Nestled between the towering Pyrenees Mountains and the shimmering Mediterranean Sea on Spain’s Iberian Peninsula, Barcelona is the country’s second largest city, with 1.6 million residents. This capital of the autonomous Catalonia region maintains its most cosmopolitan core without losing the individuality that inspires avant-garde art and architecture. We visited in late June, which was beautiful weatherwise, although slightly crowded as we were in the midst of high season. If you prefer cooler weather and fewer people, September is a good time to go.
Barcelona has Roman roots, established over 2,000 years ago as the town of Barcino in the region of Catalonia. By the end of the 9th century, Barcelona stood as one of the only independent Catalan counties, caught in the tension between the African Moors to the south and the Franks to the north. From that point in history to as recently as 1975 under the rule of General Franco, Catalans struggled between freedom and repression, often losing their linguistic freedom to speak the Catalan language.
Thanks to their tenacity and strong sense of independence, this linguistic treasure did not die out, and is a pillar of the vibrant culture that inhabits Barcelona.
Here you find the hub of Modernist Cuisine, led by world-renowned chef and innovator Ferran Adriá. His first Michelin three-starred restaurant, ElBulli, was open only six months out of the year for dining, while the world’s finest chefs clamored to join Adriá during the other half of the year when it was converted to a laboratory. There they invented shocking new methods of food science to create something never before seen or tasted for the following year’s menu.
If you have ever enjoyed an ethereal mouthful of flavored foam, you have Mr. Adriá to thank for it. For more conventional diners, Barcelona is home to a complete culture of olive oil where white-gloved waiters describe the origin and bouquet of each bottle like a fine wine. This region of Spain is also known for its gourmet pork products, like jamón ibérico, which is made from pampered Black Iberian Pigs that dine mainly on acorns, and can be cured up to 48 months. Local purveyors will ship your porcine purchase home to the States, if you are lacking space in your suitcase for a hefty ham.
While you may have seen the athletic side of the city on TV from its wildly successful soccer team or the 1992 Summer Olympics, the best way to experience the essence of Barcelona is through its amazing architecture. We loved driving around the city to see examples of modernista style suddenly appear around a corner where we least expected it, many designed by Barcelona’s favorite local artist/architect Antonio Gaudí. Read on to find out the must-see structures that took our breath away!
To live like a local, don’t underestimate the need for a good nap here, because food and fun are enjoyed much later than we were used to. Dinner doesn’t start until 10:30 p.m. for Spaniards, so if you’re eating by the American clock you will find yourself dining alone! This is a serious party city and no matter what you enjoy, you will find plenty of others doing the same until the break of dawn.