Four Nights in Barcelona
It's kind of hard to decide what's best about Barcelona... all of the incredible Gaudi architecture, the sun and wide open spaces, the churros con chocolate?! Barcelona has become such a booming tourist destination that it's actually creating massive problems for the locals. So forget everything I just said. It's grim. Don't bother. The food- meh. Architecture schmarchitecture.
Truly I'm not sure what the answer to the overcrowding of the world's greatest destinations is and I do find it upsetting as a person who loves exploring new places. It's a little disheartening to see massive tour buses clogging up all of the main sights, but who am I to say that I should get to enjoy it just because I've come by subway?
Without further ado, here are some things that we absolutely loved about our trip to Barcelona in spring...
Gaudi's architecture is unlike any other architecture in the world. His work was influenced by nature, which gives his structures very unique designs that twist and turn and flow and sometimes they look like they are dripping or remnants of fossils. For example, on the façade of Casa Batlló you will see that the balconies look like skulls and the supports on the windows look like bones. The colonnades at Park Güell look like they were excavated from the hillside. The residential building, Casa Mila, is known for its unusual undulating stone facade and irregularly shaped interiors.
We took a free walking tour of Gaudi architecture through Runner Bean Walking Tours. We met our tour group at Plaça Reial and proceeded to spend several hours exploring Palau Güell, Block of Discord, Casa Batlló, Eixample Architecture, Casa Milà / La Pedrera, and finished at the Sagrada Familia. I am usually a little leery of free tours, but this one was excellent. We learned so much and it was amazing to get so much information about all of these extraordinary buildings.
The tour ends at Sagrada Familia, but because we had just ingested 2.5 hours of Gaudi history we decided to come back and explore the interiors on another day. I'm so glad we did because it really deserves to be seen with fresh eyes. The Sagrada Familia is truly one of the most amazing sights that I have ever seen. There are so many details that deserve attention from the way the rainbow colored stained glass streams across the space, to the unusual alter piece and the organic shapes that make up the nave. I really could spend an entire day just admiring this work of art, but luckily for all Gaudí fans there are other amazing places that also deserve your attention.
A little birdy told us that the best time to see Park Güell was at sunrise, when the entrance to the park is free and before the tour buses arrive at 8:30am. This was the best advice, but make no mistake- you must get there before 8am, as we learned the hard way. On our first attempt we got there right at 8am and the free entrance was closed and the lines were already building, so we aborted our early morning mission and woke up EARLY the next day so that we didn't botch attempt #2. This was wonderful advice and we loved being on this hilltop in the early morning hours when there were significantly less people and the city was just waking up. We had seen enough by the time the buses pulled in and we had a whole day ahead of us.
One thing that you will notice with Gaudi's art and architecture is his decorative use of mosaic tiles. The use of color makes everything so vibrant and playful. We wanted to have a turn making our own mosaic artwork, so we took a class with a professional mosaic artist named Livia Garreta who has made parts of Casa Batlló and La Sagrada Familia. She was so fun to work with and we left with three distinct pieces of art from Barcelona.
Yes, there are other things to do in Barcelona besides gawking at Gaudi all day, every day. We spent a lovely day exploring Las Ramblas, the uber touristy area of Barcelona with a divine market, La Boqueria. Make sure you are hungry when you go to the market and enjoy the fresh juices for starters. From here it is an easy walk to the beaches of La Barceloneta where we rented bicycles and cruised along Sant Sebastià Beach. Afterwards we found ourselves in the harbor and the kids loved the activities stationed along the dock, like zorbing and bungee jumping. After a long day of walking, we stumbled upon one of those weird fish spas, which we'd wanted to try for a while. It was crazy and amazing and our feet felt like newborn baby's feet afterwards. Just a side note- I read an article about someone who went to a fish spa and their toenails fell off from fungus. I read this AFTER we went and I'm really glad we had this experience, but I don't think I'd do it again after researching it a little more.
I also highly recommend the Picasso Museum, which is superb. I will admit to kind of blowing it with my kids, though. We got audio guides and we all started out so excited. I took that as a pass to start from the beginning and flow through each period, which was riveting for me. For my kids... um... the excitement wore off long before we got to Cubism. You are not allowed to take pictures, but I snuck a quick one to show the anguish on my daughter's face. Note: if you're traveling with kids, maybe start at the end and try to hit the periods by just visiting some of the most famous pieces.
On our last evening in Barcelona, we took the cable car up to Montjuïc for sunset. It is a perfect place to walk around and explore the castle and its grounds. The views of the city at sunset are spectacular. From there you can walk all the way down the mountain to the Magic Fountain, which puts on a spectacular display of lights and water at 8pm every night.
Please take precautions with your belongings at this heavily touristy event. We saw a mugger boldly grab a guy's backpack, which turned into a huge chase and brawl along the streets.
Food we loved:
On our first evening, we joined an incredible tapas tour through Food Lovers Company. Our tiny group wandered the streets of the Gothic Quarter with Aleix, sampling incredible food from a variety of different venues. Midway through the tour, we stopped at the church of Sant Just i Pastor where we got to watch the sunset from the roof. There were so many special moments from this night and I absolutely recommend this tour if you want to experience a thoughtful and local evening of food and friends.
Churros con chocolate was not on the tapas tour, but Aleix pointed us to the best place in town which we tried another day... Granja Duclinea. Simply amazing.
Another lovely place that he turned us onto was Caelum, which serves traditional pastries, made by nuns in Monasteries around Spain. It was a great place to take an afternoon break.
By far the best tapas that we had on our own, was at Tapas 24. We loved it so much we ate here twice.
Federal Cafe is the place for breakfast and incredible iced coffee. The kids were plotting ways to steal my iced latte throughout breakfast.
Els Quatre Gats was the popular meeting place for famous artists throughout the modernist period in Catalonia. It's a lovely place for lunch.
The best gelato for a warm, sunny afternoon is definitely Gocce di Latte.
Where we stayed:
We loved our hotel in Barcelona, Ofelias Hotel, but just not the location. We were on the outskirts of everything we wanted to do except for the Magic Fountain. Luckily we were close to a subway station, but it just made getting around more of an ordeal than I would have liked.
My husband was recently in town for work and loved his stay at Alma Barcelona.
We also had friends who recommended Praktik Rambla, sadly after the fact. There is a great bakery attached to the property and the location is great for Gaudi enthusiasts.