Full City: Barcelona, Spain

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. In this region, 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. Catalans have their own dishes, culture and even language. Yes, I learned the hard way that while I could get by with my Spanish 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 most spectacular of the city's sights and feel like you covered the highlights. With more time, you could relaxed more and enjoy the city, the beach, and several good museums. 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, stroll down the Ramblas from Placa de Catalunya toward the water, stopping at La Boquería market for breakfast. Ramblas is much more enjoyable and less congested at this time of day. Then, dedicate Day 1 to the Gaudí sights of Barcelona (more details on Gaudí later). From down near the water on the Ramblas, hop the L3 Metro at the Drassanes stop (direction: Canyelles) and take it 3 stops north to Passeig de Grácia. From there, see the Block of Discord and walk up the 3 blocks to Casa Milà (also known as La Pedrera). Getting a chance to see the rooftop alone is worth the admission cost. Visiting the inside of an apartment is just an added bonus. After, 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, and 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 for the taxi). Then, finish your day with tapas and a good pitcher of sangria–restaurant recommendation under Food below.

Day 2:

If your hotel doesn't provide breakfast, head back to La Boquería for breakfast. Perhaps order an omelet at the counter or a fresh fruit smoothie from one of the produce stands. Next, explore the Barri Gòtic Neighborhood–an easy walk from the market–and visit the Cathedral (free until 12:45pm, after €7). From there, plan the rest of your day depending on the weather. If it is warm and sunny, check out the city's beaches. Barcelona's sandy beaches are a great spot to relax under an umbrella (rental information under Beaches) or catch some rays. Otherwise, visit the Picasso Museum (optionally, you could visit the museum in the evening if you go to the beach). The Picasso Museum has the most extensive collection of his early, realistic works and an encompassing collection of his different periods. Placa d’Espanya is also worth a look if you have some extra time. It features two Venetian Towers and the National Palace which houses the Catalan Art Museum. For lunch, I recommend finding a good paella restaurant. In the evening, join the countless others on their paseo (walk) down the Ramblas to see the sight in a whole new light.

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

Where to Stay

I like to stay where the action is in a city. For that, the area around Placa de Catalunya is an excellent choice. If you’re looking at a map, I would suggest staying 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 was actually). I would use the Cathedral in the Barri Gòtic as your boundary for how far east and south of Placa de Catalunya I would go. The general area is outlined in the map below.

City Safety
Barcelona has a serious problem with pickpockets. If you leave something in an exposed pocket expect that it could be lifted without you even feeling it. Use inside pockets in jackets or bags 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 about your surroundings like you would in any other 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 35 mins. For the area I indicated in “Where to Stay” above, you would get off at Placa de Catalunya. Tickets cost €5.90 each one-way (including luggage) and €10.20 round-trip (good for up to 15 days after purchase). Children under 4 travel free. Buy ticket from the machine (credit card) or from the driver (cash only)—the line to board the bus can be very long but moves quickly. A1 runs every 5-10 mins (5 mins at peak times) and A2 runs ever 10 minutes (no service from about 1am-5am). 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 €26-30. Bags each come with an additional surcharge (€1, rates displayed in the taxi), and there is a €4.20 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 €2.20, or (Tip) you can buy a T10 card for €10.20 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 opt to 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 €2.10 and then each km costs €1.03. 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. While some of that is beginning to fade a bit, meal times remain unchanged. Most restaurants do not even open for dinner until 8 or 8:30pm (most Spaniards eat dinner at around 9pm). However, dinner is typically light. Rather than a large meal, the Spanish often opt for small plates called tapas.

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 quite 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 restaurants 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, information 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 three. 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, so trying it in two places can lead to a completely different experience!

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

Ham (Jamón)

There are so many varieties of ham in Spain that it would be impossible to count them all. The Spaniards view ham as a delicacy to be savored. They can taste the minute differences between each type and level 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 €7-10. 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, you should 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, but you will not find that in Spain. In Spain, churros are served warm (best directly out of the fryer) often times with a hot chocolate dipping sauce. A place that specializes in churros is known as a Churreria. The delicious churros pictured below are from Madrid, but Barcelona is known for this 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.
In addition to churros, Spain is also known for flan (a custard dessert with caramel). You will also find ice cream (helado) shops most everywhere.

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

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 paella (the place we went there was worth the wait, see: Madrid). The tapas bar 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–you can ask for an English menu if needed). To get bar items for your table (good way to try a bit 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 this place 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. 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 Antonio 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 that incredible long line 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. When you purchase tickets online, you will receive a digital ticket that you can print out or show on your mobile device when entering the grounds. You can book your tickets in advance online at www.sagradafamilia.org/eng/tickets. 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.

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 church's exterior, keeping 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: November-February daily 9am-6pm; April-September daily 9am-8pm; March & October 9am-7pm Dec 25-26 and Jan 1 & 6 9am-2pm (last ticket sold 30 mins before closing).

Cost: Tickets online cost €15 for adults, €13 for ages 11-30, and are free for children 10 and under (you still must book a ticket with your reservation for free admittance). Additionally, students are €13 and senior citizens €11 with identification. You can also book the ticket with the audioguide online for €22 for adults, €20 for ages 11-30, €20 for students, and €17 for seniors. (No audioguides available for children 10 and under.) 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.) Note: Booking your tickets online through the official site is actually cheaper than purchasing them at the church!

If you prefer a tour with a real guide, Sagrada Família also offers 50 minute guided tours in English several time a day. You can reserve these online as one of your options when choosing your ticket package. The current cost is €24 for adults, €22 for ages 11-30, €8 for children 10 and under, €22 for students, and €18 for seniors. No more than 30 people per tour.

To ascend one of the towers for a view of the city, you also must book a time (for an additional fee). You can choose this package when booking your entry time to the church online. 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 16 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. The main access is on C/Marina, in front of the Nativity facade.

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. See it for yourself and decide; it is truly a 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:www.lapedrera.com/en The line for Casa Milà can get very long, particularly in summer and on weekends. Save yourself the headache; if you know when you plan to visit, book ahead. Booking your tickets online saves you money (purchasing tickets onsite comes with a €3 processing fee), and you can walk straight in past the lines. Tickets can be purchased at

Hours: March 3rd-November 5th daily 9am-8:30pm; November 6th-March 2nd daily 9am-6:30pm (last admission 30 mins before close); for Gaudí’s Pedrera: The Origins (night visit), see below*

Cost: Tickets online cost €22 for adults, €16.50 for students & seniors, €11 for children 7-12, and free to children under 7. Tickets at the door cost an additional €3 per ticket. Audioguides are included the price. If you cannot commit to the exact date/time that you plan to visit, you can still book ahead but at a premium. The website offers "premium" tickets which allow ticket holders to skip the line for one visit anytime over a 6 month period (from time of purchase) for €29 for adults, €11 for children 7-12, and free to children under 7 (audioguides included, no other fare discounts). Tickets can be printed or saved on your smartphone for validation at the entrance. See Gaudí’s Pedrera: The Origins below for additional information on those tickets costs and the combined ticket option.*

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.

*Gaudí’s Pedrera: The Origins: This is a nighttime experience now offered at Casa Milà. You get a guided tour through different areas of the building (not including the apartment). It culminates with an audiovisual show on the rooftop incorporating the rooftop's architecture with lights and music. A glass of cava caps off the evening event. Limited to 20 people per tour group, sessions every 20 minutes. Slots 9pm-11pm from March 3rd-November 5th and 7pm-8:40pm from November 5th-March 2nd. (If you book this ticket, be sure to choose an English tour slot.) Tickets cost €34 for adults, €17 for children 7-12, and free to children under 7. You also have the option to book a discounted day and night ticket to see the sight in both lights for €41 for adults, €20.50 for children 7-12, and free to children under 7.

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 appealing 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.

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). Book your tickets ahead online to avoid the extra €4.50 per ticket processing fee for buying them at the ticket office. You can book online at: www.casabatllo.es/en/ (Note: If you select an open date ticket, you have 6 months to use it, but you are not getting a skip the line ticket. You may still have to wait in a line to enter. For zero wait, choose the "fast pass" ticket. Otherwise, the regular ticket allows you to select a date and 15 minute window to enter, and your wait should be minimal.)

Hours: Daily 9am-9pm (last entry 8pm); open 365 days a year. Note: The site can periodically close for private events; check with Casa Batllò to ensure there are no planned schedule changes on the day of your visit.

Cost: General Entrance Tickets (select time to enter): €24.50 for adults; €21.50 for students, juniors (ages 7-18), & seniors (65+); and free to children under 7. Entrance + Fast-Pass Tickets (0 wait): €29.50 for adults; €26.50 for students, juniors (ages 7-18), & seniors (65+); and free to children under 7. Open Date Tickets (visit anytime within 6 months, not skip the line): €31.50 for adults; €28.50 for students, juniors (ages 7-18), & seniors (65+); and free to children under 7. There is also a "Be the First" ticket which allows you entry at 8:30am before the crowds, that is €37 for all tickets (free for children under 7). All tickets include a "Smart Guide" an augmented reality video guide. (Note: These are the prices for booking ahead online. If you choose to buy your tickets in the ticket office, there is an extra €4.50 per ticket processing fee--estimated, it depends upon the type of ticket you are purchasing.)

Location: Part of the Block of Discord – 43, Passeig de Gràcia; Metro: Passeig de Gràcia - L2, L3, L4; Buses: H10, V15, 7, 22, & 24; Barcelona Tourist Bus (Red & Blue) Casa Batlló - Fundació Antoni Tàpies; City Tours (Barcelona Tours) 3 A, Passeig de Gràcia - Casa Batlló

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 colorful 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 minutes, there are pretty views of the city and the park from this spot. 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 artistic 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.

Construction Note: The site is currently undergoing some restoration work. To find the latest on how that may affect your visit, visit the park's website here.

Hours: January 1-February 16 8:30am-6:15pm; February 17-March 24 8:30am-7pm; March 25-April 29 8am-8:30pm; April 30-August 26 8am-9:30pm; August 27-October 27 8am-8:30pm; October 28-December 31 8:30am-6:15pm (last entry 1 hour before close)

Cost: Tickets can be booked online at: www.parkguell.cat/en/buy-tickets for €7.50 for adults, €5.25 for visitors 7-12 and 65+, and free for children 6 and under. Tickets can be purchased at the site for €8.50 for adults, €6 for visitors 7-12 and 65+, and free for children 6 and under. I recommend purchasing ahead since those without reserved entrance will only be admitted as space is available. When you reserve online, you select a time slot and can enter up until 30 minutes after that allotted time.

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 Picasso 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 top sights in Barcelona, the Picasso Museum can have a huge entrance wait time. Be prepared to wait 1-2 hrs during the free entry times mentioned below in peak season or even miss out on tickets altogether if you don't reserve ahead. On free entry days, you still must access the museum with a ticket. To avoid missing out, book online in advance (tickets are available 4 days in advance of the free entry day). It may be worth it to go during a time you need to pay for entry (less crowded). To skip the ticket buying lines, purchase tickets through the museum’s website www.museupicasso.bcn.es/en for no additional charge. (Note: You must select a 15 minute entrance window.)

Free Entrance Times: Thursdays 6pm-9:30pm and all day on the 1st Sunday of each month, May 18, & September 24

Hours: Tues-Sun 9am-7pm; Thurs 9am-9:30pm; December 24 & 31 9am-2pm; January 5 9am-5pm; last entrance 30 mins before closing; closed Mondays and January 1, May 1, June 24, & December 25

Cost: With the exception of the free entrance times listed below, tickets cost €12 for adults, €7 for ages 18-25 and 65+, free for ages 17 and under and students with a valid ID. All tickets include temporary exhibits. €5 for audioguides which describe 51 of the works on permanent display (there is also a specific audioguide geared toward children), 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 juices, 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 Ibérico at the market (ham from Iberian black pigs that primarily eat acorns). It is delicious but not particularly cheap! The Spaniards love their ham, and you will find it all over Spain (see Ham above). There are many locations you can buy ham, but there is a great place within the market that has it pre-packaged in 100 gram parcels (which makes language barrier issues easier). To get to the shop, when you walk into the market itself, go all the way to the wall along the left-hand side. The shop has a large selection. We then purchased some nice rolls from one of the bakery stands and some cheese from a cheese stand and had a great little picnic breakfast. (Serrano ham is about ½ the price of Jamón Ibérico, but if you like ham, try Jamón Ibérico at least once.) If ham'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. There are plenty of choices for all tastes!

Hours: Mon-Sat 8am-8:30pm, 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 central 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. Don’t wander too far south past the Cathedral, though. That area can be deserted and unsafe feeling at night.

Barcelona’s Cathedral
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 unless you have interest in visiting more than the cathedral floor and cloister). 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).
Official Name: Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia
Hours: Open for Worship: Mon-Fri 8:30am-12:30pm & 5:45pm-7:30pm; Sat 8:30am-12:30pm & 5:15pm-8pm; Sun 8:30am-1:45pm & 5:15pm-8pm. Open for Tourist Visits: Mon-Fri 12:30pm-7:45pm (last entry 7:15pm); Sat 12:30pm-5:30pm (last entry 4:45pm); Sun 2pm-5:30pm (last entry 4:45pm).
Cost: The Open Worship hours provide free entry to the cathedral floor and cloister but access to the choir and roof are €3 each/person. Cultural and Tourist visits provide access to the cathedral, cloister, choir, roof, museum, and chapel and include an information brochure €7.
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. www.catedralbcn.org
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 March Thurs/Fri/Sat 8pm-9pm; April & May Thurs/Fri/Sat 9pm-10pm; June-Sept Wed-Sun 9:30pm-10:30pm; Oct Thurs/Fri/Sat 9pm-10pm; Nov-Jan 6 Thurs/Fri/Sat 8pm-9pm (not running Jan 7-Feb 28).

Catalan Art Museum

Located in the National Palace, it covers Catalan art over the course of about a thousand years.

Hours: Oct-April Tues-Sat 10am-6pm, Sun & Public Holidays 10am-3pm; May-Sept 10am-8pm Sun & Public Holidays 10am-3pm; Closed Mon (except public holidays) and Jan 1, May 1, & Dec 25 (last ticket sold 30 mins before closing)

Cost: €12 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 Sunday of the month, Saturdays after 3pm and May 18 & September 11. (Audioguides cost an additional €4 unless you buy the discounted combined ticket online for €14. To visit the rooftop viewpoint, add an additional €2.)

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.museunacional.cat/en

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 €9 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

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.

Spanish Name: Palau de la Música Catalana

Hours: Daily 10am-3:30pm; Easter & July 10am-6pm; August 9am-6pm. Tours are offered every 30 minutes. 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). Additional information and online ticket booking can be found on their website: www.palaumusica.cat/en

Cost: €20 for adults (€16 with advanced purchase 21 days in advance) & €11 for students; €16 for seniors (box office only); free for children under 10

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. Renting two beach chairs will cost you about €10 (€5 each) and a shared umbrella around €6 (all day use, no ½ day price). Unlike a lot of the pebbly beaches in Europe, Barcelona's beaches 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.

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About Me

I would like to say that for as far back as I can remember, I have wanted to travel, that it’s always been in my blood. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. I found the thought of leaving the country daunting, but...

 

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