It is difficult to define in a nutshell a city known by all as Barcelona. Today we know this city even before going there for several reasons. We know Barcelona, for example, for the Barcelona Footbal Club, the team that has always fought for the Spanish championship title at Real Madrid in an endless derby. We know it or we have heard of it for its fairy-tale modernist architecture (the Catalan expression of Art Nouveau) and through some novels by writers such as Manuel Vàzquez Montalban, Idelfonso Folcones and Carlos Ruiz Zafón.

We also know it because it has become a paradise for young people, a refuge for many artists, a centre of opportunity, a city that has been able to transform itself into one of the most dynamic places in the world. Sooner or later, everyone wants to go there and enjoy some of these things.


Why visit Barcelona?


Casa Battlo BarcellonaSpain's second largest city is competing with Madrid as the country's intellectual and economic capital. In many cases, he has crossed London in the imagination of young people, for the opportunities it offers, its dynamism, fun, cuisine, shopping, medieval and somewhat mysterious beauty of the Gothic Quarter (Barrio Gotico) the works of his famous architect Antoni Gaudì, the surreal and colourful forms of Joan Miró, the genius of Picasso. More and more people are choosing this city to rebuild their lives after visiting it. Among them a large group of creative and young entrepreneurs, coming from all over the world, with many Italians as well, in a cultural melting pot absolutely suggestive and attractive


Lively all year round, it is a joyful city that offers the ultimate in art, food, fashion, style, music and entertainment. The many museums, theatres, galleries, restaurants and nightlife are considered to be of the highest quality. Then don't forget (especially in summer) that we are on the sea, with the port and beach of Barceloneta as additional key points of a city in continuous evolution. You visit an attraction and then take a dip.  To the question, "Why visit Barcelona?", what we have mentioned could already be enough for a valid answer, not for one, but for several places put together, but there is much more to tell. We will try to do so.


Catalan sobriety

Barcellona Arco di TrionfoBarcelona with its 1.6 million inhabitants can be defined as the metropolis of northern Spain and proudly claims to be not only a tourist attraction but also the first industrial and financial centre of the country. The "Barcelonaese" with a little snobbish way of doing  (turned to the rest of Spain) define themselves as "seny", a Catalan word that describes their sober approach to life. In short, they think they are more serious and reliable. An example, here they have never loved the Corrida (who have been seen since January 1,2012). Another example, the "Movida"is fine, but the too noisy one is badly endured, in the morning you have to get up early and be fresh for the job. It must be said, that this attitude is justified by the fact that for centuries while Madrid was the administrative heart of the country, while Barcelona has always been the most important and prosperous economic center of the nation. It is no coincidence that it was here that the Spanish industrial revolution was born, here there were born trends that have always spread to the rest of the country, here is the main port of the Mediterranean. It is precisely the port that has always accentuated its undoubted cosmopolitanism compared to Madrid. Also for this reason, they feel more in tune with a city like London than with the capital of Spain. Fortunately, as we will see, sobriety has not prevented art, eclecticism and fantasy and a particular care for beauty.


Let's start our visit in Barcellona


La Rambla - BarcellonaOne of the most famous spots in town to relax with a coffee or a beer, before starting a journey throughout the city, are  Las Ramblas, pedestrian streets in the Barrio Gotico  (Gothic district or Old Town) with dozens of open air bars and crowded with all sorts of people, close to the  Palau de la Generalitat,  home of the Catalan Government. You are next to the sea here, and you can feel it by the wind and the smells, and it's full of happy voices and walks. The ramblas are well known for street shows (music, theater, jugglers and mime), pets and flowers' sellers, people walking up and down all day and night, both tourists and locals. After drinking something in total relax you can decide, by looking at your city map, whether to wander around the narrow roads in the Barrio Gotico or to start with a glance at the town from above.


Barcelona from above...


Barcellona vista dal MontjuicIf you chose the second option you can go to the Montjuic,  a hill from where you'll appreciate a nice panoramic view. The Montjuic, besides being surrounded by the Olympic quarter, hosts museums, a beautiful park with gardens, and it's a quite crowded spot, even by night. On the top of the Montjuic you can find the Castle, an ancient military fortress where the national hero Lluis Companys  (President of the Generalitat de Catalunya during Franco's dictatorship and considered a martyr) was executed by the francoists. In 2001, the Olympic stadium "Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys" was entitled to him. Also worth a visit, on the border between the district of  Francia Chica (on the northern side of Pueblo Seco) and the Montjuïc Park, the  City of theatre , a complex of structures used for theatrical representations and theatre schools, which is the headquarters of the Free Theatre and the Flower Market. An alternative panoramic view of the city is from the  Tibidabo  hill, which also hosts a fun fair that was built over 100 years ago (the second oldest in Europe after the Prater in Vienna), and where you can find a small belvedere with an astonishing view of Barcelona.



People's  Barcelona...


Mercato di BoqueriaIf you're interested in everyday life of the city, you should visit its markets: food and flea markets are the best. The characteristic and crowded market of Boqueria is definitely worth a visit: it already existed in the 13th century and it's really huge, 2500 sq. metres. Santa Caterina's Market is very interesteing too: located in Born, an area next to the port which was once populated by ugly people but is very fashionable today, always in the center of attention. The roof which covers the market is fantastic: it looks like the iridescent skin of an animal, it was designed by the architects  Enric Miralles  and  Benedetta Tagliabue  and it appeared on all the top architecture magazines of the world. We'll talk about it more in depth when talking about The alternative Barcelona.



Romantic Barcelona...


Barcelona in two is nice, why not starting with a romantic walk in the   Parc de la Ciutadella?  It's a park full of avenues with trees on the sides, with a lake where you can rent small bats, a few museums, the beautiful headquarters of the local parliament and the zoo. The park is located between the districts of La Ribera (east) and Barceloneta (north) and it's the ideal place for a romantic stop or just to escape from the noise of a busy city. The Maze of Horta (Jardins del Laberint d'Horta), an historicl garden in the Horta-Guinardó district, the oldest of this kind in town, is also very romantic: it includes a neoclassic garden from the 18th century and a romantic garden from the 19th. Get lost together in the maze of hedges in this wonderful park.



Gaudì's Barcelona...


Barcellona is well known for many reasons, and one of the most important is the fact that it hosts the architectural works of  Antoni Gaudì, one of the most celebated architects of all times, the main exponent of the Spanish modernism. If, by chance, you've never heard of Gaudì, then the surprise will be even bigger when you will visit the Sagrada Familia, a masterpiece of modern architecture.

La Sagrada FamiliaThe great architect left so many works in Barcelona. Among them, the Parc Guell, a panoramic park inside town which was forged by the infinite fantasy of the architect, but also the many private houses designed by him and nowadays admired by millions of tourists. Most of Gaudì's works have been named Unesco's World Heritage, including  Casa Batlló (on the famous Passeig de Gracia, n. 43) and the Pedrera (Casa Milà). The first is a house restored by Gaudì at the beginning of the 20th century, with a roof made of majolica tiles which seems to form the shape of a back of a sparkling dragon; the other one is a house which was restored by using cement, majolica, iron, reinforced glass, and stone (the so called pedrera), in which the hard materials bend, giving an Torre Agbarunexpected sense of sinuosity to the structure. Some apartments in the palace are private and inhabited by their owners (it must be incredible to live in a house designed by Gaudì himself!), so they can't be visited. The roof and a flat with ancient furniture are accessible, though. A curiosity: in this area you can also find  Tower Agbar, one of the most modern buildings in the urban landscape of Barcelona; built in 2005, it's the symbol of the innovation of this city which, through a modern architecture, looks ahead in the direction of the future, but always with a particular attention to the glory of its past and to the buildings that witness this past.You can stop in Plaça Real, one of the destination preferred by tourists, for something to eat or drink. Designed by  Daniel Molina  in neoclassic style, with finely decorated Plaça Realfountains and street lamps made of wrought iron, the square looks really good. It's one of the main spots for the  lively nightlife of Barcelona, with tons of people sitting on the sides of its fountain. On the sides of the square, lines of palm trees make it look quite exotic. The street lamps have been made by Gaudì:  they were his first work ever made in town. Not far from this square you can find the medieval gothic quarter  Barrio Gotico:  500 years old, it's a maze of tiny roads which surround the cathedral, with very typical and wonderful houses. If you didn't feel like entering one of the bars of Plaça Real because you thought they are too touristic, you'll probably find some cafè or tapas bar which will be more suitable for you here.



The character of Barcelona...


For those who love  bars and nighlife in Barcelona , the most interesting areas are the quarter of Gràcia, in the high part of the city, and the area of  Poble Nou, in the old industrial zone of Barcelona, located on the north of the Olympic area. A curiosity: among the famous attractions in town we can also include a cafè, the Els Quatre Gats, a well known spot because  Pablo Picasso  used to come here very often at the beginning of his career (you can also visit the Picasso Museum, Montcada 15/19, Ciutat Vella, in the quarter of La Ribera , where you can also find some interesting works from his youth).


Don't miss a visit to the old  Barceloneta with its famous beach and the maritime areacelebrated by the Spanish director  Pedro Almodóvar  in many of his movies, it hosts a lot of restaurants with fresh fish and small  huts on the beach (called chiringuitos), which serve drinks and typical Catalan food.


Casa Batlló a BarcellonaBarcelona is wonderful and joyful and there's always something to do and to see and, at every time of the day, somewhere to go. People is friendly and open minded and it's very easy to make new friends. You can eat and drink anything in any kind of venue and people of every age gather in bars to talk and have fun. To name just a few classical places, maybe a bit touristic but still very good:  Casa Leopoldo (used to be frequented by writers lik Eduardo Mendoza  and the great  Manuel Vázquez Montalbán), and more trendy others like  Salsitas, which during weekends after midnight becomes a fashionable club, or the  Bestial, down by the Marina,  which has always been a trendy spot. Wherever you go, remember that dinner time in barcelona is late: restaurants are empty at 8pm, they serve most people around 10pm.



Montalbán's Barcelona...


Manuel Vázquez MontalbánTalking about  Manuel Vázquez Montalbán, you could visit Barcelona from his point of view, or better from the point of view of the protagonist of his novels, the private inspector  Pepe Carvalho,  who wanders around the narrow roads crowded with prostitutes, poor people and immigrants. Inspector Carvalho was so Catalan that he suffered of insomnia when he had to visit the enemy city, Madrid. Montalbán's Barcelona is a city which is a symbol of the contradictions of  modernization, where progress and social, urban and cultural changes, culminated with the Olympic Games in 1992, contrast with the persistency of poverty and mass immigration. " In the '80s you could still find some stables with cows in Barcelona", writes  Quim Aranda  in the book dedicated to the detective  Piacere, Pepe Carvalho. During the 25 years of novels, from his office on the Rambla, Carvalho was a privileged witness of the slow transformation of Barcelona, especially on the Barrio Chino, the old name of  Raval, an area delimited by the crowded  Ramala, the commercial  calle Pelai and the ring roads of  Sant Antoni  and  Sant Pau. These streets host the stories of Pepe and his relations with his assistant and cook  Biscuter  and his lover/prostitute  Charo. With a bit of melancholy and images of future nostalgias, Montalban on one side denounced the hipocrisy of those who wanted to give Barcelona an image of pure progress, by ignoring the persistent problems (such as poverty and alienation), but on the other side he hoped the city wouldn't get too " normal", because the charm it has had for centuries also resides in its promiscuity. The readers who are fond of Motalban understand the nature of this contrast. For those who know that the  cocktail bar Boadas  was the scenery of his stories, having a drink inside, in honor to their idol, is inevitable.



Zafon's and Idelfonso Marcones' Barcelona


Cattedrale del MareIn the latest years, the literature often described Barcelona in different ages and contributed, if ever there was any need for it, to increment its aura. Those who have read the  Cathedral of the sea  by  Ildefonso Falcones  can walk around the streets of the  Born, imagining the medieval town in the 14th century when the young  Arnau Estanyol  lived among the fishermen of Ribera, or can taste the anecdotes regarding the construction of the church  Saint Mary of the sea "La Catedral Del Mar". Son of a servant who escaped from the Catalan capital, Arnau finds shelter in Barcelona as well as the desired freedom that nowadays still characterizes the spirit of this town. Another incredible case in literature was the success of two books written by  Carlos Ruiz Zafon,   The shadow of the wind  and  The game of the angel, both set in the Catalan metropolis in a very hard historical period for Barcelona L'Ombra del Ventoand Spain, the one that started from the beginning of the 20th century until the end of the First World War, which was characterized by several economic crisis and by the terrible civil war. The main character and narrating voice of " The shadow of the wind" was  Daniel Sempere, accompanied by minor characters such as  Julian CaraxFermín Romero de Torres, who live in Barcelona's settings like  Calle Santa Ana, Arch of the Theatre,  Plaza RealLas Ramblas,  Plaza Sant Felip Neri  or  calle Montcada  where you can find  Museo Picasso,    Borne's Market  and the  Ciutadela,  Plaza de  Catalunya, the surroundings of the University and  the Ensanche, the  ville de SarriáPedralbes  and the  Tibidabo,  the cemeteries and modern palaces adorned by Gaudì's dragons.  Barrio Gotico was, and still would be, the ideal setting for a history of suspense, love and literature. A gothic novel full of coup de theatres whose theme is the world of books or, to be more precise, the world of forgotten books. A morning in 1945 the owner of a small used books shop walks his 11-year old son Daniel to the hearth of the old town of Barcelona, to the Cemetery of forgotten books, a place where thousands of books whose memory was canceled by time, are brought back into life. Here the father invites his son, according to a family tradition, to adopt one of the books and to promise to look after it for his whole life. Daniel chooses " The shadow of the wind" of the unknown author Julian Carax, a book which will be cursed for him, because it would change his life by bringing him into a maze of intrigues and passions, with his town always in the background. " We live in a world of shadows, Daniel, and fantasy is a rare good. That book taught me that literature can make me live with more intensity, and this can give sight back to me".



When to go to Barcellona


One of the best periods of the year to visit Barcelona is September when, around the end of the month, they celebrate the  festa de La Merce, the main festivity in town: four days of music, dances, foreworks, corridas, feasts and parades. The pyrotechnical festival is held these days as well as the festival of street shows (music, dance, art and theatre). Also, you can see the Correfoc (race of fire), a swimming competition around the port, and the famous  challenges of Castells, human towers that can reach a height of up to 9 floors.


For those who love art and music, summer is the best period to visit Barcelona. From June to the beginning of August it hosts the  Festival Grec, a stage for the latest trends in art and music. The name of the festival derives from the Greek anfitheatre that hosts it. Around the half of August, you can see the  Festa Major de Gràcia.  In autumn, the  International Jazz Festival (from the end of October to the end of November) brings jazz and blues all around the streets of the city.


There are many opportunities for accommodation in Barcelona with a good price/quality ratio: we suggest our young visitors the hostel  Center Ramblas: very central, well kept and always crowded with young people from all over the world. This is a direct  link Center-ramblas.  Another very nice hostel in Barcelona is the  Equity Point.


If you're arriving to the town of  Girona,  which is quite far away, consider the possibility to get a taxi that brings you directly to the hostel or hotel.


We hope we managed to give you some good hints for a travel to Barcelona. Let us know how it went so you can help other people for their future travels. Write us at   Have a nice time in Barcelona!

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