A very last minute work trip to Barcelona came up so we planned it like a mullet, business in the front, party in the back. For three days I attended a conference at the gorgeous Hotel Arts located right on the beach. My first three nights were spent networking over amazing paella and endless Rioja. This professional crowd even experienced the famous club scene of Barcelona, staying up until 5 am barhopping from the 25th floor of the W Hotel to the expat oceanfront club Opium. From the look of the crowd you would have never known it was a Tuesday.
Needless to say, by day four I was suffering from the painful combination of jet lag, alcohol & too many tapas. Thankfully, nothing in Barcelona really gets going before 10 am so we didn’t feel too guilty about our noon start time on our first day committed to touring.
We definitely did not hit every thing there is to see in Barcelona but in true Spanish style our late mornings were followed by late nights.
Day 1 we grabbed lunch at a quieter market, foregoing the famous Mercado de la Boqueria, for the nearby Mercat de Santa Caterina mostly because it was two blocks from our hotel.
Our first destination of the day was the Picasso Museum. The museum blends among the apartments on a quiet street in the El Born district. There you can see a chronological representation of Picasso’s work from student to master. They prohibit photography so Daran took the opportunity to catch me off guard.
From there we strolled the El Born district, an upscale maze of cobblestone walkways lined with shops, restaurants and the occasional plaça. A friend gave me a great itinerary that included a popular candy shop Happy Pills! My sweet tooth was on board.
We spent the rest of the afternoon at the unreal rooftop terrace of our hotel, the Grand Hotel Central. I love that every beer is served with a crunchy snack.
That evening my feet were screaming but yet we walked down to Port Vell among the yachts and counterfeit goods. There is a roundabout paying tribute to Christopher Columbus pointing in an arguably ‘westward’ direction which aligns with his arguable ‘discovery’ of the New World.
This night was no different than any other, in that we took a long after dinner stroll to take in the city. Even for the most unromantic, all of Spain is conspiring against you and forcing you to walk its intimate streets and pathways.
Day 2 we checked out of one hotel and into another. It can be a pain, but if you plan on staying in one city more than a few days I would definitely recommend changing your scenery. We moved out of the tourist Gothic district and into the heart of Exiample Dret to the amazing boutique Hotel Casa Bonay. The hotel was born out of a recent renovation of a former residents originally built in 1869. It was shiny and new with great character and detail. The attached restaurant and coffee shop, popular establishments in their own right.
We booked tickets for Sagrada Familia. I would recommend getting these ahead of time. See the link in the Obvious and Avoids section below. The facade at the main entrance depicts the Nativity and is so intricate and detailed but looks like it was carved out of massive rock rather than built from the ground up. Upon entering the walls are covered in colorful stain glass and lined with spiral staircases. The floors are constructed around enormous stone pillars shaped like trees and holding up the 18 spires of the building. It has a Wizard of Oz feel and makes quite the first impression. There are heavy crowds but they stagger entry with designated time slots so it is not difficult to maneuver.
We took a taxi to Park Güell where we had the unfortunate news that we needed tickets to enter the main attraction, an Antoni Gaudí designed private estate turned park. This is what happens when you book a trip in two days. Thankfully, most of the park is free and still rather amazing because it offers some of the best views of Barcelona.
There are musicians playing for tips among the park’s bridges and shady structures designed by it’s lead architect. Gaudí designed what is now the monumental precinct of park with fantastical architecture covered in mosaics, reminiscent of a Dr. Seuss town.
One of us channeling “Weekend at Bernie’s” in a taxi ride back the hotel.
We walked down to Catalan’s interpretation of the Arc de Triomf to people watch but it quickly became a puppy watch. This park must be the place where the locals exercise and relieve their pups. They kept me amused and Daran called me a creep because I fell in love with one scrappy pup in particular. I probably snapped tens of photos of him.
We strolled down the Parc de la Cuitadella where people were spending time doing anything from playing soccer to hula hooping to rolling joints. A friend suggested we check out the Cascada fountain. Not knowing what to expect we knew we found it when we saw the five tiered waterfall flowing to a pool dotted with mystical creatures, flanked by winding three story staircases. Imagine if Liberace, Palace Versailles and Zeus conceived a fountain, it would look like this. It was without a doubt spectacular and we basically had the entire monument to ourselves.
On certain nights the fountain in Plaça d’ Espanya will put on a show that rivals that of Disneyland; it’s called the Magic Fountain. The water lights up with color, dancing into different patterns to a variety of music from Miley Cyrus to U2 to Mozart. I found the crowd far more intriguing than the fountain however. This water dance goes on for two hours and there were people with iPads and cell phones capturing the entire production. I’m sure they will go straight home and watch every exciting minute.
To my extreme delight I was bombarded by a group of teenage Spaniards all shouting “Photo, photo, photo”. It took me a moment to figure, but they were essentially surrounding women to get their photo with a very comical approach. Not that they understood my Midwestern accent, but I responded with a “Let’s do this” and all 12 of us squeezed into a photo with the help of their selfie stick. Daran then quickly captured the moment with his camera.
After a few full days of touring, we planned to lounge on the beach for our last day, Day 3. This urban beach scene was a European dream and the people watching was amazing. Restaurants and bars are on the beach just steps from the water. It exudes a party and these people are TAN! I felt questionable stares when Daran and I put on sunscreen. Daran joined in on a few games of volleyball while I laid under a palm tree.
We closed out our last day of the trip with a sunset cruise on the Orsom catamaran. For once we were early to something so we were able to stake claim to the front port side net. They served us wine while a saxophone serenaded the group, it was uber romantic though I would suggest it for a family too.
The pink Spanish sunsets linger so the entire 2 hour excursion was under the sun’s ‘magic hour’. This is the time of day when everyone’s skin tone looks amazing and glowy and natural light is your best friend.
Barcelona was so affordable compared to other European cities. It offered just the right amount of culture with the right amount of leisure. It was the perfect getaway.
Barcelona Obvious and Avoids:
Check out the work of the masters. Pablo Picasso and Antoni Gaudí called Barcelona home. The Picasso Museum, Sagrada Familia, and Park Güell will give their fair share of art and architecture but the not as obvious Casa Batlló is amazing Gaudí architecture on Passeig de Garcia that is high drama in the day time but even more so when lit up at night. Get your tickets ahead of time and skip the lines.
Use your feet! You’ll see so much more of the city especially since some neighborhoods are cut off to cars and only allow pedestrian and bike traffic. Also, taxis are known for taking the ‘scenic route’.
Try the sangria, cava, and Spanish wines. Cocktails are far more expensive. If you do want a sugary concoction try a passion fruit mojito.
Experience the party scene of Barcelona for a night or two – The party doesn’t get going until 2 am. The clubs on the beach, Opium and Shoko are full of foreign exchange students so if that isn’t your scene, there are plenty of late night spots on La Rambla.
Hit the Beach – Don’t worry if you didn’t pack a beach chair in your carry on. There are rentals at Barceloneta Beach. Go for lunch too, there are some great burger joints on the boardwalk.
Take the public transit from the airport – Some hotels may provide a shuttle but there is a big baby blue bus called the Aerobus. It costs around 5 euro each way; cab will cost around 40 Euro. It takes you to either Plaza de Espana or Plaza de Catalunya (the city center). Look up which one will be closer to your hotel. Both stops have large metro stops as well. They leave every 5 – 10 mins from the airport to the two destinations.
Explore the neighborhoods – walk down La Rambla and explore the Gothic District, get lost in El Born.
Order tapas and pinxtos – be sure to order patatas bravas, croquettes and paella. Pinxtos are pre-made bar snacks, mostly served over bread. They are all displayed at the bar for you to freely make your selection. When you are finished the server will just count the toothpicks!
Get out on the water – Check out Orsom Catamaran for a sunset cruise.
Pickpockets – They are most prevalent where there are crowds, think airports, train stations, and busy streets like La Rambla. But always be on your guard and don’t fall for distractions. To avoid being a target, keep you stuff packed away, this includes wallets and iPhones. We even saw a beach vendor pick a fight with a group of Brits on a stag party. The idea was to distract the group with a fight while another co-conspirator would going to rob them. We also saw vendors bolting down the beach and about 500 ft back in flip flops were two guys chasing after them who had clearly just been robbed.
Weird food – This caught us off guard, I wouldn’t have expected to get sick in Barcelona and really I think this is an isolated incident. I had an unfortunate early morning after eating ‘calamari’. It turned out to be different than the fried preparation we are use to here in the States. I’m always one for new and different food, but the raw squid didn’t not sit well with me and by 3 am I was hunched over the porcelain throne the morning of our flight home.
Getting a sunburn – Nothing will ruin a vacation like a sunburn. The beaches here are the perfect temperature. In June there was a cool sea breeze making it possible to withstand the sun all day. This is a recipe for a burn. If you forgot yours at home, there are kiosks selling sunscreen, towels, toys etc down on the boardwalk.