Barcelona has been on my travel list since Dalí, Goya and Gaudí covered the pages of my Art History books. A city colored with Surrealism, fabulous food, and a vibrant nightlife. It’s hard not to fall in love with Barcelona. I spent 6 days/6 nights in Barcelona with my bestie from September 1 -6, 2014. We wanted to explore as much as we could without going over budget. Here’s what we packed into our itinerary.
We wanted to stay in an apartment and get a real feel of the city. We stayed in the Gothic Quarter (Barri Gótic). This part of the city I adore for the charming alleys. The cozy two-bedroom apartment was rented through AirBnB. The apartment was perfect and within walking distance to many restaurants, bars, Las Ramblas and even the beach! Every alley in the Barri Gótic is worthy of a picture, but only if you can capture the moment without a crowd of people in your photo. Click here to check out the apartment we rented.
You must stop into the Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria to marvel at all the fresh produce and Spanish delicacies when on Las Ramblas,. Insider tip, the back of the market is cheaper than the front of the market.
Centrally located on Passeig de Gràcia, Casa Batlló is hard not to miss with the curve of its arched roof, resembling a dinosaur’s vertebrae. This was my first tour inside Gaudí’s Art Nouveau architectural style. Gaudí was commissioned to redesign the house for the Batlló family in the early 1900’s. Mother Nature inspired his design and he used sustainable materials throughout construction of the house. A vertebrate staircase leads you up many levels of blue tile walls. Recycled glass mosaics line the walls on the terrace. Every part of the house resembles the sea and skeletal bones of nature’s creatures. Gaudí interpreted how sunlight can play with design and placed darker shades of blue tiles higher up the wall towards the skylight. When you look up or down from any angle of the staircase, you see shades of blue like a rippling effect of an ocean wave.
Sagrada Família is a magnificent architectural work of art and can’t be missed when visiting Barcelona. It was built in the late 1800’s and unfinished at the time of Gaudí’s death in 1926. Construction on the basilica continues with a date of completion around 2026. The cathedral is a massive structure and combines Gothic and Art Nouveau design. The basilica takes your breath away at first sight. Similar to Casa Batlló, there are designs that mirror nature. The stained glass windows capture the light and feel of walking in a forest, while the pillars resemble trees. Animals line the top of the pillars. A tortoise holds up a pillar. The ceiling is mesmerizing and appears to me like a cross between a bumblebee’s honeycomb and the sun. There is also a snail shape curve to the spiral staircase that leads you down from the Nativity tower. Sagrada Família is where Gaudí is buried, and rightfully, since he spent over 20 years working on every intricate detail of this basilica. The design is beyond our time, as with all of Gaudí’s architecture. Since this is the most popular tourist site in Barcelona, get there early, or prepare to stand in line for two hours to tour the basilica.
Insider tip: plan ahead and buy your ticket online. The view from the tower is worth the extra ticket price. Women need to cover their shoulders in some sacred areas of the basilica.
On one of my shopping excursions around the Barri Gótic, I came across the Cathedral de Barcelona and a small Salvador Dalí museum. My shoulders were not covered, so I toured around the outside of the cathedral. The inside gardens are beautiful and house many white swans. It’s worth a stroll around the gardens and inside the church, if dressed appropriately.
I spent more time touring the Dalí museum than the Cathedral de Barcelona. If you admire Dalí’s art, you would appreciate this museum. It contains many works by Dalí, including his original drawings and some sculptures.
La Barceloneta was within walking distance to our apartment. We grabbed some beach towels, our bathing suits and flip-flops and headed to La Barceloneta. The climate in Barcelona in the beginning of September is hot and humid, so you find many people relaxing at the beach. Unlike the beaches where I live in New England, you can order cocktails or bottle service. Need a pack of cigarettes? How about some burritos? You can pretty much get anything you want while sitting on the beach in Barcelona. Be careful from whom you order from since some of the “waiters” on the beach were not the wait staff from the surrounding beach restaurants. I would also be careful to not fall asleep or keep any of your expensive belongings out in the opening. After soaking in the sun and atmosphere on the beach, we stopped at a beachfront restaurant for some appetizers and sangria. There are many cute beach bars and restaurants along the main boulevard. While sitting at this particular beach bar, we saw this beach sign:
We took two excursions outside of Barcelona from the Placa d’Espanya station.
Our first day trip was to Montserrat. The train departs every hour. Click here to see the train line. Montserrat is a sacred religious monastery on top of a mountain. In order to get to the monastery, you must take a funicular, which can be scary for people with a fear of heights, like myself. This was a step in the right direction for facing my fear, as I took some deep breaths and focused on the photo worthy views of the rock formatted mountains.
The main tourist attraction is the statue of the Virgin of Montserrat, also referred to as the “Black Madonna.” Many pilgrimage from all over the world to pray to the Black Madonna. Be prepared to wait in a long line to view the Black Madonna placed in a small room in the back of the basilica. We waited over two hours in line, which is the longest I have waited in line for anything. While we were in line, we saw many people waiting to stand inside a circle on the front outside terrace of the basilica. They stood inside the circle with their head and arms raised up towards the sky. We later found out that this circle on the ground is located on the earth’s energy vortex. We later stood inside the circle with our arms raised to the sky to see if we could feel the energy. We both didn’t feel the energy. Perhaps it’s a myth or maybe I needed to take off my shoes. Click here to learn more.
Penedès Wine Country
Our second day trip was to the Cava region. We took a train to the Sant Sadurní d’Anoia station. When we arrived at the station we took a taxi to Codorníu. We missed the tasting tour, but ended up hanging around for a tasting and a walk around the grounds. However, we couldn’t walk around the grounds. Unlike wineries in the U.S., tourists are not allowed on the grounds near the grapes, unless you are paying for a tour. Codorníu winery is very beautiful and in 1976 was declared a “National Monument of Historical and Artistic interest.” Definitely make sure you get there on time for a tour of the cellars. The stained glass windows and elegant bathrooms top my list at this winery. My favorite cava was the Anna Codorniu Brut Rose in a pink bottle. If I ever make it back to Penedes, I will most definitely make sure I’m on time for the tour.
Insider tip: Plan ahead by purchasing and reserving all tasting tours online.
After our tasting at Codorníu, we walked to our next cava tour at Freixenet. Although, it is walkable, I would recommend calling a cab from the Codorníu winery. We got lost on our walk to Freixenet and walked through the town, then fields of grass, and mud to find it. The Freixenet winery is located right next to the train station and why we chose it as our last tasting tour during our trip. We had about an hour before our tour, so we relaxed in their tasting room with some tapas and cava. The tour was fun and the cellar is underground so you board a small cava train for part of the tour.
The tour ends with a glass of their most popular Cordon Negro Brut and shopping in their store. If you’re like my friend and I, you’ll walk away with a souvenir of their iconic boy, Juan.
Llamber Barcelona : On our last night in Barcelona, we stumbled upon this restaurant while walking around the El Born neighborhood. It was the perfect restaurant to celebrate our last night. Llamber Barcelona served fresh ingredients with a creative and sophisticated Catalayan flair. The menu includes some exotic and traditional menu items. The ambience was just as good as the food. My favorite food discovery here was the blistered Padróns sprinkled with some sea salt that they served while waiting for your table at the bar.
Chulapio Bar and Crepes: This tiny little bar is a great stop for a drink and a crepe after a day of walking or a late night treat. This bar was located right next to our Airbnb apartment. Bonus point: Handsome bar owner and bartenders.
Oliver Barcelona: I stumbled upon this eclectic store in the Barri Gòtic It has a little bit of everything, clothes, shoes, jewelry, and even household furniture and rugs. It reminded me of an eclectic Spanish version of Anthropologie.
El Corte Inglés Department Store: I have walked into these stores in other countries, but the store in Barcelona was enormous. We were in need of a camera battery and flat iron so we found them both at the El Corte Inglés Department Store in Plaza Catalunya, Barcelona. This department store had everything you could possibly need, including a grocery store and delicious food court.
Top 5 Favorites
- Sagrada Família
- Alleys of Barri Gòtic
- Padrón peppers (I cook these at home whenever I miss Barcelona, my local Asian grocer carries Shishito peppers all year)
- Tortilla (I attempt to cook this at home but have failed the “cake-like” consistency multiple times)
- Freixenent Tasting/Tour
If you’re looking to purchase stamps to mail your postcards, you can do this from any cigar/tobacco shop. There are many on Las Ramblas.