Barcelona doesn’t have to be visited in the peak of summer, when it’s packed with tourists and it’s so hot that all you can do is laze on the beach. Winter is quite tolerable. If you’ve been further north in Europe in winter you might even consider it some good respite. A city with this much history is still lively and things are no less beautiful just because it’s a little cool. Go get lost in the old streets and find yourself a cosy tapas bar!
It won’t take long for you to fall in love with the city. It’s a cultural, artistic and social hub with loads of things to do and all with a sense of charm. It’s one of Europe’s biggest and most popular cities. Just walk through the streets for a few hours and see why.
It seems as if Barcelonians love their balconies, each of them unique in their own way, but many of them turned into gardens and some with plants abseiling over the sides. Some hang the Senyera estelada flag showing their desire for Catalonian independence. The more fancy buildings enclose them in glass and create an exclusive sunroom.
Architecture is one thing that makes this city beautiful. Antoni Gaudí’s work is very distinct throughout the city. If something looks a little quirky, has natural wavy lines or sloping features then it’s probably by Gaudí.
His greatest and most important work was the very unique church, the Sagrada Família. If you visit only one church in Europe this one has to be on your list of priorities. If you like more modern churches and strong geometry then this should be the top of your list. Much of his work is inspired by nature and the Sagrada Família is an excellent example of this.
The project is so bold and so expensive that it still requires another decade of revenue raising from tourist visits to fund completion, but don’t let that deter you from marvelling at the work in progress. Book tickets in advance to avoid the wait, but I wouldn’t recommend paying extra to climb the towers unless you want to donate to the cause. The church isn’t located in the nicest area of Barcelona and there are plenty of other viewpoints.
Don’t just stop at the Sagrada Família though. If you continue up the hill you will reach Gaudí’s Park Güell. You can use the WiFi at the ticket office to save €1 and purchase last minute entry to the Monumental Zone which is a must.
You can walk around the free areas of the park first and after entering at your allotted time, you can soak up the sun on the seats of the Plaza de La Natura overlooking some of the bizarre Park Güell residences and the rest of Barcelona city.
It’s a fairly long walk back but you will see some fancy Spanish architecture and some more of Gaudí’s work along the Passeig de Gràcia. Entry to Casa Batlló and Casa Lleó Morera might seem a bit steep, so consider what you really want to see.
If you continue towards the Mediterranean Sea you can walk down La Rambla. A little infamous as the red light district, but worth exploring nonetheless. Along the way back towards the Gothic Quarter you can pitstop at the Mercado de la Boqueria for some fresh seafood or supplies.
Just let yourself get lost in the Gothic Quarter and old town Barcelona. There are so many charming little streets and secret laneways that you don’t need or want transcribed directions for. I strongly recommend coming back at night to find a place that allures you to come inside for tapas. If you’ve heard someone rave about good tapas, these are the sorts of places they were talking about. If in doubt, I recommend La Alcoba Azul – tasty tapas, friendly staff and outrageously good value for money.
If you don’t have long in Barcelona I think it’s worth staying in town to make the most of it, but if you do have some time one option is to day trip to Montserrat. It’s 1hr by train on the R5 and then another 15mins on funiculars and/or cable car (about €21 total). The cable car is meant to be nicer. The hike to Sant Jeroni is easy with the extra funicular (€10 return), but not amazing. I think it would be more interesting to find a way to walk to some of these little chapels on the mountain top.
The monastery itself is quite beautiful. Step inside and you’ll see a much more traditional church very contrasting to the Sagrada Família. If you miss out on a seat for the journey back then keep an eye on the timetable for Martorell Enllaç as you can jump off here and try to find a seat on a trailing S4, R6 or S8 which all use the same track back to Barcelona.
While you are waiting to depart Barcelona (or on the return) you can walk out of Espanya station onto Plaza d’Espanya. From here you can easily see and reach Montjuïc.
One good thing to cap off any good city visit is good coffee. After a couple of tries we found Cafés el Magnífico with a friendly barrista in the morning and interesting comments online about the afternoon guy.
It’s only a 3hr high speed train on Renfe between Barcelona and Madrid (we got ours on sale for €68) and you can get €60 flights from Rennes direct to Barcelona with Vueling if you book ahead.