Impressions of Spain: Barcelona

A discussion of locations to visit and photograph in Barcelona, Spain.

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Barcelona is my favorite city. Of any city I have visited!

I loved Barcelona 30 years ago, and I loved it even more this last time visiting. It is the heart of Catalunya, that part of Spain along the northeastern coast of Spain where Catalan is spoken. Although there is a vibrant and active independence movement (just read the news reports about the movement in the past year or so), it is very much a part of the fabric of modern Spain. 

There are so many photographic opportunities in Barcelona, that it is nearly impossible to suggest “favorite” sites.  But I will try to suggest some locations for the photographer to shoot.  Note that any photography you do in Barcelona will be travel or architectural related. 

But the first location on my list of must see places to photograph is the Basilica de La Sagrada Familia (I will feature this location in a separate blog post), the Antoni Gaudí masterpiece of post-modern architecture.   

Second on the list would be a visit to the whimsical Parque Güell, another Gaudí masterpiece.

I would follow this up by a visit to Poble Espanyol (in Spanish, Pueblo Español). Poble Espanyol features sections that represent various areas of Spain, with the architecture and products from those regions. 

And of course, there is La Ramblas, the main boulevard where tourist and locals gather. On this tree lined boulevard one can find small bistros where one can sit and have café con leche y churrios or some Sangria and Paella for lunch.  Just off La Ramblas is the Mercado which is fabulous meat and produce market with several hundred stalls selling all kinds of food stuffs from Iberico ham to candies. 

Also off the Ramblas is the Gothic quarter, which if you are a lover of architecture is a rewarding walk of narrow streets and beautiful gothic churches. You can find beautiful courtyards in the midst of the narrow and often windy streets. 

Pretty much anywhere in Barcelona is a winner in terms of photographic opportunities.

La Sagrada Familia

Like I said, this will be a separate blog post as there just so much here to photograph. So I won’t go into too much detail, other than to point out that you can purchase tickets that allow you into the basilica and you can choose which tower to visit.  There is a tower on the Nativity facade side and on the Passion facade side. Both have elevators, however you need to be able walk back down spiraling staircases that hug the edges of the tower, people with physical disabilities will not be able to do the tower tours. But the basilica is otherwise handicap accessible.

Spiral stairs in a tower at the Basilica de La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain.

There is a subway stop that is just across the street from La Sagrada Familia, you need to be on the L5 line (blue line) and the stop is “Sagrada Familia.”  You can also use the L2 (purple line) to get there. You can view the subway map here.

Parque Güell

Take the green line (L3 line) to either the Vallcarca or the Lesseps stations (see the subway map above).  You find yourself at the base of a pretty steep hill. But on the other side you will be rewarded with views of Parque Guel. You can purchase advanced tickets here. You will need tickets to get in, and there are a limited number of tickets sold. So if you want to visit inside the park, you really need to get your tickets the day before on line. But even if you don’t have tickets, you can walk around the park and see many of the same sights, just not close up like you would if you were in the park itself.

Designed by Antoni Gaudí for Eusebi Güell, the park quickly became a tourist attraction. The park highlights some of the motifs of the Art Nouveau movement, otherwise known in Catalunya as the Modernisme movement. However, the Modernisme movement took the ideas from just adornment and style and applied it to architecture. Hence the uniqueness of Parque Güell.

A view of Parque Guell, another creation of the master mind of Antionio Gaudi, Barcelona, Spain.

Poble Espanyol

A short 15 minutes walk from the subway station, Espanya Station on both the L1 (Red Line) and the L3 (Green Line), Poble Espanyol is a village built to represent the various regions of Spain, which are quite diverse and different from one another. You can purchase entrance tickets at the gate and spend the day wandering around the village.  There are shops and restaurants at every turn, and is a visual delight to the photographer. 

On the late afternoon and evening we visited, we went to a little place in the region of Southern Spain and experienced a Flamenco dance with diner at Tablao de Carmen.  The cost was around $52 dollars apiece, but the meal and the entertainment was wonderful. The Flamenco was a good as I remembered when I was in Spain 30 some odd years ago, so it is a good show if you are not able to go to southern Spain to see Flamenco in it’s native environment. If you have never seen Flamenco, you are in for a treat. And did I say that food was great!

A pitcher of Sangria at a table at a restaurant in Pueblo Espanol in Barcelona, Spain.

La Ramblas

La Ramblas is perhaps the most famous location in Barcelona. A long avenue with a center area for walking, is lined with small sellers selling their wares occasionally interspersed with small stores and cafes. It is the place to visit and wander. Below is a quick video of a casual walk down a small section of La Ramblas.

As you can tell from the video, it is a very busy walkway, hustling and bustling with people from all over. It is not uncommon to hear at least five or more different languages being spoken by those you pass along the walkway. The little shops are pretty neat as well, and there is a subway station right on La Ramblas, the Liceu station on the green line, L3.

Beginning at Placa Catalunya and heading down to the waterfront and the statue of Christopher Colon (Columbus for the rest of us), La Ramblas is a wonderful place to just walk, linger, watch and have some great food.

Dishes of the typical Spanish dish called Paella at a small cafe along La Ramblas.

Mercat de la Boqueria

Just off La Ramblas just north of the Liceu subway station is the Mercat de la Boqueria. This is a great place to find great finger foods, Iberico ham, fish, candies, fresh fruit, and just about anything else you can think of. 

I know that I just plan enjoyed watching a vendor slice some Iberico ham for a customer. It was watching a craftsman at his craft. Iberico ham has a special place in Spanish cuisine, and to watch someone slice as thin as paper was a sight to see.

A vendor slicing a really thin slice of Iberico ham, the best stuff since sliced bread (unless you are a vegan).

If you are Vegan, there is no need to fear, there is plenty of fruits, vegetable dishes and fruit drinks to satisfy the vegan palate.

A wide variety of fruit drinks available at the Mercat de la Boqueria.

For the photographer, especially if you are a travel photographer, there is just so much to photograph here. I had a blast just taking shots of folks purchasing food and watching the vendors do their stuff.  And there are also some great opportunities to photograph various booths with their produce and products for sale.

Rows of various peppers on display for sale at the Mercat de la Boqueria in Barcelona.

The Gothic Quarter

Also just off La Ramblas is the Gothic Quarter, an area of the city complete with Gothic style cathedrals and small winding walkways and streets with apartments and plants on overhead balconies. This area is an architectural delight, with so many possibilities, so many subjects to photograph!

Small winding walkways of the Gothic Quarter in Barcelona, Spain.

The ambiance of the place is wonderful, with lots of little out of the way places such as the walkway above. There is also some areas for detail shots, such as doorways covered with graffiti that I found all over.

I just love the old and the new, the mix of the old architecture colliding with modern day life. These doorways, like the one below, seem to highlight that for me. And so I have a number of photographs of such doorways. You can say that I did a special photographic project on just doorways in the Gothic quarter of Barcelona! Perhaps you too will find somethings to photograph as a special photography project.

Graffitti covered doorway in Barcelona, Spain.

All in all, Barcelona is my favorite city. And the variety of photographic topics doesn’t end. Just walking around one can find a lot to shoot, from food to landmarks. Even a street festival.

Preparations for a fiesta in one of the neighborhoods in Barcelona, Spain.

Photography Advice

You will find that all focal lengths will serve you well.  I know that I only had one lens with me when I went out, a Sony FE 24-240mm and I found that it was sufficient to get some great shots. There were times I did wish I had a wider lens, like my EF 16-35mm f/4L, but I made a decision when I went out walking about to travel lightly.

It does pay to have a camera that takes great photographs at high ISOs like ISO 800 or ISO 1200.  In some interior locations, the lighting is such that you either need to shoot wide open, and if that is not enough, to bump up your ISO.  And remember that you are shooting hand held, your shutter speed needs to a least match your focal length.  For instance, if I had my focal length set for 100mm, I should have my shutter speed set for at least 1/100 of a second.  Even with image stabilization, you will be happy to have been able to capture the image later when you review your images.

If you ever get the opportunity to visit Barcelona, it is a location that is well worth the visit, you will not regret it!

Some of my favorite photographs from Barcelona

Other posts you might want to check out . . . 

Other Posts in this Series "Impressions of Spain"

Previous Post: Impressions of Spain: Segovia
Next Post: Impressions of Spain: La Sagrada Familia


David Cote is a landscape and travel photographer who makes stunning photographs of beautiful locations around our wonderful world. When not selling photography at art shows or online, he can be found sharing his love and knowledge of photography with others who love photography.

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