Some of the most exciting cities are those that have their own unique aesthetic, adopting a feel at odds with the rest of their country. Barcelona for us is such a place, wildly individual and almost visually overwhelming. Famously inspired by Antoni Gaudí’s creations as well as influenced by its Catalan history, it walks its own pioneering path.
As a photography instructor in Manchester, England, I take students on an annual residential to Barcelona to shake up their thinking, inspire and excite. For a group of young creatives used to the leaden grey skies and redbrick buildings of Manchester, the reaction is immense. This is by no means a knock on northern England, but Barcelona really does act as a breath of fresh air and helps broaden all perspectives in terms of what constitutes an urban experience.
In this Barcelona guide, we share some of our favorite spots on our visits. On the whole these are places that are of interest to the visually curious, a mix of the touristy, cultural and free stuff taking place all around you in this bright city. One of our favourite quotes is from Ian Brown of The Stone Roses, he says “Manchester’s got everything except a beach.” Well, Barcelona has everything including a beach.
The Platjas (Beaches)
In late February or early March, the day starts cold but warms up fairly quickly. Barceloneta at sunrise leaves a lasting impression. This is the city’s beach area, with real proper sand and sea. It’s quite a buzz to take a 15 minute walk from the busy streets of the old town and be confronted by the sights and sounds of the seaside. At 6.30 am there is a calmness to the place, with only a handful of runners and occasional dog walkers for company.
The Impossible Project Barcelona A short walk from Barceloneta are two must sees for photographers or those interested in an alternative to the digital camera. First is Impossible Barcelona on Tantarantana 16 in the El Borne district. A beautiful shop and gallery all based around the resurrected Polaroid technology, called The Impossible Project. Worth a visit just for the mid-century furniture and displays of vintage Polaroid cameras, but there appears to be a rolling programme of exhibitions too. Check out Untapped Cities’ coverage on The Impossible Project in NYC too. The Lomo Store A stroll from The Impossible Porject is the Lomography Store at Rosic 3, another church to film photography that is beautifully stocked with everything you could need for an experimental and creative few days. Once here I would suggest a stroll around the narrow streets of this neighbourhood as they are filled with small independent shops, studios, cafes and bars. Be wary though, it is incredibly easy to lose your bearings distracted by the entrancing window displays offered up in this rabbit warren network of alleyways. Everything looks displayed in Barcelona, street life is as much a part of the aesthetic as the architecture. So simply being on foot and absorbing the everyday can be as intriguing as visiting any of the famous landmarks. La Boqueria Another must is La Boqueria, a huge market off The Ramblas where the importance of food and drink in Spanish life is evident. You will be led around by your senses – smells, colours and sounds create a fascinating free experience right in the centre of town. Navigating with The Metro Barcelona is easy to navigate using the Metro system. It is affordable and reliable, with paper maps available at stations. If you are staying for a few days, a Barcelona Transport card is a good idea. Treat the underground like the streets, life carries on in subterranean Barcelona and there is plenty to see including the stations themselves. The Metro was started in the 1920s and is still growing today so there is a design history to experience as well as getting you from A to B. Join me in part two when we will take the Metro to continue our visual tour of Barcelona.