The city of culture never sleeps

Casa Batillo is one of Gaudi's many masterpieces around Barcelona.
Casa Batillo is one of Gaudi’s many masterpieces around Barcelona.

As my Scottish tour guide so eloquently commented at the beginning of my “free tour” my first day there, “young people only come to Barcelona for two things: to go clubbing until 7 a.m. and the beach.”

While his statement may generally be completely accurate, there’s a bit more to Barcelona than bars and the beach.
For instance, there is quite a bit of shopping. Known for its fun atmosphere and casual vibe, Barcelona is the perfect place for picking up something here or there.
If souvenirs are what you’re searching for, La Rambla is your best bet for atmosphere, although the closer you get to Place Catalunya, the more expensive your souvenirs will become. Cheap souvenirs, for those on a tight budget, can be found at similar stands off La Rambla or closer to the water/ port of Barcelona.
NB: La Rambla is also known for its pickpockets, so watch your things and your pockets.
For clothes, the areas around Places Catalunya and Universitat will do fine if you’re looking for chain stores (from American to Spanish). If you’re looking for high-end designers like Prada, Burberry, Balenciaga and more, the Avenue Diagonal is the place to go.
Apart from shopping, Barcelona also has great food. A variety of Spanish and Catalunyan dishes are available, usually in the form of Iberico ham or fresh seafood. Some of the best things to try in Barcelona include paella marisco (seafood paella), tapas catalunyas (Catalunyan small plates) and some form of fresh fruit.
There are small restaurants all over Barcelona that will serve paella and tapas, but some of the best deals are at cafes on the main roads for lunch or an “early” dinner. Barcelonians eat anywhere from 6-10, so getting dinner between 3-7 will produce the best “specials”, which are usually combo deals of tapas + paella + sangria. The cheapest found this week was for 8.50 and served two people. Most run between 9-12 euros for the same. Similarly, restaurants on one if the tiny winding streets will have great deals and food usually because they’re far from the tourist traps.
Fresh fruit is for sale in every supermercat in the city, but the best place to go is the Marcat San Marco off of La Rambla. As a food-only market, there are stalls for everything from empanadas to hog’s heads to kosher food to chocolate, and just about a anything else you can think of. The cheapest and most-tempting stands are those selling mountains of fresh fruit, both whole and in salads. An average bowl of cut fruit costs about 2 euro and can include orange, mango, papaya, coconut, grapes, honeydew and more.
Apart from shopping and food, Barcelona is full of history and culture. I was fortunate to learn some of Catalunya’s history while studying Spainish history, but many are (apparently) unaware of the turbulent past of the eastern-most region of Spain.
As the capital, Barcelona acts as a living museum to the history of its people. Castles, churches, street names and cobblestones all help to tell the story of the region, which is far too complex to hash out here.
I was fortunate to find the “free” tour leaving from my hostel’s lobby, and my tour guide (while Scottish) was very knowledgeable about the city and its people, and I was able to learn a lot walking around the Barr Gotic (Goyhic Quarter). Just wandering around the city, however, had a similar effect: almost every area of the city has its own history through architecture.
My personal favorite architect in the city (and perhaps the most famous) is Gaudi. He designed a number of buildings, but most notably Sagrada Familia (the cathedral which still isn’t complete after 130+ years of construction) and Parc Guell (a hilltop park known for Gaudi’s signature mosaic designs).
Beyond Gaudi, there are hundreds of lesser-known architects who have made Barcelona beautiful in the true “Spanish” or regional style.
And of course, discussing Gaudi, one can’t forget to mention the dozens of other artists who hung out and worked in Barcelona in their days. My personal favourite, Pablo Picasso, is joined by the likes of Jean Miro, Salvador Dali, Ernest Hemingway and others. Many have museums dedicated to them, and most are free at some point on Sundays.
After all that history, culture, food and shopping what else could there possibly be to do in Barcelona?
Well, I did spend two afternoons at the beach.