What to Read, Watch and Listen to Before You Go to Barcelona

Sagrada Familia

Striking architecture, vibrant street life and independent thinking – the capital of Catalonia, in Spain, has it all. These books, films and music will give you a foothold.


Barcelona grew organically for millennia yet is symbolised by the distinctive work of Modernist architect Antoni Gaudí. No visit is complete without touring Gaudí’s remarkable works, including Park Güell and the Basílica de la Sagrada Família, but you can’t always get the 3D view these creations cry out for. Paper engineer Courtney Watson McCarthy offers a solution: the stunning Gaudí Pop-Ups book (2012). Just 16 pages long, it’s a meticulously crafted treasure worthy of its inspiration.

Also consider…

◖ The Shadow of the Wind (2001): Part literary mystery, part coming-of-age story and part thriller, Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s gripping novel has sold more than 20 million copies worldwide. It makes excellent use of the city’s Barri Gòtic (Gothic Quarter), where fans can take Shadow-themed walking tours offered by several operators.


Pedro Almodóvar’s 1999 film, All About My Mother, is adults-only, with melodramatic characters including addicts, prostitutes and a nun played by a baby-faced Penélope Cruz. The director cares for all of them equally and his movie is about finding family wherever you can. It shows Barcelona to stunning effect.

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◖ Biutiful (2010): Before his Academy Award-winning films Birdman and The Revenant, Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu enlisted Javier Bardem to star in this gritty tragedy about survival on the city’s margins.

◖ Las Calles Hablan (2013): The title of this 55-minute doco about Barcelona’s street artists (available on Vimeo with English subtitles) translates as “the streets speak”, though you may want to hit mute on the electronic soundtrack.


Unless you want to lose friends, don’t confuse Catalonia’s proudly regional rumba with flamenco. French band the Gipsy Kings’ 1987 hit, Bamboléo, showcased the former in tribute to their roots. The 1989 compilation album Homenaje a la Rumba Catalana is an excellent way to explore the style further, with songs by artists ranging from founding force Peret to more recent performers, such as Remendaos and The Manolo, keeping the tradition alive.

Also consider…

Manu Chao

◖ Clandestino (1998): Born in France to Spanish parents, singer-songwriter Manu Chao is beloved in Latin America and Europe. Though this man of the world is often on the road, Barcelona is his most frequent home, infusing this socially aware album (the title refers to undocumented immigrants) with the city’s rhythms. 

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