Local Secrets: Barcelona (10 Insider Tips from Latitude 41)

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Barcelona's Sagrada Familia and traffic lights

Want to know the best tips for exploring Barcelona? There’s no better way than to ask a local.

We check in with local blogger and churro addict Justine Ancheta who shares here her love for the city plus a few tips for visitors.

Originally from California, mum of 3 Justine has been living in Spain since 2008 and blogging since 2013. She shares local tips and expat tales over on her blog Latitude 41

Read on to discover a city of human castles, vintage theme parks, and churros of course . . .

Ornate building facades in Barcelona


Hi Justine! Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’m Justine, and I’m from Orange County, California. I’m a Barcelona blogger and travel writer, and also a mom of 3. I’ve been living in Barcelona, Spain, since 2008, which is when my obsession with the city started. Latitude 41 shares fun experiences, under-the-radar spots, local traditions (including ones that deal with poop), expat life, and practical information about enjoying Barcelona. As a mom, I also like to help families and kids get the most out of the city. 

What inspired you to start a blog about it? What’s the focus of your blog? Why should readers visit your site and what will they find there?

My husband and I got married in 2008, and I moved here from the US right away. I shared a personal blog for family and friends at home, and they were intrigued. They encouraged me to share more about where I live. I was also developing an unexpressed romance with Barcelona, constantly taking photos wherever I was with my compact camera. (This was pre-Instagram!)

So I started Latitude 41 in December 2013. It focuses primarily on travel in Barcelona: expat life here, Catalan customs, food experiences, and undiscovered places not talked much about on in books and other travel blogs. I have 3 kids, so I also share how to explore Barcelona with kids. I also love the rest of Spain, so readers can discover other amazing parts of the country.

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Rainy day reflections ☔ ? Do you ever feel like you're behind in life? You look at your friends and colleagues. They're doing cooler things. ? Making more money. ? Crushing it in whatever. ? That's me sometimes. I've got 3 kids, my youngest being 1 year old. I've missed out on a lot of cool shit. ? I'm not complaining though. ? My kids are hilarious. ? ? ? We take them everywhere with us. And I feel super fortunate to have them. (They're gonna let my husband and I live in one of their spare rooms when we're 90 ??) And I'm fortunate to have this unconventional life in Barcelona. But sometimes, SOMETIMES, it can feel shitty. Because I don't have help with the kids. Because I'm making monster sacrifices. Because I can't focus 100% on my SELF. . Is it worth it? YES. I know this season is temporary. I'll get my return later. . The song "Life for Me" by Lily Allen sums it up for me. Allen sang again after having two kids.((Thanks, @armilynnix )) . "When the day's over and I have a second to myself I lie on the sofa watching TV Get on the computer and start checking up on everyone else Looking at all the pictures Up to all sorts of mischief Some of them are ridiculous Everything's there to see Everyone looks so wasted Totally off their faces I feel so isolated Everyone there but ME… " … Why does it feel like I'm missing something? "Been there and done that", Ms. good for nothing Everything's perfect, yeah I'm as content as can be This is the life for me Tell me I'm normal for feeling like this It's a bit early for a midlife crisis Everything's perfect, yeah I'm as content as can be This is the life for me …. I could never get bored of it And most of the time I love this But sometimes I get nostalgic . . ?WHEN ACTUALLY I'M COMPLETE?" . Happy weekend ✌️

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What do you love about Barcelona? What makes it unique?

Where do I start? I love the vibrancy and energy of Barcelona. To me, it’s the quintessential European city with history, architecture, culture, delicious food, and sun! Barcelona is also very practical. It’s a large city with over 1.6 million people, and it’s relatively safe. I don’t have to worry about crime. Plus, getting around is easy. You don’t need a car because they have a well-run public transportation system, one of the best in Europe. And as a mom, I love that I can take my kids anywhere. There are parks dotted around the city, and it’s easy to take the bus or metro with them.

Barcelona isn’t perfect, and I do get sick of the city life sometimes. The amazing thing is that you can also find quaint villages, beaches, and countryside all within an hour’s distance. I could go on and on! I know about 5 people who were living in Barcelona for a few years and actually returned to live here.

What frustrates you about Barcelona?

The overwhelming number of tourists in the Barcelona centre. Local businesses have told me that fewer tourists have visited in the past year or so, but I can’t tell that much. It always feels crowded. Also, I get frustrated with the rubbish in the city. I’ve seen people throw their rubbish in the street or empty their pockets in the trees, treating it like their garbage can. There are bins everywhere! Why be so lazy?

Favourite place to watch the world go by?

Parc de la Ciutadella. It’s the largest and most central city park. I love meeting up with friends there, picking a spot on the grass, sharing a picnic lunch, and watching our kids play. You get to see people from all walks of life like grandmas taking a stroll, overly baked tourists, or people doing aerial rigging (hanging a fabric on the tree and doing acrobatics with it). One time, my friends and I stayed there for 7 hours once just sitting on the grass and shooting the breeze.

What’s the best way to get under the skin of Barcelona?

Talking about politics and the pro-independence movement in Catalonia. It’s unlikely that a group of more than five people can agree on anything when it comes to this issue. I’m talking about both Catalan people and outsiders. No one talks about it because it’s going to open a can of worms. It’s pissed people off and ripped friends and family apart! It’s almost best not to bring it up at all to keep the peace!

What’s your favourite cultural site in Barcelona?

Maybe it’s cliché Barcelona, but definitely the Sagrada Familia basilica. When I was younger, I remember my Spanish teacher showing my class an image of the famous church on our overhead projector. It was pre-Internet days. I was intrigued by its uniqueness and beauty. Every time I’m in the area, I look up at the Sagrada Familia, I’m still astounded by its presence. You can’t find another Roman Catholic church like it in the world.

Panoramic view of Barcelona from theme park with vintage ride in foreground

The best view of Barcelona is from . . .

From the Tibidabo Amusement Park in Tibidabo. It’s the tallest mountain in the Collserola hills. Nearby it also has a beautiful church called the Temple Expiatori del Sagrat Cor. I finally went to the amusement park this summer, and I was amazed. I thought it was going to be a cheesy amusement park, but it’s quite charming. It has vintage-y rides overlooking Barcelona. The absolutely best view can be seen from going on the ride called the ‘Talaia’, which is a kind of an arm that swings up 550m above sea level. You get a view of the Church and the city in the background. It’s scary but breathtaking.

The best thing to have for breakfast in Barcelona is . . .

Churros con chocolate! It’s not a normal breakfast at all, it’s kind of a special breakfast that you would have as a treat. The churros should be crispy on the outside and soft and warm on the inside. You can also have it with or without sugar, but I like it with. Then it must be dipped in the hot, thick chocolate. It’s really thick! You can also eat it as an afternoon snack after lunch. If you don’t like churros con chocolate, then there is something wrong with you.

These are two great places to get churros:

  • Granja La Pallaresa, Carrer de Petritxol, 11 : a traditional churrería famous for their Swiss chocolate too.
  • Granja M. Viader, Carrer d’en Xuclà, 4-6 : a churrería that spans 5 generations since 1870

Churros in a paper cone sprinkled with sugar

The thing about Barcelona I wish most tourists knew is . . .

Don’t assume everyone speaks English. It’s polite to ask, ‘Do you speak English?’ first before assuming everyone knows it because they don’t. I also wish they’d know what time lunch and dinner are served. It’s about 2pm and 9pm respectively. Not really a problem for me, but I feel sorry for them, especially Americans when they’re looking for a meal at 6pm, and the restaurant kitchens are closed. Everything gets done later here: we go to bed late, we wake up late, get to work late, and eat dinner late! Same goes for the rest of Spain!

The best time of year to visit Barcelona is . . .

Late September. The bulk of tourists have left, the weather cools down, and it’s when the festivities of La Mercè happens! It’s a city-wide festival of watching castells (human castles), concerts, performances, and more. The weather is also warm enough to still enjoy the beach but you don’t have to wear any heavy jackets. Plus all the kids are in school, so you can enjoy a little more extra space in the city. I know I do!

For a day at the beach, I like to head to . . .

Mar Bella Beach. It’s near Poblenou, which is one of my favourite neighbourhoods. There’s a cool skate park, a playground on the sand, and some great seafood restaurants on the boardwalk. You’ve also got some xiringuitos (bars on the beach) where you can have a drink. It’s not as crowded as Barceloneta, which I don’t like much at all because it’s too touristy.

Many thanks to Justine for sharing her side of Barcelona. I highly recommend checking out Latitude 41 if you’re heading to Barcelona any time soon.

You can also follow along with Justine on her Barcelona adventures on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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Sagrada Familia with text overlay '10 local tips - Barcelona'

Image credits: Sagrada Familia by Danil Sorokin (Unsplash), building facades by Marco Da Silva (Unsplash), Amusement Park by Andrey Kirov (Unsplash), Churros by Huib Scholten (Unsplash)

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