Early last year I spent 4 days in Barcelona, Spain.
And while I thoroughly enjoyed my time there, looking back on things, I feel like I’ve never actually been there at all. I’m not sure why this is. It’s possible it’s because I was in a state of saturation when I visited, at least as far as European cities were concerned. Optimistically, I like to think it’s more likely because Barcelona is a city with so much to offer that it’d take weeks, months, years to truly experience it and four days just isn’t enough. Either way, I think I need to return.
As with most of my trips across Europe, I did this on a pretty tight budget. Well… I guess what constitutes a tight budget is relative. For example, I’ve just read a couple of blogs which describe budget accommodation as anything under $150 a night – I spent under a third of that on 4 nights in a private en-suite in the heart of the city. Specifically, I spent $47 (or about £35). With flights coming in at under £40, the whole trip wasn’t too far north of £150. That’s my sort of budget.
Anyway, while I wont detail everything that I did in Barcelona, I will share my recommendations for things you shouldn’t miss while on a long weekend in the city. In no particular order…
Stroll down Las Ramblas
Las Ramblas is Barcelona’s most iconic street. It’s a lively boulevard lined with trees and complete with kiosks, street traders, cafes and street performers (and a bunch of hookers at night). And it’s been entirely ruined by tourists. Strolling down the street will involve you fighting through the crowds, walking past the same shops found in any major city (plus countless tacky souvenir shops too) and gawking at the prices of over-priced food. It’s basically a giant tourist trap.
So why is it on this list? Firstly, it’s a convenient way to walk to other aspects of city. Secondly, it’s got La Boqueria Market (which despite also being over-run by tourists, is still pretty cool). And thirdly, there are some hidden gems, cafes and restaurants hidden down Las Ramblas various side streets.
Hang out on Montjuïc Hill
This is reasonably self-explanatory – hike up Montjuïc Hill for some sweet views and to get away from the madness of the centre for a bit. You could get the funicular or cable car up, if you were feeling lazy – but you’d miss out on a lot on the way. You can visit the Castell de Montjuïc while you’re up there, as well as get some good views from in front of the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. It’s a cool place to watch the night roll in and on some nights you can also watch the Magic Fountain of Montjuïc (not on the night I was there though).
Explore Gaudi’s architecture (for a bit)
You can’t come to Barcelona without spending a bit of time admiring some of Gaudi’s buildings. Note: I said a bit and some. While you could easily spend your entire trip wandering from one building to another, paying the relatively hefty entrance fees and not doing much else – if you’re on a budget and not that big of a fan of Gaudi’s work, I would advise against it. With both Casa Batllo and Casa Milà costing over €20 each and La Sagrada Familia costing nearly €30 to visit and get up the towers, I would recommend you pick your favorites and save the others for your next trip.
While I can’t comment on all of Gaudi’s buildings or recommend one over the other (since I didn’t go to them all), if you were only going to one, I would suggest taking the trip to Parc Güell. Not only is it much cheaper than the others (at about €7), but it’s got a cool garden complex, a few awesomely designed buildings, including Gaudi’s house, and some sick views over the city. I also went to Palau Güell (awesome once you get to the roof, €12) and La Sagrada Familia (see below). The other buildings I just admired from outside.
Wander around Port Vell
If it’s a sunny day (which it was), Port Vell is a good place to waste a couple of hours sitting outside and watching the world drift by. For a couple of euro’s you can get the elevator to the top of the Monument a Colom (Christopher Colombus Monument) which has some decent views of the city too.
Check out Barcelona’s other cathedrals
While you can’t come to Barcelona without admiring La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona has other cathedrals which are also worth a look. Even if just to make you say the sentence ‘well, it’s hardly the Sagrada Familia, is it?’.
The Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia (otherwise known as Barcelona Cathedral) is well worth a visit and unlike La Sagrada Familia, it is free to enter. Interestingly, we were accidentally (but awesomely) in Barcelona for the Fiesta de Santa Eulalia, but that’s a story for another day.
Visit La Boqueria Market
As mentioned above, La Boqueria Market is going to be packed with tourists – to the extent that city officials are actually limiting tour groups from visiting as it’s driving locals away. However, in my opinion, it’s still worth a visit. When you enter from Las Ramblas, ignore the stalls lined up either side of the entrance (you know, the ones specifically designed for tourists – if you want a fruit smoothie/juice, get one inside the market for half the price), push your way through the crowds and wind your way to the stalls at the back of the market – the olives, spices, breads, sweets, etc. Delicious. You can also grab yourself some tapas and a glass of cava too.
Hang out in Parc de la Ciutadella
We had no intention to end up at this park, but I’m very glad we did. It’s got a stunning cascade fountain and some great places to sit and do nothing. When we were there, it was pretty much empty too – you can’t say that about too many places in Barcelona. It’s also close to the moderately interesting Arc de Triomf too.
Marvel at the scaffolding around La Sagrada Familia
130 odd years after construction began and La Sagrada Familia still isn’t finished. If that isn’t enough of a reason to make you want to go see it, then the incredible size, style and dominance of the cathedral should be. I’m not going to bore you with the history of the place, since you could find all of that with a quick google search. Just go and see it. After travelling so much, there are very few buildings left in Europe that can make me go ‘wow’ (and ‘what the fuck is that?’), but La Sagrada Familia is one them.
Get there early to avoid the queues (if that’s even possible). Try to block out the cranes and scaffolding and imagine the finished product.
Take in the view
A theme you’ll see in most of my city escape blogs. Get up high. Barcelona has loads of decent viewpoints, some which have already been mentioned here. Tibidabo offers one of the best views, but the views from Parc Güell and Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya are sick too.
My tip would be to head to Jardins del Turó del Putxet. Same sweet views as from Parc Güell, but without the crowds of tourists ruining the feel.
Take a walk along Passeig de Gràcia
It’s not only the most expensive street in the whole of Spain, but it’s also one of the most impressive. Featuring Guadi’s Casa Batllo and Casa Milà, there’s plenty to look at that doesn’t involve breaking the bank in any of the shops that line the street. Head down their late in the afternoon to get the views, without the people.
See the Roman remains at El Born Cultural Centre
We stumbled upon this entirely accidentally, but it’s definitely worth a visit. Firstly, the building itself is pretty cool. An awesome cast-iron structure that use to be a covered market place. The building fell into ruin, but work began to convert it into a library in 2002. While doing so, they discovered ruins from the 1700s. You can enter the building, walk over these ruins and read a bit about the history for free.
Escape to Parque del Laberinto
Definitely one of the nicest little finds and well worth a visit. I think it’s only around €2 to enter (but we got in for free?) and when we were there, I think there were only a handful of other people in the whole park. It’s got some cool history, a maze garden, a little stream, a waterfall and a lot more. A really good place to relax, take some photographs and avoid the bustle of pretty much everywhere else.
I always thought that Barcelona would be one of the cities that I raved about. And even though I know Barcelona is an amazing city and I enjoyed the time I was there, I feel like I need to go back to truly experience it. I don’t want to label it as over-ratted, as most places that are regarded so highly get their ratings for very good reasons. But I do have mixed feelings about the city. It’s got aspects I love and aspects I was reasonably indifferent towards.
The recommendations that I’ve made here are for things you shouldn’t miss on a budget long weekend, plus a couple of tips for quieter alternatives off the beaten track. I’ll wait until I return to the city to make up my mind for good.
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