Oh how my heart bursts when I think about this beautiful, vibrant city. I spent the summer of 2017 studying abroad in Barcelona, living out the dual tourist-student vibe so many study abroad students can probably relate to. By day, I was stuck in a very dull colored classroom, learning about the fabric of urban development and the ethics of educational technology. By afternoon, I was studying in coffeeshop... after coffeeshop... after coffeeshop... By night, I was taking my own self out for a walk, editing photos from the weekend's explorations, and learning to cook for one using nothing but goat cheese, chorizo, and lots of brown rice. I shared a kitchenette and really long desk with the best roommate (shoutout) and learned a LOT about God. All in all, I know that summer will hold near to my heart for the rest of my life. In the moment, I remember it was hard.
Nobody really emphasizes how homebodies might miss home while they're living across an ocean. I felt an immense sense of loneliness, having left everyone I loved thousands of miles away while I explored a country and culture I knew very little about. I'd been to Barcelona one other time with my family years ago, studied Spanish in high school, and was raised to appreciate Hispanic culture. But to live "on my own" and figure life out with nothing more than tips from past students and a slew of stranger-friends was an adventure that (eventually) changed me for the better. But it took a while. It took many, many lessons.
Nobody cares if you dance on the streets; everybody cares if you act like a tourist. Life starts at midnight, and halts around noon. Skyscrapers face oceans, the slums are beautiful, and every street intersects in an octagonal corner. Ice cubes don't exist, so say adios to iced coffee. Tacos are common, espresso is life, and if you ever don't know where to go, start going. Getting lost and walking home is the best adventure you can have.
Where to explore
#1. Bunkers Del Carmel
Carrer de Marià Labèrnia, s/n, 08032 Barcelona, Spain
Helpful Link: "The Carmel Bunkers"
Without hesitation, this is my number one recommendation. Over the course of three months, I visited three times - each just as breathtaking as the last. The "Bunkers of Carmel" were Spanish Civil War bunkers where anti-aircraft guns were installed, which now serve as a historic destination for a panoramic, 360º city viewpoint of Barcelona. I've come with a large group during the afternoon and as a quiet pair at sunset. Each time it was busy, but beautiful, and we stayed as long as we could.
2. Plaça de Catalunya
Plaça de Catalunya, 08002 Barcelona, Spain
Tips: A tourist safe haven, with info booths, bus stops, large department stores, and access to La Rambla and more. Beware of pickpockets but enjoy the hustle! Catch the Aerobus to the airport here.
3. El Raval
El Raval, Barcelona, Spain
Tips: Search "Barcelona" on Pinterest and you'll probably see this rustic, winding district. Teeny tiny streets with flags on balconies, cobblestone streets to cafés and boutiques, access to the Port and La Rambla. Picturesque and mesmerizing to walk through.
4. Dàrsena Nacional
Moll de Bosch i Alsina, 2, 08039 Barcelona, Spain
Tips: Can be reached by walking all the way down La Rambla or through the Gothic Quarter, starting from Plaça de Catalunya. Look at the boats and the statue of Christopher Columbus. Walk across the bridge to Maremagnum. Shop? Admire the view. Walk back.
6. Plaza Espanya, to Museum de Catalyuna, to Museum de Miró, to Castle de Montjuic
Walking directions here
Tips: Check if "The Night of the Museums" is happening during your trip - if so, museums all across the city are FREE! We saw the Castle de Montjuic at sunset, ate dinner and fresh gelato under string lights, and bussed home. A beautiful, bustling, central pocket of the city.
7. Day trip to Montserrat Mountain's monastery
Helpful Link: "How to Guide: Day Trip to Montserrat"
Tips: Though I didn't have the chance to visit this during my study abroad summer, I did visit with my mom and grandmother years prior. After logistics are handled, this day-trip is a SIGHT to see. Deemed "the trip of a lifetime," this mountain-topped monastery has views, hikes, tours, music, art, and more. Definitely would recommend if you can spare the time to see it!
photo by Get Your Guide
Where to stand out like a tourist
2. Parc Güell
08024 Barcelona, Spain
Tips: Mosaics and walks and sculptures and art and flowers and Cheetah Girls references (again). Like most "destinations," this one is also a bit out of the way to casually visit, and to see the quintessential city viewpoint will require an admission ticket, but it's worth the exploration.
4. Platja de la Nova Icària
Passeig Marítim de la Nova Icària, 08005 Barcelona, Spain
Tips: The beaches of Barcelona are... interesting. Fun when you want them to be, sometimes nude, and never quiet, they serve tourists daily with long boardwalks, and plenty of beachside bars, clubs, and restaurants. Stay mindful that merchants selling beer and random goods will be pacing the sand and probably approach, but simply say "no" and they'll walk right along. What's really fun? Meet friends at one of the many beach bars (pictured below) for a cold Corona or mojito before diving into the water and admiring the city skyscrapers right down the road.
photo from Google Images
The market "La Boqueria" can be found along La Rambla, its building tucked and perpendicular to the main street. As one of the most widely recognized and visited tourist spots in the city, the market is busy but enchanting to walk through (again: hold tight to your bags! A pickpocketer's paradise). Try: a refreshing coconut smoothie, handheld parcel of freshly sliced meats, or stop and enjoy a meal at one of the many central restaurant stands.
Where to brunch
Carrer del Comerç, 1, 08003 Barcelona, Spain
Hello ICED COFFEE, it's great to meet you again. Friends, do not miss this place. Located right around the corner from Arc de Triomf, on the brink of the El Born district, Picnic is the place to be on a weekend morning. Make a reservation - you'll thank me later. Order the spiked iced coffee and avocado toast if they have it. You cannot go wrong here. The ambiance! The aesthetically pleasing menu! Sit outside, even! It's on the tip of the triangular block, and you can continue on your way exploring immediately after.
4. Brunch and Cake
This isn't brunch- it's art. Come to Brunch and Cake for a plate you cannot not document, and stay for a meal worth waiting for. Try the avocado toast, the acai bowl that comes INSIDE a pineapple, or literally anything else. Extensive and fun brunch drink menu. Keep in mind there are multiple locations of Brunch and Cake, one of which is inside a mall (not the best ambiance); Choose the location that's closest to you. Americanized for sure, but... sometimes you have to.
Photo from Google Images
5. Flax & Kale
Carrer dels Tallers, 74b, 08001 Barcelona, Spain
Tips: A trendy millennial's HEAVEN. This large, aesthetically exquisite brunch-based restaurant #sparked... #joy. With a menu filled to the brim with dietary sensitive items, a long and luscious drink menu, and rooftop outdoor seating, Flax & Kale steals the show when it comes to brunch with American friends. It's not my No.1 simply because of Picnic's life changing iced coffee (priorities), but it comes very, very close. Phenomenal location.
Photo from Google Images
6. Federal Café
Passatge de la Pau, 11, 08002 Barcelona, Spain
Tips: I probably visited Federal Café once a week for the entire summer. Not only is it a fantastic study spot (more on that later), it's also conveniently located for brunch with friends. Plenty of dietary sensitive options and extensive coffee menu.
Where to eat out
3. Restaurante Rosa Negra
Via Laietana, 46, 08003 Barcelona, Spain
Tips: A group crowd pleaser, this double decker in the bustling Gothic Quarter has heavenly salsa options, large plates of tacos, great margs, and a hip colorful vibe. Food can take a while with groups, so order up quick.
Photo from Google Images
Where to sip coffee
1. Nabucco Tiramisu
Plaça de la Vila de Gràcia, 8, 08012 Barcelona, Spain
My reasoning for listing Nabucco Tiramisu as my No. 1 pick comes entirely based in the whole tourist-meet-student bias I mentioned earlier. With late hours, wifi, outlets, pair-sized tables, a healthy menu balanced with pastry bar, and superb service behind the counter, this place made my and my friends' go-to spot. Located in the Gràcia keeps the walk to arrive neighborly with local charm, and the café itself is located in a pedestrian only courtyard park with kids playing soccer on the wall and families out for drinks at the end of a work day. It's sweet, it's homey, and it has really... good... coffee.
Photo from Google Images
5. Nomad Coffee Lab & Shop
Passatge Sert, 12, 08003 Barcelona, Spain
Tips: Definitely more of a coffee experience than actual café. Tucked away in a gorgeous plant-filled courtyard. Great location for popping in while touring El Raval district. Sells local roasts and locally driven products. Very friendly staff.
Other & Miscellaneous
Where to shop?
Clothing chain based in Spain owned by Zara's parent company. Madewell quality meets H&M prices. I bought my all time favorite pairs of high waited distressed black jeans, frayed wide legged dark denim, and high waisted blue jeans here 2 years ago and have worn them religiously ever since. Expect to spend hours browsing and leave with your heart and wallet still soaring.
Photos from Google Images
Where to get a haircut?
Anthony Llobet Hair Salon BORN - Carrer dels Carders, 34, 08003 Barcelona, Spain
Where to go to church?
International Church of Barcelona - Carrer del Comte d'Urgell, 133, 08036 Barcelona, Spain
Where to buy gluten free baguettes?
Pastisseria Jansana Gluten Free - Carrer de Balmes, 106, 08008 Barcelona, Spain
T H E E N D
Tag me in your experiences on stories - I'd love to support your adventure! @chloe.belangia
Hi, I'm Chlo.
I've been writing and reading and all the storytelling things since I learned as a kid that if you fold and staple construction paper together, it sort of looks like a real book. I have always craved soul serving stories- ones that melt like butter in your mind as you hear your heart explained out loud.
This here is my home away from home. When I'm not exploring neighborhood coffeehouses, driving down the Pacific Coast (again), or loving on all my people - I'm probably here, with you. Come on in! Scroll around. I hope you feel less alone.