“Airplane travel is nature’s way of making you look like your passport photo”
Le Sigh… another year, another trip gone! As I write out this Blog I’m currently 39,998 ft in the sky over Halifax, furiously typing away on the Notes section of my severely cracked iPhone so apologies in advance if this Barcelona Travel Guide does not make the most sense. We also left Valencia, Spain by train this morning at 7am & it’s now 9:45pm.… so there’s also that. Exhaustion, delirium, a half functioning iPhone & a blogger fulled merely by nutrient-bleached airplane food & a lukewarm cafe au lait that I quickly downed while trying to catch the train in Valencia fourteen hours ago. In other words – this should be quite interesting!
Travel Guide: Barcelona, Spain
Where to Stay in Barcelona
The view from our AirBnb in the Eixample neighborhood
AirBnb! I’m literally such an AirBnb Convert & I can’t even tell you the last time I actually stayed in a hotel. I just feel that it’s such a great way to fully immerse yourself in whatever country you happen to be visiting & by the end of your stay it almost always feels like home. Not to mention it’s a relatively inexpensive way to travel.
However…. Choosing a place to stay in Barcelona was honestly SO hard! One because Barcelona has so many incredibly unique and colourful neighbourhoods to choose from, and two because AirBnb’s there are also SO incredibly expensive… like way more so than in Paris.
To put it simply, Barcelona is essentially divided into 5 or 6 neighbourhoods: Eixample (known for great restaurants) Gracia (close to La Sagrada Familia & Park Guell) El Raval (lots of nightlife), El Born (trendy; lots of restauarants & bars) & the Gothic Quarter (TONS OF HISTORY). We stayed in an AirBnb in the Eixample area & although we loved the quieter streets & less touristy vibe of this particular neighbourhood we felt that it was a bit too far removed from the sites that we personally were interested in seeing BUT if you do appreciate great food, upscale dining & a more low-key setting then Exiample is totally your spot! I think that we might have benefited a bit more by staying within the Gothic Quarter only because a lot of the sites we wanted to see were within that area – not to mention, the Gothic Quarter is relatively close to the beach in comparison to the other neighbourhoods! It’s a little but more touristy & busy but I think I would have been okay with that.
The Eixample area of Barcelona
Tip: research the different areas of Barcelona & discover what appeals to you personally. My ONLY suggestion would be to stay away from the Garcia area because although it’s close to Gaudí and La Sagrada Familia… that’s pretty much about it. AKA: You’ll be walking FAR on the daily in order to get to all of the sites you want to see.
What to Do in Barcelona
1. Free Excursions
Andrei with our Craft Tour Guide Franco… you can almost always find Andrei with the tour guide asking about one million, trillion questions.
Tip Supported Walking Tour of the Gothic Quarter: A MUST! I always love starting a vacation with a walking tour because it allows you to really get your bearings of the area. We booked a Tip Supported Walking Tour with Craft Tours of the Gothic Quarter for our first day & it was fantastic! What I love most about walking tours is that they’re almost always led by young, local guides who truly know the ins & outs of the city; so be sure to pick their brains at the end & ask them for recommendations – we had Franco & he was amazing!
House of Gaudi – his work is truly so spectacular & unique!
Tip Supported Walking Tour of Modern Gaudí Architecture: UGH I truly wish we had done this one, but we didn’t know about it until we got down there! I would have loved to have done this tour. Most other companies will charge you for their Gaudí walking tours, but Be Local Barcelona Tours was tip Supported! I’d definitely check this out next time.
Andrei & I just outside of the Barcelona Olympic Stadium
View the Olympic Stadium: Very cool, but this is something that I wouldn’t necessarily go out of your way to visit. The only reason we made a pit stop at the Barcelona Olympic Stadium is because we had just hiked up to Montjuic (which is a definite “must see”) & it was literally on our way. The museum has an entry fee, however you can view the stadium for free.
Visit the Beach & Marina: Fun Fact – up until 1992 Barcelona didn’t even have a beach…. it’s actually manmade & was constructed because of the 1996 Barcelona Olympics! We were told that Barcelona’s recent major spike in tourism (they now have 30 million tourists visit each year) is due to the implementation of their beach! The marina and boardwalk are definitely worth a visit – stroll the boardwalk, grab cava sangria (sangria made with Spain’s version of champagne) from Surf House and admire the sites.
Enter Churches in the Gothic Quarter: I have this thing for European Church’s. They are sooooooo beautiful! Pop your head into the church’s of the Gothic Quarter, they’re almost always free & the view is worth it.
In front of the Cascada Fountain in Barcelona
Visit the Parc de la Ciutadella: Pack a picnic & head to Parc de la Ciutadella for an afternoon. This park is filled with local artists painting, singing or strumming on a guitar. Not to mention… the sites are beautiful! Here you’ll find Cascada Fountain which is beyond mesmerizing, the Arc de Triumf & the Castle of the Three Dragons – very GOT’esque.
Andrei in La Boqueria Market… looking “super enthused”
La Boqueria Market: Honestly…. not impressed. Every website told us we HAD to visit this market but we honestly felt it was WAY too crowded, cramped, overpriced & catered solely to tourists. I mean walk through it if you REALLY have the urge to, but if you’re visiting other parts of Spain during your vacation then hold off & stroll through those local markets instead. For example we went to the main market in Valencia… mind BLOWN. It was incredible & a complete 180 experience compared to Barcelona. I’ll be doing a Travel Guide for Valencia next week & I’ll go more into the amazingness that was this market.
Tip: Try visiting smaller markets in the Barcelona area that cater more to locals for that authentic experience!
2. Paid Excursions
Visit La Sagrada Familia: I mean… DUH. You can’t go to Barcelona & NOT visit La Sagrada Familia. Grand is an understatement when it comes to this structure & I don’t think you can truly appreciate the architecture in its entirety without viewing both the outside & inside of this cathedral. There IS a fee for entering… but I swear it’s worth it. My jaw literally dropped when we first entered La Sagrada Familia – the vibrant colours of the stained glass, the pillars, the grandness… it was amazing.
Tip: buy tickets online a few days before you go to save yourself hours of waiting in line. If you buy the 11:45am time slot, you’ll be able to hear choir music echo throughout the cathedral at noon; we were told this is the only time it happens throughout the day!
Hotter Tip: just pay the entry fee and skip the extra $10 fee for an audio guide. You can download audio guides through the ap store for $1 or $2 on your phone before you leave; bring your ear buds & VOILA!
Strolling through the park that surrounds Gaudi Architecture
Visit Park Guell: OMG THIS IS MY BIGGEST REGRET OF BARCELONA! We literally hiked for like two hours to get to Park Guell only to discover that you need tickets to enter the park! I’m normally SO good at prepping for this kind of stuff but this particular one unfortunately snuck by me. We arrived at 2pm and because we had no tickets we couldn’t enter until 6pm – our day was packed full so we unfortunately had to skip it! The good news is that we WERE able to see some of the park without tickets, but anything involving Gaudí required an extra fee…. I’m honestly still seething that we missed this!
Tip: GET TICKETS BEFOREHAND!!!!!!!!!!!
Montjuic: A medieval fortress & prison situated on a mountain overlooking Barcelona & the Mediterranean Sea. I mean… GO! The views are spectacular & this fortress has a pretty dark & rich history in Barcelona. Not to mention the entry fee is pretty minimal!
Tip: splurge & take the gondola to Montjuic for absolutely breathtaking views!
Gelaaati Di Marco: I’m engaged to a self-proclaimed gelato connoisseur so we literally ate gelato multiple times a day. Andrei’s favourite place was called Gelaaati Di Marco in the Gothic Quarter! Opt for the organic varieties they sell – it’s honestly so worth it.
Andrei’s Gelato Tip: don’t get gelato from anywhere that piles their gelato super high in those little balls. Gelato does not naturally stay like this; it would melt if it was good quality gelato made from real ingredients. When you see gelato presented this way, it typically means preservatives are used. Instead look for gelaterias that are only a little bit raised in the tubs!
Surf House: We stopped here on the boardwalk because we felt like good ol’ fashioned beach food. This place has incredible burgers and fries & it was just what the doctor ordered for a hot beach day! Real meat, thick juicy burgers with great topping combinations & crispy fries. We also ordered a pitcher of sangria cava – it was the best we had tried in Barcelona!
Restaurant Tips: for authentic Spanish restaurants that are good quality, look for menus that only list a few main entrees, don’t advertise English menus at the door & don’t have many pictures of the foods they sell. I wrote about this in my Paris Travel Guide & we were told the same rings true for Barcelona as well!
Okay… that’s all! Anything I missed? Ps. Stay tuned for next week’s Travel Guide to Valencia!