Barcelona is a wonderful, must-visit city of world-class caliber, layered with everything from a culture that runs deep and an endless list of sites to explore, to beach parties, iconic architecture (Gaudí anyone!?), shopping for days, and a nightlife scene you will never forget. It's a modern metropolis with ever evolving food and fashion scenes, yet simultaneously still feels golden, with its rich, rich history. I seriously love this place!
You can get into its art scape and get your life in all of its coveted galleries and museums, or rest and enjoy the carefree by-the-beach life. Soak up the stunning skyline and views of the Mediterranean sea from atop the famous Park Güell while simultaneously gaining insight into the legendary architect and designer of the park, Antoni Gaudí. Gaudí's unique buildings, sprinkled all throughout Barcelona, are a few of the major reasons why it’s such a distinctive place.
Two of our nights were occupied by electronic festival Sónar, but the partying like loco locals wasn't just limited to after dark hour. There were tons of side moves known as "off-Sónar" parties throughout the weekend. These mini events draw some of the masses the festival attracts into the city and keep the party going from neighborhood to neighborhood. One of such off-Sónar parties was an open air beach club in Sant Adria de Besos.
Our hostel staff got us hip -- they were really wonderful in providing the savvy Barca tips! -- explaining that it was a little off the beaten path and not something that many tourists knew about. We definitely found this to be true!
We hung with British and Italian guys, Irish gals, Polish transplants and a few other locals, but definitely did not meet many (if any) Americans there. So, you know we felt real ‘down’ with the Europeans.
It was a full out day party with all the essentials. Great music bumping, the dance floor popping, a full bar, el sol, and la playa!
I spent our hours there in the mix of it all, alternating between dancing with my girl Shana (she is the dancing QUEEN, she really brought it out of me, too), and sipping brews at a table we snagged, talking all things travel with our British friends. Then when I started feeling the sun blazing down a little too hard on me, I stole off to go max out/nap out by the water, still bobbing to the beachy EDM beats.
There were authorities on the premises, but I still saw a few people openly taking drugs, and was even offered some by people we had chatted up. I politely declined yet remained judgement free. It’s not my thing, but I realize that a large number of travelers, especially in Europe, do commonly partake when they’re at parties and music festivals. The only reason I mention this is so that readers who aren’t yet familiar with traveling and partying in foreign countries can be aware that yes, you will probably see more overt drug use than what you see in America. Stick to your Ps and Qs (especially being in a foreign country), be as careful as possible, and if you know you’re not into it, don’t feel the need to fit in if other people around you are doing it. At one point during the party, all 6+ of the people I was chilling with at a table did ketamine together. I didn’t feel weird or uncool being the only one who said “no thanks,” nor did they pressure me to try it. Be you, and you’ll be straight.
Nonetheless, Shana and I had so much fun that day. Between the beach-bummin’ and dance-queenin’, it was the most perfect afternoon. We liked the vibes so much that we decided to go back again, on our third night in town. It was just alright the second time around, but we enjoyed the day time version much better than the nightclub version, and I can’t quite put my finger on exactly why.
Meeting a hilarious and adorable trio of travelers from Ireland was one of the highlights of our night. They befriended us and had jokes for days, which were all the more amusing to listen to in their Irish accents. Then somehow our conversation wound up on twerking, and they begged us to teach them how to twerk! I’m certainly no twerk queen (*cough* see: Adrienne) but they were so amazed! Their following attempts at shaking their bums? Let’s just say… So. Freaking. Funny. I really wanted to take them with us.
I did get into some cool touristy day activities, too -- contrary to what you’ve seen so far, Barcelona wasn’t ALL about partying!
Several hostelmates and I joined a free walking tour. I didn’t have my expectations set too high since it was free, but I was pleasantly surprised! Our guide knew SO much about the city’s history. We learned plenty about its deep-rooted culture and got familiar with some of the iconic architecture that I mentioned above.
I knew that Barcelona is part of a bigger community called Catalonia, but I did not know that Catalans proudly have their own subculture -- including a distinct history and even their own language (a little different than traditional Spanish). They’ve been trying for years to become autonomous and separate from Spain officially. This was just a fraction of what we learned about Barcelona and Spain. History lessons are a million times more interesting when you are actually walking and breathing the sites on your own, rather than stuck reading in a classroom!
The next afternoon, we did a free biking tour, which was fabulous. Even though it’s huge, Barcelona’s a very bike friendly city. There’s little I love more than biking through a beautiful locale on an equally beautiful day. It was absolutely lovely to ride past the pier along the beach in the cool summer breeze.
We rode through the stunning Parc de la Ciutadella, we marveled at the many various Gaudi-designed buildings that characterize the seaside city, we learned and laughed with all the other bikers on our tour. I met two girls from LA, one of which attends school in DC right near where I worked at the time! Small world, seeing as to how she moved to my city and I’ve now moved to hers.
The tour brought us to Gaudí’s ultimate masterpiece, La Sagrada Famiglia, which I just have NO words for the level of amazing that this structure is. Gaudí dedicated his life towards the radical design of this gothic and Art-Noveau inspired basilica -- it almost looks mythical. Even though construction remains unfinished, over 130 years since it commenced, La Sagrada Famiglia was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is one of Spain’s most highly-visited attractions. It’s set to finally be completed in 2026, the centenary year of Gaudí’s death.
This church is just an out-of-this-world work of art. Next time I will make it a must to actually go inside rather than just spectating from the outside. We did get up close and personal, though.
To note, free tours like the ones I joined are hosted by local guides and based on tips. I was very happy to tip as we had great guides. Both tours were excellent for being free!
BARCELONA, ESPAÑA! I LOVE YOU! There’s so much more I want to see and do all around Spain, so I will most definitely be back for more.
Read the full story: My Graduation Escapade: Traveling Across the World with a Stranger; Budget Breakdown: What Two Weeks in Europe Cost Me; Checking in: Becoming Acquainted with Hostel Life (Yes! Lisbon); Charmed by Lisbon & Saint Anthony's Festival; Bar-Say-Lona Lovin' | Sónar Music Festival; Island + Party Life: Ibiza Style