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Falling in Love with Barcelona

My love affair with Barcelona has been a complicated one. Spain is almost without a doubt one of my favorite European countries, but despite visiting the country a handful of times, Barcelona was rarely at the top of my “love that city” list. On my very first backpacking trip through Europe (as a sophomore in college), I visited Madrid and Barcelona consecutively. I had completely different experiences in each city. In Madrid I covered the major museums—I fell in love with Guernica and realized that the Prado is one of my all-time favorite museums. In Barcelona I discovered a drink called calimocho…and that’s about all I remember.

That first trip to Barcelona where I partied in hostels, drank on the streets and attended a foam party was one of the most memorable trips of my “youth”—even if I don’t remember the details. But ever since then, on subsequent visits to Spain, I just didn’t care to visit Barcelona again. In 2010 I spent a month traveling in Spain and managed to completely avoid Barcelona. I didn’t want to spoil the memories I’d made previously.

However, living in Berlin, I’ve heard over and over again about how great Barcelona is. I understand where these people are coming from: Barcelona has a beach, amazing nightlife and some great festivals—but I still always preferred Madrid. Last weekend, though, needing some sunshine, I decided to give Barcelona yet another chance at becoming my favorite city in Spain.

Barcelona 2013

Parc GüellVueling, Spain’s budget airline, generously flew me out to Barcelona for the weekend. Reading their in-flight magazine on the way, I discovered a handful of cool and hip things to do. My impression of Barcelona before arriving this time around was a city full of douchey nightlife. Clubs playing top 40s or less-than-amazing techno. So the purpose of this trip was to see if I could discover the cooler side of Barcelona. Vueling’s in-flight mag, Ling, certainly pointed me in the right direction. In this month’s edition there was a full feature on one of Barcelona’ many markets: El Mercat de l’Albaceria. Apparently this market has a stall which hosts weekly photography sessions, a “Speaker’s Corner” and serves as a space to connect creatives with professionals. This is the type of Barcelona I was itching to explore. You can read that article (and their entire magazine) online — check it out!

To try and discover the hip side to Barcelona, I booked a stay at The Hipstel hostel. With a name like that I was expecting quite a cool experience. Unfortunately because of the nature of Barcelona backpacking, the hostel was decidedly less hipster than I would’ve liked. Though admittedly they did a good job of embracing the “hipster” philosophy (reminders to be environmental-friendly, use less water, etc). The design was pretty sweet too with old cameras hanging on the wall and Don Quixote on the bookshelf.

The hostel’s recommendations books, however, was far from cool. It basically touted all the usual recommendations for Barcelona. Understandable, I guess, considering that most people are only visiting for a handful of days and have a lot of tourist attractions to see. Having already visited the major sights myself, I opted to try and discover if Barcelona was more than just toned bodies and top 40 music hits.

Barcelona 2013

At a bar in Raval which reminded me a lot of the trendy ruin bars in Budapest

I met up with a handful of local bloggers and people who read my blog while in Barcelona and got more than enough tips to last the weekend. Everything from chocolate shops to 1€ taquerias. The only thing I had a hard time discovering on this trip were any indie music clubs, but staff at The Hipstel told me they’re working on a “rock music club” tour for later in the year. And after visiting more than enough bars that were pretty cool, I’m sure there’s more of a cool side to Barcelona than I ever imagined. I’ve already put together a FourSquare list of my favorite places—stay tuned for a full-fledged travel guide.

And while my love affair with Barcelona has been complicated, this trip definitely convinced me I really do love this town. It’s got that big, BIG city feeling—with some of Europe’s best shopping—but it’s also quite manageable and easy to get around. There’s a bike-share program, beaches and enough bars to keep anyone busy. It’s also got that distinctly Spanish (yes, I know they’re Catalan) feel with grandiose buildings and wide avenues. But Barcelona is much more than the other cities in Spain because of all that modernism. Last year I wrote about some of the Orientalism you can find in Barcelona. Add all that Gaudi architecture into the mix, some modern luxury skyscrapers and you’ve pretty much covered the full gamut. Barcelona is beautiful—no question about that.

Thankfully the beauty doesn’t stop with the art and architecture. The people aren’t bad on the eyes, either. Exploring Barcelona, despite the economic crisis, it really feels like a city where exciting things can and do happen. This is a city that feels very much alive. So much so that the buildings move and sway in the light, the nightlife lasts ’til daylight and the people are out and about even when the weather is wet & grey (which admittedly isn’t very often). It’s hard not to fall in love with a city as beautiful and exciting as Barcelona.

Check out flights from Vueling online. They’re honestly one of my favorite budget airlines in Europe. You can read my review from the first time I flew with them last year, here. Also, expect a full review of The Hipstel hostel coming soon.

  1. Cat of Sunshine and Siestas says:

    Love Vueling, not big on BCN. It’s too big, too busy and not Spanish enough for me (which is just what they like about it!). I’m doing my master’s through one of the universities there, but will only have to actually go to defend my thesis, phew!

    • Adam says:

      Hey Cat, Thanks for the comment. That’s probably right about why so many people like BCN. As different as it might be from other places in Spain, I think it’s still pretty Spanish (but I’d probably get in trouble for saying that).

  2. Barcelona was the first trip I did without my parents. I absolutely loved it. There’s the nightlife, the gothic district,t he architecture, the baech, the harbor and a great underground system.
    I’m going in back in October with Boyfriend, who’s never been there before.
    Looking forward to that!
    I’ve also only once been to Madrid but really didn’t feel that city. I thought it seemed quite dirty. Really a big city (whereas I found Barcelona to be way more ‘cozy’ actually). Did like the museums though.
    Maybe I should give it another chance, but I don’t think that will happen soon as I’ve got other things way higher upon my ‘to visit’ list.

    • Adam says:

      Hey Sofie – awesome that you’re returning to Barcelona soon. I hope it’s as good as you remember! Either way, it’s always fun to show someone around a city that you love.

      And I hope you do give Madrid another chance. It’s such a fantastic city!

  3. Mike says:

    Barcelona was not my favorite city when I first visited in high school. I actually didn’t end up going there when I studied abroad in Granada. Since I’ll be going back to Spain in the fall, I’m going to give it another chance. I’ll definitely have to check out your list of places you recommended. Here’s to giving Barcelona another chance!

    • Adam says:

      Glad to hear you’re willing to give the city another chance, Mike. That’s very cool you’re going back to Spain in the fall – sounds like a great experience!

  4. Glad to see you falling for Barcelona’s charms, Adam. Seville’s probably my favourite Spanish city, though. Also, I feel the same way about Madrid as you did about the Catalan capital.

    • Adam says:

      You know, Matthew, I’m pretty curious about revisiting Seville. I wasn’t so impressed by it the first time around but I always had a feeling that it was my kind of city. Hope to make it to Spain again soon—like I said, it’s one of my favorite countries to visit in Europe!

  5. I’ve lived in Barcelona for 8 years. Next time you’re here, let me know. I’ll point your towards hipsterville. ;-)

    • Adam says:

      Hey Reg,
      Awww, I don’t know why, but I thought you were based in southern Spain. Definitely could use some of your hipster Barcelona tips! I hope to return to BCN soon and you can bet I’ll remember you’re there for my next visit.

  6. A few years ago, I got it in my head to spend a year or so in Barcelona, but after a few days in the city, I just wasn’t feeling it and ended up leaving for Madrid. The capital was much more to my liking, so I lived there for a year instead. I could never really say why I didn’t like Barcelona, so I decided to go back and give it another chance. My opinion didn’t change. And I still can’t say exactly why I don’t like it either…

    • Adam says:

      Very interesting Daniel! I need to make another trip to Madrid soon to see if it lives up to my expectations as well. I can relate to sometimes not being able to pinpoint the reason why you like or don’t like something (or somewhere).

  7. noel says:

    I agree, its not just about the beautiful attractions and neighborhoods in Barcelona, bu tthe diverse backgrounds and lifestyle. It is truly on of Europes most cosmopolitan, hip and open-minded places to travel to let alone stay for a short timeframe.

    • Adam says:

      Yes, Noel! This is exactly what I mean when describing it as a “big” city – it’s got so much culture and diversity (and a lot of open-mindedness) that it certainly *feels* big.

  8. Endri Hasanaj says:

    I will never forget Barcelona.. I had one of the best summers of my life there and is where I met one of the most beautiful girls I know. Your post is very well written and I like the side of Barcelona you’re portraying. I also tried to make a post about a different side of Barcelona: I know it’s not great but I really wanted to write about this place that I have so many precious memories and experiences of.
    Greetings from Athens!

  9. Steve Scott says:

    any suggestions for good local Spanish/Catalonian restaurants? Don’t want to be caught in tourist traps. We are looking for good local eats at moderate prices. We are renting an apartment in La Rambla , but my guide book says to stay away from the overpriced touristy restaurants in that area.

    • Adam says:

      Hey Steve,
      Yes I would avoid La Rambla as much as possible. You can get some good tapas in Poble Sec. For specific recommendations, I would check out the Spain Scoop blog.

  10. HugoGoran@GayOnTheRoad says:

    I Love Barcelona too ;)
    I go there few time a year for now a long time.
    The city has changed and the party is not the same (i remember all the good nights in the Salvation Club – doent exist anymore) but its still a great city. Good retaurants, shops, bars and the Beach. Will talk more about that city on my new travel blog ;)

    • Adam says:

      Yeah, Barcelona does definitely see some changes. I suppose with the influx of new tourists and the economy what it is, it’s bound to happen.

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  13. I fell in love with Barcelona so hard that I moved here straight after college! I think one of my favorite parts is how each neighborhood has such a distinct feel and vibe to it. Like you said, it feels very alive to me.

    I didn’t know about the Speakers’ Corner thing at the Mercat de l’Albaceria, even though I walk by there all the time.Thanks for letting me know about it!

  14. Josephine says:

    I’ve heard a lot about Barcelona, but I’ve never been there. hoping to get there next summer.. :)

  15. Mark says:

    Barcelona is indeed a great place :D

  16. Nisha says:

    Hey Adam!
    Remember me? :)

    I absolutely loved Barcelona . Though it rained everyday during my stay and ruined all my chances of getting good pictures, I do not have any complaints from this city. The markets, the beaches, the architecture, even the metro made it one of my favourite places in Europe.

    Hope to go there again for a longer period.

    And yes, Vueling is fantastic. :)

    • Adam says:

      Hi Nisha!! I haven’t checked out your site in forever but nice of you to pop up here! Glad to hear you also love Barcelona :)

  17. Lauren says:

    Hi Adam – –
    Do you prefer Barca over Madrid? I studied abroad in Madrid when I was 21 and I will be 31 in a month. I am planning a trip with my boyfriend in September and I loved Madrid so much more than Barca, but I have been reading all of these write ups on Barca lately. Any advice?

    Mil gracias!

    • Adam says:

      Hey Lauren! I’ve visited both Madrid and Barcelona quite a bit and I used to always say that I preferred Madrid over Barcelona. That’s probably still the case and yet I still can’t resist Barcelona when the opportunity comes up to visit…. it’s a tough one to say which I prefer over the other as they’re both so different. Also to add to your itinerary (just to complicate things!): I really love Seville in the south. That’s easily where I’ve had my best meals in Spain.

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