In Spain’s most cosmopolitan city , you’ll sample traditional paella, face the kicks of tapas and sweet sangria, binge on seafood delicacies, enjoy the vibrant nightlife and make your mind up as to whether the 100+ years of unfinished Sagrada Familia construction will really be ‘completed in 2026’.
In nearly all travel recommendations of ‘best places to visit’, ‘top 20 places to visit’, Spain’s Barcelona tops the list. It’s no surprise why this city is so popular. And no, I am not just talking about the fact that you can rely on the city for its pleasant weather. (We are all guilty of picking a travel destination for that reason, aren’t we, fellow Brits?!) The excellent modes of transport connecting neighbouring cities, the sandy beaches, flamenco shows, operas, cheap prices of restaurants and cafes, quirky, markets and ‘Gaudi’ style architecture means Barca can serve both as a short city break or a longer family holiday. Barcelona is very flexible. Take from the city what you will and you will be sure to find something that is your cup of tea.
Barcelona’s beauty does not operate in isolation. Don’t stick to the areas which surround your AirBnB or your hotel. Buy a 72-hour metro card (22€) so you can have easy access to other neighbourhoods and see how different each area is. The metro card also works for buses and aerobuses to and from the airport so proves an efficient way of seeing as much of the city as possible in a short time. After all, who can really afford to splash out on minicabs…
Stop 1: Head down to the Park Güell, Carmel Hill conveniently located at a ten-minute walk from Vallcarca or Lesseps station on the green line (L3). Be warned, the walk to the grounds is mostly uphill but the lack of breath is largely made up for by the breathtaking panoramic views of Barcelona. Selfie opportunity!
Note that the park is a lot less busy in the morning so to avoid feeling like a canned sardine, set your alarm clock a little earlier. You won’t regret it. Take a leisurely stroll or a brisk jog around the interweaving footpaths which lead down to the Monumental Core. Beautiful scenery and architecture is a common theme throughout this ground with lots of nature and serenity. There is an admission fee to the Core but at 7.50€, it is reasonable and worth it. The Core includes architectonic pieces of Antoni Gaudi and Eusebi Güell (no prizes for guessing where the park’s name originates from!) and you can explore their roots by going to the House-Museum, in which Gaudi lived in for 20 years. You will leave the park feeling captivated by Barcelona’s beauty but also feeling cultured, having learnt some interesting facts about Barcelona’s most famous and notable architectural-entrepreneurial partnership.
Stop 2: After the exploring, why not refuel and head to an eatery for some Spanish pastries. Café Dernier located just opposite El Poble Sec station (only a few stops from Vallcarca on the green line-L3) offers an exquisite range of cakes, doughnuts, pastries, baguettes and paninis. With fresh ingredients, your only dilemma will be the agonising choice over what to pick, whether it is acceptable to have three (yes three) doughnuts in one sitting, and finding a seat due to the café’s popularity.
Stop 3: Montjuïc Castle is a must-see in Barcelona with its beautiful grounds and towering, historical military fortress. Student discount entitles you to 3€ (!) admission which includes a map guide. Easiest transport is to go via the Montjuïc cable car. Go via Paral-lel station, located on the green line (L3) which serves as the lower terminal of the Funicular de Montjuïc. Not only does this save you time and energy, it is a scenic and memorable experience in itself. Get your selfie stick ready and take a gulp as you are launched into the air!
Stop 4: I don’t think you can visit Barca without trying a tapas bar. Tapas are a great choice whether you are feeling peckish or ravenous. Tapa Tapa in Passeig de Gràcia offers a multitude of options (well, I guess the clue is in the name, right?). From grilled calamari to meatballs in a red wine sauce to a heavier paella, a selection of cool drinks and sangria, all at a very reasonable price, it is a great way to explore Spanish delicacy and see another of Barcelona’s neighbourhoods. A great selection of souvenir shops are dotted around too.
Stop 4: . Either book a flamenco show in advance or try and get a one-off deal on the day. Keep your eyes peeled as you can nab a seat for a cool 10€ on the day. The show tends to be short at a one hour duration but less is more when it comes to enjoying the southern Spain’s flamenco folkloric music tradition! Also, some of the ticket prices throw in a free drink.
Stop 5: Story, Barcelona. This bar/eatery is set in a quirky backstreet location which you could easily miss with the blink of an eye. Not only does it offer plenty of traditional Spanish delicacies, it also offers wider Mediterranean and European fusion. Oh, and as an aside… it also features a cool library full of retro books and magazines. Got a vegetarian, vegan or gluten free friend in your group? No fear, there are plenty of options for them too. A friendly restaurant with live music, emitting edgy and quirky vibes sums up Barca’s authenticity. Try some Spanish vermouth at this location, either red or white, it will be sure to wake you up if your eyes are drooping.
Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família and Sagrada Familia Museum.
Stop 1: Art and architecture fans…be still your beating heart! Easily accessible via metro on the purple line (L2), you just need to remember to get off at the Sagrada Familia tube stop. I trust that you can remember that… The Sagrada Familia has similarities with the Park Güell in that they were both designed by the same architect, Antoni Gaudì. In fact, the park opened officially in 1926, the year of Gaudí’s passing. Under construction for 100+ years, it is expected (though debated) that the Sagrada will be finished in 2026 to mark the 100 year anniversary of Gaudì’s death. Walk in and gasp at the amazing intricate design from the stained glass to the marble floor. If you go when the sun’s beams are strong enough, the stained glass’ colours interweave and reflect beautifully on the floor. It looks like you are standing on your very own kaleidoscope. Words cannot do justice to the beauty of this place.
Stop 2: Tuscany Food and Wine: After spending most of the day at the Sagrada Familia and taking in the various souvenir shops, tapas bars, buskers, why not head to this lovely eatery. It is centrally located, near the Sagrada but you almost get the feeling that you are in a cocoon in that it offers an indoor/outdoor seating area away from the tourists and the main road. Offering gnocchi and traditional seafood paella, it is the perfect accompaniment with a glass of fruity and sweet sangria. Oh, just one more then…
Liceu Opera Theatre
Stop 3: Head to the Liceu Theatre, located adjacent to Liceu station on the green line (L3) where you can watch jaw dropping Operas and breathtaking Ballets. Even if this may traditionally ‘not be your thing’, why not give it a try?
Stop 4: Gelato and Churros. After watching a theatre show, you might feel your stomach rumble again (why does this happen to us so much on holiday?!). No fear, Liceu’s neighbourhood is full of dessert places offering ‘pick n mix’ style biscuits, chocolates and crepes with mouth-watering toppings. Don’t go for the easy option by just asking for the dessert menu at the restaurant you are dining at. Head to a dessert parlour and you won’t be disappointed.
As a side note, make sure you keep an eye out for pickpockets. The last day of my trip ended with my friend’s phone getting stolen on the way to the airport. It is unfortunately a reality no matter where you are.
Overall, I found that Barca is full of hidden gems. Take a risk and don’t rely exclusively on hotel recommendations or central and ‘conveniently located’ restaurants. Explore the side streets but don’t stop there. Follow that dodgy-looking alleyway. Take that weird twist and bend.
Try to stop that intuitive programming in your mind of ‘let’s give that a miss’ or ‘there aren’t many people in there, I don’t think it’s going to be good’. Go outside of your comfort zone. Give it a shot! And I promise you, you will not regret it. Not only will you save euros by venturing out, you will have a more memorable experience.
Be safe but don’t always play by the rules.
Accommodation: AirBnB. Location: 2 minutes walk from El Poble Sec Station. Centrally located and at a good distance from Barcelona Airport.
Flights: London Stansted to Barcelona Airport (Ryanair Airline)