The Beauty & Bustle of Barcelona | City Break Series
Ahh, Barcelona. Personally, my favourite place in the world. A city that has everything you can possibly want or need for a short break or a long one.
I have had the pleasure of visiting a number of times and wanted to share some of my favourite experiences for anyone umming and ahhing about hopping on a plane and going themselves.
I have stayed in a couple of different hotels over my Catalonian travels but the best by far has to be the moderately priced 4* Hilton Hotel Barcelona. Sometimes, you can’t go wrong with a chain hotel and when you are roaming the streets and seeing the sights all day, you want somewhere reputable and comfortable to rest your head and put up your weary feet for the night. It is everything you can expect from a traditional Hilton hotel. A dapper looking concierge and reception team situated in the grand lobby, a restaurant to your right and a lounge bar straight on after the spiral staircase and lifts. A vast amount of floors housing super size rooms with king size beds and modern amenities including a hi-tech gym and pool area. The majority of the rooms also boast an incredible view of the city below and beyond, increasing the eagerness to get out and explore. What’s better is the 4th floor of the Hilton. You can upgrade during your stay and enjoy Moet on tap and canapés throughout the day in the Executive Lounge – what’s not to love?
The location of the hotel is what drew me to it mainly, situated a short walk from Playa de Espanya, Barcelona’s renowned shopping mall (where there are metro links) and an equal walking distance to the top of the famous Las Ramblas stretch, yet far enough away to enjoy some peace and quiet and some traditional eateries nearby in the evening.
T H I N G S T O D O D U R I N G Y O U R S T A Y
The first time I went to Barcelona was with Mr C and we hadnt been together very long, 4 months maybe, but in that time I had come to realise he was a bit of a football fanatic. Me, not so much. This was number 1 on his agenda and I’ll be honest, it didn’t really appeal even with his attempt to sell it to me. Now, it very well could have been the experience of seeing one of the best clubs in the worlds ground, the thrill of standing on the pitch where so many great players have also stood, the story and legacy that Barcelona FC has left behind and continue to preceed that has made me enjoy football a lot more to this day but even for someone back then, with no hint of bother for the sport, I found it a brilliant excursion and one that I would definitely return to – preferably to see a match next time round.
Barcelona has a beautiful beach and is set across quite a distance so you won’t struggle to find a space for your towel! There are loungers but it isn’t long before someone comes pestering you for a few Euro. With exceptional views to the left, the right and in front of you as well as a number of bars and tapas restaurant to enjoy nearby. There are also a few stands dotted about which offer opportunities such as jet skiing, kayaking and pedalos if you fancied cooling off after a few hours in the Spanish sun.
You cannot visit Barcelona without taking a walk down Las Ramblas, no matter how much you try to avoid either! Laden with restaurants, markets, shops and bars; the thing that stands out most is the street performers and artists. For a small donation (€1), they tend to ‘do something’ and you can get some great ‘action-shots’ with some of them! The level of detail and originality is incredible and its worth checking them out daily just in case there is a new one.
You will never be short of places to eat or drink when you are in the vicinity of Las Ramblas and never too far from a fishbowl of Sangria either. Barcelona has some of the best Sangria I have ever drank so be sure to try some whilst you are there. As the street is close to the marina, the majority of the eateries serve delicious fresh seafood however you can find just about anything you fancy here.
At the top of the Las Ramblas (meaning the other end from the beach!) there is a huge square just opposite a massive Apple Store which provides a great area for a short break which an ice cold bottle of Estrella from the supermarket whilst you take in the sights of the statues and surroundings.
Probably one of the main reasons tourists tend to visit the city of Barcelona is to see this spectacle. To stand there in awe of its structural beauty and take in every single detail that adorns it. It truly is a masterpiece, albeit an incomplete masterpiece but non the less a work of art at its very finest. The Sagrada Familia honestly leaves me quite speechless and is something that everyone needs to see and experience for themselves. Word of advice, book your tickets either in advance or as early as possible. It has been known to have a 3 hour queue – not good in 30 degree heat!
Barcelona is a super cool city and it has the shops to go with it. With a stretch of uber deisgners featuring Miu Miu, Prada and the likes; right to Desigual, Urban Outfitters and River Island at Placa d’Espanya. With something for everyone as well as an array of terrace bars and eateries it’s the perfect spot for something to eat, drink and shop with an incredible view overlooking the National Art Museum.
It’s a slightly hidden gem that not many would realise they were walking past it unless you were looking for it. We noticed it after stopping for a croissant for breakfast in the morning at a café just opposite. It’s a beautiful building, again one of Gaudi’s and I think you can head inside for more of a gander. There was talk of there being a café on the top floor too where you can enjoy freshly blended tea out of a proper teacup and people watch the pedestrians below.
The largest and most famous market in Barcelona with hundreds of stalls selling fresh produce such as fruit, vegetables and meats. Although it is insanely busy from opening until closing it is worth paying a visit and getting yourself a fresh mango to munch on. There is an abundance of different types of Jamon here too so if you are a meat lover, get yourself here for a try of some of the incredible blends.
It’s a must… this should be one of those sayings like ‘When in Rome…’ Oysters should be a ‘When in Barcelona…’ kinda thing. Now, I HATE oysters but being in the midst of the marina and the fresh fish it provides, its something you would be silly to pass up. Most places offer them for just 1 Euro too. Its an inexpensive experience and one that is a must try.
Port de Barcelona
There isn’t really too much to do around here and it can be a quick stop photo op on your way to or from the beach. It’s a beautiful building and there tends to be a pretty amazing ice cream van lurking near by too not to mention the pretty awesome pirate ship!
As marina’s go, this one isn’t really any different, just a lot more picturesque and has a beautiful wooden walkway to take you around. It is home to a number of seafood restaurants too so you can grab a bite to eat whilst taking in the view.
A free and very fantastic thing to see when you are in Barcelona is the Magic Fountains. Located in Montjuic at the foot of the National Art Museum, it certainly is one not to be missed. It might be worth checked when theya re running during your visit as they don’t run every evening and I think they might be a seasonal spectacle now. The area itself is stunning, especially at sunset. There are a few food vendor stalls dotted about and plenty of buskers to provide entertainment too. The show doesn’t last too long so it wont eat into your evening plans but it really is worth a visit.
You cannot miss this place, you kind of have to go here if you want to see the fountains and you can see it from the mall. Inside the walls are brimming with pieces from local artists and of course Picasso and Gaudi. It was free to get in and wander round the last time I went and if you time it right, you can leave as it gets dark and the lights are illuminated with the fountains running. It is stunning.
L’Aquarium is a great way to spend an afternoon when the sun is just that little bit too hot and you need to cool down. In a huge air conditioned building right on the edge of the marina and home to a number of beautiful fish, the few Euro it costs is worth every penny. You can even have your own ‘green screen’ photograph with some sharks! With a viewing platform taller than you too, you can sit and become mesmerised by the beautiful creatures swaying and gliding through the water.
Estadi Olímpic Lluís Companys
The easiest way to locate the Olympic Groumd is to find Frank Gehry’s fish sculpture in front of the Hotel Arts and the Torre Mapfre in the Olympic Village neighbourhood. You can’t really miss a giant golden fish but if you head to the beach from Las Ramblas and a several kilometres to the left, you will get there eventually and its pretty cool to see. Not only that but there is an underground lounge bar with pretty awesome cocktails and tapas on offer.
Latin / Gothic Quarter
Most European cities boast a latin or gothic quarter but Barcelona, by far, is the prettiest I have seen. With another cathedral to put all others to shame, the perfect spot for a fro-yo (frozen yoghurt) on the steps to enjoy the string band that usually plays there throughout the day. A number of traditional shops and boutiques line the streets where there are plenty of unique finds to be found whilst keeping cool in the shade.
Sadly, I haven’t actually been here but I wanted to include it so you don’t miss out! It is full of beautiful mosaic creations by Gaudi and is definitely on the agenda for my next trip. I need to see the giant tiled lizard!
Personally, I don’t think people need to be persuaded to go here. It’s a relatively cheap way to spend an afternoon and gives you the ability to taste some of the best chocolate in the area as well as ogle at all the amazing pieces built entirely of chocolate. There was a life size Lionel Messi last time I went which was pretty impressive to see!
Arc de Triomf
Yes, Barcelona has one of these too and it’s gorgeous. It’s right at the foot of a beautiful path with trees on either side adding that much needed shade in the summer months. It leads to another park to relax and enjoy the city. It’s quite prominent on the maps you can pick up from your hotel so it’s pretty easy to locate too.
Thats it! Quite a lot to fit in but it gives you an excuse to go time and time again and if you fall in love with the city as much as I have, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing.