Situated on the northeast coast of Spain, in the region of Catalonia, Barcelona is getting ready to host one of four summer X Games this year. More of a country in its own right, Catalonia has its own culture, politics and language, although Spanish is widely spoken, too.
Taking place in the Olympic stadium in the Montjuïc area, this is going to be one of the most visually spectacular X Games yet, with a bird's-eye view of the city and coastline. Better still, Barcelona is known as the skate Mecca of Europe, with endless places to rip around. Here's our guide to the classic spots.
Skate spots and places to hang out
MACBA -- Barcelona's renowned museum of contemporary art -- is a rite of passage for any visiting skater and a spot you'll recognize from countless skate videos. It has the smoothest surface, where one push can send you for miles. You've got ledges of different sizes and a nice three- and five-set of stairs, too. It's also one of the coolest spots to hang out and watch the world go by. You're officially allowed to skate there on Sunday and Tuesday evenings.
Paral-lel is a great place to hook up with the locals and just hang out. It has perfect cement blocks complete with metal edges for grinding, granite ledges and plenty of wide-open space to cruise around.
Located near the ocean, Forum has stair sets, benches and more ledges. There's also a relatively new skatepark featuring a half bowl, mini ramp, hips and grind ledges -- a great spot for ticket-free sessions.
A note on ticketing: Skaters in Barca are getting ticketed left, right and center these days. "It's a little messed up right now; I got ticketed two days ago," says Dave "Furti" M. Hellyer at Tactic skate shop. "If you skate a place like MACBA at midday, when it's busy with tourists, sure, there's a high chance you'll get ticketed," he adds, "so I skate late at night and no one hassles me." The takeaway here is about timing: Night-owl skaters are less likely to get slapped with a citation.
Be a tourist
With its mixture of ancient buildings and new architecture, the Gothic District (so called because it used to be the Roman Village) is a must-see. It's a winding maze of narrow streets, quiet squares, boutique shops and hidden alleyways that comes alive at night, with plenty of places to find a bite to eat or throw some shapes on the dance floor.
The Metro is great, but when a city is this rich in culture and atmosphere, you want to be staying above ground at all times. If you're not skating, rent a bike. Check out bornbikebarcelona.com; it's run by the friendliest guy ever and they offer guided tours of the city.
Antoni Gaudí, one of the world's most famous architects, is synonymous with Barcelona, and his mind-bending architectural legacy is definitely worth checking out. Start at Park Güell in the Gràcia district; this UNESCO World Heritage Site has one of the best views of the entire city. You can't miss the Sagrada Família, either. Under unceasing construction since 1882, this massive church will blow your mind with its melting, wax-candle exterior and intricate interior.
Places to stay
Hostel Sant Jordi Sagrada Família is Europe's first hostel specifically designed for skateboarders, and every aspect of this place takes inspiration from the Barcelona skate scene. Here you'll find a fully functional mini ramp and a history of skateboards that spans decades.
If you want some local knowledge, ask at the hostel for Duda Castro. He knows Barca like the back of his hand and can even hook you up with a skate map of the best spots. "Check out the Forum skatepark; it's a little hard to find, but you won't get hassled there," he recommends.
Places to eat
You'll hear people talk about La Rambla (or Las Ramblas) a lot. It is a 3/4-mile street that connects the main areas of Barcelona together and has lots of little streets running off of it. Everything can be found on these streets, and doing the tapas or pintxos trail here is practically a national pastime. Tapas are small plates of food, while pintxos (pronounced "pinchos") are tasty snacks affixed to a small piece of bread with a cocktail stick. They are found in pretty much every tavern or bar and cost only a few Euros, which means you can eat your way across town.
Some noteworthy establishments to check out: La Plata, at Mercè 28, Barri Gòtic, and La Boqueria Market, near MACBA, just off La Rambla. La Plata is a small local spot that serves up three dishes: deep-fried whitebait, tomato salad and Catalan sausage on bread. So simple, so amazing.
Amid the bustle of La Boqueria Market, look for El Quim. This standup bar has everything from wild mushrooms with a fried egg to fresh juices and smoothies -- or, if you're feeling really indulgent, doughnuts called churros that you dip into a thick, hot chocolate.
Got a sweet tooth? Then look up Gelaaati. It's the best ice cream in town and serves up your classics alongside more unusual flavors like chili chocolate or avocado.
X Games Barcelona
Don't get too distracted flitting about town; there's an X Games on! A full schedule covering all competition can be seen on the "Tune-In" tab here for those of you following the contest on TV, while those lucky enough to catch the action in person can plan their itineraries from the "In Person" tab. Don't forget to check out the X Games MUSIC schedule as well, available here.
See you in Spain May 16-19!