Barcelona: City of champions, tapas and Gaudí

Sunny Sichi/Staff

Ah, Barcelona … Barça … Barthelona … However you say it, how can someone not adore you? Not too long ago, I had the chance to escape the cold northern European climate for something more similar to my Southern Californian home. When the warm, sunny Barcelona weather welcomed me with cheap strawberry juice and Antoni Gaudí’s unique buildings, I instantly fell under the city’s spell. This Catalonian gem stole heart, and it almost stole my wallet as well! There was so much to uncover in this amazing city, and I’m already counting the days until I can return again.

Barcelona is surrounded by many hills that provide excellent views of the city. Montjuïc is one such hill, with more than just views. There’s a castle, a funicular, a view overlooking the harbor, the Magic Fountain and the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya — not to mention some beautiful gardens and parks. This place literally has it all, so you could spend most of your day atop this hill. On the opposite side of the city, take the steep trek up to the Bunkers del Carmel for arguably the best view of the city. Don’t forget to bring some wine, bread, manchego cheese and jamón serrano for a picnic, and catch the sunset and the moment when all the city lights turn on.

Art is to Barcelona as breathing is to humans. It’s in the streets of the Gothic Quarter and on the tree-lined Las Ramblas. The man we all have to thank for this is Antoni Gaudí, the famed architect known for his unusual and dynamic style of design. I only had time to check out Casa Milà (La Pedrera), the Sagrada Família and Park Güell, but each site took my breath away. I’d recommend booking tickets in advance, because they sell out quickly, and you can’t risk missing the incredible work Gaudí did. Traverse the fantastical Park Güell, with its beautiful mosaics, ancient-looking terrace wall and beautiful views of the city below. At Casa Milà, you’ll find arguably the coolest rooftop in the world, with sand-colored, swirling chimneys, and a fascinating history inside. The epitome of his work, and quite possibly of the entire city, is the Sagrada Família basilica. Once you’ve basked in its glorious outer layer, which still is unfinished, head inside for the stunningly vibrant stained glass and magical columns overhead. It feels like the interior is growing upward like a forest, and the sunlight throws the colors from the stained glass around the room perfectly. I also had the chance to enjoy the work the great Spanish artist Pablo Picasso at the Museu Picasso. There, you’ll gain a deeper understanding of his life and brilliance from a very young age, as well as see some of his life’s work.

After enjoying man-made beauty, I took a little day trip to appreciate one of nature’s wonders, the sea, at Calella de Palafrugell. This seaside town is about a two-hour bus ride away, located on Costa Brava. Known for being the Spanish Cinque Terre, this place was the perfect escape from the bustle of the city. The white buildings, turquoise water, boats sitting on the sand and families lounging on the beach invoke the feeling that you’ve stumbled upon paradise. I had a lazy day climbing on rocks, swimming in the Mediterranean, eating gelato and tanning in this little beach town, and it was absolutely divine. There are so many little coves, stores and walks to discover here, so I would make this place a priority to visit if you ever find yourself in Barcelona.

The most important part of traveling, without a doubt, is enjoying the local food, and we certainly took advantage of all Barcelona had to offer. Tapas (small plates) are a must have. Some of my favorites included the patatas bravas, seafood croquettes, calamari, tortilla española, white anchovies, pinchos — well, you get the point. Two awesome tapas places I would recommend are Bar del Pi and Bitacora Poblenou. Another food experience that can’t be missed is the legendary Mercat de la Boqueria, a large public food market with vendors selling things ranging from fruit and candy to fish. Save up your euros for this place, because it’s hard to walk three feet without wanting to try something that catches your eye. It’s bustling, it’s packed, and it’s a sensory overload, but that’s why I love it. If you want a more educational food experience, I would recommend doing a Spanish cooking class, where you get a tour of la Boqueria, learn how to clean seafood, make paella and pinchos, and get to eat it all at the end! The class I took also had a sangria-making contest (where my friend and I got second, which we’re pretty proud of)! It’s guaranteed to be a night of good eats and meeting other travelers from around the world.

Barcelona offers beaches, food, history and beautiful sights to behold. As a city interwoven with art and a rich culture, I’d highly recommend seeing it one day. Whether you go for a FC Barcelona game, to see Gaudí’s work or just for the food, you’ll never run out of things to do (or sangria to drink)!

Contact Sunny Sichi at [email protected].