Bliss and bustle in Barcelona

A pulsing center of cultural attractions, Gaudian architecture and charming Tapas corners, Barcelona is a destination worth adding to your summer travel itinerary

By Jared Ruttenberg

After passing countless colourful street processions, I asked our guide if the day marked some special celebration. He simply smiled, “This is Barcelona, there is always someone or something to celebrate.” A shot of recognition fired across my synapses when minutes later, we turned into one of the squares and I watched several men and women begin to strap bands around each other’s waists. As luck would have it, we were about to witness the legendary human castles of Catalunya. 

Culture in Catalunya 

In 2010 these Castells were included in UNESCO’s collection of Cultural Experiences that demonstrate the “Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity”. It’s a moving experience, and as the base layer of people braced and interconnected. This is every bit the community endeavour, as a ten-story tower requires a foundation of around 900 people. 

Finally, the enxaneta – the child who climbs to the highest – reaches the top level and raises a celebratory hand to a great cheer from the crowds. These living, breathing towers are more than a daring pastime, but rather expressions of a unifying force for many Catalonians – a region of Spain that carries a distinctly singular identity; human towers replace bullfighting, vermouth replaces sangria, sardana replaces flamenco dancing, and fideu replaces traditional paella. 


A walking tour of Barcelona is best started at Ciutat Vella (the Old City), venturing outward. The blend of Moorish, Gothic, and Romanesque architecture inadvertently reflects the city’s complex history.

This of course is contrasted with modern Barcelona – the bustling beach hub of Barcelonetta, a suburb that was conceptualised and built just before the 1992 Olympics (barely 20 years after Spain had shaken off its Francoist dictatorship). 

Be sure that your walk takes in the exceptional concert hall of the Palau de la Música Catalana. If no concerts are scheduled during your stay, you can still visit the ground-level coffee shop and take in both architecture and ambience.  

With all the walking the need for sustenance quickly rises, and if like me you were after the city’s best churros to dip in decadent chocolate sauce, the offering at Bar Les Cascades is best.

It’s adjacent to the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, so they are a great reward after perusing the galleries. From here all the Montjuïc sights are easily accessed, including the two cable cars.  

The Greatness of Gaudi 

Of course, it’s the remarkable and utterly unique works of Antoni Gaudi that entice and leave guests to Barcelona enchanted. The greatest of these is the Basílica de la Sagrada Família. Work on the project began in 1882, and when Gaudi died in 1922 only a quarter of the project had been completed. In later years a fire destroyed many of his drawings, leaving teams of architects with the immense challenge of having to finish the work off plan – which is expected to happen in 2040.  

The Park Güell is another Gaudi gem – a series of viaducts, and bridges – combined with a nature immersion and generous city views, it is a must-visit. Bookings are necessary for both attractions and booking ahead gives you a time slot so you can avoid the queues.  

A Tale of Two Avenues 

The first of Barcelona’s iconic two avenues is the one-kilometre tree-lined Las Ramblas. This vibrant thoroughfare is enjoyed by tourists and locals alike, and you’ll encounter countless flower sellers, maître d’s enticing you into their cafés, and talented artisans punting their work. Barcelona is home to over 40 markets, and perhaps the best known is Mercado de La Boqueria. Find an unoccupied bar stool and join the locals for a ‘mixed cured meat and cheese cone’ with something cold to wash it all down.  

When you are ready for a fashion fix, Passeig de Gràcia is the city’s most iconic and exclusive shopping avenues. The street serves as the retail district and you can expect to find every designer store represented. Once inside you’ll be treated like royalty. Browsing through Ralph Lauren, an attendant realised my partner was sporting an item from the brand’s Purple Label line, and our VIP treatment only grew in store. For a taste of local designers, add Ivori, Colmillo de Morsa, and Ailanto to your list.   

A Taste of Tapas  

Of course Spain is the uncontested home of the tapas, and we couldn’t help but gravitate to some of the enticing small-plate eateries in the evenings. The sister restaurants La Flauta and Vinitus were absolute favourites, both meters off the Passeig de Gràcia. Once your selection is made you sit back, and wait to be surprised by what arrives first. 

Our last tapas escapade was to the highly-rated Barriteca. We bravely order a selection of the tapas, confidently rattling off the list in our best Spanish. Last to arrive was a dish that took a little time to identify – a passing waitron announced “aubergine” layers of the vegetable baked in a sweet umami sauce – the hero dish of our trip. 

I asked the server to please compliment the chef. His face lit up, and he proudly announced it was his recipe. Ferran López happily offered me the verbal recipe of brown sugar, apple vinegar, vegetable soup, peanut, and miso paste. Will I be brave enough to try it at home? Perhaps, though I may just use the excuse that I forgot the quantities, and will have to plan the next visit to Barcelona. 

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