For some people, falling in love with Barcelona takes time. It takes a business trip or two, or else a few nights of tasting tapas and late-night dancing. For others, falling in love with Barcelona is instantaneous. It’s the gasping, ton-of-bricks, seen-across-a-crowded room feeling applied to an entire city.
If you have been lucky enough to fall in love with this ancient city, its historic monuments threaded with modern upgrades, then maybe you found it first at the Sagrada Familia. This is, of course, what the city is most famous for: the great unfinished masterpiece by Gaudí. The building stands in the Gracia neighborhood, the constant construction a bridge between the past and the present. Although it’s on track to be finished in 2026, part of the charm is the way the building has a foot in both Gaudí’s world and our own. Maybe you loved the tree-trunk columns inside, or the intricate stained glass windows. Maybe you padded through the sanctuary as though through a forest, surrounded on all sides by tourists and somehow still finding peace.
Perhaps it wasn’t the Sagrada Familia at all. Maybe you fell in love with Barcelona on the Ramblas. Bustling with people and lined with shops, the Ramblas stretch wide to accommodate the steady flow of people. Many are locals; some are just excited to be there. You could duck into a side street, or follow mysterious signs to find a fairy-themed cafe, or stumble into a jazz club. There, you’ll find coffee shops and the great Boqueria marketplace; there, you’ll find Belgian waffles at 1 a.m. or early-morning street performers.
The Gothic Quarter is another favorite. Timeless and beautiful, people who step into it labyrinthine passageways feel as if they have been transported to another era. There are stories behind every corner: stories from the Roman empire, stories from the Dark Ages, and stories from the Spanish Guerra Civil. Each year leaves a mark on the city, and none display that better than the Gothic Quarter, with its hidden shops and secrets buried under cobblestone.
Maybe you fell in love with the art and culture. Did you wander through the Picasso Museum with awe, or stand openmouthed at the National Museum of Catalan Art? Was it a thrill to see the Olympic arena, made so famous during the 1994 Games?
Barceloneta is another location that draws the eye and your heart, too—with its wide stretches of beach, homes and restaurants stacked by the sea, and dazzling nightlife are enough to startle you. There are shops and museums, an enormous aquarium, and a harbor that glitters in the sun and the light from the Mediterranean.Or maybe it’s somewhere else. The bus ride in, say, fresh off a million-hour flight. You’re carrying your luggage still, a backpack and a carry-on, maybe. It’s six o’clock in the morning and already you see people on the streets. Some are coming in from the night before; others are already up and jogging. You lean against the window as the city unfolds around you—there, a statue you’ve seen in history books. Here, a palatial museum set on top of a hill. You stumble from the bus, clutching the printed-out directions in your hands. For a moment, as you walk, the city is quiet. You realize that there are stones in Barcelona that are older than your grandparents—that most of the stones here are older than your country.
Drop your things at your hotel. Step back out onto the street, and follow the crowds until you stand on cobblestones, in front of a cathedral so tall and lovely it leaves you quiet and pensive. Take a seat at a cafe. Stumble through the grade-school Spanish for coffee with milk please and watch the sunlight hit the rooftops, watch the streets fill and the sky turn blue and the city bloom. There’s not a right way to fall in love with Barcelona, but it’s the how that’s in question. The why you know—have always known—from the second you touch the ground.