Today’s post is kind of personal and (at least for me) rather emotional. It´s about the love of my life, the city of my dreams and the most beautiful place on earth: Barcelona. People that know me know that I spend my first four years living in Spain, in a city close to Barcelona. Ever since, I´ve been in love with the city and the region. Even when we went back to Germany, we tried to keep and integrate the culture into our lives. I grew up with Spanish Tortilla, Els Pets, Castells, Cacaolat and Shin Chan. We had a Spanish Au pair for two years and we made sure to go back and visit the region and our friends at least once a year. I grew up speaking three languages; unfortunately I lost all my Spanish and Catalan when we went back. But ever since I was little, I was determined to live in Barcelona again and learn how to speak Spanish.
Well, sometimes dreams do come true. When I went to University, it was part of my study program to spend one year abroad and I knew that I wanted to spend it in Barcelona. After the most stressful organization of all times, I finally made it to Barcelona last August. And all I can say is that it was the best thing ever! I fell in love even more with the city and I enjoyed every day that I got to live there. (Well, the whole studying-thing could have been a little less stressful but hey, at least I was in Barcelona)
Now, I have to admit, that I kind of act like a jealous lover when it comes to Barcelona. I want the city all to myself please and it is difficult to me, to share all my favorite spots with people. Barcelona is one of the most visited cities in Europe which I can completely understand. This has a lot of advantages, since it brings a lot of money and work to the city. But it also has the effect that, just like in other popular cities like Paris or London, the city tends to divide itself into the touristic version and the local version. I wanted to get to know the locals, the culture and the food in its most authentic way, so I moved to the coolest neighborhood in a flat with locals and try to discover all the sites that weren´t full of tourists. I learned pretty fast to avoid the Ramblas and La Barceloneta in the summer and to complain about all the “guiris” everywhere.
Still, I am going to share some pictures and some of my favorite spots of Barcelona. I am by no means an expert, the city has just too much to offer to discover all of it in one year. But these are the experiences I made and the places I love the most, that I recommended to all my friends who made a trip to Barcelona in the course of this year. I hope you like them and maybe get inspired for your next trip. Please excuse the pictures, when I lived in Barcelona I had neither a fancy camera, nor big knowledge of photography, so these are the pictures I shot with a regular camera or my phone. My roommate however took some lovely pictures throughout the year, which you can find here.
Barcelona is not like the rest of Spain. The Catalan are proud of their culture and their traditions and they want to keep it that way. So even though Barcelona is a pretty international city, you will see and hear the Catalan language everywhere. A lot of the “typical Spanish traditions” are not that big of a deal in Barcelona. Toreros (bullfights) for example are not very common in Catalonia, the two arenas in Barcelona are now a shopping center and a venue for concerts and other things. Flamenco is also more typical for the south of Spain. There are also slight differences in the cuisine, pa amb tomàquet for example is one of those things you will mostly find in Catalonia. Some typical Catalonian traditions are the Castells (human pyramids) and Correfoc (Fireworks). If you are in Barcelona, you should check out you can watch some, they are truly awesome.
One of the most important aspects: what should or shouldn´t you see in Barcelona? Well, everybody is different and most people want to see all the typical things. I can recommend most of them.
The Parc Güell, the Gaudi Buildings (La Pedrera and Casa Battló) and the Sagrada Familia are worth a visit. The Parc Güell can by quite touristy in the summer, but most of them are focusing on the front where the all the sights are. If you are in the mood, make sure to check out the rest of the park where it gets greener and quieter. You might meet some joggers or locals walking their dog and if you make it all the way to the top, you have a great view over the city. I haven´t been inside the Gaudi buildings because the line was always too long and it´s quite expensive. I can highly recommend going inside the Sagrada Familia though, it is breathtaking. And if you buy your ticket online, you can skip the queue and enter directly.
Las Ramblas – Ah, the Ramblas. They are not my favorite spot but I guess everyone should visit them once. They are really pretty but just so full of tourists. While you are slowly making your way through the crowd, constantly chatted up by street performers and quacks, it´s hard to remember the original charm they can have. The Ramblas are the prettiest in the winter time or very early in the morning. They are the creepiest at night. And always make sure to pay attention to your valuables.
The Tibidabo, the highest hill of Barcelona is worth a visit if you have a few days left. There is an old church and an amusement park on top and you have this incredible view over the city. To get there with public transports is kind of funny too, although you can skip the blue Tramvia if you are in a hurry.
For most people, the beach is one of the highlights of Barcelona. La Barceloneta is the old neighborhood of the fisherman and has its own flair. It borders the beach but you shouldn´t forget that that is not the only beach of Barcelona. If you are not a fan of too many people you should check out the other beaches that are above La Barceloneta and maybe not as crowded. In the winter you have the whole beach to yourself, which makes for great walks.
Montjuïc – The Montjuïc is another hill of Barcelona, directly at the Plaça Espanya. It offers a lot of parks, the old castle, the funicular and some of the sports facilities from the Olympic Games. From the Montjuïc you have a great view over the city and the park areas are perfect for a picnic. In the summer, there is an Outdoor Cinema which is spectacular.
Good food is very important in Barcelona and the ingredients for it can be found in one of the many markets of the city. I have to admit that I haven´t been to the most famous one (Mercat de la Boqueria) but I think it´s worth visiting. I always went to another marked which was right around the corner where I lived (Mercat Abaceria) which is a little smaller and visited more by locals. But regardless which market you are going too, they are all great, especially if you are into good food.
Close connected to the sights is the question, which neighborhoods in Barcelona are worth a visit.
El Born – The Born is slowly getting rid of ist bad reputation and turning into a more hipster neighborhood. It is great to spend the day, there are a lot of little shops, restaurants and boutiques. There is also a big market and it is really close to the triumphal arch and the Parc de la Ciutadella.
El Gòtic – El Gòtic is the center of the city, which lies right under the Plaça Catalunya and next to the Ramblas. It is absolutely stunning, with the little alleys and the old gothic building. The Gòtic is also home to the cathedral and other sights, as well as tons of shops. However, it is the tourist attraction and therefore most of the time pretty crowded.
El Raval – El Raval lies right next the Gótic and tends to have a slightly dubious reputation. During the day, it is a nice neighborhood to discover, with lots of little shops and restaurants. During the night, it has the reputation of being a little dangerous, something one might consider when searching for a place to stay.
Eixample – Eixample is the big district in Barcelona, known for its beautiful buildings and square blocks. The Passeig de Gràcia, the big shopping street which is home to the more exclusive shops and the Gaudi buildings is in Eixample. Parallel to the Passeig de Gràcia are the Ramblas de Catalunya, which are great for shopping if you have a smaller budget. From the Ramblas de Catalunya you can see the Tibidabo, at their end they turn into the Ramblas.
Gràcia – Gràcia is my most favorite neighborhood, the one where I lived and spend most of my time in. If you visit it, you might realize why. From Gràcia it is not too far to the Parc Güell and if you look for it, you might find a Gaudi building which is not that popular. It is also the neighborhood with all the plaças where you can have a cup of coffee or a glass of wine and during the weekends there is always something going on.
Poble sec – Poble sec is turning into one of the more popular neighborhoods lately. There are a lot of bars and some very good tapas restaurants (see above, Quimet Quimet). It also houses some popular clubs which are great for a night out.
Now to the most important question: which are the best places to eat in Barcelona? And my answer is: all of them. I don´t think I´ve ever eaten out that many times as during my year in Barcelona. There are good restaurants everywhere and I could never get enough of eating Tapas. Apart from Tapas, Barcelona offers a huge variety of different cuisines, right now Sushi is the most trending thing I would say. These are my favorite places to eat but there are so many more….
Shhh… No se lo Digas a Nadie – My favorite tapas bar is in the center of Grácia, at the Plaça de la Virreina. If you are lucky, you might get seats outside, if not, don´t let the (slightly shabby) inside scare you. Here you can get the best patatas bravas and the cheese plate is super delicious. The chocolate cake for dessert is also highly addictive.
La catalana – La catalana offers so many different Tapas, it is amazing. It is pretty well known in Barcelona, so make sure to get there early because there is always a long line. The best is to get there an hour early, leave your name and go around the corner to have a clara and drink some chips. The restaurant is really worth the wait.
Quimet Quimet – Quimet Quimet is the tiny little place with 2-3 stands which is mostly extremely crowded and serves some of the best tapas. Just order everything, have some Vermut and enjoy the atmosphere.
Brunch and Cake – Spanish people are not known for their big breakfasts. But if you are in the mood for some indulgent brunch, you should go to Brunch and Cake. You probably won´t see too many locals there but the international scene knows that they serve the best breakfast. The cupcakes and the cakes are pretty delicious too.
Café Camelia – Café Camelia is a cute little coffee place which is just perfect for a lazy afternoon. It serves healthy (vegetarian) lunch and cake and coffee. Just take a book with you, order some coffee and listen to the conversations of the design students, who frequently come there to work and talk.
La Nena – La Nena is another cute coffee place which serves amazing hot chocolate and churros. There is also a piano and lots of board games, in case you get bored.
Cafe Granja Viader – The Café Granja Viader is over a 100 years old, rumor has it that Cacaolat was invented there. There you can get the best chocolata amb churros in the whole city. Trust me, they are the bomb!!
Barcelona is the perfect city to go shopping. Whether you are looking for exclusive brands, little designer boutiques or cool secondhand shops, everyone should find something. And if you can´t find shoes in Barcelona, you are doing something wrong. The best neighborhoods to go shopping are Born, El Gòtic, Eixample and Gràcia. You should also go to Vinçon, the pretty cool store which has everything, from freaky design stuff, lamps, toys for children or kitchen utensils. It also has a terrace on the first floor, from which you can see the back of La Pedrera.