My family and I were fortunate enough to travel to Barcelona, Spain, in early January 2023. Although it was not the first time in Barcelona for my husband and I, we had not visited in nearly 20 years.
After two decades, many of the details of our initial trip have faded, but we still have many great memories of the seaside city, which is located in Europe’s Iberian Peninsula, on the coast of the Balearic Sea, just south of the French border. We experienced many memorable firsts while there – tasting authentic “tapas”, viewing Gaudi architecture, renting a car in a foreign country, shopping at stores like Zara and Mango, and staying in a castle.
Although our first trip to this old port city was incredible, we knew our Barcelona 2.0 trip would be just as or even more memorable because we’d be seeing it again through the eyes of our teenagers.
Over the next few posts, I will take the time to share how we spent our quick, 5-day trip to the Catalan region, centering on Barcelona. But first, I want to share a few thoughts around my second impression of the city.
Second Impressions of Barcelona
American Influence – Barcelona is over 2000 years old and over time, has seen many cultural influences from the Romans, the Moors, the French….and even Americans. When my husband and I traveled to Barcelona nearly 20 years ago, we saw a McDonald’s or two and a few American clothing stores…but that was the extent of the “American” influence we remember. Upon our return this year, it was very easy to spot Starbucks around the city, as well as other popular American food chains like Taco Bell, Little Caesars Pizza and Five Guys – yes, Five Guys!!! And the influence doesn’t stop there. No matter where we went, whether inside or outside of the city, we heard more American music than Spanish music, which was comforting and a little disappointing at the same time. We also saw many American retail stores including Nike, Urban Outfitters, The Gap and multiple Brandy Melvilles.
Prevalence of English-speaking Locals – I know that English is spoken (or at least partially spoken) in most major cities in Europe. However, I was surprised at how much English was spoken all around Barcelona and in cities beyond the border. Even when I tried to speak Catalan or Spanish (trying to use my 8 years of education in the language), I found that most people would just start speaking to me in English because it would be easier and faster.
Narrow, Clean Streets – Narrow, cobblestone or brick streets are common in many European cities, adding to their immense charm. But on most streets (which should be described more as walkways) within Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter, you can barely fit three people walking side by side, let alone drive a car down them. Again, this added to the city’s charm and somehow made the city feel even more quaint and welcoming. And, to my pleasant surprise, these narrow paths were kept very clean – nearly absent of litter and not a single rodent, even near restaurants!
Abundance of Cell Phone Case Stores – It’s hard to walk more than a few hundred feet down any major street in Barcelona (and many of the smaller side streets) without happening upon a cell phone case store or stall. Not sure why they are so popular, but it almost became white noise seeing these stores, one after the other, selling all of the same cases and other phone accessories.
Cheap Coffee Drinks – In the U.S., it’s nearly impossible to buy a basic cappuccino anywhere, not just Starbucks, without paying $4-5 a cup, even without the extras. Within and outside of Barcelona, it was very common to pay the equivalent of about $2.50 for a cappuccino and nearly half that for an espresso….unless of course you were in a Starbucks, then expect to pay full American prices. In short, Barcelona is a city that can simultaneously feed your caffeine fix on a budget and exceed most coffee expectations.
Cava Pride – Just like France has Champagne and Italy has Prosecco, Spain has Cava, their version of sparkling wine. Pride for this national favorite is very apparent as it’s on nearly every menu, whether you’re in a humble cafe or a fancy restaurant. And, similar to the coffee, this posh drink by American standards, is much less expensive to order outside of the states. Most glasses I ordered were less than $5. And in many cases, it was more economical to order Cava or a glass of house wine than it was to order a soda or juice.
Stay tuned for more details on my recent trip to Barcelona!