For my birthday my boyfriend and I went on a three night mini-break to Barcelona. It is somewhere I have always wanted to go, having heard it revered for its quirky architecture, relaxed lifestyle and trendy atmosphere by friends and family alike. Unsurprisingly, Barcelona did not disappoint, and will long remain one of my favourite European cities. Here are all the things I got up to on my trip, both good and bad.
Although this fountain does not live up to its name in the daytime, at night it comes alive in a coloured lightshow which is simply breath-taking and almost magical.
In the daytime, far more impressive than the actual fountain itself is the building of the Museum of Art Catalunya, overlooking the fountain with a stately and ornate decadence.
Montjuic Cablecar and Castle
This cable car was more than worth paying for, saving a strenuous walk uphill to allow you to walk down through Monjuic’s steep park at your own pace.
Although the views from the cable car were incredible, they were beaten by the 360 degree views affording from the roof of the castle. Although I felt that the castle’s entry fee was perhaps a bit pricey, given that there was not much to see of the inside of the castle, the views of the city from the top were breath-taking.
This was one of the biggest surprises of the trip for me. I had read reviews which seemed to suggest that this was pretty average, that there was better and more interesting Gaudi architecture to see. However, because of this lack of popularity, the entry fee was so much cheaper than the more popular Gaudi sites. The Palace was big, with many different floors to see, meaning that you actually got a lot for your money.
Some of my favourite parts of the palace were in the basement with its dome shaped pillars creating an unusual contrast between light and shade, and the roof terrace with its gorgeous Gaudi pottery style chimneys.
The Gothic Quarter
This is a beautiful area providing the opportunity to wander around and look at its numerous shops, small, shady streets and beautiful architecture. I would say this is an area that can be explored relatively quickly, and makes for a nice excursion from the tourist hustle and bustle of Las Ramblas.
One of my favourite parts of the Gothic Quarter was its beautiful, ancient cathedral boasting an impressive façade which allows you to walk all the way round it. Just one tip: if you want to go inside the cathedral (it is free entry) make sure you wear something that comes below the knee. I got caught out on this wearing my shorts and, sadly, was not allowed to look inside this magnificent cathedral.
For me, Las Ramblas was one of the most overrated elements of Barcelona. Although I could appreciate the street with its tree lined pedestrian walkway, numerous shops and impressive architecture, I found it too busy and crowded with tourists to fully enjoy it. I had been warned that bags were easy to pickpocket in such a crowded space, so was constantly checking my bag (which, luckily, did not get stolen!)
Another thing that annoyed me about Las Ramblas was the prices. We were staying on the Avenue Parallel, a relatively cheap area, and the contrast between the prices there and on Las Ramblas, only a mere ten minutes away, was outstanding. Restaurants will frequently conn you by offered you an outside table on the street, only to charge you a premium price of almost double for eating there. Las Ramblas is definitely worth exploring as a go-between route, but not worth going out of the way for.
Having been recommended this by several friends, we pre-booked our tickets for this before our trip. This turned out to be a beneficial decision, allowing us to see Gaudi’s masterpiece cheaper and with a queue jump opportunity. Even if you don’t want to pay to get in, the outside of the house alone is a masterpiece in itself, a jarring contrast between the shapes of bones and skulls and the fluid, calming colours of the sea.
One can also see this contrast inside the house, a contrast between the practical and the whimsical which is so explicit in Gaudi’s work. The house itself, in Tardis fashion, was surprisingly bigger on the inside, and one felt its numerous collection of quirky rooms would never end.
The highlights for me were the magnificent front room with views out to the street from its beautifully stained glass windows and the central staircase space with its terracotta tiles of varying shades of blue. As one would expect from Gaudi, this is one of the most imaginative pieces of architecture I have, and will ever, see.
The Segrada Familia
Despite having been warned off this by one of my friends who dismissed it as too ‘touristy’, I felt that a trip to Barcelona would not be complete without seeing Gaudi’s famous cathedral. As soon as I stood outside its impressive, almost crumbling looking façade, I knew I had made the right decision. The outside of the cathedral, well, the side not covered in scaffolding and building cloth, nearly took my breath away with its intricacy of design and attention to detail. As you get even closer to the building, you notice that what looked like simply a jagged bit of stone is actually a person, donkey, or angel.
However, what most surprised me was the inside of the cathedral. I had not seen any photos of it so had no idea what to expect. When I walked in what I saw was almost indescribable, the vast spaces of the cathedral supported by magnificent bone-like white pillars that stretched high up to the ornate ceiling.
When buying a ticket, I would recommend going up one of the ‘Towers’ if you are not too afraid of heights. It affords beautiful views over Barcelona and is a great way to explore the inner workings of the cathedral.
This was without a doubt the highlight of my trip. Situated only an hour on the train from Barcelona, Montserrat is a jaw-dropping mountain-scape rendered into beautiful, incredible and uncanny stalagmite-like shapes by the wind and weather. We went up in the cable car rather than the tram, which gave incredible views over the surrounding mountains and countryside of the region.
Once at the top, there is not an awful lot to do except admire beautiful views and scenery, so if this is not your thing then I would not recommend this as a day trip. We did manage to get a quick glimpse into the monastery and its cathedral, but would have liked to look round for longer when there was not a service going on.
If you also want to walk or take the funicular up to one of the highest points of the mountain, this will soon become less of an excursion and more of a full day trip. We spent nearly eight hours there in total! Once at the top, there are even greater views to be had.
However, the greatest views by far were afforded by performing the treacherous task of climbing one of the mountains. Although there is a walkable path that people can use to walk up, it was nevertheless a nervous but also adrenaline-fuelled experience.
Once we got to the top, we could not believe we had climbed so high. We could see so far and so wide, it left us a little speechless.
If you get to the top, I recommend walking down the mountain rather than getting the funicular down. There is a wide, clear concrete path that takes you right round and down to the monastery again.
I felt slightly let down by Guell Park, not because of the park itself but because I did not realise you had to pay for it. Apparently this is a measure that was only brought in late last year, and before that entry to the monuments area of the park had been completely free. We went here on the morning of our last day with our flight in the afternoon and therefore only had a limited time frame, but when we got there found it packed with queuing tourists, who, even upon buying a ticket, were not allowed to enter the park except within a specific time frame. The earliest slot we could get was 2.30, leaving it as out of the question we would be able to pay and get in even if we had wanted to. Although we got to see Gaudi’s gingerbread-like buildings standing at the entrance of the park and a very distant view of Barcelona towards the sea for free, I felt that I missed out on seeing one of Barcelona’s best, and iconic, views.
I hope I have given you some idea of what this beautiful and quirky city is like, and shown you how to enjoy Barcelona as a pure, unadulterated tourist.