Here is a little post written during my visit to Barcelona a couple of weeks ago… now that I’m walking el Camino across Spain, Barcelona streets seem so far away. Hope you enjoy. xo
It’s 9pm here in Barcelona, meaning the sun will soon disappear behind the sea of balconied buildings. Although only my third night here, I have already fallen in step with the strange hours of this city – rise at 9am, espresso at 10am, adventures until 2pm, then lunch and siesta, 4pm errands, 8pm drinks, 10pm dinner, midnight to bed. But with all the sleeping and eating and drinking involved in this cultural orientation, it has been admittedly tricky to squeeze the Barcelona sights into my 2.5 day visit.
Here is a little run down of what I’ve seen and done during my first Barcelona adventure.
Well known for being the throbbing vein of the city, La Ramblas is a busy mall running from Catalunya down to the waterfront near Barceloneta. Along the way you’ll find a repetition of tourist souvenir stands, florists, kinda tacky cafes, and street artists and performers. Sprouting from La Ramblas are little streets of delight, leading into markets, shopping districts, residential streets and the gothic quarter.
La Boqueria – Mercat Sant Josep
This fresh food market is a real treat for the senses. It offers bright juicy fruits, fridges of meat, blankets of iced fish, and more chocolate and sugary sweets than I’ve ever seen in one place. Apart from being a great place for cheap lunch supplies, or a €1.10 espresso in one of the inner counters, La Bouqeria is a wonderful place to see Spanish market life in glorious action. The language, the buzz of the crowd, the sights and smells – this market has so much to offer and really is a must-see in Barcelona.
Barceloneta beaches and marina
Edged with wide boulevards and grids of rocking sail masts, this Mediterranean-side suburb is where you go when the sun is out and there is seafood to be enjoyed (which is most of the time in Barcelona). There is also an Imax theatre, an aquarium and nearby beaches where volleyball is played with admirable enthusiasm/ A great place to wander, especially as the afternoon wanes.
Barcelona Gothic Cathedral
Despite my lack of Christian faith, I am reliably inspired by grand cathedrals and Barcelona Gotic Catedral certainly had a more profound affect on me than most. Sitting in the humble pews looking up to the lacing arcs and stained glass above, I was struck that I was in an 11th century structure. I could imagine the echo of tourists replaced with the echo of holy song, and the flash of cameras replaced with flickering flames. I could almost feel the peace this place would have (if not for the tour hordes) and was grateful for the chance to look upon the history embedded in its crypts and walls.
Outside, the cheery square is filled with more tourists and more buskers, as well as locals stopping by to eat their lunch on a park bench before the glorious cathedral steeples.
The thing that most impressed me about this famous church was its construction schedule; it has been in some kind of partial state since construction started in the 1882 and it remains covered in scaffolds and cranes today. The second most impressive thing about Sangrada Familia is that is is just so odd; mismatched styles, animated statues, glittery bits and flower like steeples mark this as the weirdest building I’ve ever seen.
Although it’s supposed to be worth a look inside, we avoided the lines and the €8 entrance fee, instead opting to admire Sangrada Familia from the lovely park across the road. Only a 15 minute walk from the city centre, this UNESCO World Heritage site is well worth a view.
I had been told that this is the one park to visit in Barcelona, and after wandering the bizarre buildings and wide arid spaces of Park Guell I can understand why. This is a strange place, there is no denying it, but its frivolous, surrealist feel makes it all the more exciting to explore. Commissioned in the early 1900s as a private housing estate, this park is the joyous result of an incomplete project, opening to the public in 1922. There are only two houses in the park and lots of other amazing structures landscaped into the space.
Dave and I took the green line 3 Metro from Catalunya to Lesseps and followed the signs up the hill to the park. There, we enjoyed our loot from La Boqueria (vintage chedder, nuts, fruits, jamon and sugary sweets) under the stone arcs and tall palms. Then we found a sunny patch seat and listened to the soothing afternoon melodies of Spanish guitar (one of the many musical buskers).
Other handy tips and info about visiting Barcelona:
- If you have some errands to run, Barcelona is a pretty easy place to do it. In the couple of blocks north-east of La Ramblas you’ll find a modern commercial hub with everything from H&M clothes, Decathalon outdoor supplies, phone and internet stores – the works. Also, if you head north up La Ramblas, past Catalunya Metro and along Passieg Gracia a few blocks, you’ll find Casa del Llibre on your right; this is a great big book store with a good English section (where we got literature, language guides and Camino walking guides).
- The Metro is pretty handy, just watch your stuff. Barcelona metro is preceded by a reputation for pickpockets, making it a bit of a daunting place to enter. As with other major cities, we took the approach of carrying minimal cash, no cards or ID in our wallets / pockets / handbag and carrying any valuables in a hidden clip (in this case sitting snuggly between my boobs). Feeling less vulnerable with little to loose, we ventured into the Metro hub at Catalunya and found the system easy with a pretty friendly vibe. Just make sure you have change for the ticket machines. A single trip will cost you €2, or you can grab a T-10 ticket that gives you 10 rides for €9.25. The lines are numbered and colour coded for easy use and stations will have maps of the connections on the street.
- Knowing the language is really helpful. I always try to learn the absolute basics in the local language (i.e. thank you, hello, please, pardon) but in some places it is more of a necessity than an attempt at politeness. While I’ve found most people speak a little English and we’ve had no real trouble when dining, shopping or buying tickets, it certainly helps to know a bit of Spanish to communicate more than the bare minimum. Numbers are particularly useful for market situations, as well as a few verbs (i.e. to have, to buy) and the starts of questions (i.e.. where, what, how, can).
- Arriving by airport is a piece of cake. There is an aerobus that takes you right into the city centre for only €5. Buy the tickets outside the departures door, where there is a big blue machine and an areobus sign. The bus automatically announces the stops. Catalunya is in the city centre and near connecting Metro lines.
- The tourist info centre is down an escalator in Catalunya placa. You’ll find it marked with big red ‘i’ signs. There you can buy souvenirs at slightly lower prices, official city maps for €1 (the maps sold on La Ramblas are €5-7) and a free McDonalds sponsored map on the counter, as well as other tour, booking, hotel info etc.