Craving some European adventures? Me too. This week, we’re featuring a guest post by a fellow lifestyle blogger, Sarah about her fabulous trip to Barcelona. Her are Sarah’s must-dos in bustling Barcelona….
A year ago I spent nine days in Barcelona, and it quickly became one of my favourite cities. Barcelona has serious amounts of European charm that we just don’t get in North American, and the history buff part in me was in heaven.
Before I left, I was asked by numerous people if I was going to travel to anywhere else in Spain during that time. This had me worried that nine days would be too long in one city. It wasn’t! I was able to check off so many things on my ‘to-do’ list and never felt bored. In fact, it was the opposite, I could have spent even more time exploring.
My days were packed full traipsing through museums, wandering the cobblestone streets, eating way too many croquettes and drinking gallons of sangria. When in Barcelona 😉 I’ve narrowed down my favourite things to a list of five must-dos if you ever visit Barcelona…and I highly recommend you do!
The Gothic Quarter
Las Ramblas is the main touristy street in Barcelona, and I stayed just a few blocks from it. Patio style restaurants (serving giant jugs of sangria) and stores line the street, and it’s almost always jam-packed with tourists. It’s fun to wander down, but I would suggest getting off the main path and exploring. You’ll find more affordable (fewer tourist traps) restaurants and stores.
This is where you’ll find the Gothic Quarter, and I spent many hours wandering it’s narrow, winding streets. It’s confusing as heck but in the best possible way. I would walk past a restaurant in the afternoon that looked like it would make a dinner spot but knew that there was next to no chance I’d find it again. You’ll also find lots of really unique stores. I ended up buying a couple of souvenirs in a store that sold only rubber ducks (babysit my dogs when I’m travelling, and you’ll get a rubber duck…I’m generous like that).
When I was in university, I took a random architecture class (the things you do when you take an arts degree) and it had a whole section on Gaudi. I fell for his weird and whimsical architecture, and it was a big reason I had always wanted to visit Barcelona. The city is packed with his work.
Park Guell is kind of a like an amusement park for architecture nerds. It might not have any rides, but it has some of the strangest structures you’ll ever see. It is a little out of the way, but the subway in Barcelona is pretty straightforward, convenient and not scary. You will also want to buy tickets in advance. When you do, you get a window of time when you can get access to the park. I didn’t go during a busy season, but even then there was a 2.5-hour wait to get in if you didn’t buy tickets before. There is a section of the park that’s open to the public and doesn’t require a ticket; it’s also worth wandering around when you’re there, so it’s not the end of the world if you have some time to kill.
Once you get into the fancy section, you’ll be able to explore for as long as you want. It will be busy, and you might need to fight the crowds to get a good picture from the main lookout…it’s worth it though. The mosaic tile work if super impressive.
There is a gift shop in the park, but there are also lots of other shops when you exit. They have lots of Gaudi swag, and it’s cheaper.
I felt silly adding Sagrada Familia on the list because it’s so well known, but I couldn’t resist. Whatever you’ve heard people say, it’s way better in person. The intricate detailing around the back entrance is ridiculous, and all the stained glass inside will make your jaw drop. It’s been under construction for 135 years and still isn’t completed. They are aiming to be finished in 2026, and I would love to visit again at that point.
Obviously, it’s a huge attraction, so you need to buy tickets in advance. I went through an organized tour (with a young Al Pacino lookalike) and thought it was well worth it. When you’re buying tickets, you’ll notice that there is an option to go up one of the towers…do it! Unless you’re terrified of heights or enclosed spaces or can’t handle stairs because it is all those things. You take an elevator up and then have to walk back down a tight, steep, spiral staircase. There are open windows along the way where you’ll get crazy views of the city and other parts of the church.
You cannot go to Barcelona without a visit to Sagrada Familia.
Mercat de la Boqueria
With an entrance right along Las Ramblas, the market is easily accessible. I knew I wanted to check it out but kept putting off my visit and regret that. Don’t make the same mistake I did and hit it up on your first few days…I can almost guarantee you’ll be making repeat visits!
Mercat de La Boqueria is a food market. You’ll find a few trinkets and souvenirs, but the big draw is the food. There are lots of small tapas restaurants set-up in inside, and they are much better than what you’ll find on the street outside.
Inside you’ll find rows upon rows of fresh seafood, all sorts of meat products, the fanciest marzipan creations you’ve ever seen, and rainbow displays of fresh juices. Do not skip out on those juices…they are so cheap and so delicious. If there were one thing I could transport back to Canada from Barcelona it would have been one of those juice stalls.
Pro tip: make sure you check what you can bring back through customs before buying a huge link of chorizo and having to eat it all in your hotel before you head home.
Barcelona Hop on Hop off Bus Tour
This isn’t the most frugal option, but if you’re looking for simplicity, then the hop on hop off bus is perfect. If you’re willing to put in the extra planning effort, you could absolutely create your own city tour using public transportation. I wasn’t up for that and still had a few things I wanted to see before heading home, so I bought the bus tour ticket for my last full day in Barcelona. The buses ran fairly regularly and had convenient stops located all over the city. I was able to check off 10+ attractions from my list all in one day.
To get the most bang for your buck, you’ll want to get an early start and plan ahead. Most of the companies that offer the tours in Barcelona have more than one route. Usually, your ticket will let you go on any (or all) of the routes, but you’ll need to figure out what you’ll have enough time to see. And make sure you get off the bus! I noticed that quite a few people stayed on the bus and just looked at the sights out the window. I got off almost everywhere and was still able to see everything I wanted to.
Barcelona is a fantastic place to visit, and you can find a great deal on flights if you keep a lookout. Nos vamos!
Sarah is a fellow Canadian blogger over at Smile & Conquer where she writes about money and all things personal finance. She has been working in the world of finance for almost a decade and uses that experience to help other millennials get smart about their money.
Have you been to Barcelona? What were your favourite neighbourhoods, restaurants or attractions?