Out of all the places I’ve visited so far, Barcelona was the one I had the highest expectations of.
So many friends had visited the capital before me, raving about their trip and speaking so highly of it (“the best city in the world!”), that I was pretty much set up for a bit of disappointment.
Not only did it rain for three out of the four days that we were there, the weather was actually even better back home during that October week.
It probably shouldn’t have dampened my spirits as much as it did, but when you’ve packed mostly shorts and swimwear and are hoping to catch some sun on the beach, but are instead sat on a freezing cold, open-top bus with the rain in your face, I challenge you not to feel slightly defeated too.
Putting my grumpiness aside, there were a few highlights from our trip…
Probably at the top of everyone’s list when visiting Barcelona, the Sagrada Família is a large Roman Catholic Church which was designed by famous Spanish architect, Antoni Gaudí. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site despite the fact that construction is not yet finished, but it is expected to be complete by 2026 – a century after Gaudí’s death.
It’s an incredible building, with the Nativity façade being particularly impressive.
You’ll need to buy a ticket if you want to go inside, which costs €15 per adult. I’d recommend buying this in advance if you want to avoid the inevitable queues or be turned away altogether. You’ll need to choose what time you want to visit though, and you won’t be allowed in any earlier or later than that.
If you weren’t impressed enough by the outside, the inside of the basilica will really take your breath away. In fact, it feels much bigger standing on the inside than when looking at it from the street, and the level of detail in every corner of the building is truly amazing.
Along with our entry tickets, we also spent €4.50 each so that we could go up into the towers. We chose the Nativity side which provided an excellent view of the city (see featured image). You’re able to cross a little bridge which connects to another tower on this side and walk down the 400 steps of the spiral staircase. There are a few balcony breaks along the way which also provide some nice photo opportunities.
Visiting the towers must again be booked for a certain time slot, and we weren’t allowed to enter the lift a minute sooner than our ticket said.
Located about half-way down the incredibly busy tourist street of La Rambla, you’ll find hundreds of food stalls packed snugly into this lively indoor market. With a mix of traders selling fresh local produce, specialities and more, it makes a great lunchtime visit.
On a whim, we bought a ticket to a flamenco show one night in a club located not far from La Rambla.
In a small black and red underground club, five men sat in a row along the back of the stage, playing the guitar and singing in harmony while clapping their hands to create a rhythm. Two flamenco dancers entered the stage half-way through the show and performed to the musicians behind them. The man in particular danced so passionately with the biggest smile on his face, you couldn’t not enjoy it.
We decided to spend our last day relaxing in Barceloneta, where you’ll find mostly restaurants, bars and clubs along the beach. Strolling down the lovely boardwalk, we saw quite a few people zooming past us on Segways and scooters which looked like so much fun. We were desperate to find some for ourselves and quickly set out on a search for motorised wheels.
It wasn’t until we gave up and started to head back to the Metro that we spotted a tiny rental shop, tucked away quite far from the actual beach.
There’s a lot to see and do in Barcelona, but without a doubt, the best thing we did that week was rent those electric scooters. Spending about €20 each, we zipped up and down the boardwalk for two hours at a max speed of 20mph and took in all of the nearby sights (which includes a naked man sunbathing on the nudist beach adjacent to Barceloneta).
Now, onto what I wish we’d avoided…
After using Big Bus Tours in Budapest, we decided to take advantage of a hop-on-hop-off bus again for this trip.
We bought a two-day ticket with City Sightseeing as they seemed to offer the most ‘comprehensive’ number of stops across Barcelona, with three different coloured routes lasting just over 4.5 hrs if you went to them all. This sounded great at first, but it turns out that a lot of the stops they make probably aren’t worth visiting anyway – for us, at least.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t use them, but just make sure that you actually want to go to most of the places they take you to because otherwise, you’ll be wasting time sitting on a bus when you could be doing something more worthwhile.
One of the upsides though if you do decide to book, is you’ll get a load of money-off vouchers at most of the city’s top attractions. This is pretty handy since you have to pay to visit pretty much everything in Barcelona, so the savings can quickly add up.
This was a stop on the red route of our bus tour and was described as a village full of craft workshops where you can watch artisans create handmade goods, before getting the chance to buy their wares.
Filled with lovely replica buildings from all around Spain, it was a pretty site to walk around, but the shops and cafes inside felt like nothing more than tourist traps – all of the restaurants had pictures of food on menus, and most of the shops sold nothing more than what we had seen down La Rambla. We walked around pretty much all of the sites, and the only workshop we saw was a man blowing glass…
Overall, Barcelona didn’t quite live up to expectation, but I’ll be back with a different approach next time…
Flikr image by Axio