1. Park Güell, 2. Casa Batlló, 3. Sagrada Família,
Barcelona is a vibrant city; having only visited Baltic/Scandinavian/Eastern European countries I had become accustomed to the colder demeanour of Europeans, but I found Spaniards to be warm-hearted and friendly people. For example, the waiters/waitresses weren’t pushy trying to get you into their restaurants, or didn’t expect a tip at the end of the meal, but were appreciative when they got one!
Barcelona is my first stop on an almost 3-week trip through Spain. The city is brimming with beautiful, contemporary boutique shops filled with hand-made clothes and accessories, delectable food, and rich history.
Despite spending four days in Barcelona, I don’t feel like I’ve been able to see everything I wanted. I would recommend a minimum of five days here; I wish I had four days in the city to explore all the sites, visit museums, have more shopping time, and time to just sit, drink sangria, and “people watch” at the restaurants. Plus a day or two for a day trip from Barcelona. I’m happy though, because my short visit means I’ll have to come back again!
4. Arc de Triomf, 5. Street view on the way to Arc de Triomf, 6. Park Güell, 7. Barcelona Cathedral,
What to do:
- Walking tours: I always like to do a walking tour on my first day in a city to get my bearings and learn the history. I went on Sandeman’s Free Walking Tour of the Gothic Quarter. They run multiple tours throughout the day.
- I also went on Runner Bean’s Gaudi Free Walking Tour. This took you to Gaudi’s most famous works such as Casa Milà, Casa Batlló and La Sagrada Família, which was valuable as the guide explained all about the architecture of the buildings. I would have liked the tour to include Park Güell and hear them speak about the park as it is one of Gaudi’s most iconic works. But that is my only constructive comment.
- There was also another tour I didn’t do by Runner Bean, The Dark Past Night Tour which was about the Spanish Inquisition which started at 9pm for 16€.
- If there is a choice between Runner Bean or Sandeman’s I usually opt for Runner Bean because it isn’t as well known so there are usually smaller crowds on the tours. The tour guides are enthusiastic and passionate- possibly because the tours are tip-based so they may not be able to eat for the next week if they don’t make enough on the tour- but nonetheless, I appreciate the attention to detail they provide.
- Gaudi’s architecture: You can go inside Casa Milà, Casa Batlló and Sagrada Família. Each of these costs 20+ euro so we opted to not go inside any of them due in part to the cost and not having enough time to do everything. If I were to have chosen to go into some of the sites, I would have picked Casa Milà and La Sagrada Familia. All of these works are breathtaking. The attention to detail, the colours, the sculptures- you’re left standing in awe questioning how someone could design so many beautiful buildings!
- Park Güell: Instead of going inside Gaudi’s buildings, we chose to go to Park Güell. This felt like you were in a magical fairyland with ginger bread houses and colourful, swirling mosaics all around you. This cost 7,50€ if you book online, or 8,50€ if you purchase tickets at the park.
- La Rambla: I am sure you will end up walking down here accidentally as it is one of the main streets running through Barcelona. It is the busiest/most touristy spot in Barcelona, which left me feeling a little overwhelmed by the hoards of people surrounding me. The buildings on either side were nice, and there are lots of restaurants to eat at, but this isn’t on my must do’s in Barcelona.
8. Palau de la Música Catalana, 9. Drawing Picasso drew on a napkin and is in a main square,
- Arc de Triomf: This is a big monument, surrounded by a park. I suggest having an ice cream or bringing a packed lunch to eat around here! The walk to and from here is filled with beautiful balconies jutting out of colourful buildings, which are my favourite.
- Museums: There are many incredible museums in this city! I went to the Museu Picasso. The museum doesn’t have all of Picasso’s most famous works, as they are spread out across the world in other museums, but it had a lot of his earlier works which I hadn’t seen before. What I found particularly amazing about this museum is that most people think that Picasso was only excellent at cubism, but this museum displays his excellence in almost all areas of art. I spent over an hour perusing the museum.
- I would have loved to go to Fundació Joan Miró and Palau Nacional.
- Churches: The two churches in the Gothic Quarter are the Barcelona Cathedral and the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar.
- Palau de la Música Catalana: Even if you don’t go inside, the outside of the building is spectacular. It was designed in Catalan modernista style by the architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner. A guided tour costs 20€.
- Day trips: I went on a guided tour to Girona and the Dalí Theatre and Museum (I made a separate blog post here). Another popular day trip is to Montserrat.
10. Beautiful building, 11. Park Güell, 12. View from the top of Park Güell, 13. Casa Milà,
Catalonia was once an independent region of the Iberian Peninsula, modern day Spain and Portugal. It had its own language, laws and customs.
1715 saw the birth of modern-day Spain, and the kings tried to impose Spanish language and laws on the Catalan region to no avail, so they abandoned these attempts by 1931. However, General Franco set out to destroy Catalan separatism and in 1938 took control of the region.
After years of being ruled under a dictatorship, Spain became a democracy in 1975, and in 1977 the Catalan region was granted some autonomy.
In 2006, the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia was passed, which was a law approved by Spain’s parliament, then ratified in a referendum by Catalan voters. Almost immediately, the Popular Party, the centre-right group that now governs the country, challenged this statute before the Constitutional Court.
The court took four years to decide its answer; “The interpretation of the references to ‘Catalonia as a nation’ and to ‘the national reality of Catalonia’ in the preamble of the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia have no legal effect.” So, calls for complete independence came to a halt in July 2010.
Catalonians call for a separation from the rest of Spain is mostly attributed to the economic crisis; Barcelona sees itself as a wealthy region through its own adept economic decisions, as opposed to the poorer regions throughout the rest of the country.
In September 2017, Carles Puigdemont’s party held a binding referendum on the independence for Catalonia, but Spain’s constitutional court suspended the process. The Catalonians held the vote anyway. Resulting in violence inside and around polling stations. Catalonia said 2.26 million votes had been counted, with 90 per cent in favour of independence.
Eight members of the Catalan government were jailed over the declaration of independence, some still waiting be freed. Around Barcelona and Catalan cities supporters of the separatist movement place banners outside of their apartments, along with yellow ribbons which signify the desire for Spain’s release of the political prisoners.
14. Plaça Reial, 15. Park Güell, 16. Palau de la Música Catalana,
- Airport: If you are going to the main streets of Barcelona from the airport and looking for the most cost-efficient way to get there, take the Aerobus. It is 5,99€ and makes a few stops, ending at Playa Catalunya. From there, there will be taxis waiting to take you where you need to go or try and connect to their free wifi to put in your walking directions if you don’t have data.
- Water: When you ask for tap water, they often say they don’t have it, but be persistent! Saving money on water adds up!
- Water: The tap water perfectly safe to drink. I filled bottles up the night before and put them in the fridge so they were cold the next day.
- Theft: Be careful of pickpockets, especially on the subway. Hold onto your bag.
- Food: Average price of a meal from a restaurant is 10-15€.
- Alcohol: A jug of sangria ranges between 15-20€.
- Museums: In general, the museums/Gaudi attractions are very expensive in Barcelona; starting at 20€ per person. Try to organise your trip so you can snag a few free museum entries!
- Picasso: Picasso museum is free every Thursday night after 6pm. Book ahead or you won’t get in.
- Gothic Quarter: Some museums in the Gothic Quarter were free the first Sunday of each month, and after 3pm on Sundays.
- Park Güell: For Park Güell you’ll need about two hours here. Book your ticket in advance, as all the tickets appeared to be sold out for the day by the time I had arrived.
- Espadrilles: After travelling to 8 different cities throughout Spain, espadrilles appeared most commonly in Barcelona, and Mallorca. I bought mine from Toni Pons.
17. Park Güell, 18. Streets of the Gothic Quarter, 19. By the Port
- In Barcelona, the most common language spoken is Catalan, followed by Spanish.
- Most people spoke English- although it is nice to know a little Catalan or Spanish to get around and make the locals appreciate your efforts.
- Even just saying “Hola” and “Gracias”, instead of “Hello” and “Thank you” goes a long way with the locals.
20. Casa Batlló, 21. Government building
Where to stay
I stayed in the El Born area, just outside the Gothic Quarter, which is where the main attractions in Barcelona are situated.
The accommodation was BCNGOTIC Apartments booked through booking.com or Airbnb; the apartment was beautiful and I definitely recommend staying here! It was big enough for three people, with two rooms, a kitchen and living room that looked out onto the main street. An added bonus was that even though it was right in the middle of the city, the apartment was very quiet! Conveniently situated, it sits two minutes by foot from a subway station and the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar. The street is lined with chic boutique shops and cute restaurants.
If you like the look of this accommodation, you can book through this link and I will get some money towards my next accommodation.
22. Park Güell