Travelling is what feeds my soul. The moment I hop into a bus, plane or whatever means I find to move long, my heart starts a rhythmical beat of excitement and my soul leans comfortably on the seat, smiling and ready to see what’s new.
Something you must know before reading my articles is that I am an architect and urbanist. These are the lens through which I learned to see reality. So my guidelines and experiences will also bring along personal tools my studies have provided me. I enjoy analyzing, questioning and hypothesizing about the relationship between humans and space.
One thing I do, for instance, is write down the number of people that live in each place I visit. The thing is I was born in a 3 million habitant’s city that gathers 10 million in a typical working day. So it may sometimes feel a little bit crowded here. (Yes, Buenos Aires is an intense metropolis to deal with, but that’s a topic for some other time.) This is one of the reasons why I’ve taken the quest to research on ways of living, amount of people, habitats, landscape and urbanity. I certainly believe context, our surrounding, have direct effect on how we are, how we react and interact with one another.
This being stated, let me introduce you to Barcelona, the city I have chosen to write about first.
Why? You may ask.
Because it was the first place I had the opportunity to choose to live in.
Barcelona is also where I started to understand about cities, about urbanism, about habitat. I went there thanks to a scholarship I won during my architecture diploma. I was going there to study urbanism for six months. A sort of internal big bang occurred to me there. My curiosity met my passions and suddenly, life was never again the same.
So let me tell you what I saw.
Population and habitat.
Located in the north-east shore of Spain, Barcelona is a city of about 1.5 million habitants, half Buenos Aires. It is 100 squaremeters big, half my city’s territory, again. So, maybe this proportion-sharing was one of the reasons I felt so comfortable living there. But maybe not… There is a lot more about her!
Everybody loves Barcelona: some ideas of why
It all began during my third year of studies when I started telling people about the scholarship I´d won and how I was going to go study urbanism and live there for six months. “Oh, Barcelona is such a beautiful city” “Well, that’s a city I’d live in…”, were the top two sentences my brain kept hearing and processing. Nobody had a single negative thing to say. Not a warning, nor a critic.
It sounded like paradise to me.
This type of answers could be the result of one of the following:
- They were just trying to be nice and pleasing
- Barcelona had a true thing going on.
I decided to incline towards the second one and my excitement began to grow exponentially. Let me be honest. The adding up of such extremely positive opinions about my future home started worrying me a bit. My expectations were reaching Mount Everest height. And we all know what happens with high expectations. I did not want to get there with an idealized city in mind and experience a disappointment clash with the real Barcelona.
Fortunately, to my relieved surprise, that didn´t happen.
The dream city.
- I love that it is neither big nor small: a good size to conquer.
- I love her history available, talking to you, revealing in every corner while you walk around.
- I love the beach and the mountains right there to choose whenever I want.
- and such a nice weather thorough the year.
- I love Gaudi’s architecture.
- I love Miro’s surrealism.
- I love the panoramic views,
- and Cerda’s genius block intervention.
- I love Catalan modernism.
- I love meeting people from everywhere that have fallen in love and chosen her to live in.
Okay, now. I’m going to stop this passionate sonnet to give you more information you can use when visiting the city.
Decoding the map.
So back to guidelines, the second thing I like doing after taking note of the population is having a look at the map. Maps are one of my favorite graphic tools. They give you so much more than what you ask. They are the basic tool to start getting around and understand where you are.
I would like you to focus on the streets. They are represented in white. With a general pan, you can already distinguish de different outlines of the urban fabric. You can also detect neighborhoods and guess which ones are older than others. Try it on your own before I explain itYou’ll see you are way more map qualified that you think. It is all about opening our sight and focusing.
This map is displayed in a NE orientation, with the Mediterranean Sea as the lower basis. Barcelona is delimited by natural resources that shape her. The mountains at the top of the map, the sea on the lower margin, as I just mentioned, and two rivers on the sides: the Llobregat river on the left hand side and the Besós on the right.
The original city started in the so called Ciutat Velha. This is the Catalan phrase for Old city. It was during the Roman Empire, and had the typical mural delimitation surrounding for protection against enemy attacks. You can see it in the lower middle of the map, hexagonally shaped. The cool thing is you can still find some old wall parts walking around the neighborhood. Ask for them!
You will also detect a strong diagonal line that crosses the city form left to right. This is the famous avenue called Diagonal. It connects the mountains with the sea crossing the city diagonally on halves. Camp Nou, for instance, Barcelona’s famous football team, is located on its top end.
The urban jewel.
Barcelona is famous for its urban design. Its center is organized by L´eixample, an XIX century urban extension based on octagonal blocks specially designed by master engineer Illdefons Cerdà to provide citizens with better life quality standards. Natural illumination and ventilation and the increase of green spaces are examples of his achievements. So, either if you’re staying in the Eixample or just walking by, you will experience the design and be able to take your own conclusions.
Sagrada Familia, for instance is located here!
The all-season city.
Barcelona has it all. The beaches right there for you to lay down and watch the sea; the mountains just behind for outdoor activities. Summer by the sea and winter in the mountains is a great combination here, as temperatures are not too hot, not too cold. Her moderate weather makes it open to visit any time of the year.
History through her walls.
The city is composed by a variety of neighborhoods with different identities to explore and choose. The Gothic old town, antique Gracia with her lively squares, the stylish Eixample, the beautiful Passaig de Gracia connecting the old medieval city with the former Gracia farms, 22@ for the modern world…
Every neighborhood has a story to tell.
My pick: Gracia.
It was the area of the old farms in ancient Barcelona. History is still there in the sizes of plots, streets and the sacred plazas. My favourites: Plaça del Sol y Plaça de la Virreina.
- Sagrada Familia is a must; book it in advance, through their website.
- Parc Guell is also a must.
And if you like Architecture and Gaudi, you must also go to
- Casa Batlló and
- Casa Mila (also known as La Pedrera).
- Day visit to the Borne: Cool neighborhood full of cultural, commercial and gastronomic attractions.
- Day walk in the port and Barceloneta
- Night in Ciutat Velha: start walking around, get lost in this beautiful, ancient neighborhood, dive into the roman period and stop to have dinner wherever you feel like, There is a wide gastronomic offer with different budgets to choose.
Art for the soul.
The city has the best, unique presences to nurture your soul. Starting from Gaudi, to Joan Miro’s surrealism, and Dali’s place a few kilometers away (in Cadaques)!
Walking through Passeig de Gracia is a beautiful journey of Catalan modernist architecture you can enjoy. This is Barcelona’s Champs Ellysseés. All the fancy, expensive brands are located here as well.
Panoramic points: Enjoying the views
I always look for this in every city I go. Everybody enjoys a moment of wide contemplation, where to capture a good shot and enjoy the aerial view.
Barcelona has beautiful panoramic points from where you can see the whole city next to the sea. Some of the best views I experienced so far. Please don’t miss them!
Let me recommend you two:
- Turo de la Rovira:
If you are wild and young spirited. If you enjoy fresh air and picnics. Or if you are just looking for the low budget option, this is the one for you. I went walking; you can take the public bus also.
- Restaurant Mirablau:
If you enjoy good meals in comfortable nice restaurants, book a table here. It has a beautiful view of the city over the sea. I went at night and the landscape was awe inspiring.
If you have time you can pick one of the spots for a day view, I suggest the first one, and enjoy dinner at the restaurant to finish a day enjoying the sight.
Ask for them in the Raval or you can probably find them in any Catalan restaurant! Look for a traditional one and they will put you the napkin and everything according to their tradition.
Typical offer as a side with a beer. They are baked potatoes with a spicy tomato sauce.
You should definately visit the Mercado de La Boquería on Las Ramblas and Santa Caterina in Ciutat Velha. The former for the wide variety of fresh products and the latter one for its iconic architecture!
La Champagneria: standing up, old cantina, usually crowded. To share a bite with some locals, cheap sandwiches, a few block from the sea in Barceloneta.
La oveja negra: touristic but rustic, informal with a friendly environment, mostly young people. Good place to enjoy handcrafted beer and grab a bite.
Want more? Out for the day
Day excursions I enjoyed:
- Montserrat: If you like trekking, monasteries and beautiful views with peace and quiet
- Cadaques: a trip of art and pleasure. Dali’s house and beautiful Mediterranean beach to relax. Cap de Creus is a must!
- Vic: Beautiful and stylish, 1hs by train, 65 km northeast from Barcelona. Saturday´s market is the special attraction.
- If you want to enjoy the beach but Barcelona´s are too crowded, take a train north and get down in any little town you feel like, to have a beautiful, quiet day by the sea with new scenery to know.
My pick: Caldes D´Estrac
Well, this is Barcelona through my eyes. My personal highlights. The places and moments that still stay with me today.
Hope you get to love her as much as I do!