I’m so excited about the next stop in my travel series: my adopted home town Barcelona. One of the best decisions I ever made. Barcelona captured my heart right from the get-go. I had dreamt of visiting the city ever since a colleague came in to work with his holiday snaps of Park Güell and the Sagrada Familia. And when I finally made it to the Catalan capital it lived up to and went beyond my expectations.
Although initially thinking I would stay for about a year, twenty years on I am still in Spain. I now live outside Barcelona but pop in when I can and even after all these years I still get a thrill walking around this gorgeous and unique city.
Christa, a travel writer from the Smoky Mountains, Tennessee, has also fallen under Barcelona’s spell. Christa has lived in the city for the past couple of years and she is going to show you around and reveal some of her favourite off-the-beaten-path corners of the city.
I remember the first time I visited Barcelona back in 2016. It didn’t take long for me to fall for its quirky architecture, laidback culture, cheap wine, and endless rows of beautiful balconies and narrow streets. Barcelona’s charm had such an impact on me that if we fast forward one year later, you’ll find me officially packing my bags and setting off to the Catalan capital with a one-way ticket in hand, longing to improve my Spanish skills, learn the ropes of the Catalan language, and be back in the city that won my heart. Now with two years under my belt, I have learned a thing or two about this city, its sights, and hidden gems. From magnificent parks and architectural masterpieces to cozy cafes and museums, this city has something to offer every type of traveler.
Most people already know of Barcelona’s major tourist sites such as La Sagrada Familia and Park Güell, and while these are fantastic spots to visit, there are also some amazing lesser-known sites that you shouldn’t miss out on when visiting Barcelona.
Antoni Gaudí, Catalonia’s brilliant architect, scattered his masterpieces throughout Barcelona. La Sagrada Familia and Park Güell are two of those. He designed a total of 11 buildings in Barcelona. Casa Batlló is my personal favorite and has been since my first visit. Located on a popular shopping street, Passeig de Gràcia, its exterior is full of colorful, shimmery mosaics complemented by quirky arch-shaped windows and balconies.
Beyond Casa Batlló, Casa Vicens is Gaudí’s first major work combining Spanish bourgeois with ancient Arab traditions. Also, as a UNESCO World Heritage site, it is absolutely worth visiting.
Of course, since this is Spain after all, I have to mention Barcelona’s best plazas. My absolute favorite one is small, cozy, full of history, and tucked away in the Gothic Quarter. It’s called Plaça de Sant Felip Neri. In the middle sits a lovely fountain with green and white tiles. Behind, however, you’ll find a church and a school, and that’s where its dark, deep history becomes more vivid. In January of 1938, this tiny plaza was bombed by Franco’s air force. You can still see the wounds on the exterior of the school, and the memories of the children and adults who lost their lives there. It’s still a school to this day, despite the fact, and children still play and enjoy this beautiful plaza like the children before them once did, too.
Barcelona has so many incredible museums worth checking out. From both fantastic temporary and permanent exhibitions, it’s a paradise for the art lover. I recently visited the temporary Stanley Kubrick exhibition at the CCCB and last year the funky Andy Warhol exhibition at CaixaForum. Needless to say, if you come to Barcelona, do a quick search about temporary exhibitions because you might be lucky to stumble upon something incredible like I have.
A particularly stunning museum both inside and out is the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, abbreviated as MNAC. MNAC sits on the hill of Montjuïc overlooking Plaça Espanya, a gigantic fountain, and Tibidabo in the distance. Inside you can explore art from the ages, sculptures, paintings, and more.
Barcelona is home to quite a few stunning parks. Most find their homes on the hill of Montjuïc, which is easy to get to by either foot or metro. My number one recommended park is Jardines de Laribal. It’s large, shady, and full of hidden beauty. It was once a former estate, and has many fountains and water features, an abundance of different plants and flowers, and offers some cozy spots for reading, writing, and enjoying views of Barcelona. It’s perfect for those who want to enjoy a quiet afternoon somewhere beautiful.
Also situated on Montjuïc is Mossèn Costa i Llobera Garden, a succulent-lovers paradise. It’s home to 800 different succulents and various tropical plants, including many cacti, which is why it’s commonly referred to as the “Cactus Park.”
Whenever I’m traveling, one of the most important things I research is where the good coffee shops are located. I love coffee, and it’s a good thing that my home has plenty to keep me going. A typical choice is Nomad Coffee in the Raval neighborhood. Its coffee is always on point and the decor is minimalistic and inviting. It’s great for a pit stop, or you can get it for takeaway and have a seat outside the ever-popular MACBA that’s located around the corner. It’s Barcelona’s modern art museum and it’s got a large courtyard in front of it where locals gather to chat, and skaters go to skate. Another great choice for coffee is Alsur Cafe. They not only have quality coffee served in gorgeous mugs, but a variety of exotic teas and infusions, too.
I can’t speak highly enough of my city. Nowhere is perfect, but I imagine you will soon fall for Barcelona, too. With its care-free, laidback mindset and stunning architecture and artistic expression, it’s hard not to enjoy your time here to the fullest.
My name is Christa. I’m a travel writer and graphic designer currently living in Barcelona. Originally from the US, I found my home in Europe, and I plan to continue living, exploring, and writing about this wonderful continent for many years to come. Follow along on my personal travel blog The Spirited Explorer or find me on Instagram.