I’d been so looking forward to visiting Barcelona which is the capital of Catalonia, one of the 50 Spanish provinces. Everyone I know who has visited the coastal city raves about its cosmopolitan and international vibe and especially for its world-renowned architecture and art.
End April, beginning of May was an excellent time to visit – warm sunny weather with a cool nip only in the mornings and evenings. Also because this is such a hectic tourist town, this was slightly ahead of the busy season and it made seeing the sights less chaotic.
You’ll be hard pressed to find a better, more-stylish bargain than the Barceló Sants Hotel. With direct access from the hotel to Sants central station we were easily able to take the metro all over the city. You would never have said we were staying above a busy station. The hotel has a funky outer space theme and the rooms are superbly designed.
The busy walking street, Las Ramblas, is where all the action is happening. You simply can’t visit Barcelona without making a visit to this popular bustling city street and we made walking part of it our first activity. We didn’t get very far before we were seduced by the beckoning of delicious foods at Mercado de La Boqueria. La Boqueria is a colorful open-air market filled with fresh and exciting delicacies and is a great place to grab a snack or a meal while wandering around the city. We were a bit like kids in a candy store trying to make choices. We chose some delicious tapas dishes of croquettes and tasty meat and prawn dishes. Worth visiting especially for the photographs but definitely not cheap.
We carried on wandering down Las Ramblas enjoying the antics of the street performers and listening to musicians until we reached Pl. Portal de la Pau and the 60m tall monument to Columbus.
We strolled along the waterfront promenade enjoying the sunshine and people-watching. The promenade was only fully developed in 1992, when Barcelona was awarded the Olympic Games.
From here we headed back into the old city. The Gothic Quarter is the center of the old city of Barcelona stretching from Las Ramblas to Via Laietana. It’s a fascinating area to walk through as many of the buildings date back to Medieval times.
Park Güell is a little off-the-beaten-track, but totally worth the effort to get there. You can take public transport most of the way to the park; then it will be about a 15 minute walk to one of the park’s many entrances. Take Line 3 on the metro and get off at either the Vallcarca or Lesseps stop. From there it’s still a stiff hike up the hill.
Overall this was the highlight for me in Barcelona. Because it is one of the most popular attractions, you need to buy your tickets in advance and then make sure you get there within 30 mins of that reserved time slot. We saw people being turned away that had tickets but arrived late.
We were so lucky to have incredible weather. Gaudi’s colourful mosaics and fairytale book gingerbread houses, were made for bright sunshine. We loved the sculptured tunnels and archways, the dramatic pillars and wandering through the gardens. It’s really worthwhile being able to take your time looking at all of the unusual and colorful sculptures and mosaics throughout the park.
Antoni Gaudi’s creation consists of an over-sized sea serpent bench and a mosaic dragon fountain to greet you as you enter the Park. Not surprisingly the park is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
From the terrace we had sweeping views of Barcelona all the way to the glistening blue sea.
After all the walking around we were dying to take a load off and have a relaxing lunch. I’d found a blog recommending an authentic eatery not too far from Park Güell and we headed up the hill to find it in el Carmel. What a joyful discovery. It was just what we felt like doing. Las Delicias, spills out onto the pavement and we sat in the sun with an enormous jug of Sangria made with cavé and citrus fruits. Ordering was a delight. Mostly we looked at what our neighbours were eating and said: “Ooh! One of those!” In this way we discovered the Most Delicious Patatas Bravas as well as amazing tapas dishes made with chorizo or calamari. Really everything we ordered was outstanding and we ended up going back the following day and would’ve probably gone the day after too, if they hadn’t been closed!
La Sagrada Familia
We had prebooked out visit to La Sagrada Família and set off early. La Sagrada Familia is an enormous Catholic Church, the first stone of which was laid in 1882. The construction was halted in 1926 when Gaudi died, but has since been recontinued with his style in mind. They say it could still take another quarter of a century to complete all the towers, which is astounding given how dramatically large it already appears.
We were disappointed that it rained on the morning our visit, so we were unable to access the tower that we had booked. The tower is open to the elements, and it would have been too dangerous. Our tickets for this part of the excursion were automatically refunded to our credit card. There was still more than enough to see both on the exterior of the intricately moulded building and the colourful interiors.
Because they were nearby, we wandered around visiting some of the other buildings that were designed by Gaudi:
Casa Milà, also known as La Pedrera (the stone quarry) It was built in the early 1900’s by Gaudí and has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984 for its uniqueness, artistic and heritage value. We had not pre-booked and decided not to join the lengthy queue – have to leave some things for next time!
Just a few blocks further via the lovely, tree-lined Passeig Gràcia, we also admired Casa Batlló.The roof of Casa Batlló resembles the back of a dragon. Its vibrant exterior displays colorful mosaic made from broken ceramic tiles, while bone-like adornments surround its windows. Thus, it is commonly called The House of Bones.
Las Arenas is a former bullring that has been transformed into a wonderful shopping centre. Spread over six floors there are shops, a fitness center, cinemas and several bars and restaurants within the beautifully restored facade.
The view from the roof top is especially great. You have a 360 ° view over the city and the Montjuïc hillside. There are some great restaurants on this uppermost level and we chose one for dinner, admiring the sunset and over-looking over the rooftops of Barcelona.
On our day of departure we were again delighted with full sunshine and we couldn’t resist a wander through the gothic quarter and then along the promenade towards the old Port Vell marina and onwards towards La Barceloneta. We walked down Pg Joan de Borbo and along Pg Maritim Barceloneta loving the variety of unusual statues and sculptures and watching people enjoying the beaches and the sunshine.
We admired the hundreds of yachts moored in Port Olímpic, before we headed up the Marina road, turned left and wandered via Parc de la Ciutadella to the magnificent Arc de Triomf.
Three days is just not sufficient to do justice to all that there is to be seen and experienced in Barcelona. Our stay gave us a taste of the spirit and atmosphere of the city. The Gaudi architecture provides Barcelona with both an iconic seriousness as well as a sense of playfulness.