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September 24, 2015

I Heart My City: Laura’s Barcelona

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Published online by National Geographic

Laura Coch, who earned a Master’s degree in cultural tourism from the University of Girona, has been a Barcelona tour guide with Monograms for the past three years.

To Laura, Catalonia’s cultural capital has it all: “This city has a bit of everything,” she says. “Great weather, history, culture, food, architecture, and shopping; the sea and the mountains; and, of course, very nice people.”

Here are a few of her favorite things about the place she’s proud to call home.

Barcelona Is My City

When someone comes to visit me, the first place I take them is to Barcelona’s Old Town (Ciutat Vella), one of ten districts in the city, where you will find independent boutiques, beautiful historical buildings, interesting art galleries, museums, bars, restaurants, and the narrowest streets in town!

Spring is the best time to visit my city because everyone is out and about enjoying the wonderful weather (although we have a mild climate and locals tend to enjoy being outdoors all year long).

You can see my city best from the Mirador de l’Alcalde, located at Montjuïc, a hill that affords amazing (and beautiful) views over Barcelona and its port.

Locals know to skip the paella on main drag La Rambla and check out the paellas in the old fisherman’s quarter of Barceloneta instead. The seaside atmosphere is incredible and this neighborhood has the largest number of restaurants specializing in rice and seafood in all of Barcelona.

Art Escudellers is the place to buy authentic, local souvenirs. Here you will find handmade ceramics and glass.

In the past, Pablo Picasso called my city home. Follow in the artist’s footsteps at Els Quatre Gats restaurant, located in the El Born neighborhood, and the Picasso Museum.

Best Museum in town: The National Art Museum of Catalonia (Photograph by eye1, Flickr)

Best Museum in town: The National Art Museum of Catalonia (Photograph by eye1, Flickr)

My city’s best museum is the National Art Museum of Catalonia because its unique collection of Romanesque and Gothic art is recognized worldwide. Don’t miss the amazing views from this privileged location on Montjuïc.

If there’s one thing you should know about getting around my city, it’s that the best way to get to know Barcelona is to walk it. Many areas used to be independent villages and still maintain their old character. There are many faces of Barcelona!

The best place to spend time outdoors in my city is in the Gràcia neighborhood. Find a bar and sit out on the terrace with a cold drink, some patatas bravas, and good friends.

My city really knows how to celebrate Barcelona’s football team victories. Barça supporters are extremely passionate. Head to the Canaletes Fountain on La Rambla to witness some of the city’s biggest post-match celebrations.

You can tell if someone is from my city if they are rubbing a ripe tomato onto a slice of bread. Add some olive oil and Serrano ham for the perfect breakfast. Delicious!

For a fancy night out, I go to El Nacional 0n Passeig de Gràcia, the most elegant street in the city.

Just outside my city, you can visit Costa Brava. Just north of Barcelona, this beach area is marked by rough terrain and cliffs with small bays along the coast. We call it “The Catalan Caribbean.”

My city is known for being the capital of Gaudí architecture, but it’s really the capital of Modernisme–Catalan Art Nouveau. Gaudí was a visionary architect and designed some of Barcelona’s most stunning buildings, but he did not build the entire city. Other outstanding architects from the same period include Lluís Domènech i Montaner and Josep Puig i Cadafalch. Admire their work in the Block of Discord on Passeig de Gràcia.

The best outdoor market in my city is Els Encants. One of Barcelona’s largest, this flea market dates back to the 14th century, making it one of the oldest in Europe. If you’re more interested in food, La Boqueria is a great choice.

Dulcinea is my favorite place to grab breakfast (order a hot chocolate and an ensaïmada (a traditional, coiled pastry from Mallorca) and Cervecería Catalana is the spot for late-night eats.

To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, read Time Out Barcelona, or simply ask a local.

Get lost in Labyrinth Park. (Photograph by fakeplasticgirl, Flickr)

Get lost in Labyrinth Park. (Photograph by fakeplasticgirl, Flickr)

When I’m feeling cash-strapped, I escape to Labyrinth Park, a quiet, romantic, and relaxing spot located in the neighborhood of Horta. Inside the park (as you might assume from its name), you will find a beautiful labyrinth—just the place to fall in love!

To escape the crowds, I stroll around the Sant Antoni neighborhood.

The dish that represents my city best is pa amb tomàquet i pernil (toasted bread with tomato and ham), and cava is my city’s signature drink. Sample them at the La Boqueria market and Els Quatre Gats respectively.

Palau de la Música, where you’ll find a wide range of concerts in a unique art nouveau concert hall, is the best place to see live music, but if you’re in the mood to dance, check out Razzmatazz.

In the spring you should enjoy an outdoor concert. The city hosts festivals of all kinds, like Primavera Sound, Sónar, and Cruïlla Barcelona.

In the summer you should board a golondrina boat and enjoy Barcelona’s seafront from a different point of view. And, of course, you should hit the beach.

In the fall, you should celebrate La Castanyada instead of Halloween. It’s a tradition in which we eat toasted chestnuts and panellets, small marzipan and nut cakes.

In the winter you should visit Fira de Santa Llúcia, a Christmas market where you will find all kinds of accessories for nativity scenes, greenery, plants, and crafts. Look for El Caganer, the market’s most popular figure.

If you have kids (or are a kid at heart), you won’t want to miss the Tibidabo Amusement Park at the top of Tibidabo mountain. Also try the amazing science museum CosmoCaixa. Kids absolutely love it.

The best book about my city is The Shadow of the Wind because, in addition to being an intriguing novel, it depicts what day-to-day life was like under Franco’s dictatorial rule. It lends real insight into Barcelona’s dark history after the Spanish Civil War.

Click here to see the story on National Geographic’s website.