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The City That Has It All – Paris or Barcelona?

Sometimes in life, things just seem to align. We find ourselves in a place that works out perfectly for that very moment in our lives, find friends who understand us even though they’ve known us for a relatively short amount of time, or find ourselves in love with cities we always knew but never really did.

Now, that last one might sound confusing. What it means is that, we can find ourselves feeling extremely comfortable in environments that may be nothing like those we grew up in. Sometimes, you may even assume you’ll love a place, and actually end up doing so.

Barcelona.

A couple of weeks ago, I visited both Paris and Barcelona – two of Europe’s largest and most important cities. Paris is, and always has been, considered the #1 tourist destination in Europe. It is, by official stats, the most toured city in the entire world. Barcelona is another world wonder; as Spain holds a massive tourism empire, Barcelona being its most toured city is a big feat. Both cities have a lot to offer, and for any of us from far away lands, they are the places to be once we get anywhere near them!

Several months ago, I decided to use up my week-long holiday in both cities, concluding that there was absolutely no way I could visit either one in a short weekend. I needed more time than that, and boy, I was right! My two and a half days in Barcelona were definitely rushed, but full of excitement. The city being as small as it is, in comparison to other major cities, was easily toured by walking and the occasional bus or metro rides. The first day began with a straight walk from our hostel to the beach, which was about 30 minutes by walking. Walking down the major streets in Barcelona was like something out of a dream. The first thing we saw walking out of the metro station was Gaudi’s famous monument – a fitting welcome to a city that is unlike any other.

Gaudi’s designs in Barcelona.

Truth be told, I’ve always felt a connection to Barcelona. There is something obviously beautiful about Gaudi’s architecture, but it isn’t just that. Catalan history is one that has always moved me, so much so that my inner Manchester United fan begrudgingly admits to feeling a clear bias in favour of FC Barcelona over its capital rivals, Real Madrid. There is something about the flag that speaks volumes to me, something about the good balance between enjoying life and being hardworking, and the beautiful landscape of Barcelona that make me love it in a way that isn’t love in a touristic way. I saw Park Guell, Camp Nou, Montjuïc, the beach, and everything in between, but my heart wants to experience them more. I would like to go back to Barcelona, but most importantly, I would like to go back to live there someday.

Barcelona from the top.

On the other hand, Paris gave me chills. The “city of love” dwarfs Barcelona in size, being incredibly large from one end to the other, particularly so for a European city. The amount of beautiful monuments to see in Paris is overwhelming – from the Louvre to Versailles, my artistic side was more than satisfied. Furthermore, to be able to say that I slept one block away from the Louvre is incredible, and something I will never forget. Being in the absolute center of Paris (the 1e arrondissement) was unbelievable, so much that it felt unreal until it was over. Paris is, though another large European city, absolutely nothing like Barcelona. The weather was the most obvious difference at first – Barcelona being sunny and warm, while Paris was gloomy and cold – but the differences in size, the atmosphere, and of course the language were amplified as I had gone from one to the next. Though I actually attended primary and secondary school in French, I didn’t feel much of a linguistic connection to the Parisiens. The worrying, scary, but slightly awesome part was that most times, as soon as I started to say something in French, I’d say or think something in Spanish instead!

Paris.

Regardless, Paris is incredible, and it’s obvious to see why it’s so visited. While Versailles was my favourite part of Paris (and not actually technically in Paris), the main city itself was beautiful in a regal and sophisticated way. Would I ever live in Paris? I could never say never, but I don’t see myself doing so. Besides the size being overwhelming (which would normally work in its favour, but I couldn’t imagine driving in Paris), I realized my personality isn’t suited to Paris. Forget about the stereotypes – being a French-speaking Canadian, I received much better treatment than Americans say they receive there – but it’s true that for some people (including me), Parisians aren’t the friendliest folk around. Being in Paris for a mere 5 days gave me a cold feeling, and not just in the weather-related way.

Brief moments of sun in Versailles.

While I never intended to compare the two cities, especially since both are incredible and extremely different, the comparison felt natural. Before moving to Spain, I knew I would have to see Paris. I ended up walking from it being blown away by it, but though I would love to travel to other parts of France, I currently have little desire to return to Paris. Barcelona, on the other hand, has been on my mind since I came home to Madrid. Maybe, for me, it really has it all? Maybe my mind will change should I ever visit Paris when it’s warm? In any case, both places were amazing in their own ways, and while I felt a more familiar connection to one, I feel blessed to have seen them both.

More photos below.

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11 thoughts on “The City That Has It All – Paris or Barcelona?

  1. I can empathise with that! A self-confessed francophile, I’ll never forget the moment I saw the Eiffel tower at night for the first time and 2.5 memorable days in Paris. But when I think of warmth, vibrance & colour – Barcelona wins hand down! Nice post and good luck on ‘settling’ in Barcelona 🙂

  2. This is such a silly column because anyone who has spent any time in both cities knows that it’s no contest. Paris is the capitol of Europe for so many reasons and Barcelona, as nice as it may seem on the surface, can never match that in any way. Barcelona is, and will always remain a provincial city that is a regional capital that through shrewd marketing has overinflated its pretensions into a balloon filled with more hot air than substance. I’ve lived in Barcelona for 22 years and have been to Paris 5 times and know from whence I speak.
    Let’s see….
    Paris and Art: the Louvre, the Musee d’Orsay, the Monet Marmottan, l’Orangerie, Grand Palais, Musee Rodin, Centre Pompidou, Petit Palais, Carnavelet, Versailles, Giverny….need I go any further?
    Actually, with the Louvre alone Paris has more great art than both Barcelona and Madrid put together, aside from the fact that Paris was THE capitol of Impressionism and all of the important artist of the late 19th and early 20th century lived there including any of the artists of that period in Spain, especially Picasso.
    Barcelona and Art: MNAC, Picasso Museum, Miro Museum, and not much else….slim pickin’s in comparison to Paris. Hell…in comparison to Figueras which has the Dalí Museum, worth 2 MNACs any day. How many dour Romanesque paintings or frescos can you look at anyway?
    Paris and Monuments: This ought to be obvious as the city is monumental in size in order to contain all the monuments of French history that it contains. Paris was the seat of French royalty through the ages and the home of the great kings of France as well as the site of the French Revolution, the reign of Napoleon and then the various Republics of France up ’til the present. How could it not be magnificent in size, appearance, and offerings.
    Barcelona: Did they have a revolution in Spain? Did they even have a democracy back then? Funny, how a burg can claim to be a world capitol when it isn’t even the capitol of a country. Paris is where Democracy first arose in Europe and that alone makes it historically more important than Barcelona could ever pretend to be. Yes Parc Güell is very nice but that’s about all there is and a city can’t ride the one-trick-pony, Gaudí forever and claim it is more than it is, i.e., the work of one man alone.
    Paris and world figures: Louis XIV, Louis XVI, Marie Antoinette, Robespierre, Rousseau, etc etc, Napoleon–Emperor of France and conqueror of most of Europe and North Africa. Gave us the Napoleonic Code and the Rosetta Stone. Madame Curie, Pasteur, Lumiere, Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, Eiffel and on and on with some of the greatest artists, thinkers, inventors, poets, writers, philosophers, etc in European and world cultural history.
    Barcelona and world figures: Aside from Dalí, Miró, Gaudí and Casals, who actually was there that is on a par with the people I just cited above? And they are just a handful of the hundreds one can mention who made France the center of culture is has always been. DeGaulle? Who in Barcelona history is even close to him in stature and importance. He helped defeat the Nazis and free France from occupation, while in Barcelona…..do you really want to go into what went on in Spain and Catalunya during WWII, lying as it does just over the border from what was Vichy France?
    Paris and Landscape: the Seine, that most romantic of rivers. Montmartre, the Tullieres, Champ-de Mars, Champs Elysees, Sant Michel, and all around you those Parisian buildings with their roofs that are so full of the essence and magic of the city.
    Barcelona and Landscape: Diagonal, Passeig de Gracia, las Ramblas, Tibidabo, Montjuic, the barceloneta, etc, but again it’s pretty, but small potatoes in comparison, and other than the Gaudí buildings and some Modernist buildings, the general architectural picture is not a pretty one in comparison to so many neighborhoods in Paris. Barcelona is a too small to be grand and too big to be quaint. And its politics are a big bore and just more of the delusions of grandeur that they have been smoking in their crack pipes for too long. All you hear about here is the Barcelona Brand, as they sell the city to any and all bidders at the expense of the average citizen who can’t afford to live in a place that has become a cross between a giant wax museum and a Hollywood set designers concept of a chic Euro capitol.
    Paris and Cemeteries: Pierre Lachaise, Montparnasse…eternal resting places to some of the greatest artists, writers, poets, playwrights and musicians who ever lived. People come from the world over to visit their tombs.
    Barcelona and Cemeteries: If there is even one world famous person buried in Barcelona, nobody is making a point of mentioning them nor is the cemetery where they are buried a tourist attraction of major importance. Dying here is a sure way to disappear into the shadows of history.
    To be remain important once you are dead you have to have been really important while you were living, n’cest pas? Barcelona has neither dead important people nor living important people who will become famous once they are mouldering in the ground. In fact there isn’t even a cemetery of any importance in Barcelona, and due to the lack of space everyone is cremated and stuck in niches. There are no grandiose tombs or mausoleums here and there is no one of renown buried in the floor of any church.
    What city can claim to be a world capitol with neither living nor dead figures of true world importance? The Pantheon and Les Invalides have more important dead historical figures than there are in all of Spain. Even London has more dead famous people in Westminster Abbey alone, than there have been in all of Catalan history.
    In sum, Barcelona is a nice place to live, but I wouldn’t want to visit there.

    • This is a really informative comment, one I enjoyed reading. However, I did mention that Paris actually dwarfs Barcelona, and that the comparison is a little ludicrous. All of it was just my opinions on each city, and which one made me feel more at home. I highly dislike cities that give you the feeling that you’ll never be one of its own, no matter how hard you try. Paris did that for me much more than Barcelona did, even though Barcelona is also too touristy. The key in all of it was that despite Paris’ monumental size and history, I wasn’t really all that sad to leave it. It’s more of an accessible area for an interested tourist. Also, while I didn’t think the people in Paris were the friendliest, I could understand their disdain for tourists. The city has way too many of them.

    • Very long comment you wrote.

      Just one simple question: who brought many exotic things from around the world into Europe? Correct! The Spanish! And Portuguese.

      France is cold, gimmick and nothing special.
      Spain is welcoming, warmth, generous, authentic, multicultural,..

    • Spain or France? My choice is Spain. Spanish will never go to France but French will move to Spain.
      Paris is gimmick. Paris is fake. Barcelona is authentic, generous, exotic, truly multicultural.
      Well if you want to talk about history, history of Europe in this western part isn’t that special as those in Eastern Europe such as ancient Macedonia and others. The history of Paris is dark and dirty, even Sofia, Bulgaria has better exciting history to tell to the world.
      Paris is city of love, culture, fashion,etc..? not correct! But Barcelona it is. I’ve never met most arrogant persons in the world but Parisians(i could had beat them with exposing things i have but i always knew the action isn’t worth it to react to those kind of persons, why should i lower/degrade my degree to these uncivilized parisien? Ignoring them is best answer, proactivity) but french at the border to Spain who mostly migrated to Spain are already part of Catalan and Spain and they’re just as most friendly as the rest of Spain.
      *my life experience in Europe being unknown/common civil, when they knew who i am they’d treat me differently as is all about status in Paris as same as in Jakarta*
      And i know very well that in very near future i will spend the rest of my life between Sumatra and Barcelona. 🙂 (even french in Sumatra could not behave too, in dutch i will say and also valid to french-belgian/wallonia : “ik heb heel hekel aan die fransen”).

  3. Spain or France? My choice is Spain. Spanish will never go to France but French will move to Spain.
    Paris is gimmick. Paris is fake. Barcelona is authentic, generous, exotic, truly multicultural.
    Paris is city of love, culture, fashion,etc..? not correct! But Barcelona it is. I’ve never met most arrogant persons in the world but Parisians(i could had beat them with exposing things i have but i always knew the action isn’t worth it to react to those kind of persons, why should i lower/degrade my degree to these uncivilized parisien? Ignoring them is best way) but french at the border to Spain who mostly migrated to Spain are already part of Catalan and Spain and they’re just as most friendly as the rest of Spain.
    *my life experience in Europe being unknown/common civil, when they knew who i am they’d treat me differently as is all about status in Paris as same as in Jakarta*
    And i know very well that in very near future i will spend the rest of my life between Sumatra and Barcelona. 🙂 (even french in Sumatra could not behave too, in dutch i will say: “ik heb heel hekel aan die fransen”).

  4. Pingback: Travel How To: When To Splurge, When To Spend | The Rooted Traveller

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