While it is often overlooked in favor of Paris or London, every traveler should realize that no Europe trip is complete without a stay in Barcelona. Located on the northwestern coast of Spain, Barcelona is a truly magnificent city with a rich a complicated heritage. There are few other cities in Europe that feature such a diverse blend of cultures, yet Barcelona melds its Greek, Roman, Gothic, and Moorish influences seamlessly into a captivating and romantic atmosphere that won't soon be forgotten.
The exact date of Barcelona's founding is uncertain as its creation is steeped in legend. Many say that Barcelona was founded by Hercules, the mythological strongman that was sired from the Greek gods, centuries before Rome was built. However, other legends posit that Barcelona was built by Hamilcar Barca, father of Hannibal, a famous Carthaginian general. While these auspicious beginnings have left little evidence in the architecture of the city, they have imprinted a sense of importance and nobility on the overall mood that persists nowhere more strongly than the celebrated Ciutat Vella district. The "Old City" district encompasses the oldest and most charming areas of Barcelona, including the Raval, the Barri Gotic, and Barri de la Ribera. In spite of its small area tucked on the Mediterranean coast, Ciutat Vella is considered by locals to be the natural center of the city, and therefore features many superb shops, restaurants, and parks.
Because of its centrality and history, it is imperative to visit several of the neighborhoods, or "barri's" in Old City when in Barcelona. In particular, the Barri Gotic is a must see area that is home to most of the exquisite gothic and Latin architecture that remains in the city. Some key landmarks found in this neighborhood include the Cathedral of Barcelona, the Placa Reial, and the Carrer Ferran shopping avenue. Barri Gotic is also home to the el Born area of Barcelona, a bohemian enclave that hosted many famous artists such as Pablo Picasso. The famous Els Quatres Gats restaurant is also found in el Born, which makes the Barri Gotic in Old City the most important stop on your Barcelona tour.
Yet before you pack your bags and head to the Spain, consider learning a degree of Spanish. Barcelona, like all of its European sister cities, has a certain number of gifts to offer typical, non-Spanish speaking tourists: the landmarks, the atmosphere, and the gift shops. However, there is a whole additional layer to the city's charm that can only be discovered by someone who can overhear conversations in coffee shops, interact with the small restaurant owners easily, and site comfortably in the plazas without standing out. In order to truly make the most of you Barcelona experience, you should learn Spanish, or at least know enough to have a casual conversation. And here's a tip: be sure to learn Spanish
. There is no surer way to stand out as a foreigner than speaking Mexican, Cuban, or Columbian Spanish to a Barcelonan!