This past June Kevin and I spent a quick three days wandering the Catalan streets of Barcelona, and it was glorious. I had previously visited Barcelona on my own a few years ago and was itching to go back. Barcelona is full of nice, tan, beautiful Spanish people who speak in amazingly sultry voices when they pronounce “Rrrrrebecca” (you know you’re smitten when you go to Starbucks just to have a Spanish person call your name out). Combine that with the blazing sun, the Mediterranean beaches, and art every way you turn your head and, in my opinion, you have a perfect vacation. Actually, if you’d rather just skip the rest of this blog post, I’ll summarize it for you: eat (ice cream and tapas), drink (sangria and cava), and walk around in the sun.
Where to stay & how to get around
The hostel I most recommend in Barcelona would be Sant Jordi Gracia. Sant Jordi is a chain of hostels, but I’m particularly fond of their Gracia location, since it’s new, super clean, and has a great atmosphere. It’s a teeeeeeny bit removed from the core of Barcelona but it’s only a five minute metro ride to Las Ramblas and a short walk to Sagrada Familia plus Gracia is an amazingly little barrio on its own!
Barcelona is a fairly walkable city – it’s not huge and a lot of the sights are walkable to each other. If you can stand the heat I recommend walking as much as possible because you will pass Gaudi buildings and other works of art that you could possible miss if you just took the underground all the time.
However, Barcelona also has a great Metro system. Kevin and I picked up a T-10 card which costs €9.95 and is valid for ten single journeys on the metro. It’s transferrable, so since we weren’t using the metro that much, we shared it. All the train lines are colour-coded and named, so it is fairly easy to understand and use.
Also, I’ll give a little shout out to taxis here too – taxis are not that terribly expensive in Barcelona compared to other large cities. Although I recommend walking or the metro, if you find yourself leaving the club at 4am don’t feel too scared to take a taxi back – they are generally nice and won’t cost you a fortune. If you can’t speak Spanish (or are too drunk to) they will generally have a pencil and paper to write it down.
What To Do
Most of the guides or “top ten” posts you see will be pretty spot-on, honestly, so sorry if nothing here is terribly creative or innovative. This is a city where the good things are on the surface!
Sagrada Familia: Go to the Sagrada Familia!! This huge and famous basilica is still under construction despite being started in 1882, and is expected to be finished in the next 20 years. It is absolutely awe-inspiring, it’s huge, it’s intricate, it’s beautiful.
Yes, it kind of sucks to walk around a construction site but I’ve been twice and my enjoyment has not been impacted. If you have the money to spare, get the audio guide to go along with your self-guided tour. Also an important tip: book in advance. You will avoid a two hour line and be able to enter at the certain time on your ticket. There is no limit for how long you can spend in there.
If you’re someone who thinks that popular tourists sights are gimmicky or not worth it, ignore your instincts and go to the Sagrada Familia – it’s seriously worth it.
Park Guell: When I was in Barcelona in 2013, all of Park Guell was free to enter. Now, part of it is ticket-only, but you can still go to the rear of the park for free. The paid part is okay if you really want to see more Gaudi, but I definitely recommend going to the free part because you will get amazing views of the city!
Barceloneta Beach: Go to the beach!! I mean seriously, you’re in Barcelona!! Honestly I don’t think I need to say much about this – Barceloneta is a beach that is right in the centre of Barcelona, stretches for miles, and is gorgeous.
The Magic Fountain of Monjuic: This is a free fountain, music, light show that is put on in the evening. It’s really interesting and cool to see this giant fountain timed with lights and music, plus the atmosphere is pretty great, too!
The Language Barrier & Other Tips
Barcelona is in the Catalonia region of Spain, which means that the primary language there is Catalan, not Spanish, although most people who live there will speak or understand both. Catalan is not a dialect of Spanish, and it is offensive to say that it is. Many words in Catalan are actually close to French words while others are similar or the same to Spanish words, so if you have any knowledge of French or Spanish you should be able to amble your way through Catalan a tiny bit.
Knowing key phrases in Spanish or Catalan will be greatly appreciated by locals. Spaniards are very, very friendly and helpful and they will help you if you show that you are making an effort. In addition to knowing some words knowing correct pronunciation will go a long way, too! i.e., gracias is not pronounced grass-e-ass but rather grath-e-as.
This being said, many people speak English or will know a few key words to help tourists.
Stay Safe: Barcelona is a very safe place to visit, but pick-pocketing and other petty theft crimes are very popular and tourists (particularly drunk tourists) are often the targets. Be aware, don’t put anything in your back pocket, and don’t fall for any scams!
Where to Eat & Drink
Literally everywhere!! Even tourist trap chain restaurants are amazingly delicious. I don’t have that many specifics, since it really depends on what you want to eat. There are hundreds of amazing options, really.
Tapas: If you’re interested in having a tapas night I highly recommend Cerveseria Catalana. Hands down the best place I’ve ever eaten. Kevin and I stuffed ourselves with Tapas and Sangria and still only paid about 30 euros for a huge amount of food. Warning: we did turn up and have to wait 40 minutes for a table, but it was worth it.
If you are only interested in having a wee tapas with a drink as an afternoon or evening snack, I’d recommend just walking along and finding a bar or place with a good atmosphere and a cheap menu. Tapas shouldn’t break the bank.
Restaurant Núria: It’s a little touristy and a little expensive (and a little Italian..), I’ll admit, but this place has the best pizza I’ve ever eaten. I ate here in 2013 and this was the first place I came (ran) back to when we landed this year. Also it’s right on Las Ramblas so after a day of being touristy it’s a great spot to sit and eat!
The Grocery Store: Honestly, one of the best meals Kevin and I had was a picnic of food we picked up from En Corte Ingles (department and grocery store). We bought a huge baguette, some fresh olives, some chorizo, serrano ham, and other meats, and say on a bench in the Placa de Catulayuna and ate our hearts out – and it only cost 8 euros! Also buy fresh fruit from little bodegas or fruit stands – I highly recommend Valencia oranges, peaches, and cherries!
Ice Cream & Gelato: Stop at every gelato or ice cream stand you see and have some. It’s all delicious, and it’s just the right thing to hit the spot on a warm day. McFlurries from McDonalds (different than the ones in the UK/US) and Affogato from Burger King are also delicious and can be bought at 2am.
Coffee & Pastry: Even McDonalds has amazing pastries. Do yourself a favour and eat a pastry and have a espresso from breakfast every morning – it’s what the locals do!
What to See
Wandering around all the different neighbourhoods is a great way to see Barcelona!
Gothic Quarter: Here you can see beautiful gothic buildings, including the famous Catedral de Barcelona. There’s also lots of independently owned shopping to do here!
Gracia: Gracia has some amazing placas, little shops, and pastry shops. It has a great authentic feel to it and is great for wandering around!
Shopping: There’s lots of shopping to be done in Barcelona! Wander down the Passeig de Gracia for lots of high-end shopping and cool buildings! It’s also where Casa Batllo and Casa Mila (two Gaudi buildings) are!