I was born and raised near Porto, Portugal’s second city. One day I may create an ode to this amazing place, but the reason I mention it is easy. I feel a natural preference and bias towards cities which are not the capitals of their countries. There’s something nobler and more worthy for a city to stand on its own without the logical advantages of hosting the government or the state. Barcelona is, for me, one of the world’s best examples of a city that crushes its capital in pretty much all categories. Certainly, there are many other examples that come to mind (New York, Sydney, and Marrakech), but for now, let’s focus on BCN. Oh yeah, I’m using an acronym!
Before jumping to the highlights of Barcelona on its own, let’s look at a quick comparison between it and Madrid, the capital. Following are some things that BCN has that Madrid doesn’t (for me):
- Mediterranean weather
- LGBT openness
- Iconic landmarks
- Architectural signature
- Cultural diversity
PS – I could add sports’ supremacy (namely in football), but my love for Cristiano Ronaldo doesn’t let me.
With effect, Barcelona is an incredibly complete and diversified city. It has something for everybody, regardless of what you desire. It’s an amazing summer destination. Also young and liberal, a popular place for students and exchange programs. And with a cultural offering like no other, high population and commerce / services, a great metropolis to live in. The vibrancy and attractiveness of the city are such that tourism has been deemed excessive, with some protests taking place recently.
Much of BCN’s charm an uniqueness comes from Antoni Gaudí, a peculiar Catalan architect. Not only did he design the world-famous Sagrada Família, but also many other signature buildings around. In fact, it’s a bit hard to make a typical tour around Barcelona without mentioning or stumbling upon something from Gaudí. Casa Milà, Casa Batlló and many of the structures in Parc Güell are part of his work. It’s highly recommended to visit at least one of these places to breathe his amazing style and modernism methods.
But Barcelona has still much to offer apart from “Gaudí’s extravaganza”.
I can start by Montjüic, BCN’s crowded hill. In fact, Montjüic’s endless stream of highlights is enough to keep you busy for several days if you wanted to. You have the iconic MNAC museum, the Poble Espanyol open-air museum and the obvious Montjüic castle. There’s also the Joan Miró Foundation, the area of the 1992 Olympics and gorgeous viewpoints overlooking the city. You have a cable car connecting you to the top of the hill (not that exciting) and, much more amazing, another one connecting the hill to the port. Still part of the Olympics infrastructure is the Magic Fountain, with its famous multi-dimension show, as well as the whole area around Plaza de Espanya (next to Montjüic).
But we’re only scratching the surface here.
Don’t overlook the “amazing to walk” port, marina, and promenade, full of street art and commerce. Connecting this area to the heart of the city is the iconic Ramblas avenue, sided with trees, museums, hotels, and restaurants. It’s here you can find the picturesque La Boqueria market, itself subject to tourism-limiting rules. East of this crowded area is the El Gòtic quarter, the real old town of the city. One can find the cathedral, grand squares and the lovely narrow streets of BCN around there. I suggest a stop to eat tapas here!
Up north of here is where you’ll find the Eixample area, a large section of the city designed with perfect squared blocks. As a European, this has always fascinated me when seen from the sky, but I reckon for Americans it’s quite a known concept. It’s here that Gaudí lives on, as well as wide avenues and squares, shopping centers and beautiful buildings. Even more to the north, you’ll find the exotic Parc Güell, a mandatory visit for all people visiting the city.
Much more could be said about BCN, and I’m well aware I left out other places too. That’s a sign of the richness of this city. A city that, representing the Catalan people, aimed for independence in 2017. I won’t delve into that subject in a travel-based blog, but I wish both Catalonia and Spain can live in peace.