Barcelona. You gaudi go.
This summer I crossed paths with Barcelona a few times as it was a stepping stone for me as I headed to other Spanish destinations like Menorca and Tarragona. However, since there’s so much hype about the capital city of Catalonia, I couldn’t not spend a few days in town.
Morning: Walking Tour
The first thing that I did was sign up for a Sandeman’s New Europe tour to orient myself with the city. I had such a pleasant experience when I went to Lisbon with the free tours, I was super down to try out the tour company again. The tour lasted two hours and walked through two of the ten Barcelona neighborhoods—Gothic Quarter and El Born District. On the tour we strolled through the narrow streets of the city, and saw interesting landmarks like the steps Columbus stood on when receiving his blessing from Ferdinand and Isabella to sail to the new world. My favorite part was seeing a public art feature by Picasso created during the Franco dictatorship that was installed as an act of defiance.
The piece of trivia that learned and regularly used to impress coworkers and initiate small talk with strangers was the difference between all the flags hanging on people’s balconies….
- First is the flag of Catalonia that’s yellow with four red stripes. Legend has it that this flag was created when a king was injured, his friend stuck his fingers into his wound and then dragged the four bloody fingers across a gold shield before going into battle. As you do.
- Second is the flag calling for independence from Spain. This flag is the Catalonia flag with a blue triangular star on it. It’s modeled after the Cuba’s flag because they successfully seceded from Spain.
- The third, is the flag calling for independence from Spain and reclaiming all of Catalan speaking regions. This flag is the Catalonia flag with a red triangular star on it.
Fun fact the last time Catalonia was independent was in 1714, and during FC Barcelona games at 17 minutes 14 seconds the fans all start chanting “Independence”.
I had actually flown into Barcelona after pulling an all-nighter at the Festas de Sant Joan in Menorca, so was quite pleased when we stopped for some pick-me-up tapas mid-tour too.
I will say, I was pleasantly surprised at how often I got to use my Spanish. Before my trip, there were a lot of haters who said that no one would speak Spanish to me because Barcelona is in Catalonia. I found this to be false. Maybe it’s because I’m a blonde gringa who speaks with a weird Chilean accent (that’s where I studied abroad), but whenever I initiated with Spanish they typically responded back. That being said, I always find it useful to learn a few useful words for every country I go to. I used a whole lot of Spanish, but I made a point of incorporating a few bits of Catalan into my everyday language, for example saying “merci” instead of “gracias”.
Afternoon: Gaudi, Gaudi, Gaudi
If you wanna do anything remotely touristy in Barcelona in the summer, BUY YOUR TICKETS AHEAD OF TIME. Otherwise you’ll be standing in line all day or won’t get in. For me, I made a point of getting timed entry tickets for Park Güell and the Sagrada Familia. I failed to do this for the Picasso Museum which had a massive line, so I conceded to a spontaneous Plan B for people watching with tacos and a michelada at Lupita del Born around the corner.
Park Güell and the surrounding park area was delightful. In general, I love art and the whimsical designs of Antonio Gaudi (despite being overrun with tourists) were fun to see. In some ways the park reminded me of Smither Park in Houston.
I enjoyed seeing Casa Mila and Casa Batlló from the outside (again tickets to enter were pricy/sold out), but what really sold me on this man’s vision was seeing the Sagrada Familia from the inside. IT WAS INCREDIBLE. Wandering around the building was like playing “I Spy.” Nature is incorporated into every aspect of the building’s design and has everything from snails to lizards to grape baskets to honeycomb. I got an audio guide tour ticket (unnecessary), but I could have legit spent hours inside that place. I got my timed ticket too close to the end of the day and ended up getting kicked out before I could see the rest of the museum which was in the basement of the cathedral. Truly a pity. I just have to come back when the cathedral is finally finished in 2026 (100 years after Gaudi’s death).
Note: Barcelona is a big ole city with all the must-see touristy sites spread out all over the city (I blame Gaudi). It’s not like Dubrovnik where all the historical spots are located conveniently within a 2km circle. If you’re not walking a half marathon every day in Barcelona are you really being a tourist? There’s also no uber in Barcelona. Just cabs. There is an app for the cab service, but that apparently doesn’t work to well all the time. So whenever I needed to get somewhere I found myself walking a lot or pretending I was a New Yorker and flagging down a cab.
Evening: Pool Side Siesta
Since I had already seen some amazing beaches in Menorca and Dubrovnik, I ultimately saved my swim time for the rooftop pool of the Renaissance Fira Hotel. It is by far the coolest hotel I’ve ever stayed in. I had a room on the 21st floor with a cityside view. The elevator shafts are clear and propel you through a legit jungle. The hallways are all outdoors and filled with hanging plants, palms, and rock features. The room itself has floor to ceiling windows and is constructed with black marble and one-sided mirrors. If you can imagine showering with those mirrors is a trip! If that wasn’t cool enough, the Fira has an amazing rooftop pool with incredible views of the city. It’s also located on a subway line and is only a few minute cab ride from the airport so it’s easy to get around. Plus, when I booked rates were ridiculously low and I got it for only 100 EUR/night—which is quite a deal compared to some hostels without the same level of privacy or luxury that were going for 60-70 EUR/night.
Night: Beachside Party
As it’s summer, the Barcelona beaches are a hot place to go. I did some people watching at Barceloneta, and got some bomb vegetarian paella and Spanish cava at Barraca overlooking the water. PS In addition to avoiding restaurants with pictures on their menus, you should also avoid paella that’s yellow—it’s apparently the equivalent of horrible fast food.
Per the recommendation of our server, we got drinks around the corner at this divey absinthe bar (aptly named Absenta Bar) which were neon green, herbal tasting, and required sugar to be lit on fire during their preparation. Then, like every other Barcelona party goer, we ended up at the club Opium (other late night favorites include Pancha next door). Pretty much everyone stays out till dawn on the beach, and if I didn’t have a 6am flight to catch I would have totally watched the sunrise from Eclipse, the club on the 26th floor of the W Hotel.