Stylish design, eye-popping architecture, a Mediterranean climate, and one of the most dynamic culinary scenes in the world are just a few of the many reasons to visit Barcelona

Many artistic geniuses, such as painter Pablo Picasso and architect Antoni Gaudí, have drawn their inspiration and creativity from the pastel hues that radiate from the warm Mediterranean atmosphere that envelops the city of Barcelona.

The city has a population of 1.6 million, with the surrounding Barcelona province having a combined number of 4.7 million inhabitants. The two official languages in the city are Spanish and Catalan, the local language of the region. Spanish can easily be used around the city but Spanish dialects, words and phrases, like English, vary widely in different regions around the world. A Californian friend tells the joke of his two-week university study tour to Barcelona: Walking into a store on the first day brimming with confidence from his years of Spanish speaking in California and neighboring Mexico he asks for three items in a stationary store. The middle-aged cashier turns to him with a big smile and says, “Okay Mr. Mexico, here in Barcelona we call the soft drink this, the eraser this and only my grandfather calls the pen a ‘feather.’”

The local people in Barcelona are proud, proud of their Catalan heritage and even more so of their local football team, F.C. Barcelona. Number 10, Lionel Messi, is currently their most famous superstar player. If you Google “Barcelona,” the first page search results are all for the football team, while the second page is where the listings for the city starts. The third most valuable sports team in the world, owned and operated by the supporters; the club’s motto is “Més que un club” (“More than a club”). The club’s fan base worldwide is truly staggering and even the F.C. Barcelona Vietnam Facebook page has over 270,000 likes. Their biggest rival club is Real Madrid and matches between these two teams are referred to as “El Clasico,” with fans baying for blood in the modern stadium as if the game was to the death in a Roman Coliseum.

Barcelona’s history can be traced back to its founding as a Roman city in 15 B.C., with legend even claiming Hercules responsible for the city’s original founding. In the old gothic quarter, remaining parts of old Roman walls have been incorporated into some of the buildings, such as the Cathedral Basilica La Seu. This area is a joy to walk through with signature restaurants, artisan shops and gothic limestone architecture. It is host to many museums, including the Picasso Museum. Pablo Picasso was famous for wearing his navy blue and white striped shirt, which signified victory, a garment he acquired from his time living in the working class areas of southern France. A prolific painter, Picasso studied art in Barcelona and spent much of his life, the early and later years, here. The museum houses 4,251 works from the artist, a large amount from his early blue period. Many of these sketches and paintings of the female form are very provocative and risqué. I’ve never seen so many portraits of oysters in the wild and they certainly cause a few blushes on some museum patrons.

Olympic Flame

Antoni Gaudí influenced architecture and design in the same way Picasso did with his art. Geometrical forms within nature heavily influence Gaudi’s designs, where animals and trees are used to create wondrous structures that follow mathematically perfect growing patterns in their natural lives. Gaudi mimicked these patterns and shapes and made revolutionary building designs. Many of these can be discovered dotted around the city, such as Casa Vicens, La Pedrera, Parc Güell and Casa Batlló. His most famous building, La Sagrada Familia, has been under construction for over a hundred years. It is a mammoth project with a planned 18 spires and intricate facades and interiors. The project relies solely on donations and ticket admission sales to fund the construction. The completion date is slated for 2026A.D.—the centenary anniversary of Gaudi’s death.

Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca has romanticized La Rambla walking street as “the only street in the world which I wish would never end.” Unfortunately, however, the street has developed a reputation for pickpockets, so be caution with your wallet and valuables. The public market of La Boqueria can be accessed from the famous walking street of La Rambla. In the large market, an assortment of foods, fruits, meats and spices can be found. The name “La Boqueria” is derived from Catalan and means “place where goat meat is sold.” Taking back a goat leg to have in your lau de back in Vietnam might be the perfect gift for the Vietnamese in-laws.

Spanish custom suits night owls like myself, who like to stay up late and start the morning slowly. There is a spectacular sunset view of Placa d’Espanya and the Venetian towers from Arenas de Barcelona. Previously a bullfighting ring, the arena has been converted into a commercial shopping and entertainment complex. After sunset, catch a performance of flamenco dancing at Las Arenas. The sultry movement of the performers is hypnotic and mesmerizing. The dance has even been recognized by UNESCO as a masterpiece of the oral and intangible heritage of humanity. After the performance, dine late into the evening at one of the rooftop restaurants above. Tapas is a Spanish favorite, small bite-sized dishes like Chipirones, deep fried tiny squid, and Croquetas, ham or chicken breaded and fried all go well with a Catalan wine from one of the nine wine growing regions nearby. At midnight, head down to the swanky Barcelona W Hotel, the building looks like an open sail in the wind. The W Hotel- Eclipse nightclub is at the penthouse, where both the crowds and the cocktails are sophisticated and trendy.

After a late Saturday night, wake up late and walk down to the Puerto de Barcelona and take a catamaran yacht. Sail out on a sunny Sunday afternoon into the harbor, drink cheap Sangrias and listen to the sultry sounds of a skilled saxophone musician.

Barcelona didn’t really have a beach until the Barcelona Olympics of 1992. That was the famous opening ceremony where Paralympian Archer Antonio Rebollo shot an arrow to ignite the Olympic flame. As part of the revamp of the city for the games, 4.2km of beach, with sand imported from Egypt, was constructed northwards starting from Barceloneta beach.

Barcelona has a cool vibe that brings tourists back and makes them want to stay. On the coast of the Mediterranean, the city has thrived and has been home to many creative individuals who have helped give the city even more character and zest. The city can also be your starting point to venture inland to explore the smaller towns and villages of Spain. Whether it’s your first or your 10th time, the city has so much to offer visitors and residents. Experience Catalan culture at its finest in Barcelona.

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Text and images by David Muller