I love Barcelona. Why? It’s the city that has a little bit of everything. The capital of Catalonia is brimming with culture, a rich history, amazing architecture, picturesque streets, exquisite cuisine and beautiful beaches. The list is simply endless.
Last month I was tempted back to this vibrant city for a third time to celebrate a friend’s 40th. The break took a very different tangent to my usual city breaks – This trip was all about the partying. Despite the 5am bedtimes, I still managed to squeeze in some essential sight-sighting. Well I wouldn’t be a very good Curious Pixie if I didn’t, would I?
Here are my five must-see things for those making their first foray to Barcelona.
1. Gothic Quarter
Barrio Gothic is home to Europe’s most beautiful and oldest thoroughfares. On previous visits I’ve strolled around these windy streets, often lost. That’s the beauty though as you stumble across relics ranging from ancient Roman buildings, 14th Century gothic churches to quirky tapas bars, shops and cafes.
This time round I came with a thirst to know more. Also with no kids in tow I took the opportunity to do a free 2.5 hour walking tour of the area with Runner Bean Tours.
The leisurely stroll takes you through the ancient streets revealing the secrets behind the narrow passages and charming squares. They take place everyday at 11am and 4.30pm and depart from Plaça Reial.
Bookings are not necessary, but recommended as numbers are limited for quality purposes. And when they say free, it’s actually on a donation basis. At the end you give the guide what you think the tour was worth. I can guarantee you won’t be disappointed by the knowledge of the guides as you wander through the atmospheric cobblestone lanes.
2. Sagrada Família
If on your itinerary you only have time for one sightseeing trip. Hands down, this is it! Not even finished yet, I think it’s definitely in my top five favourite buildings in the world. It attracts three million visitors a year and is said to be the most visited monument in Spain. Started in 1882 by Gaudi, he worked on it until his death in 1926. Since then various architects have continued the work on the famous Basilica. There is no official finish date, but the word is it could be finished in 2026. Looks like I’ll be back for sure in another ten years!
Many people view the incredible structure from outside swamped with cranes and say they’ve been – Incorrect people! You really must see it from the inside. The interior is absolutely awe-inspiring. Every time I visit I’m amazed at how much the interior has come on in the last decade.
Everything is inspired by nature in this vast space from the forest pillars stretching up to the high ceiling to the blue and orange glow emanating from the huge stained glass windows representing the seasons.
You don’t need to be religious to appreciate the beauty of this place where gothic meets Art Nouveau. I’ve always found the unfinished building quite inspiring and can’t help but feel quite moved every time I stand in its grounds.
Avoid queues and pre-book your entrance tickets in advance. You have various options one of which is with a tour. This time round I chose to go up one of the spires for an aerial view. You take the lift up, but the walk back down a fair few steep stones could be a deal breaker for vertigo sufferers.
3. Park Güell
Parc Guell now a UNESCO World Heritage site is actually the remains of a residential area designed by Gaudi in 1900. Eusebi Güell bought a tree covered hillside and intended to build an estate for the upper classes based on the British garden cities. The project failed and work was abandoned in 1914. Today the park is incredibly popular with the majority of the visitors being tourists.
It’s easy to see why, on arrival the Hansel and Gretel inspired gatehouses begin your journey into surrealism. Once inside you’re surrounded by colourful mosaic tiles adorning walls, statutes and buildings.
The spectacular views across Barcelona out to the sea from the famous tiled bench makes this unique and beautiful park one not to be missed.
Due to its popularity access is now limited to a certain number of people every half-hour. I’d strongly advise booking ahead online, plus it saves you money on the admission fee.
4. La Boqueria
For a gastronomical treat on all your senses there is only one place to go – The Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria. Commonly referred to as La Boqueria, it’s one of the most famous food markets in the world. Dating back to 1207 it also takes the crown of the oldest.
Located off the famous pedestrianised La Rambla makes it a hugely popular tourist attraction too. It’s the perfect place to wander and try fresh and local produce whether it be on the brimming countertops or to eat on the go. You have Catalan sausages, jamon, salads, sandwiches, fresh fruit drinks, tapas, chocolate, wine, coffee and guess what I found – Mojito ice-cream baby! Boy was it good.
You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to the search for golden grains of sand. Barcelona has seven beaches on it’s 4.5km coastline. One of the city’s oldest is Barceloneta, being the closest to the city centre it’s also the most popular.
After devouring all the glorious food you can either indulge in a siesta, work off the extra calories with the various activities on offer or enjoy my favourite pastime of people watching.
Pickpockets are rife in Barcelona. On all three of my visits I’ve witnessed successful and unsuccessful thieves stealing from my own friend circle. Keep belongings on a tight leash. Better to be safe than sorry.
Have you ever been to Barcelona? Where are your favourite spots or where would you like to visit? Let me know in the comments box below.
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