Confidently hailing a cab outside of El Prat Airport in Barcelona, I knew my Spanish was rough around the edges, but that it would be fine for just getting around. As soon as I came to terms with this confident conclusion, I heard the cab driver speaking this French/Spanish mixture in the phone and ending the conversation with “Adeo”. Either he was definitely not speaking Spanish or my Spanish was a lot worse than I thought. He was actually speaking the local region’s primary language. Catalan, understood by about 12 million people and only spoken by about 9, is just one example of how unique Barcelona is. I’ve grown to love it for its uniqueness; it’s a city that offers so much to satisfy every preference. In Barcelona you’ll find a history of the relatively recent fall of a dictatorship, the astonishing architecture of Gaudi, sophisticated culture and posh restaurants, endless shops that line the Mediterranean, great accommodations throughout and a night scene comparable to only a handful worldwide – all within reach of the quite simple metro system.
Barcelona has arguably the best football (soccer) team in the world and, if you are lucky enough, to see Barcelona FC play Real Madrid you can really feel the tension between the two cities. This is the modern equivalent of the fighting between two cities on opposing sides of the Spanish Civil war of the 1930’s. I, however, was not as fortunate on my last visit and only saw a game against a lesser opponent. Nonetheless, the passion for the game creates an atmosphere that is second to none.
To take on seeing Gaudi’s architecture in a short period of time is a daunting task. If there is a time constraint, I would recommend seeing Parc Guell first. The municipal garden complex was designed by Gaudi and incorporates many of his architectural elements. We hiked around the park and brought a bottle of Cava (a bubbly wine that is famous to the region) and watched the city light up as the sun went down. Don’t stay much after dark because the police will chase you out, literally. La Sagrada Familia, a very impressive cathedral designed by Gaudi, should not be missed. The extraordinary combination of Gothic and Art Nouveau forms has been under nearly constant construction since 1882 and is only just past the midpoint of construction, with a targeted completion date of 2026, the centennial of Gaudi’s death.
Paella, a rice dish made with meat, vegetables, seafood, or all combined, is a staple in Spain and you can’t beat sharing an order with a glass of wine outside one of the many restaurants of Barceloneta, one of the beach areas of Barcelona. Port Olimpic offers more upscale dining choices along the harbor and is ideal for a long sit down dinner. I’ve also had many great dinners at a Mexican/Spanish restaurant called La Rosa Negra on Via Laietana (Metro stop: Jaume) where I’ve enjoyed mingling with the younger Spanish crowd drinking the famous Mojitos in the downstairs section. Sitting up in the lofted area for a little quieter experience is also an option here. Less adventurous eaters can find Hard Rock, Burger King and McDonalds all in Plaza Catalunya. With a plethora of Irish pubs, you really shouldn’t have an issue finding a burger, fries and a coke.
The W Barcelona is situated on a very exclusive spot right next to the ocean and is one of the premier places to stay, and their bar is a great option for a drink and bite to eat. We stayed in a two-bedroom apartment that shared an entrance with an upscale backpacking hostel. Waking up in the middle of Placa Universitat was a great feeling because we were in the middle of everything.
My personal favorite part of Barcelona, probably because I’m used to the American culture of nightlife ending at 2am, is the bar/pre-club scene that takes places between 10pm-2am. Dinners go late so it is not uncommon to have a nice dinner blend in with a few late night drinks. The Gothic Quarter is great for wandering with the intent on stumbling upon a hole-in-the-wall bar. I met a great bunch of Spaniards, Australians, and Brits while spending evenings at Ryan’s bar on Carrer Ample and L’ovella Negra off la Rambla. Some of the best nightclubs include Elephant and CDLC. These upscale nightclubs combine the dancing, lounging and drinking in a very sophisticated manor. The crowds vary and some nights, if you’re really enjoying yourself, you end up walking outside to the rising sun!
If you would like to discover all that Barcelona has to offer, contact Covington Travel’s vacation experts to customize a visit to this fabulous city.
Danny Dietz is a 2010 graduate of Hampden-Sydney College with a major in Economics and a minor in Spanish. His love of travel drew him to the tourism industry and he happily began his career with Covington Travel immediately after graduation as a Corporate Support Specialist where he provides research and booking support in the business travel division. Photos courtesy of Danny.