People visit Barcelona for the great weather, the delicious tapas, to watch FC Barcelona play football, or to admire the work of famous architect Antonio Gaudi.
Spain is an incredible blend of cultures, people and religions, but even amongst other Spanish cities, Barcelona is unique. As a part of the Catalonia region, people in Barcelona speak Catalan. It is not, as many people think, a dialect of Spanish, but a language of its own – but it’s not widely spoken. Of course, as a part of Spain, people in Barcelona also speak Spanish.
Aside from being a linguistic melting pot, Barcelona’s Spanish and Catalan roots have given the city a culturally unique upbringing. This blend of cultures has influenced everything from the huge variety of food to the quirky architecture.
Things to do
- The food in Barcelona is deliciously unpretentious, and even if you didn’t manage to do any sightseeing, eating your way around the city would be a worthwhile trip. Head to the La Boqueria market for a local experience, and make sure to try at least a sliver of the classic tortilla Espanola, or Spanish omelette, some albondigas – meatballs in a spicy tomato sauce; paella, the famous rice dish usually served with seafood, and gambas al ajillo – fresh shrimp cooked in olive oil and garlic and served piping hot.
- Eat all the jamon – a type of cured ham – you can get your hands on. The meat is a Spanish staple, and is eaten on its own with your fingers. If you’ve seen it in Hong Kong supermarkets you know that jamon can be prohibitively expensive, but in Barcelona it’s as cheap as char siu is here.
- The Picasso Museum houses the most extensive collection of artworks by the Spanish artist Pablo Picasso, so it’s definitely worth a visit. It can get crowded, so try to go early, and it’s worth taking the audio tour to help you understand and appreciate the art.
- Visit Parc Guell, a public park and one of Gaudi’s major works. It offers spectacular, panoramic views of the city, and in between the expanses of grass and open space, almost everything from the benches to the statues is covered in brightly-coloured mosaic tiles. If ever there was an opportunity for a photo op, this is it.
- There are countless must-see Gaudi buildings in Barcelona, from La Pedrera to Casa Batllo. But if you don’t have time to visit them all, take a tour of La Sagrada Familia, a huge Catholic church in the heart of the city that is arguably the architect’s most famous work. Construction began in 1882, and at the time of Gaudi’s death in 1926, less than a quarter of it was complete. Construction is still ongoing to this day, and the fact that it has taken such a long time to build is part of the reason it’s so famous. Visitors also flock to see it because the architecture is a combination of Gothic and Art Nouveau styles – think lots of elaborate spires and geometric designs inspired by nature.
- Being able to jump on a bus and be on the beach in 30 minutes means Hong Kong is pretty spoiled when it comes to beach accessibility, but imagine having a beach a five-minute walk from Central. That’s what Barcelona has, in the form of Barceloneta Beach. The sand is white, the water is clear and blue, and it’s all walking distance from the city centre. Once you’ve had enough of sight seeing, amble round and enjoy some downtime in the sand.
- Barcelona prides itself on its football abilities, and rightly so. With a roster including Messi, Neymar, Pique, Iniesta and Luis Suarez to name but a few, FC Barcelona is the epitome of a world class team. If you are there on match day, try to get tickets, but be warned: if the game is against rivals Sevilla FC, you will need to buy well in advance. If you can’t make it to a game, you can still take a tour of the Camp Nou Stadium, Barcelona’s home ground. With almost 100,000 seats, it holds more people than any other stadium in Europe.
Where there are tourists, there are opportunistic thieves. While you aren’t likely to be attacked or hurt, Barcelona is rife with pickpockets – who sometimes zoom by on bikes – after your iPhone or wallet, so keep your wits about you and your valuables out of sight. In particular, the main street, Las Ramblas, is an area where you could be targeted while you are distracted by the street performers, so stay alert. Sometimes people will come up offering you a flower, but don’t take it as this could be a way for an accomplice to reach into your pocket while you aren’t paying attention.