When I went:
What I did:
La Sagrada Familia
Bunkers del Carmel
Parc de la Ciutadella
Where I ate:
Mercado de La Boqueria
Boheme Bakery Cafe
Barcelona has been on my travel ‘list’ for years, so I was excited to make it my first stop after finishing up my job in London. It’s such a cool, vibrant city – with so much to do and so much going on! It was the perfect place for me to chill out, enjoy the sun (and mourn the end of my London adventure).
I spent most of my first day getting a bit lost in the city. I wasn’t used to such warm weather (after surviving the London winter) so decided to sit in a few parks and cafes and just read and chill out. If you’re looking for an excellent, green escape from the city, check out Parc de la Ciutadella and the seats around the Arc de Triomf. It’s the perfect place for a little people watching while enjoying the sun. I was super lucky with the weather when I was in Barcelona. Despite being the end of February it was still 15-18 degrees Celsius every day!
I spent some time wandering around the winding streets of the El Ravel neighbourhood – which is a beautiful rambling and confusing neighbourhood. Little balconies overlook small squares, which are lined with cafes and arty little shops. In the neighbourhood, I took a look at the El Born archaeological centre, Basílica de Santa Maria del Mar and a cute little art gallery/shop that I doubt I’ll ever be able to find again.
Free entry to the Picasso Museum
The Picasso Museum (and many other museums) are free after 3pm on Sunday, so I made my way to the Museum. I was quite surprised – there was already quite a long line to get in – but the woman who worked for the museum assured me that the line will get a lot longer very quickly, particularly on the Sunday. So I waited in line, for about 20 minutes (totally engrossed in trying to post a photo to Instagram), when I feel a tap on my shoulder and a voice saying ‘Excuse me’. I turn to my right – which was where ticket holders entered the museum – and there was a group of three American girls smiling at me. They had a spare ticket, if I wanted to jump the queue and join them, and of course I said yes! I was particularly pleased, especially since they said it had taken them 2 hours to line up and get tickets!
The museum was quite interesting and not at all what I expected. I didn’t know that much about Picasso, except, of course, his most famous works. But the museum showcased his works from a very early age and, surprisingly, they were very traditional paintings and sketches. Going through the museum with the group of girls, we kept exclaiming to each other how different it was and how interesting it was to see the journey of his works. It was particularly interesting to see the complete collection of Las Meninas series.
After I left the museum (and said goodbye to my new friends!) I felt a bit unsure of what to do, so I went and got icecream (a good decision), and then decided to head up to this viewpoint of Barcelona for sunset.
How to get to Bunkers del Carmel, Barcelona
The bunkers are on top of hill (near Park Guell) with a fantastic view over Barcelona city. The bunkers were used during the Civil War and the Franco Regime, but then fell into disrepair. Nowadays, the park has a few walking trails on it, and an amazing 180-degree view of the city. To get there, catch the metro to Alfons X and then catch the 92 bus from Carrer de Pi i Margall up the hill (trust me, it’s worth it!). Get off at the stop after Park Guell, and take a walk through the park to the viewpoint.
I spent quite a bit of time at the viewpoint, reading a bit, people-watching, and generally just enjoying the sunset. After a while, I started to walk back down to the metro, when I accidentally walked into Park Guell on the famous terrace. I later found out I should have bought a ticket to get in, but for the moment, I was just enjoying the last few moments of sunrise.
That night the hostel where I was staying had a pub crawl, which I joined and met this lovely American girl, and a friendly Polish couple. The American girl, Sam, and I agreed to meet the next day to go on a free walking tour and explore Barcelona.
Barcelona free walking tour
One of the things I try and do in each city is a walking tour and most cities have a free walking tour available. Walking tours are so helpful for orientating yourself around the city and, as they are often led by history majors, they are super informative and give a broad overview of the country’s history. Sam and I met early on the edge of the Gothic quarter, and spent the morning walking around the Gothic Quarter. One of my favourite places we visited was a quiet little square, Plaza de Sant Felip Neri, tucked away in the Gothic Quarter. The square has a dark history – after a bombing during the Civil War killed young students at a local school. The light in the square also reportedly inspired Gaudi’s architecture.
After grabbing a quick lunch, Sam and I headed back to the meeting point – we’d decided to do ANOTHER walking tour. This one was a Gaudi and modernism tour and it was excellent! We walked past the Palau de la Música Catalana (which might be my favourite building in Barcelona!) then went up to Passeig-de-Grace, where we say Casa Batlo, Casa Milo and several other modernist buildings. Gaudi’s buildings are beautiful in a very delicate and fantastic way. It was also interesting to see the differing architecture.
Getting tickets to La Sagrada Familia
The final stop on the tour was the wonderful La Sagrada Familia. Despite Sam and I being totally exhausted after 6 hours of walking, we perked straight up when we went inside the cathedral. It is an incredible experience. It’s like being in an airy and light forest. The stained glass on either side lit up as the setting sun hit the walls of the cathedral. We went in at the very last entry time, and luckily, there was no-else really there, so we got full reign to sit and stare in awe at the cathedral.
I’d decided to take two-day trips for the following two days (to Figueres and Girona, and Montserrat), so I had one morning left before my train to Madrid. It was time to check out the lively La Rambla and Mercat de la Boqueria before I said goodbye. La Rambla is indisputably touristy, but it makes for an interesting walk among the flower sellers, restaurants, cafes and tourist shops. I sat and people-watched (my favourite activity) for a little while, as tourists, businessmen and street vendors made their way up and down the promenade.
Getting from Barcelona to Madrid
After some quick tapas at the Mercat de la Boqueria, it was time to say goodbye and hop on the train to Madrid. Firstly, catching the train is so super easy in Spain. Renfe is the main national train provider, and their website is pretty easy to navigate. Before you book, make sure you check the duration of the journey. Some trains stop at every single stop, and some, like the one I caught, are high-speed trains that take you directly to Madrid. Also, it’s important to say, that the trains are so comfortable and clean – all you have to do it sit back and relax!