Holy crap, Barcelona is AWESOME!
It’s not what everyone says it is – “oh you’ll love it” – no, you’re going to LOVE it. Like love, love. Like when you start dating someone and can’t stop smiling because every single thing is gosh darn perfect. That kind of love. Seriously. This is not exaggeration. We smiled with every street corner, every tapa, every museum, every glass of wine.
Barcelona kept surprising. Didn’t realize we like Gaudi; apparently we do. Didn’t realize we would enjoy Picasso’s retirement works; apparently we did. Didn’t realize shopping in a city grocery story could be so much fun; it was.
Here’s how to do Barcelona in 4 perfect days.
Arrival on Thursday
Ramble las Ramblas. Las Ramblas is the main tourist drag in Barcelona. It’s touristy. We’re told there are pick-pockets (but we didn’t see them). More concerning were the street performers dressed up as the alien from Independence Day. Besides that Las Ramblas offers a beautiful walk along a central pedestrian-only walkway. It is also the locale for La Boqueria Market.
La Boqueria is a large, partially open-air market filled with stands selling pureed fruit juices, fresh fish, offal, and sweets. There are a few places to grab a seat and some freshly prepared tapas. We didn’t. We just snapped pictures of the bull testicles and cow brain. Instead of waiting for a bar stool to open up, we walked across the street and down to Irati in the Barri Gothic for pinxtos. Pintxos (said “pinch-Ohs”) are small tapas that are held together by a toothpick. You pay for the total number of toothpicks you have on your plate at the end of the meal. On a per-toothpick basis, the prices range at different bars from 1 Euro to 2.50 Euro. A lunch of pintxos and beer for two usually costs around 20 Euro. Not bad. Irati has cold and warm tapas and the staff to explain (in English and Spanish) what you are eating. The staff is friendly and willing to explain what’s on the toothpick.
At the north end of Las Ramblas is Placa de Catalunya. It is a large, open square surrounded by commercial buildings. It is a great place to people-watch.
After an afternoon nap, we meandered south along Las Ramblas toward the Mirador de Colon (Christopher Columbus statue). Highly recommend a sunset walk around the new Rambla del Mar shopping center and pier.
El Born. The El Born neighborhood is home to trendy restaurants, shops, and bars. Historically, this was the neighborhood where Barcelona fisherman built and furnished their own cathedral. At night, it is a maze of tight alleyways with metal security doors painted with neat designs.
In the midst of El Born is the Museu Picasso. On Thursday, the museum is open until 9:30pm and there is a discount after 7pm. The best part is that the tickets are timed entrance so you can buy the post-7pm ticket earlier than 7pm and pay the discount fee. The museum is amazing; set in an early 19th century mansion and sparsely adorned. It follows Picasso’s life and features his little known earlier works as a boy and the joys of his retirement featuring his pigeons. You get to see a different Picasso than you have before, including his take on works of other artists including Diego Velazquez’s Las Meninas.
Just down the street is El Xampanyet. The place was packed and we were treated so well by the staff. We had local wines, delicious jamon, cheeses, mushrooms, calamari. It’s lively and loud (due to its small size). We highly recommend it.
The Barcelona Metro (Transport Barcelona aka “TMB”) is super easy to use. It’s fast and straight forward. La Sagrada Familia is one of those sights out of walking distance that requires a metro ride. Pro tip: buy tickets for La Sagrada Familia in advance online. Pay for the audio guide and choose one of the towers to ascend. Although it is still an active construction site, it is still probably one of the most amazing sights we’ve seen. The best part is that our entrance fee contributes to its continued ascent into the Barcelona sky. Wait for the sun to stream into the stained glass windows; touch the various doors; take in the Passion facade and the Nativity facade. The building itself is a religious experience.
If you fancy a walk, the 20 minute walk through the perfect street grid of the Eixample neighborhood to the Passeig de Gracia is really pleasant. There are small cafes along the tree lined streets. When you arrive at the Passeig de Gracia, you’ll run into Casa Milà. Casa Milà, popularly known as “La Pedrera” (the stone quarry), an ironic allusion to the resemblance of its façade to an open quarry, was constructed between 1906 and 1912 by Antoni Gaudí. It’s a really neat apartment building where Gaudí tried out many of his ergonomic designs (seats conform to your body and door pulls fit seamlessly into your hand). The tour starts at the roof where Gaudí designed around the chimneys and continues into the attic, designed like the interior of a snake, where the laundry room was located.
Friday night in Barcelona presents an opportunity to take in the Dancing Fountains of Montjuic. An easy metro ride from the Passeig de Gracia, the fountains are a place to people watch. Tourists, young couples, families all gather here to watch the water dance with the music and colorful lights. Winter months the fountains only perform Friday and Saturday from 7 to 8:30pm and more often in the summer.
Saturday morning presents a nice time to wander through the Catedral de Barcelona in the Gothic Quarter and up to the Eixample for window shopping along the Passeig de Gracia. Halfway up the Passeig de Gracia is Casa Batllo, one of Antoni Gaudi’s masterpieces. The Batllo family purchased the rowhome and commissioned Gaudi to renovate the home. The result was several floors of intriguing design. Although a little pricey and possibly crowded, the house is a must-see sight in Barcelona.
The Palau Nacional, constructed for the International Exposition of 1929, is the location of the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. The Palau Nacional is crowned by a large dome, inspired by that of St Peter’s of the Vatican; two lesser domes on either side, and four towers are inspired by the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostella. The museum offers a grand collection of modernismo and romanticism and is well apportioned in the Palace.
It’s an easy metro ride (TMB stop: Vallcarca to walk downhill) and a confusing standing hike upwards on a series of escalators to find your way to Parc Guell. Parc Guell was designed in the early 1900s as a neighborhood for well-to-do Barcelona families that wanted to escape the bustle of the Eixample during a period of substantial expansion in Barcelona. The park sits on a hillside and was intended to be the first planned community. Although this never came to pass, the park is a testament to Gaudi’s fusion of architecture and nature in planning mixed use spaces. You enter near the top of the park through the side. Meander upwards to the highest part of the park or walk downhill to the ticket counter to access the ticket area. Pro tip: buy timed entrance tickets early if you want to explore some of Gaudi’s more interesting designs. The best part of this experience was sitting on the benches because Gaudi designed them with lumbar support to perfectly support lounging.
You can exit out of the main entrance and continue the walk down hill toward TMB stop Lesseps. Take the metro to Barceloneta.
Barceloneta is a triangular neighborhood that gives Barcelona its famous city beach access. The walk from the Barceloneta metro stop is fun and action-packed on a Sunday afternoon. Put your toes in the sand, hop in the Mediterranean.
If you fancy a walk, the boardwalk offers some great people-watching and drink options. At the end of the boardwalk are all of Barcelona’s famous clubs.
We chose the Mercer Barcelona in Barri Gothic as our hotel. The hotel was very welcoming offering an early check-in with complimentary orange juice and a very helpful concierge who assisted us with dinner reservations during our stay. The hotel is a boutique hotel with a wonderful roof deck with a pool for swimming over the rooftops of the Gothic Quarter.
Moments! Barcelona – 2 Michelin stars; located in the Mandarin Oriental; under 20 tables; open kitchen; wonderful staff; accessible but adventurous and fun menu.