Barcelona is one of my favorite cities in Europe. I spent a few weeks there at the beginning of my study abroad trip in college, but to be honest, I wasted a lot of time and did not explore the city as much as I would have liked to. I spent too much time at the bars and sleeping when I wasn’t in class (typical college Crystal). I was very excited to return to Barcelona, especially with Alex! Barcelona is such a trendy, artsy, fashionable city. I love the vicinity to the water and the relaxed atmosphere. Two of the places I was most excited to visit because I had missed them before were Parc Guell and the Olympic Village. Both fully exceeded my expectations! The only difficult thing about Barcelona is that the people speak Catalan. For the most part, we got by on my Spanish, but it was a bit harder for me to read as Catalan is significantly different than Spanish. Alex and I had a fantastic time in Barcelona. If you are going to Spain, make sure Barcelona is on the list!
The first night, we ate dinner at Caleuche near where we were staying. The waitress spoke only Catalan and Spanish and I was flattered when she assumed we were natives and immediately started speaking to us in Spanish. Of course I tried my best and we were able to successfully order wine, pizza, and appetizers. The pizza was truly delicious brick oven pizza. I don’t usually think of pizza as being great anywhere but in Italy (and America), but we both really loved our meals and the ambience of the restaurant.
We ate our other dinner at Tonka. It was one of my favorite places: a little hole in the wall tiny place with wine and tapas. It was low lit and super cute and romantic. Tonka has homemade pastas and very fresh ingredients. We also got the impression that it was a very hip place to be. We LOVED Tonka, so I highly recommend it. Also, it happened to be Halloween, so if you were in costume you got a free mojito. The funny thing about that was that I was actually in Spain for study abroad during Halloween and I do not remember hearing of anyone but Americans celebrating the holiday. However, on my trip with Alex, there were many people in costume and several Halloween stores. They must really be adopting the holiday!
We also ate lunch at La Mar Salada at the beach which was delicious (and recommended by the NYT). The mussels were amazing. The restaurant was somewhat pricey for lunch but I felt that for what we ordered, it was more than worth it. It was also filled with locals and not tourists, which is always a GREAT sign!
Another stop you should make is to Pasteleria La Colmena on La Rambla. It is a famous pasteleria with little cakes and cookies. We did not buy anything there as we had another Pasteleria near where we were staying, but we enjoyed looking at the gorgeous desserts. If you go and do stop in for a treat, please let me know how it is!
The first night we went to Bar Dow Jones. We had heard about it from a friend before the trip and were very excited. Bar Dow Jones is a stock exchange bar. There is kind of an American crowd, but it was a very fun experience. Drink prices rise and fall like the stock exchange, so if a certain drink is really popular, the price will rise. Alternatively, if no one is buying a specific drink, the prices will drop until enough people start buying it and they rise again. Very fun!
My favorite bar was Bar Marsella, which at the time of this post is very unfortunately closed. It is the oldest bar in the city. The specialty is absinthe, and a glass of absinthe at Bar Marsella is no joke! Alex and I had the best time there. Bar Marsella is over a hundred years old. There are cobwebs on the chandeliers, old liquor bottles, and the walls are brown from smoke. I loved it. I did some research on why it closed and apparently, it had to do with the lease. I think it’s so sad as it was obviously a great establishment, but maybe the Barcelonans will save it and you can still go there. If so, it is a must.
The obvious must-sees are Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell. They are both absolutely amazing and you cannot miss them. The line to get into the Sagrada Familia can get extremely long, so to avoid waiting for hours, my tip for Sagrada Familia is to buy your tickets on the Spanish Ticketmaster before you get there. When we bought them, the website was only in Spanish so it would be a bit tricky to be sure if you don’t know Spanish, but I believe the website may be in English now. If not, or if you do not have access to internet during your travels, there are machines across from the Sagrada Familia (they look like ATMs) and you can buy your tickets there. Apparently, this is a big secret because everyone else waits in line for hours, but we bought them on Ticketmaster and were inside in 15 minutes. I am not sure why no one else seemed to catch on to that tip, but hey, I’ll take the advantage! Also, I would recommend visiting the towers if it is a pretty day so you can see views of Barcelona. If you have trouble with small spaces, just stick to the inside and the facades. There is plenty to see there Also, if you are interested in reading or hearing the history of Sagrada Familia, I would allot for a couple of hours. The information is quite extensive and there is an interesting museum downstairs which shows the progress since construction started in 1882. One of my favorite aspects of the cathedral is that work is always being done, so if you are ever able to return, you can really see a difference. When I was there in 2004, you couldn’t actually go inside the main part of the cathedral so it was amazing to see the progress in just 8 years.
Next, Parc Guell is gorgeous. You could visit it on its own or as part of something like a Gaudi tour where you would visit several Gaudi buildings like Casa Mila and Casa Batilo. We opted to see each as we were walking around the city. Parc Guell is a large park which contains the house where Gaudi lived, a café, and incredible views of Barcelona. The architecture is beautiful and the mosaic work is fascinating. Alex and I brought sandwiches to the park and ate them while enjoying the views of Barcelona. There are two entrances to Park Guell. You can take a bus directly to the entrance of one, but we decided to walk. You have to walk up a very steep hill to get there, but it is a much faster trip overall. After, we walked to Sagrada Familia. If you walk between the two, I would make sure you walk from Parc Guell to Sagrada familia as it is about a 20-30 minute walk down a steep hill. The opposite would be quite a climb!
Another favorite of mine was visiting Olympic park. You can see the pool, track, stadium, and other highlights. If you aren’t as into the Olympics as me, it may not be that interesting, but I absolutely loved it. Just standing near the pool where Janet Evans, Jenny Thompson, and Summer Sanders swam was very exciting to me! You can also visit a museum devoted to the Olympics, the Museu Olímpic i de l’Esport. I really enjoyed seeing all the memorabilia and reading about different sports. I was disappointed the swimming portion was so small, but overall it was very interesting. To get to Olympic park, you take the metro to Parc de Montjuïc station and then take a cable car to Montjauc. There is a lot to see In Montjauc, so if you plan to spend time there, you may want to hop on a bus to get around. The Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Castell de Montjüic, all contained in a pretty park. There is also a Magic Fountain, which has a huge light and music show on certain nights.
Another pretty sight is the Barcelona Cathedral. It is more of the classic European cathedral style than the Sagrada Familia. It also has a market outside some evenings where you can find antiques. There are several great gift ideas!
You will want to make sure you leave time to stroll down La Rambla and Passeig de Gracia. La Rambla has many cafés and street performers and the Passeig de Gracia has high fashion shopping. Both have great people watching, of course!
You could also visit Barceloneta beach. There are several great seafood restaurants and it is always fun to see another coast. Unfortunately it was a little to chilly when Alex and I were there, but we enjoyed walking around by the port and walking along the beach.
If you have more time in Barcelona…
One thing Alex and I didn’t do, that I wish we had time for was the Mercat de La Boqueria. It’s a famous market where you can buy fresh food and drinks and see all kinds of exotic food. You can also visit Parc de la Ciutadella, a cute little park that has a zoo and greenhouse. We ran there a lot during my study abroad, but Alex and I did not make it on this trip.
When I was in college, we went to a large cultural festival at Parc del Forum. I wouldn’t make a trip unless something is going on there, but if there is, it would be worthwhile. I find festivals are a great way to take in the culture of the city you are visiting!