Where I went: Barcelona, Spain
How long I stayed: Two-and-a-half days, three nights.
How long I should have stayed: At least another day. Barcelona is one hell of a city and now one of my all time favourites. Another day would have given me time to do a few more things, such as do a thorough visit through the Montjuic area (I only went through at dusk on the tourist bus). Another two days would have been even more comfortable because Barcelona is a city it would be hard to get bored in.
Where I stayed: I stayed at the Hotel Curious, a tiny boutique hotel in the Raval quarter just off Las Ramblas, the bustling main street of the city lined with shops and restaurants (above). It set me back $120 a night and for the location it was an absolute bargain. I easily walked there from the Placa de Catalunya where the airport bus stops and it was walking distance to a lot of other things in the city except La Sagrada Familia and the Park Guell. That said, the rooms are tiny. As in, maybe six feet across if that, then there’s a very small bathroom. Also the bed was as hard as a rock. You spend so much time out of your hotel that it isn’t too big an issue but it is something to keep in mind. The staff were very friendly though and the area is well lit and safe to walk around at night.
What I did: Walked Las Ramblas, visited the waterfront, MACBA (Museum of Contemporary Art), Mercat de la Boqueria (food market), Palau Guell (below), Placa Reial (last photo), La Catedral, Museu Picasso, Park Guell, La Sagrada Familia, wandered the Barri Gotic (Gothic quarter), Museu d’Historia de Barcelona, Placa de Saint Jaume, Esglesia de Santa Maria del Mar.
Getting around: I walked most places I went in Barcelona easily and with no safety issues at night. It’s a really packed city so here’s always heaps of people around. Park Guell, La Sagrada Familia and the Montjuic area are not really with walking distance if you’re staying off Las Ramblas or Barri Gotic but I bought a two-day ticket on the tourist bus and I got to them quite easily and efficiently that way. I also caught the metro a couple of times with no issues. If you’re flying in, there’s a cheap airport bus that drops you in the centre of town at Placa de Catalunya.
What I thought: What an absolutely cracking place. Barcelona is such a fun, vibrant, exciting city. There’s so many great things to do, the weather is fantastic, the people are friendly and the tapas is just incredible. Don’t feel too scared to walk into places – staff will tell you how it works. At lots of the tapas bars you ask for a plate on arrival and they tell you to help yourself to the delicious morsels. It might be two Euro per tapas item so you load your plate with what you want and when you eat each piece, leave the toothpick on your plate. They then count them at the end and charge you for your meal accordingly. I was never a big fan of sangria until I went to Spain but they serve it in massive jugs or glasses over there and it’s fantastic, absolutely delicious. You can have a really fun night just wandering from bar to bar and trying out all their tapas, though I learned pretty quickly that if I have a drink in every bar it wasn’t long until I was pretty tipsy.
I was given a tip about a hidden gem, which is the rooftop bar of Hotel 1898 at 109 Las Ramblas. It’s open from April through to October but if you don’t know about, you’d never guess it was there. You have to go well inside the hotel and go up in the guest elevator to the top floor. It’s a little bit more expensive to drink there but the incredible 360 degree views of the city, particularly over the Catedral, are worth it. I went at sunset on the night of a full moon and it was just magnificent.
I found the food in Spain to be really diverse and there’s an abundance of fresh fruit and snacks available. If you’re walking Las Ramblas then head to the Mercat de la Boqueria where you can buy these gloriously coloured cups of chopped up fresh fruit (see above), jamon (ham), empanadas, desserts, juices, paella, cheese and almost anything else you can imagine. It sits at 91 Las Ramblas and there’s plenty of small restaurants on the outskirts if you want to sit down rather than walk around with your food. It’s a really cheap ay of having a great meal. My other food favourite was the amazing Chok, a chocolate store and patisserie at 3 Carrer del Carme (near where there street runs off Las Ramblas) which has the best doughnuts, cronuts and macarons you will ever see in your life. I ate a raspberry macaron as big as a hamburger and I loved every single bite. They also have great hot chocolate. Also if you’re passing one of the local cake stores, make sure you go in for a Crema Catelana, which is basically a cake version of a crème brulee with burnt custard and sponge cake. Mine was probably one of the best things I’ve ever put in my mouth.
Something I didn’t know and no one bothered to tell me before I went to Barcelona is that you should absolutely buy your tickets to La Sagrada Familia (above) and Park Guell before you go because they will be near on impossible to buy on the day, or you’ll end up missing out or having to go at odd times because they sell out. I found Park Guell a bit of a non event but you absolutely cannot miss La Sagrada Familia. It is one of the most incredible and fantastical buildings I have ever been to in my life and it’s pretty hard not to be awestruck. It’s actually not finished and you can see construction continuing on the outside – all of which is funded by the entrance fees. I ended up scrambling to find wifi in the local McDonalds just to buy a ticket online so I didn’t miss out, but I’m definitely glad I did. If you’re keen on seeing more Gaudi architecture then Palau Guell is another great place to visit. It’s a house designed by Gaudi and as well as it’s amazing interior, you can also walk all the way on to the roof and catch some great views of the city.
My only other must-see for the city is the stunning La Catedral. It’s one of the most beautiful churches I have ever been inside – it’s actually open in the centre with a small garden and water features. It’s lovely to walk around in a calm setting and take a bit of a breather. Afterwards the Museu d’Historia de Barcelona (Museum of Barcelona) and Museu Picasso are really close by and worth dropping in to. I’m not a huge contemporary art fan so while MACBA was really highly rated, it didn’t do much for me.
Overall, Barcelona is a really easy city to wander through. You could spend hours going through areas such as Barri Gotic and just checking out the old cobblestone streets and tiny stores with an ice cream in hand. I also really regret not having at least an extra day to thoroughly go through the Montjuic area – I only went through on the tourist bus and I feel like it was a bit of a missed opportunity. Otherwise I feel like I got a good mix of things done and there’s a really good walking guide in the Lonely Planet guide which I used and was fantastic. I really loved my time in Barca and I’d go back or recommend it to others in a heartbeat.