitan mix of different cultures but still unique in its own way.
The playground of Antoni Gaudi
Catalonia is extremely proud of its sons and daughters and Barcelona is most well known as the playground of Antoni Gaudi who designed the La Sagrada Familia, a huge Roman Catholic church that has been under construction for over a century and is the iconic, must-see attraction of Barcelona.
Many of Gaudi’s other works in Barcelona have also been included as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. While all of his works are uniquely beautiful in their own right, the Casa Batlló (pronounced Ba-T-Yo) is, in this humble traveller’s opinion, in a league of its own. Casa Batlló was once a private residence owned by the wealthy Batlló family but has since been opened for public viewing. Without giving too much away, the house features surreal exterior and interior designs (such as the windows which resemble opera masks) and is a hallmark of Antoni Gaudi’s creativity.
Entrance is priced at 21.50 EUR (24.05 USD) per adult ticket but there are special prices for students (with valid ID), children and senior citizens. While Casa Batlló is usually open until 8p.m. local time, it is best to plan ahead to avoid any disappointment, especially if you are visiting during winter, as most attractions will close slightly earlier. Tickets may be purchased online but the staff at Casa Batlló are an efficient team and you’re unlikely to find yourself waiting in line for too long should you wish to purchase your tickets on the spot.
A great city to explore on foot
There is perhaps nothing quite as enriching as taking the time to explore a new and unfamiliar city on foot and Barcelona is one of the best cities to do just that. The simple grid layout of the streets make walking about in Barcelona a simple and therapeutic experience.
And while you’re on your feet, you must visit La Rambla (meaning the avenue). Sometimes known in plural form as Las Ramblas, it is a street in the central district of Barcelona, which stretches over 1.2 kilometers (about 0.75 miles) .
The street, with its numerous street musician performances, is full of bars, restaurants and even souvenir shops, making La Rambla a bustling hub of activities filled with tourists and locals alike. Connected to La Rambla are several smaller streets (the reason why it is sometimes called Las Ramblas), which connect the main avenue to several important areas within the city.
These include the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona (essentially the older part of the city housing several churches and cathedrals) and La Boqueria (a public fresh produce market that has been in operation since the 13th century), making La Rambla more or less the heart of Barcelona where you can get a taste of the city’s local culture at its very best.
For the love of tapas
Speaking of ‘taste’, food is obviously an essential part of a traveller’s experience, bringing to mind the question: what to eat in Barcelona?
With Barcelona being a port city along the Mediterranean, one might be tempted to say ‘seafood’ but while the paella de marisco (traditional Spanish wet rice with seafood) in Barcelona is to die for, might I suggest a more unique gastronomic adventure?
Tapas is a culinary culture unique to Spain. The food is often served in smaller portions and typically costs 3 EUR (3.35 USD) per dish and is more about enjoying the company of friends and sampling the many flavours of Spain than it is an actual meal (but that doesn’t mean it’s not filling!). And while tapas dishes are readily available throughout Spain, the dishes vary between regions.
In Barcelona, some of the must-try tapas (with a local twist) are: pan con tomate (toasted bread infused with tomato and olive oil), patatas bravas (deep fried potato cubes often served with garlic mayo and spicy tomato salsa) and especially jamón ibérico (Spanish cured ham usually from the leg area of an Iberian black pig), which is possibly the most typical local delicacy.
If you’re looking at the many tapas bars in Barcelona and wondering where to start, a highly recommended tapas bar is Irati Taverna Basca, a mere two minutes’ walk off the main avenue of La Rambla. Irati serves up delicious tapas in a rustic but classy environment and is a favorite of the locals.
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A cultural metropolis
As with any other tourist hotspot, it is best to exercise caution as pickpockets are unfortunately quite common in Barcelona, especially in La Rambla. What is more, La Rambla is also infamous for the sex workers who prowl the streets late in the night looking for potential clients, so it is best not to visit the area too late in the evening.
That being said, Barcelona remains a cauldron of diversity which thrives on the base of its own unique cultural roots and that is what makes it such a lovely place. It is a top travel destination for any traveler.
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