The Spanish land of sun, sangria, and strange buildings.
Let me first state that anyone – not Spanish – should pronounce Barcelona the way it is spelled… Barcelona. My UK friends like to laugh at me for saying Barcelona and Ibiza… Joke’s on you lot, I actually pronounce things the way the majority of the rest of the world does. Please, for the love of God, do not argue with me that it should be pronounced in the Mike Tyson manner of Barthelona or Ibitha. No. Just, no.
But now that we’ve cleared that up, let me tell you all about my time in the capital. (Of Catalonia, that is. Spain’s actual capital is Madrid).
This was my first trip flying out of England, and an incredibly fun trip at that. I did a lot of research for this trip… as I tend to do. But the thing with Barcelona is that there is just so much to see and do there. So lots of research was necessary to try to make the most of just three days there.
Our flight from Gatwick was a bit delayed, so we didn’t arrive in Barcelona until about 10:30pm on a Sunday evening. At this time of day, we all decided we were better off just paying for a cab instead of trying to figure out Barcelona’s public transport system. We managed to find our Air BnB easy enough, where we dropped our stuff off then headed out in search of food.
Luckily for us, people in Barcelona tend to eat supper pretty late at night, so we went to the restaurant/bar at the end of our street to get some grub.
Unluckily for us, the Spanish don’t tend to eat huge suppers, so we ended up paying a ridiculous amount of money for a small plate of cheese, ham, and little bowl of olives. Not exactly the late night meal we were hoping for. So off to McDonald’s we went.
And what an experience it was. We quickly discovered that they had beer on their menu. And it was just 2 euros! Seriously McDonald’s Canada & UK, get your shit together.
Our first full day spent in Barcelona was a busy one. We set out in the morning in search of Las Ramblas, the main street in Barcelona. And it was nuts. It was busier than London. People everywhere. And a lot of them were wrapped in flags, which weren’t the Spanish flag…
After a quick Google search, we came to find out that it was the National Day of Catalonia. This day was first celebrated in 1886, to commemorate the fall of Barcelona during the War of the Spanish Succession. However, for the last six years, the day has been used for political rallies. And we were caught up in the middle of it.
We also learned that they were wearing the Catalan flag, called L’Estelada. This is actually an unofficial flag, but is worn by/hung on many balconies in Barcelona by people supporting Catalonia becoming independent from Spain.
Over 1 million people had gathered in the streets of Barcelona, wearing bright green and yellow t-shirts and/or the Catalan flag. For us, this meant that not only were the streets busy, they were loud. It worked in our favour, though. We got free admission to Palau Guell, one of the homes Gaudi designed.
It was a really interesting tour; self-guided with an audio guide to explain the architecture and the Guell family. The rooftop was really spectacular, with colourful chimneys and tiles.
This was actually Gaudi’s first major building in the city, so it’s interesting to see the difference in this building compared to later ones such as Casa Batllo and Casa Mila. Although we didn’t go in to Batllo or Mila, we did admire the strange exterior from the street.
Parc Guell also features Gaudi’s work. His old home is actually located in the park, which is now open as the Gaudi Museum. We got to the park a bit late, so we didn’t make it in time to see his home, but it looks just as unique and interesting as all of the other buildings in Barcelona he’s designed.
There’s also tile work and sculptures throughout the park to catch your eye.
And the view of the city of Barcelona isn’t half bad, either.
Side note: it’s free to walk around the park, but it’s €7.50 to enter the Monumental Zone, which is where the Gaudi House Museum is, along with a nature square, the Guard Museum, and Austrian gardens as well. As I mentioned, we arrived a bit later in the afternoon so we didn’t bother purchasing tickets to the Monumental Zone, but the walk around the park itself is worth the short trip out of the city centre.
If you do decide to make this trip out of the city centre, keep in mind that most of the locals are not fans of tourists. We took a bus up to the park, and saw lots of graffiti on the way saying things like “fuck tourist”, and seemed to be getting an awful lot of dirty looks just sitting on the bus…
I personally had an unfortunate encounter with an elderly woman on the bus, when I stood up and my flip-flop slipped off and hit the back of her shoe… I didn’t even get the chance to apologize before I was promptly told off.
Being screamed at in Spanish by an elderly lady on public transport was not one of my finer moments… I wasn’t sure if I was going to make it off that bus alive. I had to actually push past her to get off the bus as she stood in the doorway blocking my way out, not accepting my profuse apologies, and basically ran up the street to get away from her once I did get by her. I can not stress enough, do not piss off the locals.
We came across more graffiti at Montjuic, where us Canadians just couldn’t help but get a picture by it…
So anyway, if you’ve never actually heard of Gaudi until reading my ramblings of his cool buildings in Barcelona, you probably already put together the fact that he was an architect. But to be more specific, he was a Spanish architect known for his unique style and is the mastermind behind La Sagrada Familia – a massive, unfinished Roman Catholic church whose construction began in 1882 and is set to be completed in 2026.
We opted out of this tour too, mainly because I’d rather see it when it’s actually completed. But the queues are also quite long and it’s €15 for a basic ticket which just gives you entry to the building. For an audio guide, it’s another €7, or €9 extra for a guided tour. And for the whole experience, with access to the towers, its €29. I’m sure it’s worth it, and we may have gone in if it was in the Gothic Quarter or somewhere closer to Las Ramblas, but alas, maybe next time.
Here’s a couple shots of the place from the official website though.
We did stroll into Basilica de Santa Maria del Pi – not to be confused with Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar – a 15th-century Gothic church in Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter. We also headed toward Barcelona Cathedral, but quickly found out we needed our shoulders, chest, and knees covered to enter, so our tank tops and shorts just weren’t up to the holy dress code.
If you do want to go in but haven’t brought suitable clothing for church, you can purchase a scarf from one of the locals selling them on the steps of the cathedral. But I honestly thought one church visit on vacation was enough for my non-religious self, and couldn’t be bothered to spend as much money as the lady was asking for on a scarf in a country I planned on getting a nice tan in… So we admired it from the outside as well.
Although I’m not a big museum fan, nor do I know anything about art, we decided to check out the Picasso Museum. We weren’t allowed to take any pictures, so I can’t share any with you, but I can tell you it is home to one of the largest collections of Picasso’s work, so there’s lots of art to see.
As I said, I don’t know the first thing about art, and think some of his most famous paintings are some of his worst work. But even an uncultured art novice like myself enjoyed seeing the original works of art, and it was really cool to see how his style progressed and changed from when he was a young boy to his later years. So all in all, an interesting visit, worth the €12 admission fee.
After we gave up trying to understand how cartoon-type paintings can be worth millions, we ended up at La Parc de la Ciutadella, a lovely green oasis in the middle of a bustling city. It’s on the edge of the Old Town, and would be a great spot for a picnic lunch.
It’s also home to the Barcelona Zoo, Catalonia’s Parliament, the Museum of Natural Science, and a pretty large fountain. Which may not sound too interesting to some, but it is quite a beautiful spot.
The fountain is called “Cascada de Gaudi”, took six years to build, and is said to be based off of the Trevi Fountain in Rome. Although it’s named after Gaudi, he was still a student at the time and just assisted with it, so it doesn’t quite look like the rest of his work in Barcelona.
The Arc du Triomf is nearby as well – one of many triumphal arches built in cities throughout the world. More well-known ones are the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, or the Wellington Arch in London, for instance. But this one in Barcelona is unique, as it is red brickwork, and was built as the gate to the World Exposition in 1888, rather than a monument to commemorate victorious wars or a memorial for lives lost in wars.
Heading the opposite direction, walking back through the park will land you at Barceloneta Beach. This is the first beach on the 4.5km long stretch of beach, and closest to the rest of the city attractions, so tends to be quite busy. But it’s just gorgeous and after living in the most land-locked city in England, I’m pretty happy to be at any beach really.
Situated very close to this beach, in Port Vell (the harbour), is the Barcelona Aquarium. It’s the largest Mediterranean aquarium in Europe, but not being a huge fan of fish made this (€20) visit not worthwhile to me. I did enjoy Ripley’s Aquarium in Toronto, but other than that, I have yet to visit an aquarium where I get overly excited about seeing fish and sea life in tanks. My friends liked the place though, and I did get a fairly cute picture of a little ray…
And they have these cute little penguins, which brought my rating of the place up a bit…
But it’s still just a building full of fish tanks in my eyes, so I’ll stand by my opinion of it’s not worth it, spend your afternoon elsewhere.
Like at Montjuic Mountain, via cable car!
Although Montjuic is essentially just a hill in Barcelona, it looks over the city, providing some pretty great views. It’s also home to Montjuic Castle, Montjuic Municipal Pool, Mossen Cinto Verdaguer Gardens, and the Grec Theather Gardens. So once you get up to the top of the hill, there’s plenty to see and do.
Personally, I think the best way to get there is from Barceloneta Beach, via the cable car. It takes about ten minutes, but gives you spectacular views of the seaport from 70m high. A return ticket is €12.50; or you could use public transport and get a bus up to the top. Although cheaper, you can’t beat the views from the cable car!
But, back to the beach. It’s a dangerous place. We were there for all of about four minutes before being approached by a guy walking around the beach with a tray of drinks. Which, of course, we couldn’t turn down. And once we bought a couple drinks… the liquor sellers came crawling out of the woodwork to try to get us to buy more. Being terrible at bartering, and pretty thirsty folk, we quickly ended up with more drinks than two of us needed and the bottle of rum too…
We were also approached by a random guy asking where we were from. So we told him we were from Canada, and he got very excited, saying his boss was Canadian! We ended up chatting for a bit before he asked if he could sit with us, and explain the company a bit more. Naturally, we were a bit apprehensive and wary, but he went and sat down anyway.
Come to find out, the company the guy worked for was a place that organizes parties and pub crawls. Leave it to me to find a random Canadian pub crawl company in Spain.
So the offer he was giving us was €15 for the pub crawl tank, entry to four different bars/clubs, with a free drink or shot at each one, plus a party bus to get us around. He really had to twist our rubber arms to sell this one to us.
We started the pub crawl at an Irish pub, actually. It was called The George Payne Bar, and was a great start to the crawl.
This was followed by a club called the Bunker, where people were funneling beer in the middle of the dance floor….
The third stop was at an old cocktail bar called Boadas, the oldest cocktail bar in Barcelona. It’s a pretty tiny spot, but they had good drinks and a great atmosphere. It was actually so crowded I couldn’t even get a decent shot of the place.
Our fourth and final stop was at a club called Otto Zutz, a busy club packed wall to wall with people. The music was good, and we ended up getting in to VIP, so it was a great end to a great pub crawl, and perfect way to spend our last night in Barcelona.
Although I don’t have many pictures of the food and drink in Barcelona, I can tell you it was all amazing. (Minus that first night of ham and cheese and olives). We had pizza for lunch at a spot next door to Palau Guell, where I accidentally chose a pizza with tuna and artichokes on it… And it was surprisingly delicious. But my favourite dish was Paella, basically a rice stir-fry with chicken, pork, shrimp, mussels, and some other sorts of seafood too.
The sangria everywhere in Barcelona is just amazing too. I think we had it with every meal… And patatas bravas (potatoes with a spicy tomato-y sauce) were my favourite tapas.
As I said at the beginning of this now-lengthy post, there’s a ton of stuff to do and see in Barcelona. I had researched where everything was and what was close to what, and came up with a rough idea of an itinerary for our few days there. Because of the National Day of Catalonia, we didn’t quite get to follow it, as many places were closed that day. But here’s my list of things to do, with admission prices.
- €7.50 Monumental Zone at Parc Guell
- €5.50 Gaudi House Museum – home of Gaudi turned museum
- €29/€15 La Sagrada Familia (tour + access to towers/basic admission)
- €5 La Monumental – old bull fighting arena
- free Arc de Triomf
- free Parc de la Ciutadella – green park, good place to rent bicycles
€24 Barcelona Zoo (inside Parc)
- €18 Barcelona Aquarium
- free Barceloneta Beach
- free Columbus Monument
- free Las Ramblas – main street, “the street that never sleeps”
- free La Boqueria – market, off Las Ramblas
- €4 Basilica de Santa Maria del Pi (€8.50 for guided tour/tower access)
- €8 Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar
- free Barcelona Cathedral (€3 for roof access) – built 13th century
- free Museum of History of Barcelona
- €12 Picasso Museum
- €12 Palau Guell – Guell’s mansion designed by Gaudi
- €17 Casa Amatller – Gaudi design
- €24 Casa Batllo – Gaudi design
- €22 Casa Mila – Gaudi design
- €12.60 Poble Espanyol – architectural museum
- free Placa d’Espanya – one of the biggest squares in Spain
- free Magic Fountain – free music & light show, Thurs-Sat 2100-2200
- €5 Montjuic Castle
- €12.70 Montjuic Cable Car (round trip from Barceloneta Beach to top of Montjuic)
- €5 Montasterio de Pedralbes – Gothic monastery turned museum
- €2 Sagrat Cor – church atop Mount Tibidabo, nice views, €2 for elevator to top
- €28.50 Tibidabo Amusement Park – atop Mount Tibidabo
- €2.50 Parc de Laberint d’Horta – one of the oldest gardens
- €31.80 Montserrat (return fare, funicular trains) – natural landmark outside city
- €7 Montserrat Museum
- free Bunker del Carmel – panoramic views, great place for a picnic & sunset