Enjoy the fascinating beauty and history of Barcelona with these popular titles sure to entertain.
Movies transport us to another time, while books tap into the limitless possibilities of our imaginations. And its no secret that beautiful cities all over the world like Barcelona provide the perfect backdrop for many of these stories.
Romantic corner cafes, dimly lit alleyways, awe-inspiring Gothic architecture, and vibrant festivals around every corner are just a few of the elements that make Barcelona so special. And the following movies and books each capture this city in such a way.
Maybe you had a trip planned to Barcelona this summer that never happened thanks to COVID. Or perhaps you’ve always dreamed of visiting the Catalunya capital and want to learn more about life here. Movies and books are the perfect vehicle to do just that – without ever leaving the comforts of home.
Although, I’m positive once you’ve finished any of these stories or films, you’ll be more anxious than ever to finally step foot in this incredible city.
12 Popular Movies and Books Set in Barcelona
The Shadow of the Wind
Contribution by Or from My Path in the World
‘The Shadow of the Wind’ is by far one of the most amazing novels that take place in Barcelona, and it’s actually one of the best-selling books of all time.
Taking place after the Spanish Civil War and looking back up until the early 1900s, this intriguing novel tells a story within a story. Daniel is a young boy who finds a mysterious book called ‘The Shadow of the Wind.’ In his journey to find other creations by the same author, Julian Carax, he unravels a story buried in time that involves love, death, and plenty of secrets.
Usually, books about Spain‘s Civil War and the times before and after it are considered historical fiction, but this one combines the story of this dark time in the country’s history with fantasy, mystery, romance, and so much more. It is so well-written, every single detail is important, and it sparks your imagination as no other novel does.
Not only is the book so fascinating that you can’t put it down, but the descriptions of the city of Barcelona are a huge bonus that makes you want to hop on a plane and explore these places. Those include Ramblas Avenue, Placa Reial, Mount Tibidabo, Montjuïc, and many more.
Once you finish devouring this incredible novel, dive into its three sequels: ‘The Angel’s Game,’ ‘The Prisoner of Heaven,’ and ‘The Labyrinth of Spirits.’
Barcelona by Robert Hughes
Contribution by Tom from Travel Past 50
Published to take advantage of interest in Barcelona just before the 1992 Olympics, Barcelona, by Robert Hughes remains 28 years later as the unique examination of the underpinnings of a vibrant city that the hundreds of guidebooks cannot begin to rival.
Hughes was the art critic for Time Magazine for 20 years, but his investigation of Barcelona goes far beyond the art and tells you of the history, the language, the politics, and culture which inform the art. Indeed, you can’t really understand what made Gaudí so great without knowing anything about Catalan national character.
Some highlights of the book include the history of this part of Spain going back to Roman times. Of particular note is the account of the scruffy beginnings of Barcelona as a refuge for army veterans, freedmen, and the original Iberian natives.
Hughes takes the opportunity to explain how the Catalan language developed separate from Castilian Spanish. (It came from a newer form of Latin.) And how the ban of Catalan by Spanish kings in the 18th Century and Francisco Franco in the 20th led to the resultant surge of the language as the symbol of Catalan difference.
To emphasize the Catalan language foundation for all that Barcelona has become, Hughes fills his book with translations of Catalan verse, popular song, local expressions, political and religious tracts, literature and folklore. Match those with the hundreds of illustrations of notable Catalan artifacts, as well as images of the prominent Catalans behind them, and you have an exhaustive and entertaining foundation for your informed visit to Barcelona.
Origin by Dan Brown
Contribution by Vicki from Vicki Viaja
Since I live in Barcelona, I was, of course, delighted when I discovered that my favorite author, Dan Brown – of the bestsellers The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons – was publishing a book set in my home city.
Not only Barcelona but also Madrid and Bilbao are mentioned in some of the book’s acts.
In the story, similar to The Da Vinci Code, we follow the symbology professor Robert Langdon, who gets caught up in a new exciting case. The fifth part of the series is mainly about the merging of artificial intelligence with our daily lives.
As is typical of Dan Brown’s books, while the story’s plot is fictitious, the facts on which the plot is based are real. In this way, while reading, you can learn more about Spain’s history and receive some interesting background information about important buildings in the city.
The book pays particular attention to Gaudí’s works Sagrada Família, Barcelona’s landmark, and Casa Milá, also known as La Pedrera, because some critical scenes of the book take place at those famous buildings. Moreover, Montserrat, which is one of the most popular day trips in Catalonia, is also mentioned in the plot setting.
Contribution by Steve from Ski Resorts Network
“L’Auberge Espagnole” is a 2002 French-Spanish film set in Barcelona and featuring a group of students on the Erasmus programme.
Xavier, the main character, has an office job already arranged for him in Paris when he finishes his studies. He decides to learn more about the Spanish economy and language and, leaving his girlfriend and mother behind, sets off for a year in the Catalan city, ending up in an international flat share with students from around Europe.
Anyone who remembers their first time living abroad when they were young will find echoes of that experience in the film. But, although it is a French comedy, the characters are not drawn in black and white and some of their behaviour is toe-curlingly awful.
Xavier, for example, uses outings to the Sagrada Familia basilica, the Parc Güell and the gondola across the port to romance the naïve wife of a helpful and unsuspecting acquaintance.
L’Auberge Espagnole has a deeper meaning in French than just a Spanish guesthouse, however. It is somewhere where nothing is provided and you must bring your own things with you (thus the English title “Pot Luck”).
As the heedless and sometimes silly students whirl their way through the months in the alleys, squares, bars and beaches of Barcelona they learn more about life and themselves and we realize that the film with its cryptic title is partly a love letter to the experience of living in a foreign country and, metaphorically, to the idea of Europe itself.
Contribution by Veronika from Travel Geekery
Biutiful is a drama film made in 2010 by the famous Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu. It stars Javier Bardem, my favorite Spanish actor. The film is all in Spanish, second one after Iñárritu’s debut Amores Perros a decade earlier.
The plot is rather heavy. Uxbal (Javier Bardem) is a single father of two, trying to get by in the underground world of Barcelona. His misfortunes are numerous and when he’s diagnosed with prostate cancer, he tries to do what he can to ensure his children will have somebody to look after them once he’s gone, since their mother, a prostitute and an alcoholic, cannot be trusted.
It shows the side of Barcelona most visitors fortunately don’t get to experience. If you pay close attention, you’ll be able to recognize some of Barcelona’s most famous streets and boulevards incl. Las Ramblas. The movie also shows Barcelona from above (at least once) and there’s a not-particularly-pretty shot of a Barcelona beach too.
Biutiful is a bit distressing movie to watch and I suggest you do so in the right state of mind, and focusing on the film-making and Javier Bardem’s excellent acting, for which he was awarded the Best Actor prize at the Cannes Film Festival.
Food of Love
Contribution by Paulina of Paulina on the Road
Food is love is a movie based on a male romance set in the world of music. The title of the movie depicts the seductive power of music. Created by a Spanish filmmaker, Ventura Pons, the movie shows the love between a young man and a famous concert pianist. It is the filmmaker’s first English-language feature. It follows a complex setting with a typical gay-romance theme.
If you are someone who loves romance paired up with heartbreaks, this movie is for you. I love this movie because of the authentic Spanish feel it gives.
You could see an eighteen-year-old, Paul as a music student who lands in a concert for his assignment. He meets a renowned pianist Richard Kennington at the concert whole working as a page-turner. The pair later bump into each other in Barcelona and their relationship begins.
The scene arouses questions in the mind Paul about his sexuality. But at ease with all the desires, Paul seems to be happy to being with his partner. But later their romance does come to an end. The script is full of coincidences, breakups, and patch-ups.
During scenes while in Barcelona, you could see them spending a good time together having Spanish food, like anchovies in vinegar, and enjoying each other’s company in Barcelona’s beauty.
Nona’s Room by Cristina Fernandez Cubas
Contribution by Ben from Driftwood Journals
Barcelona is one of those cities where nothing is ever quite what it seems. It’s modern but unfathomably ancient, it’s culturally progressive and forward-thinking but also steeped in history and tradition.
And this chilling collection of six Gothic short stories by Spanish writer Cristina Fernández Cubas reflects this duality with compelling female characters and chilling scenes driven by delight, delusion and outright despair.
Primarily set in Barcelona, with transportative sojourns back and forth between Madrid, Cubas lulls you into intimate tales of everyday Spanish life, of art galleries and theatres, sunstruck cafe terraces and elegant pisos.
But terrible plot twists and frenetic psychological intensity soon creep up to topple the status quo, inevitably concluding with dark and disturbing crescendos that leave your jaw (and heart) firmly on the floor.
The lines between reality and fantasy blur so that you, the reader, become as disorientated as the characters. You become the young girl driven to distraction by a burning jealous rage, only to be snapped out of it by a perspective and, indeed, life-shattering discovery.
While reading, you are the young woman down on her luck who gets far more than a taste of her own medicine while trying to hustle enough money together to pay her rent before being evicted. And you become that elderly lady who uncovers a wormhole back to the happier days of her youth, with nothing but a blossoming future to look forward to.
These are stories that straddle the realms of both reality and imagination, while allowing you to imagine and sense what it would be like to live in the Catalan capital yourself. Not as a tourist, but as a born and bred local. Albeit a local who’s going slowly, but surely, mad as a hatter.
All About My Mother
Contribution by Justine from Latitude 41
Pedro Almodovar’s films are character-driven stories that usually portray strong, resilient women, and All About My Mother is no exception. It’s a poignant movie that touches on issues like AIDS and transsexuality and has an overarching theme of motherhood.
It has an insane plot: Manuela lives in Madrid, and her 17-year-old son Esteban dies in a car accident in front of her eyes. Manuela goes to Barcelona to find her son’s father, who is a transsexual. The storyline becomes complicated, but the performances feel natural and the relationships feel real.
The film highlights a myriad of famous Barcelona monuments and streets: one is the tall Christoper Columbus Monument as Manuela whooshes by in one of Barcelona’s black and yellow taxis. Another is a panning scene of the Sagrada Familia by Antoni Gaudí – you see the fine details of the intricate Nativity facade.
Another scene is around the neighborhood of film character Alado, where you spot the colorful pillars of the modernist theater, the Palau de la Música. The iconic Teatro Tivolí also makes an appearance when Manuela goes to see a play. Other recognizable Barcelona locations are the streets of Carrer l’Allada Vermell, Carrer de les Caputxes in Born, and Plaza del Duc de Mendinacelli.
Released in 1999, All About My Mother won the Best Foreign Language Film for the Oscars and Best Director at Cannes Film Festival. The film is worth watching not only for the photogenic places in Barcelona but for its gripping narrative as well.
Cathedral of the Sea by Ildefonso Falcones
Contribution by Guillem from Feast of Travel
The Cathedral of the Sea is a historical fiction novel written by Ildefonso Falcones. Its theme circles around the building the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar during the 14th century in the quarter of “La Ribera” in Barcelona.
Santa Maria del Mar (Saint Mary by the Sea) is beautiful example of Catalan Gothic style which, despite of the novel’s name, is not actually a cathedral. This novel, although far less spectacular than its similarly themed The Pillars of the Earth, excels at transporting you back to 14th century Barcelona and gives you a glimpse of why this basilica was and still is a symbol of self-worth for the people of Barcelona (like myself).
Unlike the Cathedral, which was built with the king’s money and gifted to the high clergy, Santa María del Mar was funded by the quarter’s merchants and built by stone workers and seamen that transported stone from the quarry in Montjuïc. That is why it’s still considered the church of the people.
The story is centered on Arnau Estanyol, one of the stone carriers named “bastaixos” that helped in the construction of the church. Reading this book before a trip to Barcelona will really enrich your experience of the Old Town section of the city and especially of the quarter of La Ribera.
You will understand the structure of the quarter, the symbols on the stone and, most importantly, the meaning of the basilica. You can complement your visit by following this route through the Medieval quarters in Barcelona for a full time-traveling experience!
Homage to Catalonia by George Orwell
Contribution by Tom from Alone with Books
George Orwell is one of the most famous writers in the world. His novels such as Animal Farm and 1984 are recognized by everyone regardless of whether they have read them or not. What’s not as well-known about Orwell is that he fought in the Spanish Civil War that raged from 1936 to 1939.
Orwell wrote about his experiences in Homage to Catalonia, which details his time fighting at the front and his experiences in Barcelona too. After living in Barcelona for two years, reading the book was an eye-opening account of the role the city, and Catalonia as a whole, played in the war. It also explained why one of the squares in the Gothic quarter of Barcelona is named after Orwell!
The book is a critical analysis of the mundanity of war and Orwell doesn’t shy away from criticism of Barcelona either. He wasn’t fond of Sagrada Familia, Gaudi’s famous cathedral, referring to it as “one of the most hideous buildings in the world.” He was more fond of Las Ramblas, where his hotel was based, and which is one of the main tourist hot spots today.
Homage to Catalonia paints a different picture of Barcelona to the one you’ll find today. Reading it as a brilliant way to get a feel for the city before you visit.
End of the Century
Contrinution by Derek & Mike from Robe Trotting
End of the Century is a brilliant and award-winning film set in Barcelona. The thought-provoking movie begins with a casual tryst of two men visiting the city. One is a Javi, a former local who is in Barcelona to visit family and the second is Ocho, a poet on holiday from Argentina.
After spending a day together, they realize that they had met before in 1999, nearly 20 years prior. The two were deeply in the closet at the time, in fact they met through one of their former girlfriends.
Throughout the film, the audience gains insights to the struggles of coming out and forming a new life for both men who really began living at the end of the century in 1999. The incredibly relatable depiction is aided by the tremendous acting and chemistry of the film’s lead actors.
Viewers are also treated to the gorgeous skyline of Barcelona as the two men drink beers on a rooftop. Throughout their day together the city is a perfect backdrop with shots in museums, parks, streets of the Eixample neighborhood and scenes on the gay beach near Barcelona.
Overall, Barcelona is a perfect setting for the movie as it’s a popular tourist destination with a vibrant gay scene and community.
Vicky Christina Barcelona
Contribution by Soujanya from The Spicy Journey
Vicky Christina Barcelona is a 2008 Hollywood movie starring Scarlett Johansson, Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz and Rebecca Hall. The movie is set in beautiful Barcelona and showcases the artistic side of the city.
The plot is centered around Americans Vicky and Christina, who arrive in Barcelona to spend the summer at a friend’s place. Both friends have extremely different outlooks towards love – with one of them believing in the traditional institution or marrigae and the other being open to spontaneity, but also unsure of what she wants in life.
Soon, they run into the Juan, a womanizing painter, at an art exhibition. Thus begins a passionate romantic comedy / drama that involves a whole lot of food, wine, sightseeing, alluring landscapes and passionate, albeit a little crazy love affairs.
The plot gets even more interesting once Juan’s mentally unstable ex-wife Maria (played by Penelope Cruz) enters the scene.What would have been a normal love triangle (or quadrilateral?) becomes a notable movie worth mentioning merely because it is based in the ever so interesting city of Barcelona.
The characters’ wildly different personalities, their passion and the dramatic unfolding or events, combined with the charming sights of Barcelona and the city of Oviedo (in Northern Spain) makes an interesting watch.