My favourite big city to date and I can assure you, it’ll be one of yours too. With such a wide variety of things to do, from incredible architecture to food, nightlife and beaches, Barcelona will leave you feeling satisfied, feeling inspired and feeling magical. I’ve been lucky enough to visit the city twice now and going back again this time, was even better than the first.
So for a little knowledge and history…Barcelona is the 3rd most visited city in Europe (behind London and Paris) and 10th most visited in the world. Located at the northeastern part of the Mediterranean coast, bordering France and the beautiful Pyrenees, it is the second largest city in Spain (in both size and population). It is the capital of Catalonia and the two languages spoken there are Catalan and Castillian Spanish. Now if you’ve got no idea what Catalonia is, then don’t worry, I didn’t either. But just so you know…Spain is divided into different regions, 17 to be exact and Catalonia is one of them. Each region has its own government and can sometimes have an entirely different culture and language to its neighbouring regions.
Like I mentioned before, the city has A LOT going on, with A LOT of things to do. So much in fact, that its hard to fit it all in on one visit. We didn’t get to do everything I would have liked and we were there for 4 days! But one thing I’ve learnt while travelling is that you just cant fit everything in and sometimes, you just gotta pick your favs.
I’ve created for you…a WHAT NOT TO MISS list so that when you’re planning your trip to Barcelona, you know the best things to see and do. With a few words of advise and personal stories along way, this should inspire you add Barcelona to your European bucket list.
Right, first up, we have Park Güell. Did you really even go to Barcelona if you didn’t get an instagram at Park Guell? Nah just joking, but seriously…people flock from far and wide to check this place out and there’s a reason for it. Gaudis architecture, is just straight up amazing and I’m not just saying that because I’m a creative. The beautiful tiled mosaics, undulating building structures and organic/art nouveau style inside the park, seriously inspired both Bryn and I. Ok maybe a little more me, but still…even for Bryn (or anyone for that matter) who isn’t bothered with looking at old buildings, will be seriously impressed by Park Güell and Gaudis artwork within.
We met up with friends from NZ (Natalia, Emma + their mumma Fiona) to explore the Park. Pro tip #1: if you’re wanting to go to the park, just know in advance, there are two sections…a free area and the monumental zone. The monumental zone, is where you wanna go to see Gaudis monuments + take nice photos, but this means booking in advance. When we arrived with the crew, it was booked out untill 2pm the next day and this was end of October! Peak season, I can imagine, will be even worse. Bryn and I decided to book (at the ticket booth at the entrance of the park) and go back a few days later. Alternatively you can book HERE at the Park Güell website. The prices are worth it, even for us tight ass travellers, 7Euro if you book online and 8Euro if you book at the park.
FREE AREA – So with none of Gaudis artwork install for us that first day, we spent out time walking around the free area, which in itself is beautiful, though after about an hour, you’re ready to go elsewhere. We saw all sorts of stuff, from two men playing the violen, with a group of people free dancing around them, to again, like I mentioned in the Madrid blog, the dark-skinned men, tarpaulin out in front, selling random little things.
MONUMENTAL ZONE – With the weather not entirely on our side, Bryn and I set back off a few days later to check out the Monumental Zone. Just to give you an idea, they let in 400 people every half an hour, so yes…there are people EVERYWHERE. If only you paid just 8Euro to have it all to yourself right? We walked around, admiring the ancient looking columns and archways (a perfect example of Gaudis organic style of architecture), untill we came across what I’ve called, the two ginger bread houses, because…well…they look like them! Theyre not of course, instead, these little pavilions form the porters lodge (originally) but now stand as part of the Barcelona History museum and they’re very pretty.
Opposite this, is the dragons staircase with merlons on each side, a water fountain and a huge esplanade sitting on top of gigantic pillars and to be honest, I’m not even sure how to write about this. You’re just going to have to go see it for yourself. Everything about this area is so distinctive, so unique and so inspiring I was a little lost for words. Fighting people off for a photo in front of the mosaic tiled merlons, had me harping on to Bryn that when we one day buy a house, our bathroom wall will have mosaic tiles just like these.
The last and most iconic part of Park Güell worth mentioning, is located right at the centre of the park and known as Nature Square. The outside rim of the square undulates around in a semi-circle, in a snake/body rolling kind of way, in and out in and out, with decorative pieces of mosaic tiles covering the outer rim. So iconic!
Now I know Europe is full of old church after old church and yes I know you can become, lets say…less interested in visiting them time and time again, but please make an exception for the incredible Sagrada Família. Again, one of Gaudis works, this ones got to be one of the most iconic landmarks of Barcelona, with a pretty damn cool back story. The first block of the foundation was laid in 1882. 134 YEARS AGO! Maybe that doesn’t sound so shocking because there are so many old churches in Europe, but here’s the interesting part…its not even finished yet! Even to this day, construction workers, draftsmen, sculptures and architects are working solidly on finishing the church, with estimations that it wont be completed for another 10 to 12 years. That’s insane! Even though Gaudi died in 1926, his original plans for the church are still being implemented and constructed today.
Although not complete, you can still enter the Sagrada Família and even go up it for an extra cost. To enter it costs 13Euro and again like Park Guell, you have to book in advance. If you rock up on the day to try your luck, you’ll most likely get denied, like we did. I hear the inside is pretty beautiful, so I would recommend doing it, but just book in advance HERE at the website.
CASA BATLLO, CASA AMATLLER, CASA MILA (LA PEDRERA)
All within walking distance to one an other, take a stroll around the Eixample neighbourhood of Barcelona to catch a glimpse of these iconic buildings. You can go inside and explore in more detail, but at the price of 20Euro per building. Unfortunately we just couldn’t afford that. #budgettravellers. If you do decide to take a look inside any of them, again…book early to avoid cues and let me know how they were!
Heres the low down:
- Casa Batllo is a building restored by the one and only Antonio Gaudi. The whole building is astonishing to look at and you can see why the local name for it is “The House of Bones.” It stands out amongst anything you’ve seen before.
- Next door you have Casa Amatller by architect Josep Puig i Cadafalch. Another style of modernism architecture, this building is also worth some attention.
- Along a few blocks you’ll find Casa Mila, also known as La Pedrera and designed by Antonio Gaudi, yet again. Like Casa Batllo, the undulating stone facade stands out amongst the rest, but its the inside of this building that’s really quite beautiful. The whole centre of the building is hollow so you can look right up it (like a tunnel of windows) and into the night sky. I was gutted we couldn’t go in, not only was the line long, but the price was 20Euro per person so I just had to love it and leave it.
For one of the best views of Barcelona, by day or by night, go up this mountain and explore! With the Sagrat Cor church, atop the mountain and a small theme park with a bunch of attractions, this is a sight for sore eyes. I stumbled upon this, back in 2013, while travelling Barcelona with my parents and we were so surprised because there were very few tourists + the church was one of the most beautiful we’d seen in Europe. Not to mention you can literally climb your way all the way up to the Statue of Jesus at the top. On the beautifully clear day that we had back in 2013, the views were phenomenal. You could see the whole of Barcelona stretching out towards the beach + the ocean all the way out to the horizon. This year, Bryn and I weren’t lucky with the weather, but that’s okay, it was still fun exploring the church, going on the rides and looking at the hazy view below. To get up Tibidabo, see HERE for public transport routes.
BUNKERS DEL CARMEL
For another, more chilled view of Barcelona and an awesome spot for a picnic and bottle of wine with friends, or as a couple, head up to the Bunkers del Carmel. Located at the top of Rovira, this old civil war bunker has a unique, sort of grunge vibe, that really sets the scene for a cool arvo. With 360degree views of Barcelona, this has got to be one of the coolest places to take photos and breath in the atmosphere. This trip, Bryn and I didn’t have time to go, but here’s some of our friends enjoying it for us.
Barcelonas nightlife has a whole lot to offer and if you do it right, you’ll be partying right through till early hours of the following morning. In every neighbourhood of Barcelonas metropolitan area, you’ll find cool bars, clubs and young people everywhere. From Las Ramblas, Gothic Quarter and El Born, to Raval, Eixample and Port Olympic, your bound for many hectic nights NOT to remember. We went to a few of the above districts and experienced many bars and clubs that I can’t tell you the name of…whoops, but check out barcelona-life.com to give you the low down on the best venues in each district.
Alternately, hit up a bar crawl, the best way (in my opinion) for couples to go out and meet friends, get druuuuuuunk and party! Try Barcelona Pub Crawl (old town), Barcelona Party Tour (several club hotspots), Barcelona Boat Party or if you’re too cool for school try the Hipster Bar Crawl (authentic local vibe).
VISIT A MUSEUM
Barcelona is full of museums and although they aren’t usually our thing, we thought we’d give one a whirl. It was a rainy old day, so the outside attractions were out, so we chose between the Picasso Museum, the Chocolate Museum and the Museum of Illusions. We choose the Museum of Illusions because it was interactive and you can literally be part of the artwork, instead of just observing it. After checking it out online, we thought it sounded a little more us.
Off we went and although not the most awe-inspiring thing we’ve ever done, it was hilarious as we made out way around the artworks, taking photos which made us appear to be part of the picture. Not suggesting this is a ‘what not to miss’ while travelling Barcelona, but I do suggest getting yourself to a museum while your there, especially if it’s a crap rainy day.
LA BARCELONETA + PORT OLYMPIC
I think one of the reasons we loved Barcelona was because its coastal. We’re such New Zealanders, so used to the water being basically at our doorstep, so I guess we had comfort in knowing the water was so near.
LA BARCELONETA – Spend a day, a morning or an evening hanging out and exploring Barcelonas favourite beach (La Barceloneta). In the peak of summer you’ll find hundreds of people sunbathing, boobs out, enjoying the Med sea. Along with men trying to sell you roses and cold drinks of course. Sitting behind the golden sandy beach, you also have a boardwalk full of nightclubs and restaurants, the perfect place for a drink or 5. Bryn and I didn’t get to Barcaloneta this year, but back in 2013 with the fam we spent a whole day sunbathing, swimming, eating mussels and drinking sangria.
PORT OLYMPIC – Literally a 2 minute walk from the beach you’ll find Port Olympic. Built for the Olympic games in 1992, the marina is full of the superyachts of the rich and famous. Not interested in the boats, there are tons of restaurants along here with the best paella and seafood that Barcelona has to offer. A cool place to start your night with dinner and drinks, you’ll find yourself later wobbling off to the infamous Shoko and Opium Bar only a minute or two away. The vibe here is really cool, maybe a little tacky, full of wasted tourists, but hey that’s also you right?! So make sure you experience it by day, night, or ideally, both.
Okay I definitely don’t know enough to give you a food run down on Barcelona, but a few places we we’re recommended to go to are 100% worth it.
Creps Al Born – This was one of our highlights in Barcelona. Not just the mouth-watering crepes and high quality cocktails, but the whole atmosphere was on point. Think, a small and charismatic bar, cool artwork on the walls, bartenders who were all smiling, laughing and yarning with everyone and epic music filling the room. The Crepes? Hands down the best we’ve had…EVER. We spent the arvo here with our friends from New Zealand and it was seriously good fun.
Restaurante El Nacional – Head here if you wanna feel a little fancy. A huge room, full of different restaurants to choose from and an even better interior. Definitely a little upmarket to the places we usually eat, but three tapas later we were satisfied and happy.
Barcelonas famous shopping street Las Ramblas is popular among tourists, especially in peak season, but is also a little overrated with the amount of people there are. The tree-lined pedestrian road separates the two neighbourhoods of Raval and Gothic Quarter, both good locations to stay when booking your accom in Barcelona. We walked down La Rambla by day and by night, the nighttime atmosphere feeling a bit more upbeat with HUNDREDS of dudes selling their fake merchandise and street performers doing their thing. A little too many people, plus having no money to spend in the shops, meant that it was a quick thing to experience while on our way to other things.
BOQUEIRA FOOD MARKETS
The perfect place to check out, while wandering down Las Ramblas, is the Boqueira food market. One of Europe’s biggest and most famous food markets, we had fun looking at all the amazing food and drinks on offer. From your standard fruit, meat and veg to lollies, spices and nuts, this place was seriously hectic, but fun.
Heres some other places to see and things to do on your trip to Barcelona
- Watch a Barcelona football game. If you’re a footy head, make sure to check when there’s a home game before booking your trip.
- Watch a Flamenco Show. I wish we’d done this.
- Explore the neighbourhoods of El Born, Gothic Quarter and Raval. With lots of little vintage/hipster shops and cafes, your bound to find something to tickle your fancy.
- Explore more of Gaudis artworks. Or even see them by night they’re just as pretty.
I hope this has you guys inspired and makes planning your trip to Barcelona that much easier. As you can see, there’s a lot to offer and sometimes you just can’t fit everything in, so like I said at the start, pick your faves, go explore and fall in love with the city like we did.
Leah | free & addicted
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