There is nothing objective about this article. I love Barcelona and anything that I write about this city can only ever be positive. Of course, I have known tough times in the city too, but she always draws me back. I’m pretty sure she always will.
For those who have not been fortunate enough to ever visit Barcelona before, I hope these words inspire you to go for the first time. If you’ve already been, hopefully, this will make you want to return. Whether it’s your first time or your tenth, Barcelona will never let you down.
The Barrios of Barcelona
In the fifteen years that I have been lucky enough to call Barcelona my home, I have lived in well over 20 different apartments and in almost every neighbourhood (barrio) within the city.
The Born was and still is one of the places a lot of tourists and students head to when they visit Barcelona today. The squares of Gracia are also a classic and often many people’s favourite memory once they leave the city.
In recent years, however, a lot of previously unheralded neighbourhoods have become a lot more interesting and exciting. Poble Sec and the nearby block of streets known as Sant Antoni have bars and restaurants to keep you entertained all day, and this is definitely one part of the city that I feel most comfortable in these days.
The Raval was my home for years and will always be a place I go back to. It might feel a little bit wild for some people’s tastes, but it is still one of the most authentic slices of real living, breathing life to be found in the centre of the city.
You cannot write about Barcelona without talking about the architecture. His masterpiece, The Sagrada Familia, remains a work in progress, but Antoni Gaudi is the still Barcelona’s favourite son. Gaudi’s influence on the city is immense, with both visitors and residents alike forever in the debt of the great man for leaving such a magical imprint over so much of the city.
The buildings all over the city are impressive, but it is not just these structures that make Barcelona such a welcoming place. The old city planners who decided to grid the city in blocks deserve special mention for making this place so easy to navigate and the sheer number of open squares that just invite you to sit down for a second and take it easy under the sun are really something special.
Add into the mix all of the fantastic buildings that home some of the city’s best museums, and the cathedral and all of the beautiful churches, and it’s pretty impossible for you to not leave this place feeling inspired.
Barcelona is unique in that it is perhaps the best-known city in Spain, but for many residents, this is Catalunya, not Spain. This conflict is still an ongoing and open one, but the history of the story behind this sentiment, or its reverse, is very much a part of what makes life in Barcelona so interesting today. We are in Catalunya, but we are also undoubtedly in Spain, and in many ways, this contradiction is what seems to fuel a lot of the artistic passion within the city.
From the Picasso Museum to the fantastic National Museum of Catalunya (MNAC) up on the side of Montjuic, Barcelona has something to offer the tastes of all culture vultures. This vibrant culture definitely doesn’t stop with art either. Food, sports, film, music, literature, and anything else that plays into a great city’s cultural heritage can be found in the amazing melting pot that is Barcelona.
It is perhaps because the city is so conflicted in terms of history and its place within Spain that so many people from outside feel so at home here. The Catalans and the Spanish may fight over whom this city really belongs to, but for us outsiders, we can simply take pleasure in being here.
Of all the cities I have visited in Spain, Barcelona is the most diverse both in terms of its visitors and the residents. It is a Catalan city. It is a Spanish city, but it is also a Filipino city, a Pakistani city, an Arab city, and a home both permanent and temporary for people from all over the world. It is where you can come for the best party ever, but it is also one where you can find yourself and make a whole new life.
As a young man from Manchester who had never lived away from home before, Barcelona stole my heart. I’m certain that it did the same thing to at least one more person today and that it will do so again tomorrow. And the day after that. And the day after that. Don’t take my word for it, go and find out for yourself.