I’ve been beyond excited to write this post for some time now. So why haven’t I done it yet? The city we’re about to dive into is filled to the brim with intrigue, vibrancy, culture, and color. There is just something about this place that makes you feel so alive, and so appreciate to just BE where you’re at. Right in that very moment. Just embracing it all.
Coincidentally, I just finished reading Dan Brown’s new novel, Origin, and Robert Landon’s latest adventures took him to none other than Spain itself. It was actually a perfectly timed read, because it took me right back to our trip to Spain this summer, and reminded me just how extraordinary Barcelona in particular was. So now here I am, finally writing about this vibrant city we visited a few months ago. If you’ve been a reader here for a while, you know that this summer we ventured to Spain to Run with the Bulls, strolled through the charming seaside town of San Sebastian, and sipped Sangria in Madrid. We also abandoned our muggle-ness and hung out in London attempting to escape on platform 9 3/4. But finally, we finished the trip off in the city that I was likely most excited for: Barcelona.
Before we left, countless people told me that Barcelona was one of (if not their absolute) favorite places they’ve ever visited. We got so many suggestions of things to do, places to visit, and all around goodness to indulge in. After visiting, it’s no wonder this bustling city is everything your European dreams are made of, and then some. It’s bursting at the seams with culture, and the community makes it a place you won’t soon forget. Barcelona is actually part of Catalonia, which has voted to declare independence from Spain, and are incredibly proud of their heritage. Be aware of this when you visit, as the language is slightly different than traditional Spanish. If it’s your first time to Barcelona, and you’re feeling overwhelmed with suggestions, this list is perfect for you. If you’ve been before and are looking to revisit some oldies but goodies, this is the perfect list for you too.
Get Lost in the Gothic Quarter
Dare I say my favorite area in all of Barcelona? I do. I dare. This magical myriad of streets, alleyways, twists and turns is like something out of a storybook. The gorgeous architecture will make you feel like you’re walking back in time, and you can spend hours getting lost in the labyrinth that is the Gothic Quarter. Some of my favorite shopping in the city can be found in this cobblestone streets, along with hip (and delicious) dining options. You could spend a whole day wandering through this hood, and I’d recommend you giving yourself at least a few hours to just get lost.
Gaze at Gaudi’s Masterpieces
I feel like I’m on an even bigger Gaudi kick after finishing Origin. The influence of this mans architecture, and it’s effects on both science and religion is definitely the core theme of the book and made me appreciate even more the massive impact Antoni Gaudi made on this exquisite city. If you don’t have time to check out all of Gaudi’s masterpieces (they’re scattered throughout the city) Don’t miss these brilliant pieces of his iconic style in the city.
This one is an absolute must. Don’t forget to buy tickets ahead of time to get up close and personal with the intricacies of his architecture. Not only does this give you sweeping views of the city, the park is huge, and you can spend hours getting lost around every nook and cranny of it. It’s a bit of a hike if you choose to walk their like we did, but the views you’ll get are more than worth it.
Though I saw Casa Mila on more “must-do” lists, I’m putting Casa Batllo on here because it’s just as beautiful on the inside as it is on the outside. If you don’t have time (or don’t want to spend the extra euros to venture inside) this stop will provide you with a stunning perspective without even entering the building. If Casa Mila is also on your list, don’t worry. They’re very close to one another.
I would be remiss to discuss the man, the myth, the legend that is Gaudi without touching base on his ultimate masterpiece. Enter: La Sagrada Familia
Venture to La Sagrada Familia
We got incredibly lucky with our Airbnb while we were in Barcelona, (I go on and on about my love for Airbnb here) because it had a private rooftop balcony, and we could see the spires of this fabled basilica right from our roof, for a private show. Granted, our Airbnb also lacked air conditioning and we ended up pulling the mattress into the living room to sleep on with the door open all night, but hey, memories man! It was well worth it to have a private showing of that view every night.
La Sagrada Familia is not your average cathedral. It’s not one of those places that you can say “once you’ve seen one cathedral, you’ve seen them all.” It’s truly a sight to be seen, and an architectural masterpiece. A masterpiece that isn’t finished yet, I might add. The basilica has been under construction since 1882, and has yet to reach completion (though, with a recent push, there are high hopes that it will be completed by 2026.) This is a must do on every visitors Barcelona bucket-list. Visit the basilica, bask in it’s ornate, original, and modern architecture. And let the magic of La Sagrada Familia sweep you up in all of its glory. Don’t forget to buy tickets ahead of time if you want to venture inside, they tend to sell out very quickly!
Get Blissed out on the Beaches
The one negative about visiting Gaudi’s iconic architecture? There tend to be massive crowds just about everywhere. So if you’re looking for a place to unwind post culture-trip, head to some of Barcelona’s world famous beaches. And oh man, was I grateful for those beaches. We were in Spain in July, meaning it was smoldering out and having the chance to dip our toes in the Mediterranean was just beyond blissful. I didn’t realize until after we were there, that Barcelona’s beaches were man made. You’d never know, but they were revamped (and a few were added) as the city cleaned up the the 1992 Olympics. If you can only visit one, Barceloneta is the closest and easiest to access, though it will no doubt be the busiest as well. If you have more time, venture to Bogatell Beach. It’s a bit quieter, the beachside shacks will be a tad less busy, and you’ll likely have stretches of pristine sand all to yourself.
Now, if you’re feeling up for it, come back to the beaches once the sun goes down because if there’s one thing Barcelona knows how to do…it’s to have a good time. Zach & I decided we couldn’t miss the epic club scene we’d heard so much about (who am I?! I really
think know I’m too old to club, but when in Rome! Errr, I mean…Barcelona) Despite not having a start time until around midnight, we persevered and made our way back to the beach, post-siesta, for a night-turned morning of dancing and drinks. It was a blast and I’m definitely glad we did it but man…the turnaround time the next days just not what it used to be!
If you only make it to one beach club while you’re in Barca–make it Opium. HUGE shoutout to my girl Maggie for the (many) great suggestions, but particularly for this one. This place is definitely worth the pit stop. Even if you think you’re too old to club ;).
Feast on Tapas on a Rooftop
Tapas are a thing for a reason. 1.) They’re delicious (duh) 2.) They’re easy, fast, and everywhere. 3.) They’re available on pretty much every rooftop bar and restaurant you can find. Rooftop bars are the absolute best place to enjoy these delightful treats, and there is no lack of locations OR tapas goodness in Barca. There are countless locations for this, but our favorite was Hotel 1880. Make a point to do this at least once, you don’t regret it.
Explore La Boqueria Markets
We stumbled into these markets unintentionally and I have never fallen in love with a marketplace more. Zach & I have been very spoiled living so close to Pike Place Market in Seattle, walking by it everyday to and from work. As much as I love my dear Pike Place, the markets in Barcelona are just something else. Literally bursting with color, you’ll find everything from fresh fruit juices (my absolute favorite) to spices, to clothing, and pretty much everything your heart can imagine. Don’t miss out on these, even if it’s just for a pit-stop to pick up a freshly-squeezed lemonade. My mouth is watering just thinking of that juicy goodness!
Take a Stroll Down Las Ramblas
Las Ramblas is huge, and actually more than one street. It’s full of shopping, restaurants, and lots of people. Think the Champs Élysées of Barcelona. This also means that there are tons of tourists. And where there are tourists..there are pickpocketers, so remember to keep your belongings close. Don’t less this deter you from going, however. It’s the most bustling location in all of Barcelona and the energy here is palpable. My advice? Stroll down Las Ramblas for a while, then get lost on one of the side streets. It was here we stumbled into some of the most delicious spots for some of our favorite bites in all of the city.
For the Fútbol Fanatics–Head to Camp Nou
Zach & I both grew up playing soccer (i.e. fútbol in everywhere else in existence except the U.S.) and he is actually someone I might describe as a fanatic. His typical souvenir in every place we visit is a jersey to take home and then wear likely everyday after that. So when we went to Barcelona, visiting Camp Nou was at the top of his list, and man, was he like a kid in a candy store. Home to FC Barcelona, Camp Nou is fútbol’s most hallowed grounds, and I don’t say this lightly. This club has some of (if not the most) loyal and vocal fans in all of fútbol, and the pride is bursting at the seams at Camp Nou. For Catalonian’s, this structure represents a source of pride for the countrymen, and all can be found rallying around FC Barca during every match.
Unfortunately, we didn’t go during the season so we weren’t able to catch a match, but you can tour the facility, watch epic game highlights, and grab a beer or two on site. It’s a must do for any sports fan while in Barca.
Catch Sunset at Mountjuïc Castle
After visiting, I’m so surprised that this spot isn’t on more must do lists when visiting the city, as it was absolutely one of my favorite (and most memorable) parts of the entire trip. I’ve mentioned before that Zach and I each have our “isms” when we visit a new place. Mine is finding the most charming café we stumble upon to watch the world go by, and his is definitely to find the highest spot in the city to get a birds eye view of the new place. In Barcelona, the search for a birds eye view lead us to Mountjuïc Castle.
A brief history about this epic castle, it was long used as a military fortress sitting at the tippy top of Barcelona. Built in 1640 (!!) this enclave has served as both a prison and military stronghold over centuries, and is a reminder of Barcelona’s repression. If a prisoner was sent to Mountjuïc, there was a fair chance they would never be seen again. The castle now belongs to the City of Barcelona, and is open to visitors daily. So we made our way up to this famed castle, to watch the sunset on our last night of our European adventure. Little did we know, it sits relatively close to one of the city’s massive stadiums, which just so happened to be playing host to one of the most famous bands in the world the very night we were up there. That band? U2. No big deal. Cue us giddy as all get out as we sat near a castle and listened to a U2 show for free as the sun set over our last night in Barcelona. It was a spontaneous choice that led us up there, and resulted in one of the most memorable parts of our trip.
My wheels are spinning as I’m getting antsy to plan another trip sooner than later, and can’t wait to keep exploring this big beautiful world of ours. Have you been to Barcelona? What was your favorite part? Share with me below, or find my over on Instagram (@thelyonbadger)
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