I had wanted to visit Barcelona for as long as I can remember. It always struck me as this colourful, vibrant, unique city – very different to other places in Spain but still with that distinct European city vibe that I love so much. With the art work, architecture, night life, beach and everything else, it just always seemed like a city with everything to offer. Yet again this was a very spur of the moment trip as a reaction to the seemingly never ending Winter we seem to be having, but this time we opted for a bit of sun and heat rather than embracing the cold season. We found affordable flights, an almost suspiciously cheap hostel, and a day later had our trip planned.
The hostel we ended up staying at was called Kabul. It’s located just off Las Ramblas in the Plaça Reial, a gorgeous palm tree adorned square lined with terrace cafes, and is apparently a famous party hostel. All we cared about was that it was €10 a night, included free breakfast & dinner, had a roof terrace overlooking the square and a bar with €1 sangria.
The main downside with choosing the cheapest flights is horrendous flight times, so it was that at 5am on a freezing cold Edinburgh morning we set off to the airport, the promise of sunshine & sangria on the other side the only thing keeping us awake. We had a nice wee nap on the plane though and when we finally arrived in Barcelona around midday we were feeling slightly more alive.
After negotiating the public transport system and me realising that the Spanish lessons I took on my year abroad in France along my subsequent attempts to teach myself the language had apparently been completely useless, we had a nice walk through the city centre to our hostel. While being located by Las Ramblas is in many ways practical, we quickly discovered that it makes eating slightly difficult. Almost all of the restaurants and cafes in the area have hiked up prices and low quality food as it is the centre of the tourist district, but we were so desperately hungry that we didn’t have the energy to venture further afield and search for something a little more genuine. Our first thought had been to head to La Boqueria, a giant food market and one of the few recommended places to eat in the area, but as it was a Sunday this was closed. Eventually we did find somewhere semi-decent and affordable, though in no way authentically Spanish!
So we decided to make up for that with a bit of cava and some of Barcelona’s best ice cream. Heading down to the bottom of Las Ramblas, we took a left and headed along the harbour front, admiring the stunning architecture and lapping up the distinctly European feel of the city. We then cut inland and had a wander around the Gothic Quarter in our search for Tomo II, which apparently sold the best ice cream in Barcelona – I have to say, we were not disappointed. Although still touristy, the Gothic Quarter made a nice change from the busy main thoroughfare of Las Ramblas.
Armed with ice cream and a €2 bottle of very nice cava, we then made our way over to the Parc de la Ciutadella to while away the afternoon. The Parc is home to a zoo, the Parliament of Catalonia, and a very impressive fountain which reminded me of the Palais Longchamp in Marseille. I’m not really sure why but I actually felt like there were a lot of similarities between the two cities. We spent a couple of hours basking in the sunshine, recovering from the morning’s travel and enjoying some well-earned cava, before meandering back towards the hostel. Along the way we took in the Arc de Triomf, which looks like a traditional memorial arch but was in fact built for the 1888 Barcelona World Fair. We also stopped by the Barcelona Cathedral, or the Catedral de la Santa Creu i Santa Eulàlia, Barcelona’s lesser known cathedral taking second place to the famous Sagrada Familia. We decided to have a look inside and were lucky enough to do so in the middle of Mass, which was pretty magical.
For our first night in Barcelona we were pretty beat so we decided to hit up the supermarket for some more wine then headed back to the hostel for a chilled night of socialising. We also took advantage of the free dinner on offer, which although nothing special was a great option if you don’t feel like pounding the streets trying to find a decent place to eat amongst all the tourist traps.
After perhaps a few too many glasses of cava the tiredness hit and I decided to call it a night, but Ruth somehow made it out with a bunch of guys from the hostel and found a pretty funky little jazz bar – but in her state it was sadly never to be found again. God knows how she even found her way back to the hostel!
The next day we decided to head up to the Parc Güell. Rather than take the metro we thought we would walk the 6km and see a bit more of the city, stopping by the Casa Batlló, admiring some of the other stunning architecture such as the Casa Lleó Morera, and taking a wander through the neighbourhood of Gràcia. Before we got on our way though, we stopped by La Boqueria, which is worth it just to admire all the food displays even if you don’t plan on buying anything (though I would recommend the chorizo from the little stall on the left just before you enter).
Eventually we made it to the top of the hill that the Parc sits on, by which time the midday sun was significantly hotter. We had brought a picnic with us so sat and looked out over Barcelona while surrounded by the weird and wonderful products of Gaudí’s imagination and little green parrots swooped around us.
The last time Ruth was there the Parc was completely free to enter, but they have since cordoned off a couple of sections which you have to pay and queue to enter. You can still get a decent view of these parts, and with the massive queues already waiting we opted to stick to the free parts, which is actually the majority of the Parc. After a couple of hours exploring, we headed back down towards the city centre and after a lot more walking found ourselves at the Sagrada Familia. Honestly, I can’t say I liked it. Gaudí obviously had some weird stuff going on in his head and as impressive as it is it’s not exactly pretty.
After a lot of walking, and seeing some of the back streets of Barcelona which most tourists probably wouldn’t stumble across, we were slightly dead on our feet and so picked up some beers and sangria and made our way back to the gorgeous Parc de la Ciutadella for a bit of recuperation and relaxation.
We had planned to go out for tapas that evening and had been on the lookout for somewhere affordable that looked like it sold decent food, but honestly nothing had caught our eye. As I already mentioned, being bang in the middle of the most touristy part of the city makes finding a decent restaurant difficult. With nothing really standing out, we were drawn to a chain called Itapa which offered all you can eat tapas for €14 – we should have known better, but by this point we were too hungry to really care. It wasn’t exactly my idea of genuine Spanish tapas, although they did do nice mussels and meatballs, and had a salad bar which was actually quite nice – but I wouldn’t recommend it and I definitely wouldn’t go back.
On our last day I was once again up with the birds after being awake most of the night thanks to the worst people I’ve ever encountered in a hostel. As usual Ruth was still sound asleep and blissfully unaware and had once again missed breakfast, so I went for a wee wander and picked her up some croissants from a local bakery. When I got back we headed off on a free walking tour of the Gothic quarter, which we had mostly explored ourselves but we got to learn a lot more about the history and politics of the city, as well as seeing a lot of things we had missed on our own.
After the tour we explored a bit towards the other side of Las Ramblas, and came across El Gato del Raval, a giant and pretty creepy cat statue on the Rambla del Raval. We sat on the fountain in the middle of Plaça Reial to eat our lunch and watch the very talented break dancers who perform there, and then decided it was time to hit the beach. Barceloneta Beach is only a couple of kilometres from Las Ramblas, and a lovely walk along the harbour and through the neighbourhood of Barceloneta. We stopped in the neighbourhood for a drink before we reached the beach, and the difference in their attitude to tourists was striking. On the walking tour that morning we had been told that the people of Barceloneta can be quite hostile towards foreigners – even going so far as to put up signs telling tourists that they aren’t welcome. While it didn’t quite feel that bad, it was definitely noticeable.
We made it to the beach, armed with a bottle of cava naturally, and whiled away the rest of the afternoon listening to the sounds of Barcelona beach life and soaking up some sun. Our final night was spent socialising at the hostel again, redeeming ourselves at pool (slightly), drinking sangria, and enjoying another free dinner with everyone else – which, while maybe not be haute cuisine, were a really nice way for everyone to get together and socialise.
The next morning we had to leave, and it felt far too soon. Without a doubt I had fallen in love with this city and could have happily spent a lot longer discovering what else it has to offer. With only three days there, it felt like we had only just scratched the surface. Safe to say I will be going back some day, and I am already having serious withdrawals from the sun and the cava!