Barcelona Reflections


My first experience with Barcelona. I was with the ‘rents after a study-abroad stint in Leon, and we were on a flash-trip zoom around Spain. The timing with the country’s second-biggest city wasn’t the greatest; I felt poorly and the three of us actually resigned to climbing aboard a tourist bus. We also saw: La Sagrada Familia up-close / La Rambla bursting with a gay pride parade / La Boquería Market / Olympic offerings. After returning to Spain in 2010, I wondered if I should give the city another chance–all I remember is its touristy swagger.

Spiral stepping in La Sagrada Familia

 Pools of Olympic proportion

 Nuns used to sleep here

Clearest memory: Gaudí, you are awesome! Also, our hotel, a former convent.


We come prepared for our trip armed with tons of museum info and restaurant recs. Then, I got sick on Day Two and spent more time with my book than the city. (Am I cursed??) Luckily, we managed to squeeze in a trip to Parc Güell. We considered visiting some of Gaudí’s houses, but they were pricey for our grad-school-squeezed wallets. I decided I liked the slow pace of our trip, soaking up the sun and ambiance as we lazily floated from terrace to terrace.

Out on the terrace, any terrace

Rambla-ing along

Montjuïc photo-stop

Clearest memory: While we were walking along Passeig de Gràcia, Andres got the call that made him start to pace. The corners of his mouth twitched, and when he clicked off the phone the good news came rushing out–the research center wanted him! And the research center was not in Scandinavia or South America or Illinois; it was in Madrid!


Similar reasons as last year’s propel us to consider Barcelona as an option (easy to plan, easy to get to…). We find decent tickets and figure a trip to museums and the beach wouldn’t hurt. I was curious to explore artsy Raval, Barri Gòtic, and hip Gràcia. The trip didn’t quite turn out as we’d hoped, though. It was mixed bag: we enjoyed the first day, loved our hotel, and ate like royalty. Then, plans fell through, transportation was ornery, and everything seemed so blatantly touristy. We decided that an afternoon on the beach was in order (not an entirely terrible way to bide your time when waiting to return home again).


Parc de la Ciutadella

Castellers…advertising Hard Rock Cafe :/

Clearest memory: The on-going conversations in my head of Madrid vs. Barcelona. Having been to Barcelona a few times now, it was hard not to compare it to Madrid. In Barcelona I like the architecture, the wide streets, the food, bubbly cava, and trying my hand at Catalan.

If I were to live there, however, I think the tourists (and the pandering to them) would drive me nuts. Souvenir shops were king. Loud, obnoxious visitors seemed to be everywhere. The menus translated into various languages and the prevalence of frozen pizza-and-paella joints made the experience seem inauthentic. And then: Being charged 5 Euros for a caña?!?! Andres being hit in the head with a tourist’s souvenir-stuffed backpack? Take me back to Madrid!!

One of the things I did love–our dining experience! More on that later…

In conclusion: I have some very fun memories from Barcelona, and it’s nice to know the city is a mere 3-hour train ride away. With the beach, lovely weather, great food, cool architecture, and top-notch art galleries, it’s no wonder so many tourists flock to Barcelona. Overall, however, I prefer Madrid as a place to live and feel lucky to call the capital home!

Related reading that came out this week: El País – ‘Bye bye Barcelona’: el documental contra el turismo masivo

Have you been to Barcelona? What’s your take on the city’s tourism?

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  1. I feel the same about Barcelona – while its got its stellar points, there is too much about it that doesn’t appeal to me. Seville, Granada or Madrid are probably the only Spanish cities I could live in!

  2. I’ve only spent 4 nights total in BCN and don’t really have any desire to go back—but I do want to see the rest of Catalunya. Thanks for the documentary recommendation—I just watched it and WOW was it eye-opening.

    • Cassandra

      As our train rolled out of Barcelona I couldn’t help but want to discover more of small-town, Catalunya, too! Ah, one of these days :/

      Glad you enjoyed the documentary!

  3. I just saw that they’re making (or have made) a documentary about how the residents of BCN want their city back from all the tourists. I’m happy we live in a non-touristy area!

    But after a week and a half in Zamora … Madrid is better than BCN, but not as good as my Spanish home. 🙂

    • Cassandra

      Yes! You should watch the documentary–it’s on the El Pais link above, and is free to view on YouTube. It’s really eye-opening how negative parts of tourism can be. I really hope nothing like that will balloon out of control in other parts of the country :/

  4. Yeah, the tourists can really get out of control! Once you figure out how to get away from the tourist grind, it’s great. But having a small city with all the good stuff to see concentrated heavily in the Gothic Quarter area means that it can feel really crowded really fast. And FIVE euros for a caña is absurd. It’s not all like that!

    I seriously cannot believe they are having the castellers advertising the bloody Hard Rock Café. That’s dreadful! I missed that haha.

    Overall, I love Barcelona and love living here, but I totally understand why people don’t feel the same way for exactly the reasons you’ve talked about.

    • Cassandra

      I’m glad you commented, Jessica–I was curious to hear a Barcelona resident’s take on things!

      I suppose that if we lived in the city we’d find our own neighborhood haunts, non-touristy bars,and fav squares. Visiting as a temporary visitor, it is way more difficult and I was disappointed we couldn’t scratch the surface a bit more.

  5. Bit late to this one, but I was interested to read about your experiences. I spent some time there straight after my year abroad, but when I returned a few years ago I felt the same as you. However, I’ve been going to Barcelona more often over the past couple of years both for work and personal reasons, and it’s really growing on me. Sure, it doesn’t feel very Spanish – and a lot of its residents would argue it’s not! If you can get away from the tourists (definitely avoid La Rambla!), there’s plenty to see and explore relatively crowd-free, and I haven’t found eating and drinking there very expensive. With so much to do, you can’t be bored there – and I know the same is true of Madrid, but Madrid is missing a beach!

    • Cassandra

      It was interesting to hear of your own experiences with Barcelona, Kate! It´s one of those cities that´s so big and varied that you can really have a different approach–and visit–to the city each time you go.

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