Sangria, bull fights, flamenco, tapas, paella, tortilla, Messi – might be a few things that come to your mind when thinking about Spain. Catalonia is quite different from the rest of Spain, and Barcelona, the main town in Catalonia with 1.5 million inhabitants, will amaze you with its modern feel. So get ready for a different Spanish experience.
Getting to Barcelona
It is so easy to get to Barcelona. Barcelona is well-linked to major European cities, which makes it the perfect weekend destination, especially when you can fly for a few euros with low-cost companies like Ryanair, EasyJet or Wizzair.
Top things to do in Barcelona
There are so many things to do in Barcelona: the jaw-dropping architecture, the thrilling history, the mouth-watering food. If you’ve only got a short time at your disposal, don’t worry. We’ve picked la crème de la crème for you to make the most of your time there. If you’ve got many days to spend, then this 5 day barcelona trip guide is awesome to have.
Barcelona is Gaudi. Gaudi was an architect who is well-known for his unique Catalan modernism-inspired works, seven of which have been declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The most famous one is Sagrada Familia. This Art nouveau masterpiece took more than 40 years to build but was left unfinished because Antoni Gaudi was run over by a tram when only a quarter was finished. Isn’t it ironic? Gaudi used to say his client (God) was in no hurry to see the work finished, so no wonder it is still work in progress today. Although the lines might be huge especially during summer months, do not settle for seeing only the exterior: this is not just another church. The inside is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. Gaudi was fascinated with nature and a firm believer that the divine and nature are interlinked, so his works include many natural shapes: there are animal representations of chameleons and turtles and the inside columns of Sagrada Familia resemble a forest of trees branching out. Absolutely jaw-dropping!
Gaudi’s other masterpieces include Casa Batllo and Park Guëll. The detailed façade of Casa Batllo is thought to depict the scene of St George slaying the dragon and the building’s towers curve like the dragon’s scaly back. Park Guëll overhangs the city in the northwest and is dotted with colourful mosaics, strange-looking lizards and mushroom-shaped towers. You will feel like in a children’s fantasy world. Get ready to be a child again.
El Poble Espanyol
Spain is huge and your annual holiday is limited, how to fit all in? If you’re after a quick taste of Spain and its various architectural styles other than Catalan modernism, head to El Poble Espanyol in Montjuic, a Spanish village built in 1929 for the Barcelona 1929 World Fair and Universal Exposition. The Montjuic hill is not in the centre of Barcelona, but you can easily take a cable car that will take you from the beach all the way up to the Montjuic Castle ruins. There are many restaurants and open air clubs to keep you busy so reserve at least half of your day for it. There is also a renowned flamenco show called El Tablao de Carmen at Poble Espanyol. While in Montjuic, take in the view of the city from afar.
Music Fountain of Montjuic
I still remember when I had just come from Las Vegas and landed in Budapest and my sister took me to see the musical fountain on Margaret Island as the best thing ever. I had just seen the Belaggio Fountain in Vegas the night before so obviously was not easily impressed. But trust me, the Music Fountain in Plaça d’Espanya is worth seeing: the changing colours, the majestic size and the enchanting music. You could even climb up to Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya which is in close vicinity for a different angle of the fountain and square. The museum hosts an impressive Romanesque collection.
Torre Agbar is a red and blue-lit tower. Its shape resembles the Gherkin in London, but more slender and the bonus is that it’s lit in vibrant colours at night.
La Barceloneta and the Port Olímpic
Do you know what makes a city even better? A beach. Whether you like to lie in the sun, play beach volleyball, have a glass of sangria while taking in the Mediterranean blue or just walk along the miles of beachfront boardwalks, make sure you save some time to go down to La Barceloneta and the Port Olímpic. Barcelona’s waterfront wasn’t anything to write home about until the 90s when the city’s development boomed with the occasion of the Olympic Games held here in 1992. It’s the Olympic Games that turned Barcelona into a craved-for tourist destination. The Port Olímpic was built for Olympics. La Barceloneta is lined with small bars and clubs, so if you cannot decide what type of music you want to get your groove on, just go bar hopping from one song to the next.
If you want to escape the modern feel of the town, head to Barri Gòtic, or Gothic Quarter, to take in some history. Barri Gòtic is also one of the best areas in Barcelona for shopping. It is one of the oldest parts of the city with medieval-style architecture illustrated by La Seu cathedral for example. It is here in Plaça del Rei that Christopher Columbus was greeted by the monarchs upon his return from the New World. If you’re lucky enough, as you walk the streets at night, you might come across a place that has live flamenco music and dancing. It’s a unique experience. Street performances in Plaça Sant Jaume and on the narrow streets will surprise you with their mastery and originality.
Las Ramblas gets very busy. The main long boulevard starts at Plaza Catalunya and takes you all the way to the Columbus monument in Port Vell harbour. Artists, restaurants and street performance line the long street so La Rambla is perfect for people watching while sitting on a terrace, having a bit of fun or taking a nice stroll. Just watch your back because quite a few pickpocketing incidences have been reported in this area.
Museu Picasso hosts over 4,000 of his early works, including sculptures and drawings. Picasso was born in Malaga but lived in Barcelona for 9 years. On the way to the museum, why not stop at Els 4 Gats, a gathering place for many artists including Picasso and Salvador Dali. Apparently, there’s still some inspiration in the air.
La Boqueria is the biggest food market in Europe with anything you can think of, from seafood to fresh produce. This covered marketplace first mentioned in the 13th century will impress you both with its impeccable organisation and architecture.
If you’re travelling with little ones from March to September or you just feel young at heart, check out the amusement park at Tibidabo. It is quite a trip there, but it will reward you with amazing views over the city from over 500 metres.
El Palau de la Música Catalana
While most people only think of Gaudi when speaking of Catalan Modernism, other contemporaries of his have also made a significant contribution to what Barcelona is today. Lluís Domènech i Monater built Palau de la Música Catalana, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, in 1908. Its rich and detailed interior enjoys a lot of natural light thanks to its massive stained glass windows and mosaic ceiling.
Parc de la Ciutadella
Time to rest your feet in the shade in this 19th-century park or go rowing on the lake. The park owes its name to the military citadel that was there before its construction. Admire the majestic Neoclassical fountain designed by Josep Fontserè.
Try local cuisine
With so many great places to eat out, try the local cuisine and accompany your dish with some refreshing Sangria, Catalan cava, a naturally-sparkling wine similar to champagne or vermouth. Paella is from Valencia, but Catalonia has its own version called fideuà which is made with thin noodles instead of rice. Since you are so close to the sea, go for a seafood fideuà. It is served with a garlic mayonnaise called alioli. Some popular tapas include pebrots de Padró (fried green peppers), patates braves (fried spicy potatoes), truita (Spanish tortilla or omelette with potatoes), xoriço al vi (chorizo sausage cooked in wine), Pa amb tomàquet (toasted bread rubbed with tomatoes, garlic and topped with olive oil) or gambes a la planxa (grilled shrimps with garlic).
Pinxos are appetizers specific to the Basque country and similar to tapas, but the difference is they’re served on a piece of bread with a toothpick. Poble Sec is packed with pinxo bars where you pay depending on the number of toothpicks you have at the end of your meal. Vegetarians will love escalivada (a smokey grilled vegetables salad with delicious red peppers and aubergines). For your sweet tooth, try crema catalana, which is similar to crème brulée, but with cinnamon and citrus flavours.