The old city of Barcelona is nestled along the Mediterranean in northeastern Spain, and it’s a city that is regarded as one of the most vibrant in not only in Europe, but in the entire world.
Barcelona offers two kinds of experiences: quaint and cultured, and energetic and intoxicating. And you can certainly find the best of both worlds in just a single day in Barcelona!
This article will cover some important things you need to know for the most authentic and lively Catalan experience you can’t find anywhere else.
A brief introduction to Catalonia
We didn’t want to bore you with a history lesson right-off-the-bat. But it’s important to understand a bit about Barcelona’s background so you can get a feel of how its culture and its people came to be.
Barcelona is the capital of Spain and it’s the second most populous city. Barcelona is also the capital of Catalonia, an autonomous region within Spain.
Catalonia is a distinct culture with its own right to govern. Catalan is the primary language that has influences from the French, Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian languages, and is even spoken in southern France and in parts of Italy. Spanish is also widely spoken in the area, but Catalan is the primary language of the locals.
Barcelona is a city with a complicated history that’s been caught in a tug-of-war of control since the Roman Empire. It’s a city that’s been a hotbed for nationalism, dictatorships, monarchs, and separatism, as rulers have come and gone throughout the region’s history.
Gothic architecture in the heart of Barcelona
Barcelona’s history still bleeds to this day through the city’s architecture. When you finally arrive in Barcelona, be prepared to absorb the world’s most beautiful gothic architecture.
Ciutat Vella, the Old City or otherwise known as District Number One, is the heart of not only the city but of the Catalan Gothic style of architecture. The most popular portion of beaches are also part of Ciutat Vella.
Here you will find houses, basilicas, cathedrals, and towers of the Catalan Gothic style. This style of architecture resulted from the Corona de Aragón, a monarch reign that not only overlooked control of Barcelona, but also stretched across eastern Spain and into France, Italy, and even Greece, during the 14th and 15th centuries.
In the Barri Gotic, otherwise known as the Gothic Quarter, the medieval section of Ciutat Vella, you can walk under harrowing archways and be surrounded by old brick and grand medieval structures.
But no matter where you are in Barcelona, you will pay witness to its history and will understand how its culture came to be as you bask in the Gothic atmosphere.
Fun daytime stuff to do in Barcelona
No matter where you are in Barcelona, there will always be prime sightseeing. If you’re interested in maximizing your sightseeing experiences in Barcelona, read Lonely Planet’s article on the must-see architecture of the city.
La Rambla, a long stretch of pedestrian road, is the busiest in all of the city. You’ll be surrounded by lush trees and people from all walks of life, with a variety of restaurants and stores to choose from. The prices of shops and restaurants along La Rambla are a bit pricier since this is a street dense in tourists, but it’s a must visit if you are looking for the action.
If you’re interested in visiting museums, The Picasso Museum is a must see for an amazing collection of 20th century artwork made by the famous Spanish artist, Pablo Picasso. It’s about a 15 minute scenic walk from La Rambla, and you can stop and sit in one of the area’s squares and look at the basilicas along the way.
Interested in learning more about the history of Catalonia? Visit Catalonia’s Museum of History. It’s about 10 minutes from the Picasso Museum, and it’s nestled right along a harbour and is a short walk to the beach.
And that brings us to another point… The beach.
A day at the beach is a must when visiting Barcelona. The beaches can get pretty crowded at peak tourist times, but a day in the sun along the Mediterranean is the best for a day of relaxation. Plus, the more popular beaches are in walking distance from the city’s most happening areas.
For more about what to do in Barcelona, click here.
How to dress and get around in Barcelona
Barcelona is a warm, Mediterranean climate, no doubt. Summers are dry and the winters are humid. Chances are you won’t need a winter coat here, but if you visit in the wintertime, be prepared for some chillier weather.
The busiest time to visit Barcelona, like most European cities, is in August. Peak temperatures scorch the city in August, but the days cool down as autumn rolls around. There will be less tourists on the streets after August, but no matter the time of year, Barcelona is always bustling.
The beach is a huge reason why people travel to Barcelona, so bring your swimsuit. It’s frowned upon to wear your swimsuit in public around the city, but throw a dress or some light clothing over your swimsuit, and stay cool without having to make a pitstop at your hotel.
Riding bicycles, public transportation, and walking are the best ways to get around. The metro in Barcelona is the best way to get around, especially if you’re looking to save some money for your pocket. To learn more about using navigating Barcelona’s public transportation, read up on it here.
Eating in the Catalan capital
Eating out goes late in Barcelona, so whether you’re an early eater or a late night snacker, you can enjoy the Catalan cuisine throughout the day and into the night!
If you’re visiting Spain for the first time, tapas are a must. Tapas are small appetizer dishes that are made both hot and cold. Tapas can take many forms, from seafood, to meat, to vegetables and olives, and they come in a variety of tastes and spices. Kickstart your tapas experience at Barcelona’s Tapas 24.
Catalonia is known for its “surf n’ turf” cuisine, or mar i muntanya. You can enjoy wonderfully crafted dishes composed of both meat and seafood that stays true to Barcelona’s proximity to both the sea and the land.
Want to pair your fish with a tasty red-pepper sauce? Try romesco sauce, a Catalan classic. It’s made from red-peppers, tomatoes, onions, garlic, olive oil, AND almonds!
Whether you’re a vegetarian or a true carnivore, the Catalan take on scallions, known as calçots, are a must try in Barcelona. Calçots are grilled scallions and should be paired with romesco sauce for full taste maximization. But in Barcelona, you can find a variety of approaches to the simplicity of calçot, and leave your tastebuds satisfied doing so.
Got a sweet tooth and have never tried a churro? Then you’re pretty lucky to be in Barcelona. This stick-like fried-dough delectable is great dipped in chocolate, or filled with cream, and you can find churros anywhere in Barcelona (and it’s okay if you find yourself stopping for churros everyday).
Barcelona: The nightlife capital of Europe
Year in and year out, Barcelona is the first thing that comes out of people’s mouths when talking about Europe’s best nightlife. It’s a city that doesn’t sleep, and it’s a city that LOVES to party.
If going out and drinking isn’t your idea of a good time, the city is always awake into the late hours, so walking around, people watching, and sitting in one of the city’s gothic squares is a more relaxed and fulfilling option. But if you’re ready to get your drink and dance on, you’re in the best city of all of Europe to do so.
Go out in the center of the city, in the Ciutat Vella and the Sant Marti districts, and dance in some of Europe’s best nightclubs. You can also take advantage of the city’s pub crawls, nightclub packages, and even its karaoke bars! For more about where to party in Barcelona, read here.
Ready to take on the ultimate authentic Catalan experience?
We hope so!
There is so much more to learn about the electric city of Barcelona, Spain, and a trip there is the only true way to live the culture, and come to know the city’s vibrant personality. But having a general understanding of Barcelona before you land in Spain will jumpstart the memorable and cultured adventure you’re about to embark on.