My first impressions of Barcelona, pre trip were of a place which was rich in art, culture and architecture, but also a tourist destination too. Lots of my friends had visited and I was curious to see what it was about. Strangely enough though, it came about due to there being few flights from Manchester to Valencia.
A trip to Spain
In the planning and booking stages for our trip to Valencia for a conference Jit was attending I discovered a bit of a stumbling block. It turns out that Valencia is not as easily accessible from Manchester as I had anticipated. There are far fewer direct flights there. To make things work, I looked around for more regular flights and decided that Barcelona would be a good option as it is a bustling city with good tourism. I was right. We could get there easily and it would mean we got to explore more than just one city. Win. Airbnb’s were also a decent price in February too. Double win!
First impressions of Barcelona
We chose our Airbnb to be in a more residential part of town (as we always do) which meant that we had a slightly longer trip from the station. It was a great opportunity to experience the public transport system though, which for me is a bonus. Arriving at dusk we made our way through L’Hospitalet de Llobregat, up hill to meet our host.
It was a residential area of a wonderful blend of cultures, the kind of place we enjoy being. It was certainly not busy though. Arriving mid-week meant that most people would be working the next day, so were home cooking and relaxing. There was certainly a laid back vibe about the place for the most part, but still enough life to know you were near the big city. Yet also close to rolling green hills too.
First day exploring
Our trip to Barcelona was only going to be short as we were heading to Valencia afterwards so we made the most of the time we had with some quality wandering. I find this to be the best way to get to know anywhere and a brilliant way to find the things that excite you the most – stopping or swerving when you get a glimpse of something exciting.
Spotting what looked like a bull ring with a viewing tower, we immediately went to explore. And 2 Euros later, we were on the roof looking over the city.
Turns out that it actually was a bull ring in a previous life. It had been converted to a shopping centre, preserving the outer architecture. A far better use of the place if you ask me!
This was the perfect starting point for finding out more about the city as we were able to spot icons we fancied discovering. It was also surprisingly not touristy. Of course there were some (we were there!) but nowhere near the level I had anticipated. One of my preconceptions seemed to be slipping.
As with any city, there are the guide-book destinations which attract the tourists in their masses. In Barcelona, it is Las Ramblas. And yes, it was full of tourists with front facing back packs and blank looking faces as they tirelessly follow the person with the umbrella on a tour of the ‘city highlights’. We did spend a bit of time here – we’re not totally against tourist places – but soon found our way into a side street. It is easy to get away from the masses, it turns out. One slight turn off the main street and although still jam-packed with souvenir shops, you can escape the bustle.
A bit of everything
One thing I noticed quite quickly in my first impressions of Barcelona is that there is a bit of everything. High rise flats tower over ornate sculptures; tourist traps circle the quite residential streets and street art is dotted through building sites and on disused buildings. It was a city of interest and one best explored on foot.
Did my first impressions of Barcelona change?
Pre trip I thought that the city was art, architecture and tourists. What I found was that is was all of that and more. You could easily escape the bustle to discover something new. Yes, that could have been because it was a rather brisk few days in February, but I stand by the fact that there are quiet pockets in every city. Even the most populated.
My first impressions of Barcelona as a whole were more than positive. There was enough culture and business to keep me on my toes while also high up views, hillside backdrops and a slower pace of life to get that down time space.
I will be exploring Barcelona in some more posts over the coming weeks to share detail on the places we discovered, but I love sharing first impressions as it can be surprising how the story evolves from sitting at home with a guide-book to wandering around with locals and battling the crowds. There is always something to discover around each corner.
If you have been, what were your first impressions of Barcelona?
Did you stick to the tourist routes or head to the back streets and alternative routes away from the crowds?
Let me know in the comments.