Barcelona is Beautiful, it really is. The streets, the buildings, the food, the people, the beaches; it’s all beautiful. Apart from spending NYE in Edinburgh, I hadn’t planned on going on another short trip before departing on my adventure in January but, given an opportunity to go and having always wanted to see Barcelona, I couldn’t turn down the chance. So, being given little notice, I packed what little things I needed and couldn’t wait to hit the city.
Getting to the city from the airport is easy enough; you can catch a bus for around €12 or grab a taxi which, depending on where you’re heading, will be at least €20. Normally, on a budget, I’d catch the bus but being tired and cranky, I was in no mood for a 40min ride followed by a 2 mile walk; so the taxi it was. Briefly consulting a map I realised I was within walking distance of Las Ramblas so I decided to head there; if you’re staying in this particular hostel you’ll find that it’s either a 15 minute walk or a 2 minute metro journey; the choice is yours. I always prefer to walk as much as possible, especially on my first experience of a place as you always see more. Either way if you turn left from the hostel then left again you’ll find yourself on the Parel-lel; from here head down the Nou de la Rambla, pass the Sant Pau del Camp and you’ll end up pretty much in the centre of Las Ramblas just by the Liceu metro station.
Las Ramblas. What can I say about this place? It’s hard to describe it other than amazing. As soon as I stepped out onto the central walkway I became overwhelmed; the sounds, the smells, the atmosphere, all of it is an attack on the senses. If there is one 3/4 mile stretch of street to walk along in Europe, this is it.
The Las Ramblas is lined with restaurants, bars, shops, and street performers; you really could start with breakfast at one end and finish with supper at the other (with a few drinks in between of course). At one end you have the Mirador do Colom and Port Vell, and at the other end you have the Placa de Catalunya, which is widely considered to be the city centre. One word of warning though; Las Ramblas is rife with pickpockets on the main walk, and is a prostitute haven to the south in the Raval area (I got stopped twice by the same prostitute who wouldn’t let go of my arm) so be careful, especially if you’re travelling alone! Anyway, it would take probably 10mins to walk the full length of it but, given the amount of people moving about, it can take the best part of 20mins. By this point it had gone dark and I was hungry, thirsty, and just wanted to sit down.
It’s not hard to find somewhere to eat or drink on Las Ramblas so I just picked a bar that looked appealing; I realised within minutes of sitting down that I’d struck gold. I’d found a place called ‘Bar International Beer’ which is just off Las Ramblas across from the Liceu metro station.
You need to visit this bar.
This place rocked. It had great music, a great atmosphere, a very wide selection of beer, and it was relatively cheap so, after a beer or two, I decided to eat here. Now, as you may or may not know, a large part of Spanish cuisine is Tapas, and thankfully it is everywhere. Pretty much every bar you go in has a selection of Tapas lined up along the bar with pictures or menu’s explaining what is what, and this place was no different.
The Spanish eat quite late so Tapas is almost considered a snack; something to eat whilst having a drink and socialising before heading home for a full meal. I found that Tapas is generally €1-€3 each and you only need 3 or 4 portions before you’re full, so if you stick to Tapas for most of your time here as I did, you can be spending as little as €6 per meal (though one night I did get sick of the stuff and had to have a full meal). After a beer or two in a couple of other bars, I headed home for some much needed rest.
As I said earlier; I prefer to walk everywhere, so I set off the next morning with an idea of seeing what the city had to offer; I’d forgotten my map so I just set off in a direction and hoped for the best. Luckily, after walking for 20mins I arrived at the Placa d’Espanya, which is basically a large square connecting many parts of the city. As I arrived here the first things I noticed were the Venetian Towers which, as well as being quite impressive, act as a gateway to the Font Magica de Montjuic and the Barcelona Art Museum. There was a rally stage set up so the road was closed to traffic; this meant that it was a lot quieter than I imagine it normally is, the downside being that there were barriers up.
Out of all the tourist hotspots around the city, this was the one I disliked the most. There are very few times that I get lonely but, seeing an army of selfie-stick clad couples, families, and friends, I couldn’t help but feel a little like I was missing out somehow. Sure, I have great experiences, (notice I’m never in any pictures though) but would these experiences be better with someone else? Who knows. This thought didn’t last long so, moving on…
From the summit of the steps of the Museum (yes, the steps; not the escalators lazy people!) I could see the Sagrada Familia in the distance. Now, only ever having seen this Architectural icon in lectures, I wasn’t really aware of it’s size and so thought it was a lot closer than it actually was. ‘I’ll walk it’ I thought. ‘It won’t take too long’ I convinced myself. Ohh how I was wrong; over an hour later I finally arrived at the famous church and, though already having an idea what it looked like, was still in awe.
Whether you’re interested in architecture or not, the Sagrada Familia is something I would highly recommend seeing no matter how long you’re in the city. Again, there is a metro station in the area so if you don’t fancy the long walk, you can easily get to wherever you want to go pretty quickly by going underground.
There are too many Avenue’s like this in Barcelona; it’s quite easy to get lost (which isn’t a bad thing).
It was early afternoon so after having a quick Estrella I set off walking in the general direction of the coast; once more, I hugely underestimated the distance and felt like I’d been walking for hours (I worked out afterwards that I’d actually walked over 11 miles on this day alone). If you walk directly south east from the Sagrada Familia you will find yourself at the Port Olimpic (you’ll find this by walking between two skyscrapers). This was actually quite a happy surprise; I found that by walking south along the Barceloneta I’d end up at Port Vell and the foot of Las Ramblas, completing a large circle back to the hostel.
El Peix marks the end of the Barceloneta to the North
Now, as you can imagine by this point, I was in need of a drink, and what better place to have one or two, (or three or Four) than the Barceloneta. Teeming with beauty, this 1 mile stretch of beach the home to a number of restaurants and bars, both on the beach itself and along the promenade. I’m not a big fan of beaches or sunbathing but, given that I had nothing planned for the rest of the day, I decided to try some of the local drinks and bask in the sun until I go to Port Vell.
Do you really need anything else?
You’ll find a large amount of beach huts varying in price, type of food, and atmosphere. Be careful though, especially when visiting more than a couple, as prices can vary up to 50% for both food and drink and most of them don’t have menus; I got caught out a couple of times and expecting to pay €3.50 for a beer I ended up paying €5 which, given average prices in Barcelona, wasn’t actually too bad in the end.
Now, if you are heading to Port Vell from the Barceloneta you will have to walk along the Promenade to reach the Mirador do Colom; amongst other things, this is a great way to hone you reflexes. If you do manage to walk this short distance without having to jump out of the way of cyclists, skateboarders, segway drivers, or pedicabs; please let me know how? It is a 1/4 mile of unbridled chaos; the clicking of bells and the grinding of skateboards being the only way to know what’s coming from behind. Maybe I was just there at the wrong time?
After surviving this lethal 1/4 mile of paving, I headed back to Las Ramblas to relax and get settled for the evening. As I was walking back up the famous avenue I couldn’t stop smiling and, after remembering what lies ahead of me, realised something; I was happy. I was genuinely happy. I just strolled around without a care in the world, enjoying life; I forgot any anxious feelings I have, any worries or problems, I even completely forgot about home; I was reminded why it is that I want to travel and why I’ve made the right decision. I really couldn’t have been happier.
Now for the good and the bad. When I originally decided to come to Barcelona I had in mind a few things that I definitely wanted to see; one of them being Park Guell. I planned to walk there but, given that it was on the edge of town, I thought I’d see how the metro panned out. You pay €14 for an unlimited 2 day pass that is more than worth the price, especially if you plan on travelling all over the city; follow the L3 green line and there are two stops to choose from, both of which are a 15min walk (or escalator) to one of the many entrances to the park.
Underwhelmed is an understatement. If you really want to get inside the Gaudi area of the Park I would highly advise that you somehow do your research and book tickets ahead of getting there; I was told to pay €8 and to wait 5 hours until the next ‘viewing’. Again, I would advise against it; you can actually see most of the Gaudi work from outside of the Park to the south.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a fantastic view from inside the Park and the mosaic is no doubt wonderful but it is not worth the price or the time needed to wait, especially if you’re only in the city for a short time. A little disappointed, I headed toward the next place on my list; bunkers del carmel. This isn’t somewhere visitors ever really hear of but, after a very helpful suggestion from Lily Travella (if you don’t follow her, I suggest you do), I decided I’d see if it was worth it. I had an idea that it was relatively nearby so very quickly checked google maps and set off. If heading from Park Guell to the Bunkers be prepared for a long, winding, mixture of paths with very little coverage (to the point where you actually feel you’re going the wrong way). If you make it to the top you really do deserve the view.
Of course the following couple of days were spent wandering around, getting lost, and visiting various other interesting (and not so interesting) places but, after finding a lot of them on my own and by accident, I’m pretty happy with the little time I spent here. I think that everyone’s experience of a place is completely different and that’s what’s so great about travelling. Sure, I got drunk (unintentionally), I got lost (multiple times), I almost got dragged into some sort of brothel, and my bank card got swallowed, but that’s all part of the adventure isn’t it?
After a long and truly enjoyable few days I spent my final hour in the city sat on a bench outside the Placa Catalunya metro station, watching the world go by. I realised whilst I was here how amazing other people are, especially the ones I’d met here; Americans, New Zealanders, Norwegians, Canadians, and even the English! I found that whenever I spoke to people on their travels they were as excited to meet an Englishman as I was to meet a Californian, or someone from Wellington, or from Oslo, or Vancouver; it really didn’t matter, everyone just got along and enjoyed the experience. Everyone had their own story and their own plans; if this didn’t convince me that I’d made the right decision, nothing would have…
This truly is a great city and I will miss it dearly.