Full of side-streets packed with action and celebration, Barcelona was more than I expected from a week at the searing Spanish coast.
We arrived after midday, so the plan was really just to find somewhere to eat and settle down for the evening. But the city was alive in the late afternoon, and realising opening hours were much later than back home, we headed straight to the zoo, which turned out to be a perfect introduction to our stay. With an impressive menagerie, Barcelona zoo is a great spot for families or lone wanderers, with highlights including a mynah bird that greets you with a friendly “Hello!”, plus Lions, Tapirs, Rhinos and Elephants. The snack shack serves a tough-to-beat Spanish omelette baguette, which inspired me to eat as much Spanish omelette as I could find during my stay.
The evenings are lively in Barcelona: due to the hot midday heat keeping most people at a low level of activity during the day, restaurants and bars are busy late into the mild night-air. The main cuisine, at least in the more tourist congested spots, includes Paella, Spanish omelette and lots of delicious Tapas.
Now that the pound and euro are close to even, Restaurant costs are fairly similar to those of central London, but if you’re on a budget, it is easy to find the cheaper options if you look for them. We were surprised by the quality of the delicious fruit in the supermarkets, and all the necessary bits and pieces to make a picnic are easy to find.
The city is also home to a huge food market, La Boqueria. A lively, pedestrian-packed compendium of edible goods, where you can find everything from a variety of local and exotic fruit to fresh seafood and spices. We even spotted tasteful wood panelled bar stalls, comfortably filled with friends merrily eating and drinking.
Transport around the city comes in the form of busses, cabs, rental bikes and scooters if you’re feeling daring, as the roads are busy and traffic is fast-moving. However; deciding to traverse the city on-foot or by bicycle leaves you open to the fantastic antics of the side streets, including street performers, live music, hidden street art and stylish restaurants. The creative spirit of Barcelona is to be seen on every corner, and it is home to many beautiful works of art and architecture, including the Sagrada Familia (an incredible cathedral, still being built, funded by entrance fees and donations) and the beautifully obscure Gaudi buildings. We even stumbled into some free exhibitions in the side streets.
The residents of Barcelona are a huge factor into it’s unique identity. The general mood is laid back, fun-loving and artistic. The people seem almost carefree, and there is a rich cultural and ethnic diversity in the city, which all seems to fit perfectly into it’s selfhood.
The highlight of the trip for me personally was Montjuïc Cemetery, a cemetery so huge it almost becomes a city in it’s own right. Packed with walls and walls of coffins decorated with immortal and dust-coated plastic petals, angelic ornaments and bright ribbons. Each grave has it’s own unique decorating theme, and emits a strange existential aura in the silent heat. It is also home to some incredible sculptures and views of the coast, and easily fills a day of walking, so bring plenty of water and snacks!
All in all, the city of Barcelona is a great break for anyone who appreciates art, food and drink, boat trips on the seafront and bustling crowds, but parts of the city are also quiet and serene, with plenty to see and do if you just follow your feet and listen for distant music.