This September, a few friends and I decided to go on a last-minute trip to Barcelona. After working non-stop over the summer a little break like this was long overdue. We chose to go here because we fancied something in between a touristy sightseeing kind of holiday and something beachy and relaxed. Also, none of us had been before and seeing as it’s always nice to try something new, we thought we’d give it a go.
I was in Barcelona for a total of 5 days, so not really long enough to know the city in and out but in terms of getting a feel for the place it felt like we saw quite a bit. So, I have made a list of my five favourite places/things to do in Barcelona.
Situated in the mountains of Collserola, Park Güell is a public garden/park area designed by the famous Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi and established in 1914. This place somewhat reminded me of Montmartre in Paris, in the way that it looks over the city, giving a sweeping panoramic view that arguably cannot be found anywhere else. Besides this similarity, Park Güell is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. It was by far my favourite attraction that we visited in Barcelona.
A mosaic effect runs throughout the park, with coloured pieces of glass and tile that shine brightly in the sun and provide the perfect backdrop for any of those compulsory touristy pictures that we all know and love. If you’re lucky enough, a good friend may even take some candid ones of you by yourself gazing into the distance while sat on the quirky benches (apparently these are perfect ‘profile picture’ material).
If you are staying somewhere quite central in the city, then I advise you to get the bus up to the park, given that the walk in hot weather may be rather exhausting. Also, we booked our tickets online which meant that we didn’t have to queue for ages in the baking hot sun to get into the park. So, if you’re thinking of going then it is definitely worth booking in advance as the queues tend to be quite long.
Las Ramblas/Food Markets
No holiday is complete without having a little spend or overindulging in new foods. Las Ramblas, a street in the centre of the city, is the perfect place to potter around if you are the type of person that likes to explore new places without the risk of getting lost down some backstreets that all look pretty much the same.
Here you will find all the city’s best hughstreet clothing shops, a wide range of restaurants and perhaps its most well-known feature, the food market. If you enjoy trying out new foods or need somewhere to escape the heat and recharge your batteries then the market is the place where you can do just that. There is a wide variety of traditional Catalan cuisine, fresh fruit and vegetables and it even has its own mini restaurants and bars.
We were all both surprised and pleased to discover that most of the produce sold here is really good value – something which tends to be a large factor in choosing where to eat when you are travelling as a group of students!
A Tour of the City via the Open-Top Bus
Sometimes, you have to accept the fact that you are a massive cliché, stop trying to avoid anything that you deem ‘mainstream’ and just embrace the tourist lifestyle. There is no better way of doing this than hopping onto the open-top bus in order to ‘get your bearings’ of the city.
We chose to do this on our first full day in Barcelona after it was recommended to us by many friends/family who had been before us. Keen to cross all of the main attractions off or ‘To-Do’ list, we saw this as the easiest way to figure out where all the key points in the city are. The busses cover more or less every inch of the city’s main features, from La Sagrada Familia to the Olympic stadium.
Although tickets were fairly costly, getting the bus was definitely worth doing as it saved us doing a lot of walking (especially up hills) in 30-degree heat. Also, breezing through the city on the bus allowed us to really take in the fact that there is such a wide range of things to do/see in the city. For example, this took us past the beach, the shops we wanted to visit and Montjuic – places that we probably wouldn’t have found as easily by just using the sat nav on our phones.
You can also get on and off the bus whenever you like, which led us to finding a spot where we could get amazing views of the city, from Park Güell all the way to the harbour.
The Beach, of course!
Initially, we were quite indifferent to the idea of lounging around on a beach when there is a whole city to be explored right behind it. However, when feeling pretty zapped from all the walking we had been doing, we gave in and decided to give ourselves a little break one afternoon at the beach.
Of course, the beach in Barcelona is huge, with a great choice of bars and restaurants to visit after sunbathing and swimming all day. The beach was in fair walking distance from our apartment, however, we chose to get the bus as there is a frequent bus service running to and from the beach throughout the day. To recover from a night of cocktail drinking, this was the best place to chill and prepare ourselves for the night ahead by lounging around and drinking guess what… more cocktails!
Boat Rides at Park de la Ciutadella
We’d read about this place in a tourist guide and straight away knew that it would be something we’d enjoy. After another day of trekking around the city, a boat trip on the lake was a great way to relax and soak up the last of the evening rays.
This was a really inexpensive activity and it turned out to be quite a laugh trying to manoeuvre the boats around given that none of us are rowing experts. After attempting to nail the whole rowing technique thing, most of us gave up and were happy to float around on the lake, watching the turtles swim past – yes there were turtles!
Word of advice if you ever do something like this, don’t lean over the boat while wearing sunglasses. You may lose them in the water and they DO NOT float.
Barri Gòtic in the Old Town
The old town can be found in the centre of the city, not far from Las Ramblas. Founded in Roman times and bursting with impressive gothic architecture, this section of the city makes a rather interesting place to explore.
Most of the area is inaccessible by car. The fact that you can only explore it on foot adds to its historic atmosphere as well as making it quite easy to get lost within its high walls and narrow, winding streets.
Close by is a range of hidden shops, bars and restaurants, including a restaurant where we came across the best tapas in the best location ever!