For a city that had been on my destination list for years, it took me a long time before I finally made it to Barcelona. Much like our Dublin trip (see our blog post on Dublin here), it was a last-minute affair with Skyscanner once again throwing up some cheap flights with a departure date just a few days from when I pressed confirm on the booking. Unlike Dublin however, this time I didn’t have Charlotte to keep me company and this was my first completely solo trip away.
Having been lucky enough to take many a trip away in my quarter of a century I was surprisingly un-phased by the thought of travelling alone as a young female. I once received the advice to treat most large European cities like you would London or any other UK city. Although each city will obviously have its differences, so long as you aren’t wandering into obviously questionable areas or getting too drunk to find your way back to your hostel alone, then you are most likely going to find a welcoming and loveable city ready for you to get your teeth into.
But that’s probably a post for another time; first, let me tell you about wonderful Barcelona. Armed with my trusty City Guide, I arrived into El Prat airport from Gatwick in the late afternoon and jumped on the Aerobus service to take me into the city centre (5,90€ for a single as of 2020). I hopped off at Plaça de Catalunya, at the top of La Rambla, and took in my first taste of Barcelona as I wandered down to my hostel which was situated towards the bottom of the street. Some astroturf flooring in my bathroom provided an element of novelty to the room but on the whole, it was another great find sourced from Booking.com.
With only the evening ahead of me I decided to head out in search of food and orientate myself with my new surroundings. La Rambla was my first destination; wheeling my hand luggage case down the cobbled street on my march from the bus hadn’t exactly given me much chance to stop and take it all in! The street is as bustling as you would expect, filled with tourists and locals alike out for their evening wander, small children captivated by the silver and gold street performers along the way. The plethora of bars and restaurants lining the street from top to bottom create a jovial atmosphere, but with prices pretty steep on this stretch it is well worth a detour to one of the side streets or squares for some equally tasty but more wallet-friendly food. I found a lovely restaurant overlooking the square in front of the Church of St Mary of the Sea and tucked into some pasta. After an evening drink at one of the many bars around Plaça Reial, I strolled back to my room, knowing I’d make a good choice of destination!
I was up bright and early for a jam-packed day. I headed down to the Colombus Monument and bought myself a ticket for the Barcelona BusTuristic for 48 hours. I do love a hop on hop off bus service, and Barcelona’s certainly got me where I wanted to go. That said, with a couple of the key attractions being a little further out of the centre I would say you need to plan your day and timings a bit more thoroughly than you may have to elsewhere. The first stop on my agenda; La Sagrada Familia, a must for any Barcelona visitor. I had booked my ticket the night before for a 9 am – 12 pm entry time and after a 30-minute wait in the queue, I was in. The cathedral is truly a wonder to look at and around and worth the queue. The intricate detail on the Nativity Façade and imposing air of the Passion Façade can make you lose track of time as you crane your next to capture each and every detail. Once inside, the bare nature of the space means your eye is captivated by the light shining through the beautiful stained glass windows. Visit in the afternoon to really see the light gushing through these, and be sure to pick up on of their super informative audio guides to get the most out of your visit.
My afternoon continued with a tour of some more of Gaudi’s work; this is Barcelona after all. From La Sagrada Família I headed out to Parc Güell and wandered around the quirkiness for a while before heading back towards La Rambla and to Casa Batlló. Both Casa Batlló and Casa Milá are just a short walk from La Rambla but I decided just to visit Casa Batlló as it was getting later in the day by this point. Locally known as ‘The House of Bones’, you can see why as you approach Gaudi’s eclectic masterpiece. Inside it is so totally ‘Gaudi’, filled with colours of stained glass, unique blue tiles filling the lightwell and the well known ‘Dragon Roof’ and chimneys; a place well worth a visit.
In the evening it was time for some tapas, and I headed into the Gothic Quarter for some Patatas Bravas, garlic mushrooms, Iberian ham and chorizo sausage washed down with a glass of local Cerveza. The food on this trip was by far one of the highlights. There is something so wonderful about being able to pick small selections of food to satisfy your every craving and enjoy them surrounded by happy people! Among the restaurants, I ate at was Bodega Vasconia, a small tapas bar with a well-deserved reputation and pimientos to die for, that I would definitely recommend!
UNIQUE EXPERIENCES IN Barcelona
A slightly more leisurely start to the day found me wandering up to La Boqueria market, the most famous market in Barcelona, located just off of La Rambla. Over 200 traders open up stalls selling everything from fruit and veg, fish and meat, to candied delicacies and the most delicious pastry treats. As food markets go this is by far one of the best I have been to, and after a wander round to take it all in I then found a spot on the edge of the market with a coffee and pastry to watch the world go by for a while.
The one thing I hadn’t yet done was checked out Barcelona’s notorious beaches. To me, city living can’t get much better than having a beach on your doorstep too! So, I hopped back on the BusTuristica and made my way through Barcelona’s finance district out to Playa del Bogatell for a well-needed swim and relax. The beach was about a 15-minute bus ride out from La Rambla and was incredibly busy on a Sunday afternoon, but I’m a sucker for the sea so it was worth it all the same and there are plenty more beaches to choose from once you are out this way.
After a post-swim shower and nap, it was time to take in the Magic Fountain of Montjuic and its crazy water and light show. Not your usual night out but if it takes your fancy for something a bit different to do then be sure to arrive earlier than the fountain’s performance time as it gets very busy.
On my final day in the city, I was catching my bus back to the airport just after lunchtime so didn’t want to head too far out of the centre. I decided to jump on one of the harbour boat tours that leave from just below the Columbus Monument and kill an hour or two. It’s always interesting to see a city from the water, just to take it all in together and see a different aspect on it. Although in this case the boat trip was choppier than expected and I was definitely glad to get my feet back on the shore! To round things off I had one last selection of tapas (croquettes, goats cheese and tortilla this time) before getting the Aerobus back to the airport and boarding my plane back to London. My trip may have been short and sweet, but this is a city well deserving of a visit.