I can still hear the voices of the busy streets filled with cars slowly making their way through jam-packed traffic past chatting neighbours standing next to excited tourists, trying to drown out the yells of the hawkers.
Kids chasing each other across the cobblestones and swirling around painted street artist mimicking statues. All of that, however, is fading away as I make my way away from La Rambla and towards more hidden backyards that are found all over Barcelona.
Alive and Kicking
The city is a buzzing beehive. People flitting about, lingering to feel the pulsating life and smell the freshness of spring. It’s been a while since I have visited Barcelona in March but the image of my visit has been ingrained on my travel brain.
There are good details, such as delicious tapas, bubbling fountains and iron wrought balconies between which colourful laundry is left out to dry. Also bad ones, such as the lingering smell of urine in each corner, the repetitive checkerboard pattern and the long walk all the way from Montjüic to our hostel.
Each detail has been encapsulated in a memory, triggered by a random sound or smell, a ray of sunlight that falls just right onto my nose but the ultimate “time machine” has always been one song. In fact, it has nothing to do with the Spanish city but the video for it does. Filmed here as its location, it captures the mood perfectly. Just walk along the many streets, wind your way between back streets and magical yards, up stone staircases and along the harbour. Barcelona is for all senses.
During my short time in Catalunia’s capital, I have learned some valuable travel lessons. Such as that you honestly get to know a person best when travelling with a buddy. And also knowing what to pack for a trip to Spain.
If you ever get to the point of wanting to move in together or even marry, my ardent advice is to head out for a holiday together and test out how you can stand to be with one another every minute of the day. You’ll be surprised to find out about formerly undetected quirks, habits and opinions.
I ate tapas for the first time, realised that wearing ballerinas for a full day’s city exploring is plain stupid and was stopped by a passersby to listen to his Christian rap on the odd chance of converting me into a fierce believer.
You see funny things like that during your travels. There is so much going on in Barcelona, you will always be entertained. (Just be careful of pickpockets while your attention is directed elsewhere!)
Whether it is street artists, sellers trying to entice you with blinking gadgets or dancers showing off their latest moves, you will have a great time and can soak up this laid back and passionate culture fully.
Behind the Facades
The top main attractions in Barcelona are clear: Gaudi’s amazing buildings and Park Güell in the neighbourhood Gràcia, as well as his still unfinished masterpiece La Sagrada Familia. In each you can go into for an entrance fee and I highly recommend it. Especially La Sagrada Familia was such a stunner, I can’t even begin to describe its magnificence. From the opulent ornaments, to the shy high ceilings in pure white with the brightest windows and its mud castle outer appearance, the cathedral is my definite favourite.
But not only these iconic buildings can be seen in a whole new light when entered. Look around you for beautiful art Nouveau styles in Barcelona, enter the old university building and walk around the Gothic quarters in the city centre. Walking the mighty halls a sense of wonder will overcome you at the tiled floors and time-worn stones. But wait, a little secret are the gardens in the backyards. Almost like a botanical garden they add a sense of freshness to the otherwise stuffy construction and attract chatty birds and sneaky cats.
Having said that, the backyards in Barcelona are found all over the city. Don’t be distracted by the beautiful alignment of iron wrought balconies and coloured wall paintings, but dare to step into small alleys and find yourself surrounded by an atrium with palm trees, stone steps and pretty fountains.
Best Views and Food
Whether you are a typical tourist or a city connoisseur, you will find plenty of sights to tick off or chance upon. It doesn’t have to be the small hidden yards, but the major attractions definitely are a must see in this city. Invest in a metro card if you want to see the attractions on the mountains. Once at the foot of Montjüic, for instance, walk up, take the furnicular with its amazing view or simple step onto an escalator that carries you all the way up to the art museum, which has the other most amazing view over the city.
To get an amazing overview of the mountain and its water and music show that plays daily during summer, stand on top of the round shopping mall directly opposite it. You can get up for only 1 EUR and get that one back when you dine on the roof. I can highly recommend this! Just watch the sun set over Barcelona and take in a 360 degrees view while you eat paella. If you prefer cosy over scenic, follow in the steps of famous artists and sit down in one of the restaurants on Placa Reial. The best time here, is at night when the city turns black and is dotted by orange street lamps like firebugs in summer.
So sit down and relax and take in the Barcelona way of life. It’s the best advice I can give: sitting down on a street cafe or vendor along the Rambla and just straying from there. The attractions can wait for now, getting lost in Barcelona is a worthwhile adventure. And if you are planning some day trips from Barcelona to really explore the area, consider Sitges or Costa Brava for a unique Salvador Dalí experience.