Despite its status as Spain’s second-largest city, many residents of the Catalonian capital would just as soon cut ties with Spain altogether. As Spaniards will readily tell you, Barcelona does its own thing, constantly in a state of self-improvement and self-reflection. Over the centuries, it has managed to nurture the artistic careers of dozens of creative minds, many brutally silenced during the tumultuous years of the Spanish Civil War. In fact, for what it’s worth, we have yet to come across a city more influenced by a single artist, or artistic concept. Antoni Gaudí is alive and well in Barça, his monuments, parks, and domestic designs accenting, if not framing or altogether defining, the overall tone of the city. Even though Barcelona may fancy itself the capital of a sovereign nation, the labyrinth of El Gotico is one of the most exciting old towns in all of Spain, and to get lost in its narrow alleys is to truly taste Northern Mediterranean life.
Album: Galaxy 500 – Today
Book: Homage to Catalonia – George Orwell
Movie: Vicky, Cristinia, Barcelona (2008)
Güell is more than just a park, it’s an entire park system, influenced heavily by Architect Antoni Gaudí’s design, specifically that of his naturalist phase. His private residence is on the property, but the more colorful structures and main terrace are what make the trip up to the Grácia area worth every step (or cent toward taxi fare). Gaudí’s crushed tile accents the main terrace’s already impressive view, and with thousands of unique tile combinations, good luck staving off the urge to take one home with you. The terrace walls look like they’re from a life-sized Candy Land board and the gardens make for a great walk.
Carrer de Sant Pau, 65
It’s been called one of Spain’s most authentic absinthe bars, and we’re thinking it just might be. The walls and ceiling are crumbling, its dank and dusty, the bartenders are so rude it’s comical, and we’re not sure the bathrooms have been cleaned since Hemingway and Picasso last used them in the twenties. The experience of sipping on a proper glass of absinthe is worth every distracting flicker of light though, and if you can find this place, try and be brave enough to order the house special.
Layered in historical significance, this quiet plaza offers some peace in the heart of El Gotico. The edge of El Call, the medieval Jewish ghetto, is just around the corner, an area with lots of small shops and cafes to explore one sunny afternoon (in winter, this is the brightest place in the entire city). Shrapnel has left permanent scars along the church walls, thanks to heavy bombing during the Spanish Civil War. Hitler and Mussolini used the conflict in Spain as an opportunity to test out their new air forces in support of Franco’s regime, and the people of Spain paid the price.
Plaza de la Boqueria, Ramblas
Besides being a great alternative to an extortionately expensive sit-down meal somewhere in the city, Boqueria is a sensory overload, with fresh fish, produce, meat and candy up and down every isle. The fresh-squeezed fruit juices only cost a single euro, and we see no reason not to spoil yourself with all the blackberry-coconut juice you can handle. This isn’t a bad place to pick up a lunch or dinner for a seaside picnic, either.
Calle pontevedra 51/53
The people of Barcelona seem to have an inexplicable love affair with the sport of surfing. The only reason this is so hard to understand is that there never appear to be many waves within two miles of the city’s beaches. Nevertheless, its a noble obsession, and we’re confident that the ‘surfers’ who hang around places like BOX and others make frequent trips to the Atlantic coast where the real waves actually exist. Almost as a novelty, its worth diving head first into Barça’s surf culture.
Plaça Reial, 12
Spain was one of the most important provinces for Ancient Rome, during both the Republican and Imperial periods. In addition to producing quality garum (a sort of fish sauce), wine and olive oil, Spain boasted the known world’s largest silver mines. Since maintaining a strong presence in Spain was a must, the Romans spared no expense or effort in assimilating the Spanish into their ‘superior’ culture. The extant remains of this imperial-era temple to Rome’s first emperor is now housed in the courtyard of an apartment building. I know, we were speechless, too. It’s open to the public though, you just have to find it. Awesome example of early imperial architecture abroad.
Carrer dels Cotoners, 8
Take away poetry, on-demand. You walk in, sit down, and these poetic geniuses (?) bang out a spontaneous poem about you and anyone you came in with. An interesting souvenir from a couple’s trip to Barça, but we’re not sure these guys are going to win a Nobel Prize anytime soon. Still, a great and honest concept that we can’t help but support. As the photo to the left indicates, posted opening hours are neglected by principle, so you sort of just have to try your luck whenever you feel up to it.
Barça’s Mediterranean beaches can get wild, and we definitely have our favorites…and some we’re willing to avoid at all costs (ask us if you want such subjective beach tips). We’ll advise you here, however, to grab a bike or scooter and just go. In less than an hour or two, you can ride down every one of the city’s beaches, stopping at leisure, getting a feel for certain areas. If you do this by day, you’ll have a better idea of where to come back at night, eh? If the recon approach isn’t quite your style, then maybe the Mediterranean wind through your hair is?