Spain: Barcelona

Barcelona is a city with strongly independent roots.  It might be known as Spain’s second city, but any resident of the city will tell you that Barcelona is second to none.  They have a fierce regional pride.  Barcelona is part of a region in Spain known as Catalunya, and many residents feel that they are Catalan first and Spanish second.  (Over the years, this strong, independent streak has gotten them into some trouble with the capital city, Madrid.)  The Catalan flag flies everywhere.  If you see the flag of Spain, invariably, there is a Catalan flag next to it (more often, you’ll see a Catalan flag but no Spanish one).  They have their own dishes, culture and even language.  Yes, I learned the hard way that while my Spanish could get me by in most of Spain, I could not understand anyone in Barcelona.  Despite all of this, however, I found the people of Barcelona to be just as friendly as anywhere else we went in Spain.  In fact, Barcelona was my favorite city in Spain.  Madrid comes in a close second.–I’m sure the Catalans would enjoy hearing that.

Photo:  Roof of Gaudí’s Casa Milà (also known as La Pedrera).

How long should you spend in Barcelona?

This is something I always ruminate over when planning a trip.  In this case, I would say that Barcelona merits a minimum of 2 days and 2 nights.  Three days would be even better, and you would not be bored.  However, in 2 days and 2 nights you can accomplish the major sights and feel like you covered the city’s highlights.  You could relaxed more and enjoy the city, the beach, and several good museums with more time, but you can definitely cover the major sights in that amount of time.  It’s really up to you and how you like to travel.  If you spend 2 days in the city, this is how I would spend them:

Day 1:  First thing in the morning, I would stroll down the Ramblas from Placa de Catalunya toward the water—it is much more enjoyable and less congested at that time of day (stopping at La Boquería market for breakfast).  Then, I would dedicate Day 1 to the Gaudí sights of Barcelona (more details on Gaudí later).  From down near the water on the Ramblas, I would hop the L3 Metro at the Drassanes stop (direction: Canyelles) and take it 3 stops up to Passeig de Grácia, see the Block of Discord and walk 3 blocks up from there to Casa Milà (also known as La Pedrera)–it is worth the admission cost just to get on the roof, and the apartment is interesting, too.  After that, walk back to the Passeig de Grácia Metro stop and take the L2 Metro (direction: Pep Ventura) 3 stops to Sagrada Família (exit toward Pl de la Sagrada Família, it’s right there).  Sagrada Família Church is probably the best site in all of Barcelona.  Book ahead if you want to get inside–highly recommended (see Sagrada Família info below).  Finally, take a taxi from Sagrada Família to Park Güell and wander around (about 8 euros for the taxi).  I would finish my day with tapas and a good pitcher of sangria–good recommendation under Food.

Day 2:  I would probably go back to La Boquería for breakfast in the morning (if you liked it and don’t already have breakfast included in your hotel rate).  Then I would walk around the Barri Gòtic Neighborhood–an easy walk from the market–and visit the Cathedral (free until 12:45pm, after 5 euros). From there, it probably depends upon the weather.  If it is a sunny summer day, I recommend spending some of your day at the beach. The sandy beaches were nice, and fine to relax on a towel (rental information under Beaches).  Otherwise, you could visit the Picasso Museum or do that in the evening if you visit the beach. I has the most extensive collection of his early, realistic works and an encompassing collection of his different periods, so if you are a fan, it’s a must-see.  Placa d’Espanya is worth a look if you have some extra time (the Monjüic Castle is over that way, as well).  I also recommend finding a good paella somewhere for lunch if you enjoy seafood.  In the evening, I would join the countless others on their paseo (walk) down the Ramblas which comes to life at night.

With a third day, there are countless other sights you could visit both within the city (Monjuïc, Placa d’Espanya, Catalan Concert Hall, Catalan Art Museum…) or outside of it on a day-trip (Montserrat, Cadaqúes, Gerona…).

Where to Stay

I personally like to stay where the action is in Barcelona.   The area around Placa de Catalunya is an excellent choice.  If you’re looking at a map I would say you could stay as far north as the Block of Discord (staying in the general area directly north of Placa de Catalunya and not straying too far east or west).  To the south, anywhere along the Ramblas until the Liceu Opera House is a good location (but any hotels directly on the Ramblas may have noise issues at night).  (Tip) I would NOT venture to the west of the Ramblas.  That is the Raval district and many parts of it can be sketchy, especially at night.  To the east of the Ramblas, however, there are serveral nice areas (that is where our hotel actually was), and I would say use the Cathedral in the Barri Gòtic as your boundary for how far east and south of Placa de Catalunya I would go.  I have outlined the general area in the map below (click on it for a closer view).

City Safety

  • Barcelona has a serious problem with pickpockets.  If you leave something in a pocket expect that it could be lifted without you even feeling it (especially in a back pocket).  Use inside pockets in jackets or things that zip closed.  If you go out to eat, do not put your purse on the back of your chair or under it (it has a way of disappearing).  You’re probably better off not carrying a bag at all if you can help it.  Be careful of distractions on the street, they usually are just that in order to pick off unsuspecting tourists’ money or passports.  Also stay out of the area to the west of the Ramblas–the Raval–especially at night.  I wouldn’t venture south of the Cathedral in the Bari Gòtec at night, either.  That all being said, I never felt unsafe in Barcelona.  Just be smart like you would in any city.

Getting from El Prat de Llobregat Airport to Downtown

  • By Bus:  I found the easiest and cheapest way to get into town was by taking the handy airport bus (Aerobus).  The Aerobus #A1 or A2 (named for terminal 1 & 2), stops outside the arrivals lobby of both terminals, taking you downtown in about 30 mins.  For the area I indicated in “Where to Stay” above, you would get off at Placa de Catalunya.   Tickets cost €5.65 each one-way (including luggage) and €9.75 round-trip (good for up to 9 days after purchase).  Buy ticket from machine or from driver—the line to board the bus can be very long, but moves quickly.  A1 runs every 5-10 mins and A2 runs ever 10-20 minutes (depending upon the time of day).  More detailed information can be found at:  www.aerobusbcn.com
  • By Train:  I suggest the bus over the train; it is easier to get to, runs more often, takes about the same amount of time ride-wise, and the train only runs from T2.  More information can be found here.
  • By Taxi:  Barcelona’s Airport is a little under 9 miles from any hotel in the area I pointed out above.  Taxis stands are located outside any of the main terminal exits.  The trip will take from 20-30 minutes depending upon traffic.  Expect to pay around €25-30.  Bags each come with an additional surcharge (€1, rates displayed in the taxi), and there is a €3.10 fee for airport pick-up or drop-off.  Only use official taxis (they are black and yellow).

City Transportation Options

  • Metro:  I took the Metro all over Barcelona.  It is cheap, easy, and runs to almost every location a tourist would want to visit.  Individual tickets cost €2, or (Tip) you can buy a T10 card for €9.25 which gives you 10 tickets (which can be shared) for half the price.  More information can be found at http://www.tmb.cat/en/home or a good metro map can be found here.
  • Bus:  I wouldn’t even bother with the bus in Barcelona.  If the Metro isn’t convenient to you, taxis are so affordable that you’re probably better off taking one of them (see below).  However, if you do take a bus, it takes the same tickets as the Metro (including the T10 Card).
  • Taxi:  Unlike many other cities in Europe, I enjoyed taking taxis in Barcelona.  The cab drivers did not try to rip me off (probably because they couldn’t); the Barcelona taxis come with a light on top showing which rate they are charging, so they can’t play with your rate.  The charge for getting in a taxi is €2 and then each km costs €1.10.  Traffic will incrase your rate, as well.

Photo:  Sagrada Familia Church, Skylight Above the Altar 

Food of Note

Meal Time
  • Barcelona arguably has the best food in Spain.  There are countless choices for both national and international dishes.  I will focus on what the local specialties are, but if you get sick of Spanish cuisine, explore what else Barcelona has to offer.  You’ll be surprised at the variety of delicious restaurants that fill the city from Italian to sushi to everything in between.
  • The Spanish operate on a totally different meal schedule than those of us in the United States do.  They typically eat their big meal of the day a little later than our regular lunch time (around 2pm).  You’ll find that most restaurants serve “lunch” from about 1pm until a little before 4pm.  Historically, the family would gather for lunch and stop their day (closing their shops or coming home from the office) to spend the afternoon siesta (break) together, and they would go back to finish their work day afterward (some of that is beginning to fade a little, but meal times seem to be remaining the same regardless).  Most restaurants do not even open for dinner until 8 or 8:30pm (most Spaniards eat dinner at around 9pm).  However, dinner is much less of an affair there than we make it out ot be.  Not wanting to eat a huge meal that late at night, the Spanish often opt for tapas.  (See below.)
Tapas
  • Barcelona is known for its tapas scene.  Tapas are small plates of food similar to appetizers.  Many times they can either be ordered as a plate (an order with several to share) or as an individual item (i.e. I’ll have one potato croquette).  Tapas come in all sorts of varieties, but some common ones I encountered were:  tortilla española (potato omelet), patatas bravas (fried potato pieces with a spicy red sauce), potato croquettes (filled with various things–I liked the ones with little bits of ham and cheese mixed in), jamón (ham, there are a million different kinds all varying in price), and queso (cheese).  There are also all sorts of salads, stuffed peppers, mini-sandwiches (bocadillos), friend fish–calamari is popular (calamares frito), shellfish–grilled shrimp is also popular (gambas al la plancha), and various specials of the day.  Some can get very creative; my absolute favorite special of the day I encountered in Barcelona was a zucchini flower stuffed with a sweet goat cheese and pine nut mixture very lightly breaded and fried.
  • Tip:  Ordering tapas can be tricky.  There are a variety of ways to get them.  The bars I liked most would allow you to get just one to try (pincho), then if we liked it we would order a few more or a half-ration (media-ración) which came with several.  We never ordered the full order size (ración)–which some bars push–because I enjoyed being able to try a lot of things rather than settling on a few (about 3-4 racións are enough for 2 people, sometimes less depending on what it is).  I also really liked sitting at the tapas bar as opposed to a table ordering off of a menu because you could see what your options were and point out what looked good to you.  It’s sometimes hard to decide if you would like something with the weak English descriptions provided in a menu (if they have an English menu–most do if you ask).

 

Photos:  Left:  A Tapas Bar and Some of the Many Selections; Right:  My Tapas and Sangria (both photos taken at Ciudad Condal, see suggestion below)

Paella
  • Paella is a Spanish rice dish made with saffron.  It comes with a variety of different ingreedients ranging from shellfish to chicken to chorizo (Spanish sausage) to some combining all 3.  You will often find peppers included, but there are a variety of vegetables that can be added to the dish.  My personal favorite had prawns, langostines, clams, calamari, peppers, carrots, and chorizo.  Many restaurants have their own special way of making the dish.

Photo:  My Paella at El Caldero in Madrid (see: Madrid)

Ham (Jamón)
  • There are so many varieties of ham in Spain that it would be impossible to count them.  The Spaniards view ham as a delicacy to be savored.  They can taste the minute differences between the different types and levels of quality.   Probably the most well known ham is Jamon Iberico (ham from Iberian black pigs that primarily eat acorns). It is absolutely delicious, but it is not cheap, either. 100 grams costs between 7 and 10 euros. We loved it, though (see La Boquería Market below for more info on where you can try this delicacy).  A cheaper alternative to the Iberian ham is Serrano ham.  You can buy that for about ½ the price, but if you like ham, try Jamon Iberico at least once.

 

Photos:  Left:  A Ham Shop in La Boquería Market (left); Right:  A Close-up of Some of Their Hams

Desserts
  • Nothing is better than churros con chocolate (churros with a cup of a warm, thick chocolate–like a hot pudding–for dipping).  If you don’t know what a churro is, it’s somewhat similar to a donut–only long, stick-like, and crunchier.  The ones served in the US often have cinnamon-sugar on them (you will not find that in Spain).  In Spain, they are served warm (best directly out of the fryer) often times with the pudding mentioned above.  A place that specializes in churros is known as a Churreria.  I had the best ones in Madrid, but Barcelona is known for the specialty, as well.  My husband and I found the chocolate to be very rich, so after the first time we tried them, we started having one of us order plain churros and one churros con chocolate and sharing the chocolate.
  • Spain is also known for flan (a custard dessert with caramel) and you will find ice cream (helado) shops most everywhere.

Photo:  2 Orders of Churros con Chocolate Taken in Our Favorite Churreria in Madrid (see: Madrid)

Drinks
  • My favorite drink in Spain was definitely the sangria (red wine mixed with fruit and sometimes other alcohols to create a punch-like drink) usually served in a pitcher (sometimes you have the option of a small pitcher–makes about 3 small glasses, or a large).  However, Spain also produces a number of good wines.  Two I enjoyed were Ribera and Rioja (both red).  Spain makes many good red (tinto) and white (blanco) wines, though.  My husband, who is more apt to order a beer (cerveza), was partial to Estrella (a light colored lager) which is brewed in Barcelona.  Our favorite tapas bar had it on tap (most bars in Spain have at least one beer on tap, however, they typically do not have the number we have become accustomed to in the US).

Tapas Bar Suggestion:  Ciudad Condal

  • Address:  Rambla de Catalunya, 18, Barcelona, Spain (just north of Placa  de Catalunya)
  • I asked the desk clerk at our hotel for a recommendation for tapas; it ended up being so good that we ate there 4 times while we were in Barcelona! We looked around at various other places, but this definitely had the most appealing looking tapas and atmosphere in the vicinity of La Ramblas.  We also found a lot of locals seemed to eat here which is always a good sign when in a foreign country. Our favorite tapas were the potato croquettes, the aubergine (eggplant) dish, the potato omelet, the brie covered with peanuts and strawberry sauce, and a special they had one day which was zucchini flowers stuffed and fried with what tasted like goat cheese, coconut milk and pine nuts. Everything but the eggplant could be ordered as an individual item or a dish with several.  The eggplant was an item we ordered off of the actual tapas menu–not from behind the case in the bar– and it was delicious (it was recommended to us).  I also saw that they had paella and other entree dishes that looked delicious, but we always stuck to the tapas and waited for Madrid for the paella (the place we went there was worth the wait, see: Madrid). They had good small pitchers of sangria (makes about 3 glasses), large pitchers, cheap beers and wine. The bar gets CROWDED, bu you can also sit at a table, and still get tapas or a selection from the bar (or from the menu–can ask for an English menu if needed). To get bar items for your table (good way to try one of a lot of things), you simply push your way to the bar after getting your table, tell them your table # (get from your server), and point our what you want and they will send it over.  I highly recommend it for a true tapas experience.

 

Photos:  Left:  Working Hard Behind the Bar, Right:  A Small Section of the Selection (see also: Tapas above)

Who is Antonio Gaudí?

  • It feels like everywhere you go in Barcelona you hear the name Gaudí.  Antonio Gaudí (1852 – 1926) was a Spanish artist and architect who was a part of the Catalan Modernisme movement.  Modernisme was a cultural movement brought on by a Catalan cultural revival.  It is best known for its influence on architecture. Gaudi’s work was inspired by nature and God; he experimented in various mediums including:  glass, ironwork and ceramics incorporating them into his architecture.  Gaudi’s footprint can be found all over Barcelona from his first work–the lampposts in Placa Reial–to Casa Milà, Casa Batllò, the Block of Discord, and Parc Güell (to name a few).  Gaudí’s final, culminating work is still under construction (and will be for some time), Sagrada Família Church.

Barcelona Sights

Sagrada Família Church

  • Sagrada Família was Gaudí’s culminating masterpiece, the epitome of modernisme.  He worked on it for over 40 years of his life, recognizing that he would never see its completion.  Gaudí left behind future plans for the church’s construction; unfortunately, many of them were destroyed during the Spanish Civil War.  However, Gaudí always understood that his plans wer only ideas and that future generations of architects would be influenced by their own style to some extent.  (You can see some of Gaudí’s surviving plaster models and other designs in the museum in the church.) The work on Sagrada Família is still in progress and will be for many years to come.  The earliest estimate for completion is 2026.  Even that date comes with a caveat that it may not be until 2028, and many feel even that date is unattainable.  Only time will tell.  In the meantime, you can visit the large scale construction project (and in the process, donate to the cause–your admission price goes toward construction costs).  Sagrada Família is the most visited sight in Spain, and for good reason–you’ll never see another church like this!

   

Photos:  Left: Church’s ceiling (made to resemble a canopy of trees); Center: Passion Facade (depecting Christ’s death); Right: Church’s crucifix over the altar

  • Major Tip:  Sagrada Família had a huge line that wrapped around the whole church when I visited.  Save yourself the stress of waiting in a long, hot line–book ahead.  I doubt I would have waited in the line there was when I visited (it must have been at least an hour long).   We cut the entire line to collect our tickets and walk right in—if you book ahead, just proceed to the exclusive entrance door located on the Passion door in Sardenya Street.  I had my confirmation printed out, and we just waved it to the person organizing the kiosks and they let us straight into the front.  You can book your tickets in advance online at www.servicaixa.com or rather than try to find it on the site, you can also click here to go directly to the booking page in English.  You will be required to select a timeframe at the time of booking.  You will then be able to enter during that one hour window.  Also, make sure you use a credit card that you will be bringing on your trip as you may need it in order to pick up your tickets (bring your printed confirmation with you, as well, on the day of your visit).
  • Admittance not only allows you to see the interior, but also, gives you an up-close look at the the church’s facade (there is a wrought-iron fence around the whole church which keeps non-ticket holders back a certain distance).

 

Photos:  Nativity Facade (left) vs. Passion Facade (right).  The Nativity Facade was the only one completed in Gaudi’s lifetime; it depicts the birth of Christ.  The Passion Facade (Christ’s death and ascension into heaven), is a stark contrast.  Both are dripping with symbolism explained by the audioguide.

  • Construction Note:  The church’s roof was finally completed in 2010 and it was officially consecrated by Pope Benedict in Nov of that year.  The exterior is planned to have 18 towers symbolizing the 12 apostles, the 4 evangelists, Mary, and Jesus.  (Only 8 of the towers are currently built.)  When completed, the tower’s height will correspond to their symbolic significance with Mary at 400 ft high and Jesus, the largest, at 550 ft (visible even from the ocean).
  • Hours:  Oct-Mar daily 9am-6pm; Apr-Sept daily 9am-8pm; Dec 25-26 and Jan 1 & 6 9am-2pm (last ticket sold 15 mins before closing)
  • Cost:  Tickets online cost €14.30 for adults, €12.30 for children ages 10-18, and are free for children under 10 (for “free” tickets for children under age 10, their tickets must be booked at the same time an adult tickets is booked–one discounted ticket per adult).  You can also book the ticket with the audioguide online for €18.30 for adults, €15.30 for children 10-18, and €4.30 for children under 10 .  I enjoyed having the audioguide and felt that it added a lot to the experience.  (It provides up to 70 minutes of commentary, but you can skip any stops you do not have interest in.)  If you purchase tickets at the gate, they cost €13 for adults, €11 for children ages 10-18, and are free for children under 10.  Audioguides cost an additional €4, and you purchase them after entering at a separate desk (that is also where you take your online tickets to collect them if you’ve prepaid).
    • If you prefer a tour with a real guide, Sagrada Família also offers 50 minute guided tours in English, also for €4.  These cannot be reserved ahead (book at the ticket office when you purchase your ticket or redeem it depending upon which method you purchased it).  They are offered at 11am and 1pm everyday throughout the year and at 12pm on weekends and June-Oct.  If you’re not sure which you’d prefer, you can wait until you arrive to decide by not purchasing the audioguide ahead–you can purchase one at a desk when you enter through the gate.
    • To ascend one of the towers for a view of the city, there is an additional €3 charge.  If you want to do this, also book it when you purchase or redeem your ticket at the ticket office because there is usually a long wait (you will be assigned a time).  Make sure the time they are offering you is ok with you–we decided not to do it because of how long the wait was.  In the event of high winds or heavy rain, the elevators may be closed.  Children under 6 are not allowed to go up to the towers, and children under 14 must be accompanied by an adult. Also, the towers are not considered handicapped accessible.  If you’re deciding between the two, remember that the Passion Facade elevator will take you both up and down, but the Nativity Facade elevator will only take you up (you have to walk all the way back down).
  • Location:  Sagrada Família Church is easiest reached by taking the Metro to the Sagrada Família stop (exit toward Pl de la Sagrada Família, it’s right there).  The street address is C/ Mallorca, 401.
  • Admin Stuff:  Plan to spend 1.5-2 hours here (or more) depending on if you do the entire audioguide, if you ascend the tower, and how many pictures you take (photography is permitted and there are SO many good shots to get both inside and out).  There is a check room for large bags (luggage), and wheelchairs are available for those who may need them.

Casa Milà (La Pedrera)

  • Casa Milà, nicknamed La Pedrera which means “The Quarry” for its uneven stone exterior, is a Gaudí-designed apartment building complete with the most fanciful roof you will ever see.  Constructed between 1906 and 1910, Gaudí seems to have challenged himself to see how few straight lines he could use on the project both inside and out!  Visitors can now see the central courtyard, top floor, attic and roof. The top floor has a finished apartment which shows what the complex would have looked like furnished at the time of its construction, and the attic houses an exhibition of Gaudí’s drawings, photos and models and videos of his buildings.  The roof is the highlight of the complex (and what makes the admission price worth it).  It is covered with 30 fanciful chimneys resembling what some say are medieval knights, some skeletons… everyone has their own opinion.  So see it for yourself and decide; it is truly an once in a lifetime experience. [Note: The headline photo at the top of this page is also of Casa Mila's rooftop.]

   

Photos:  Left: Entrance to Casa Milà; Center: The Courtyard from the Roof; Right: Staircase on the Bottom Floor of Casa Milà

  • Major Tip:  The line for Casa Milà can get very long, particularly in summer and on weekends.  Save yourself the headache, and if you know when you plan to visit, book ahead (you must select a time from the available options when booking).  It doesn’t cost much more to do this, and you can walk straight in past the lines (I found it to be worth it).  Tickets can be purchased at http://www.lapedrera.com/en
  • Hours:  Nov-Feb daily 9am-6:30pm (opens at 11am Jan 1); Mar-Oct daily 9am-8pm; Closed Dec 25 (last entry 30 mins before closing)
  • Cost:  Tickets online cost €15 for adults, €13.50 for students, €7.50 for children 6-12, and free to children under 6.  Tickets at the door cost €14 for adults and €11 for students.  I can’t currently confirm the charge for children 6-12, but expect about €1-2 cheaper than the online booking price.  Children under 6 free.  Audioguides cost an additional €4, and are not included in the price of online (or at the door) tickets.  While beneficial in helping to understand the sight–and I would definitely personally purchase one–if you’re trying to save money, I found the one at Sagrada Familia to be more worth the cost.
  • Location:  92, Passeig de Gràcia, in the Eixample district of Barcelona.  4 blocks up from the Passeig de Gràcia Metro stop or one block from the Diagonal Metro stop.  (Buses: 7,16,17, 22, 24 and 28 also run here)
  • Admin Stuff:  When it rains, the roof can be closed.  No flash photography inside, no tripods.

 

Photos:  Left: View from the Rooftop; Center and Right: Inside the Apartment on the Top Floor

Casa Batllò

  • Casa Batllò is another Gaudí-designed apartment complex (built 1904 – 1906) similar to Casa Milà.  While the roof is very nice, I would say the roof of Casa Milà is more impressive, however, the interior of Casa Batllò is more impressive than Casa Milà’s, and Casa Batllò is much more colorful both inside and out.  If you have to decide between the two (the costs can start to add up, and Casa Batllò is even pricier than Casa Milà), I would go with Casa Milà for the roof.  However, looking back, I wish I had spent the money and just seen both.  (As a side note, the price difference between Casa Milà and Casa Batllò is about €4, but with the Casa Batllò ticket, your audioguide is included.  The Casa Milà audioguide costs an additional €4, so if you plan to purchase one there, the price is technically the same.)
  • With your ticket, you can visit the entrance hall, building well (stairway), the former residence of the Batllò family, the loft (store rooms and laundry rooms), and the roof (more colorful than Casa Milà, but smaller—it’s supposed to represent the backbone of the dragon slain by Saint George).
  • Major Tip:  Like Casa Milà, there can be a long line for this site (it is hit or miss).  Tickets can be booked online (with this option, you proceed directly to a separate entrance), so if you plan to see it, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.  You can book online at:  http://www.casabatllo.es/en/
  • Hours:  Daily 9am-9pm (last entry 8:20pm); the site can periodically close at 2pm for private events, to check the events calendar, click here.
  • Cost:  €18.15 for adults, €14.55 for students, and free to children under 7, audioguide included in the price.  Booking online adds an extra €1.75 to the cost of each ticket (including children under 7 who do need a ticket to enter).
  • Location: Part of the Block of Discord – 43, Passeig de Gràcia; Metro: Passeig de Gràcia (Buses: 7, 16, 17, 22, 24, and 28 also run here)
  • Admin Stuff:  When it rains, the roof can be closed.  No flash photography inside, no tripods.

Block of Discord

  • Home to several mansions in the modernisme style; it was nicknamed the block of discord because it looks as if each is trying to out-do the other.  The most famous of these is Gaudí’s Casa Batllò (with the roof that looks like a dragon’s scales).  (See: Casa Batllò above for more information on touring it.)

Photo:  (from right to left)  Casa Lleó Morera (on the corner), Casa Batllò (scaled roof), and Casa Amatller (step-like roof)

Parc Güell

    • Parc Güell is a 30 acre garden designed by Antonio Gaudí.  It was originally intended to be a a planned neighborhood for the rich, but it never took off.  The park has some great views of the city, as well as many great designs by Gaudí.  It is a joy to hike and see what you can find around each bend.

Photos:  Left: View Over the Park and City from the Terrace; Center: Heading Up the Main Staircase; Right: Wave-Shaped Hall

  • Quick Layout Guide:  As you enter the park’s main entrance, you are faced with a grand double staircase with the park’s often photographed dragon fountain in the center.  In one of the the two whimsical houses you pass as you enter is a bookstore.  If you climb the staircase, at the top you come to a hall of columns.  As you continue, on your left is a long hall with a wall that slants like a cresting wave (fun photo spot).  On top of the columns is a terrace with a bench that wraps around it.  Sit and relax for a few, there are pretty views of the city and the park from up there.  From there, you can wander upward through the park.  The higher you go, the better the views get (with the best views from way up top where you see the cross on the hill–a long hike up).  Throughout the park, you will encounter Gaudì additions that blend with nature in a perfect balance.  The pink house you encounter up in the park is the house Gaudì lived in for many years.  It’s small, and probably not worth an entrance fee to see it, but you can Apr-Sept 10am-8pm and Oct-Mar 10am-6pm.
  • Hours:  Daily 10am-8pm
  • Cost:  Free until Oct 25th, 2013.  After that, they will begin charging for admission.  Tickets can be booked online at: www.parkguell.cat/en/buy-tickets/individual-purchase for €7 for adults, €4.90 for visitors 7-12, and free for children 6 and under and adults 65 and older.  Tickets can be purchased at the site for €8 for adults, €5.60 for visitors 7-12, and free for children 6 and under and adults 65 and older.  I recommend purchasing ahead since those without reserved entrance will only be admitted as space is available.
  • Location:  Carrer d’Olot, 16.  The closest Metro stop is Vallcarca which is a 0.6 mile walk from the entrance gate; the Lesseps stop is a similar distance (0.7 mi).  The best way to get here is to take a taxi (very affordable).   We took one from Sagrada Família and it cost us €8 including tip.

Photos:  Left: Grand Staircase as Enter the Park; Center: View over the Park; Right: Terrace Above the Park

Picasso Museum

  • The Picasso Museum of Barcelona houses the most extensive collection you will find anywhere of his early, realistic works.  With over 3800 of his works making up the permanent collection, there is plenty to see.  The museum has a particularly good selection of his Blue Period and the Las Meninas series is a high point.  Collection highlights can be viewed here.
  • Major Tip:  Like many of the other major sights in Barcelona, the Picasso Museum can have a huge wait to get in.  Be prepared to possibly wait 1-2 hrs during the free entry times mentioned below during peak seasons.  It may be worth it to go during a time you need to pay for entry (less crowded, less lines).  To skip the ticket buying lines altogether, you can also purchase tickets through the museum’s website http://www.museupicasso.bcn.es/en/ for no additional charge, but you must select a half-hour entrance window.
  • Hours:  Tues-Sun 10am-8pm (access to the rooms ends 30 mins before closing); Closed Mon except certain holidays (In 2012, Open: Apr 9, May 28 & Sept 24); Closed Jan 1, May 1, June 24, Dec 25 & 26
  • Cost:  €11 for adults, €6 for visitors under 25 or over 65, free to children under 16, large families qualify for discounts.  Free Sun after 3pm, Free 1st Sun of the month all day; all tickets include temporary exhibits.  €3 for audioguides which describe 40 of the works on permanent display, or you can print out the museum’s recommended tour through the permanent collection and take it with you here.
  • Location:  Montcada 15-23; The closest metro stop is Jaume I (it’s only a 3 min walk–walk west down Carrer de la Princesa and make a right onto Montcada)
  • Admin Stuff:  Photography is not permitted.  Fully handicap accessible.  Backpacks, large bags and umbrellas must be checked. 

Ramblas

   

Photos:  Left: The Ramblas; Center: Bottom of the Ramblas; Right: The Columbus Monument

  • The Ramblas is the most famous street in Barcelona.  During the day it is a breezy, shaded lane you can find various vendors lining, making an ideal, lazy stroll down to the shore.  At night, it comes alive with tourist crowds and locals alike (and pickpockets, be careful).
  • The top of the Ramblas is capped with Placa de Catalunya, a lively square (see: Placa de Catalunya).  If you head about halfway down it, you come to La Boquería Market, a great place for a snack (see: La Boquería Market).  About 2 blocks down from there on the same side, you come to the Liceu Opera House.  At the bottom of the Ramblas is the Columbus Monument.  Past that, along the water is La Rambla del Mar with a shopping mall and an aquarium (marked by the wave-shaped wooden beams).

   

Photos:  Left: The Ramblas; Center: La Rambla del Mar; Right: Boulevard Along the Water

La Boquería Market

  • La Boquería is a little bit of the country inside of the city.  It is a huge produce market with everything from fruits and vegetables to cheeses and meats to breads and sweets.  There are also places where you can order prepared food and eat at the counter.  I strongly recommend stopping here for breakfast if your breakfast isn’t already included in your hotel rate.  It is a lot cheaper than the hotel breakfast, and you can get anything you could possibly want from an omelet to fruit salad or freshly made juice, a cappuccino, breads, pastries, cheeses, meats, etc.  If you want to  make a picnic breakfast or lunch from all of your options, there is a little area with tables and chairs to sit and eat your purchases while watching the action.

 

 Photos:  Left: Entrance to La Boquería; Right: One of the Fruit Stands

  • We tried Jamón Iberico there (ham from Iberian black pigs that primarily eat acorns). It is delicious!  The Spaniards love their ham, but it is not particularly cheap (see Ham above).  There are many locations you can buy this, but there was a place that had it pre-packaged in 100 gram packages (which makes language barrier issues easier).  to get there, when you walk into the market itself, go all the way to the wall along the left-hand side and there is a shop that had pretty much all pork–we got I there. We then just got some nice rolls from one of the bakery stands and some cheese from a cheese stand and had a great little picnic breakfast. (You can do the same with Serrano ham for about ½ the price, but if you like ham, try Jamon Iberico at least once.)
  • If that’s not what you’re looking for, try an omelet or another specialty from one of the counters, they have breakfast and lunch specials to choose from, as well.
  • Hours:  Mon-Sat 8am-8pm, Closed Sun
  • Location:  Rambla, 91 (if you’re walking down the Ramblas toward the water it’s on your right, a block past Carrer del Carme)

   

 Photos:  Left: One of the Meat (Ham) Stands; Center: Our Breakfast We Put Together; Right: Some Shellfish in the Fish Section

Placa de Catalunya

  • The city’s center square sitting at the top of the Ramblas.  Four of the major boulevards of the city originate from here; my favorite is Avinguda Portal de l’Angel, a pedestrian-only street with some cute shops and restaurants.

Barri Gòtic Neighborhood

  • This section of the city has an interesting mix of 14th and 15th century buildings and modern-day luxury (restaurants, bars, shopping).  It also holds one of my favorite little streets, the Avinguda Portal de l’Angel.  It’s pedestrian-only and slightly less touristy feeling than the Ramblas (in my opinion).  Don’t wander too far south past the Cathedral, though.  That area can be deserted and unsafe feeling at night.

Barcelona’s Cathedral

   

  • Official Name:  Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia
  • This huge, 14th century church was under some construction when we visited, but still worth stopping in (make sure you go during the free hours).  Its stony shade is also a welcome break from the summer sun.  In the cloisters you will find the famous geese (kept because they would honk in warning to signal if there was a disturbance at night throughout the church’s history).
  • Hours:  Daily 8am-7:30pm
  • Cost:  Free 8am-12:45pm (1:45pm on Sun); €5 12:45pm-5:15pm (from 1:45pm on Sun)
  • Location:  Plaça de la Seu, Barri Gòtic
  • Admin Stuff:  Follow the dress code or you won’t be admitted (no tank tops, short skirts or short shorts); Photos permitted.

Placa d’Espanya

 

  • One of the city’s most important squares.  The two Venetian Towers lead the way toward the National Palace which houses the Catalan Art Museum.  The round, arena-shaped building is a bull ring that has been converted into a shopping mall (Arenas de Barcelona).  (Metro:  Pl. Espanya)
  • The Magic Fountain (located in front of the Catalan Art Museum) comes alive on select nights spouting water sky-high accompanied by music and colored lights.  It runs May-Sept on Thurs-Sun 9pm-11:30pm and Oct-Apr on Fri & Sat 7pm-9pm (20 mins on, 10 mins off).

Catalan Art Museum

  • Located in the National Palace, it covers Catalan art over the course of about a thousand years.  I personally found the building the most interesting aspect (it’s quite massive).
  • Hours:  Tues-Sat 10am-7pm; Sun & Public Holidays 10am-2:30pm; Closed Mon (except public holidays) and Jan 1, May 1, & Dec 25 (last ticket sold 30 mins before closing)
  • Cost:  €10 for adults (valid for 2 days), 30% off for students & families of 3 or more, Free for those under 16 or over 65.  Temporary exhibits have an additional charge.  The museum is free to everyone the 1st Sun of the month and Sept 11, Sept 24, & May 18.
  • Location:  Palau Nacional (National Palace)- From Plaça Espanya, go along Avinguda Maria Cristina and up the escalators (Metro: Pl. Espanya).
  • Admin Stuff:  Photography is limited in some locations (no flash, no tripods) and forbidden in others; look for signs.  Additional information can be found on the museum’s website:  www.mnac.cat (select English from the left menu bar)

Monjüic Castle

  • Resembling more of a fort than a castle, the site is worth a look if you have some extra time.  It provides some good city views (I got what I felt were just as good of ones from hiking around Parc Güell).  The sight also has an interesting history, though, having hosted numerous executions throughout the years and housing various politicial prisoners.
  • If you do decide to visit, you can take a taxi (about €8 depending where you are coming from), you can take the cable cars from the port (a little pricey), or the funicular from the Paral-lel Metro Station–or in my opinion actually easier (if you’re in shape) walk up the hill (a little steep, but very do-able in about 10 mins from Placa d’Espanya–use the outdoor escalators to save some of your energy.  If you’re already in front of the National Palace, it isn’t far.  Also, the 1992 Olympic Park resides in this same area if you’re interested in seeing it.

Catalan Concert Hall

  • Spanish Name:  Palau de la Música Catalana
  • Constructed 1905-1908, the Concert Hall is yet another opportunity to view a Modernisme interior whether at one of its many concerts or on a guided tour.  The interior is stunning, particularly the auditorium.
  • Hours:  Daily 10am-3:30pm, English tours are offered once per hour.  Tours last 55 mins.  Because this is a concert hall, tour schedules can change to accomodate performances.  You need to buy your ticket in advance (preferably a few days).  It looks like you can now buy your tickets online up to 4 months in advance, however, I have yet to be able to get the link to work properly.  Additional information can be found on their website at:  www.palaumusica.org (English option top right)–online booking information under “Guided Tours.”  You can also find the performance schedule and ticket sales here.
  • Cost:  €15  for adults & €7.50 for students and seniors.
  • Location:  Carrer del Palau de la Música, 4; Metro: Urquinaona (Also Bus: 17, 19, 40, & 45)

Beaches

  • The sandy beaches of Barcelona were nice, and fine to relax on for a few hours.  From here, you can see Frank Gehry’s famous Fish sculpture (in the background of the pictures below).
  • Cost:  Getting on the beach was free, but  if you want a seat, it will cost you.  When we were there, for 2 chairs it was €10 (€5 each) and a shared umbrella was €6 (all day use, no ½ day price). Unlike a lot of the pebbly beaches in Europe, these were sandy (and man-made), so we had no problem just relaxing happily on our towels in the sand for free.

  

Some (of Many) Side Trips in a Nutshell

  • Montserrat:  Probably the most scenic option for a day trip outside of Barcelona.  The monastery of Montserrat sits dramatically on top of the mountains and holds La Moreneta (a statue of Mary famous throughout Spain).  The train from Placa d’Espanya in Barcelona to Montserrat (at the base of the mountain) takes about an hour (trains run about once an hour).  Tip:  Let them know you want to take the cable car to the top when you buy your ticket (you have to purchase your mode of transportation up the mountain with your ticket).  It runs more often than the other option and the views are prettier on the way up (be sure to check the departure times on the trains and give yourself enough time to wait in line for a cable car and take it back down.
  • Cadaqúes:  A sleepy shore town outside of Barcelona that Salvador Dalí lived in for many years.  It is a picturesque fishing village and a pleasant break from the city. You can also tour Dalí’s home if you visit.  A main reason the town is not swarming with tourists is that its not on the train line, and buses are difficult to take here for a day trip.  The best way would be with a rental car (figure about 2 hours if there isn’t traffic).
  • Girona:  The town of Girona sits along a river with an interesting, compact old town.  Part of the old town wall and towers still stand; the Cathedral and its facade are also worth a look.  Wander the town and be sure to stop by the Plaça de la Independència (a popular square and a good spot to take some photos).  The train ride from Barcelona Sants to Girona takes a little over an hour.

Comments

  1. J Parker says:

    Such a helpful, useful site! Thank you! I look forward to walking in your footsteps in Barcelona.

  2. Sherry Green says:

    Great site! This will be very useful as we plan a few days in Barcelona before a cruise in September 2013. BTW, the cruise returns on the 24th. Should we plan to stay that night also to partake of the festival?

  3. Shari Simone says:

    Wow Megan awesome site! Looking forward to experiencing Barcelona next week well armed with all these great tips!

  4. Hello! I was wondering if you were able to visit the Dali museum at all? I really want to make a day trip there but I’m not really sure if I should do it using those tour groups or just go on an excursion of my own.

    • We did not, but it looks like a relatively easy day trip to do on your own. It’s a 53 minute train ride on the AVE (high speed) train from Barcelona-Sants station to Figueres. You can see the schedule/ purchase tickets on http://www.renfe.com The museum is a 15 minute walk from the station (there are signs posted from the station). You may also want to look into visiting Girona as a part of your day trip. It’s on the same train line (should be the only stop between Barcelona-Sants and Figueres), and is only a 13 minute ride from Figueres to Girona’s station (plan tickets accordingly if you do). I recommend getting to the Dali museum early since it can get very busy (it opens at 9am July 1-Sept 30), then departing shortly before lunch and enjoying lunch and some time in Girona before heading back to Barcelona (if you’re not in a rush).
      If you do go to Girona, be sure to check out the Cathedral, the gardens of the Passeig Archeologic, some of the main squares (Plaça de la Independencia, Plaça del Vi and Plaça de la Catedral), and the Jewish quarter.
      It’s up to you on if you want to join a group. We typically enjoy flying solo more, but it depends on if you don’t mind getting a little organized ahead of time to make your day go smoothly. This one looks relatively easy on your own.

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