Barcelona felt instantly different from Madrid. Like a whole different country (which it basically is, Catalonia). And some described the difference in a very Texas way: Madrid is Dallas, and Barcelona is Austin. I HATE this description bc I love Madrid and would not compare it to Dallas, ew. Just kidding. But, I still don’t think the comparison is completely right. Barcelona, with it’s bike-friendly rectangle-with-the-corners-cut-off intersections, is young and fun, sure, but there’s a lot of history there. It’s a very patriotic community with people of all ages. We were walking around (lost, TBH) and an elderly man came right up to us and, in his AWFUL English, attempted to give us directions. We nodded along and followed his pointed finger and said “gracias,” but he stopped us and said, “No españa. Catalonia!” We then got even more lost, but still loved that brief interaction with a true Barcelonian. ❤
Morning beach run
Regret No. 1 was not spending more time on the beach. It was definitely beach weather when I was there in September, but we just didn’t get the chance to do much more than dip our toes in. The beach was popping when we went midday, so for the best pictures and experience sans other humans, go right at or just after sunrise.
La Boqueria and La Rambla
Meandering through La Rambla is fun! It’s a big pedestrian street (there are two car lanes on each side, but the walkway never breaks for car traffic) with shops and restaurants on each side and carts along the middle. The trees around are extra pretty too.
La Boqueria, which is right in the middle of Las Ramblas but just off the street, tucked away (but you can’t miss it — follow the people), is allegedly open at 8 am. I’d wait until 10 am or so and do a brunch thing. We went straight from the train station to our hostel to La Boqueria, so we were STARVED. We ate everything: Chocolates, fried seafood, ham and cheese, empanadas, fresh juices. I highly recommend getting some of the juices. It’s either 1 or 2 euros, and they MEAN fresh. Also the candy stations are addictive. You will spend a lot of money on it. It’s inevitable.
Gaudi walking tour ending at Park Guell
Gaudi is, like, THE ONLY Barcelona architect I’m pretty sure, and all his works are sprinkled throughout the city. I planned this, rather elaborate and long, walking tour to see some of the big things. While I also split this over two days, it is possible to do it all at once. It’ll be a few miles, so I definitely recommend taking a cab after (or even in place of some of the longer stretches).
- La Sagrada Familia. Get reservations (just pick the earliest one you can get — it gets crazy). I also recommend an audio guide. I didn’t get one, but I just sat in on the video inside to hear the history. Basically, this massive church was originally designed by an architect (non-Gaudi, they exist!), and then Gaudi took over (of course he did). The cathedral is still under contstruction (almost 150 years later) and won’t be completed until 2030.
- Casa Milà and Casa Batlló. You don’t really need to go into these. It’s mainly their outdoor architectural design that I enjoyed! Milà is also known as La Pedrera (the stone quarry, based on its resemblance to a quarry) and is the headquarters to the foundation with the same name. Balló is actually kind of cool inside, but tickets are pricey.
- Pitstop at El Jardi, a close-by cafe. The park is another place you gotta get a reservation for. Give yourself plenty of time to get there, like I said, it’s a long walk. So, when you get there with PLENTY of time before your Park Güell reservation time, you can hang out at this close cafe. We had some small bites, but overwhelmingly the pizza with ham was the best thing we ate. We also got goblets of Sangria Cava, which is essentially mimosas, we learned. After your meal, if you still have time to kill, walk around the free part of the park. It’s quite a hike, but the view is so worth it.
- Park Güell. This was the Gaudi visit that needed a ticket, but you GOTTA get them ahead of time. We… didn’t. When we concluded our Gaudi walking tour at around 1 at the park, the next opening was at 6 pm. WTF. So we went to El Jardi, which was a gem, but we had a lot of time to kill. That’s also when we wandered around the free parts of the park. When we FINALLY got in, we spent less than an hour there. We walked around and saw all the different aspects of the park, and learned a lot! The park was supposed to be a village of houses for Barcelona’s ultra rich. The paid part of the park was going to be the village center where there would be markets and performances. Gaudi only built a couple houses and the park before he gave up the project. More here!
We had tried unnecessarily hard to have paella in Spain. It’s on every corner, but we never found a place when it was a meal time and paella is heavy! Enter Arume. Known for great tapas (small plates), we started strong with 4ish of those. Then: PAELLA. We hesitated to get the Paella because, like I said, it’s everywhere and this fancy restaurant had good food that WASN’T everywhere. In the end, we decided that if we waited this long for Paella, better make it AMAZING. Spoiler: it was.
Stop for gelato on your way to the Magic Fountain, which isn’t too far from Arume. It’s free and amazing. Bring a bottle of wine. Stand close for a bit to get some good pictures, then find a spot further away to sit and watch. The show is timed to music and is spectacular.
Discoteca and ice bar
Ever been to an ice bar on the beach? No? I can’t say no any more. Our second night in Barcelona, we went with our hostel group out. For 10 euros, we got a drink and to freeze for like 30 minutes. I actually went back in for a second go. It’s COLD y’all, but so fun and worth it. Then, we went to a discoteca on the beach. Both were fun. Not as wild as you’d imagine! The places we went both had terraces with chiller music and vibes.