Spain makes me so happy. The weather, culture, people and food are beautiful and Barcelona is the city that has it all.
The largest city on the Mediterranean and one of the most important centres in Europe, Barcelona has evolved in to a tourist mecca with over five million visitors per year. Captivating architecture dominates the tourist itinerary, with numerous Antoni Gaudí designed structures being the primary attraction alongside the gothic quarter. Barcelona has just about everything you would expect to find in a big European city; great nightlife, amazing food and adventure in abundance, but in Barcelona there’s also a good beach and even better weather.
We were in town for our first stop (and my first time) in Spain, and Barcelona lived up to the hype.
We arrived to Barcelona from a tiny village called Montpeyroux in France. From Montpeyroux we hitchhiked to nearby Gignac, where we caught a bus to Montpellier for €1.50 each. From Montpellier we had booked a ride-share with BlaBlaCar to Barcelona, which took about four hours including stops and cost €30 each. Ride-sharing is a great way to get around Spain, it’s very common and usually cheaper than both train and bus. Because ride-sharing is so available you might not have a lot of luck hitchhiking in Spain.
If you are travelling from Montpellier to Barcelona, Flixbus is a great option. Tickets cost between €16 and €25 per person and the journey takes 4.5 hours. We chose ride-share in this instance due to late booking, schedules and convenience.
Buses in Spain are mainly operated by Alsa, also known as Supra, which is their higher quality service. There are local operators but we generally found that Alsa had most routes covered. There’s all the usual long distance bus amenities like Wi-Fi, on board toilet, uncomfortable seats, annoying passengers, confusing depots, and the inability to sleep. These can vary according to the provider and the length of the journey, with longer bus routes tending to have more of these services available.
Trains in Spain are a pretty classic mixture of fast but expensive. Since we were booking maybe a couple of days before, or the day of travel, we found trains to be far outside of our budget. If you know your route and dates, and book in advance, check out this excellent post from Seat 61 on getting around Spain by train in the rain across the plains. Except not in the rain because it doesn’t rain in Spain.
Barcelona-El Prat Airport is one of the busiest airports in the world, so you should have no trouble finding a flight from almost anywhere. The airport is located about 12km from the city and is connected via train, metro and bus. For a new arrival a trip from the airport to the city on the metro will cost €4.50 one way, but is included in the cost of daily, or monthly Barcelona transport tickets.
Hint – A lot of attractions in Barcelona are within walking distance, but consider the heat and time of day before you commit to walking everywhere, it can become exhausting.
There are a lot of really great Hostels in Barcelona so you can take your pick based on your preferred location. A dorm bed somewhere nice will cost you around €15 per night and some places might even include breakfast or dinner. Some of the most highly rated hostels are Hostel One Paralelo, Mediterranean Youth Hostel and either of the Sant Jordi hostels.
You can find a private double room in a Barcelona bnb from around €20 per night, with the average price being around €50. An entire apartment will set you back at least €40 per night and average €100 per night for somewhere nice..
Hotels in Barcelona can be found for as little as €25 per night, but these are almost certainly just rooms in a hostel. My advice is to spend a minumum of €40 per night for a hotel room or intentionally book a private room in a hostel. For a nice double hotel room you should expect to pay between €50 and €100 per night, anything above that price range will be luxury.
The area you choose in Barcelona doesn’t really matter too much, as public transport is comprehensive, but it’s worth looking for accommodation close to the beach (for example) if you want to be within walking distance. In retrospect we should have stayed in Gràcia as that’s where we found ourselves drawn to.
Antoni Gaudí is a name that you should remember if it is currently unfamiliar. The revolutionary Spanish modernist architect designed at least 12 prominent buildings in Barcelona, the foremost of which being the as yet unfinished Sagrada Família. The Sagrada Família is a catholic basilica that has been under construction for over 134 years, and is the benchmark of Gaudí’s legacy. We spent a couple of hours here and it is without a doubt the most impressive building I’ve ever seen. The majesty itself is a work of art, let alone the building. It’s the least church-like church I’ve ever stepped foot in; lush sheets of coloured light bathe every inch of the interior, radiating an atmosphere of wonder. Even the most staunch atheist is hard pressed to deny the presence of god in this place, because that god is pure, transformative art. Entry to the Sagrada Família is €15 and I would honestly pay twice that to see it again.
Other Gaudí buildings worth a visit include Casa Calvet, Casa Batlló and Casa Milá, all of which are ticketed but still interesting from the outside. Hospital de Sant Pau is another modernist institution by Lluís Domènech i Montaner which costs €10 to visit, but is also pretty cool from the outside looking in.
Park Güell is unique Gaudí masterpiece on the Carmel Hill, right next to Parc del Carmel. It’s an impressive place to visit, like something from Alice In Wonderland, and offers awesome views over the city. Pro-tip; if you visit after 21:30 entry to Park Güell is free, although your time there will be limited by daylight.
Make sure to take a stroll through Parc del Guinardó and up to the Bunkers del Carmel for an epic sunset and views over the entire city. The bunkers are old anti-aircraft defences from the Spanish civil war and on a good night will be covered in people watching the sun go down over the Serra de Collserola, so take drinks!
There are something like five distinct beaches in Barcelona, but really it’s just the same stretch of beach broken up into sections by shops and a port. They all have pristine white sand, clear warm water and thousands of people. Barceloneta is closest to the city centre, and is therefore the most crowded. If you head along the promenade you reach Icària beach, and further along is Bogatell beach. We spent our time between Icària and Bogatell, lounging about people watching and swimming for hours at a time. Don’t be discouraged by the crowds as there’s plenty of space.
There are a ton of great restaurants in Barcelona but we didn’t really visit anywhere outstanding. Our host recommended a really cool community centre that has a rooftop restaurant/bar called Mas Guinardó. It has a huge terrace overlooking the city, the beers are cheap and the tapas were good. Our meal & drinks there came to €23.40 total. Another restaurant in the Guinardó area is Tomy’s Tapas, a basic but nice enough family run tapas restaurant. Our meal here cost €19.50 for two including drinks.
A great place to get street food is La Boqueria, a large food market just off the famous ‘La Rambla’ that dissects the city centre. We visited for second breakfast, tried various delights and paid €12. Take lots of cash if you’re hungry as there are just so many treats.
Gràcia is a cool area to go out shopping or drinking or eating or just walking around soaking in the atmosphere. There’s a ton of awesome bars, just find a square on the map to walk towards and you’ll be surrounded with options. When in Barcelona, drink like a local and try Moritz beer.
If I were to return to Barcelona, and I hope I do, I would spend at least four full days to make sure I could fit everything in.
Hint – Bakeries, fruit and espresso for breakfast everyday, it’s cheap, fast and delicious.
Barcelona for three nights;
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