Barcelona is one of those cities that has been on my ‘to visit’ list for ages. Every single travel blog, magazine or podcast I follow has at some point mentioned Barcelona as one of Europe’s must see cities. I have traveled quite extensively in Europe and I found that a lot of the popular travel destinations start to blur together after a while. However, all the research I did highlighted the fact that Barcelona is a city like no other. So when my mother said she wanted to spend her 60th Birthday in Spain – I was like “Yes! Free trip to Barcelona!” The plan was to spend a full week in Barcelona, exploring the sights and the cities amazing gastronomic scene. Unfortunately, life doesn’t always happen the way we plan. I ended up having to be in Windhoek for three of the seven days we were going to be there, which left me with two and a half days to explore Barcelona, one of the most culturally intricate cities in Spain.
Two Days… Plan Plan Plan
Not one to back away from a challenge I did what I do best. Research! I researched the hell out the city. Plotting an itinerary that hit all the key points in the most efficient and time sensitive way. I know this sound super clinical – like I’m plotting a military operation. But actually all my best travel experiences start with being prepared and having a good understanding of your environment and the most efficient and cost-effective ways of exploring the city.
I grouped the city into sections and plotted walking routes that would take me past key locations – while still being able to have spontaneous moments. This usually means taking the scenic route – which is why I prefer to either walk or take the bus when I travel. The metro might be quicker; but you can’t actually see anything when you’re in a dark underground tunnel moving at whatever speed trains move (I was going to say ‘at the speed of light’ but I think I’ll save the gross exaggerations for later).
Pro Tip: Travel Guides are your friend! I never travel without one.
Day One: Placa De Catalunya, La Boqueria & More
We started off at Placa De Catalunya, which is generally considered the centre of the city – and acts as a meeting point between the old city and the more modern neighbourhoods. The Placa sits at the top of Las Ramblas, the tree-lined pedestrian street that you see in all the postcards and Instagram shots of Barcelona. Las Ramblas is around 1.2 km of restaurants, shops and the odd museum; so naturally it is teaming with tourists. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, but I would say that we got a better feel of the buildings and architecture when we walked along the smaller side streets.
The big draw for me on this street was La Boqueria – the famous food market – located about halfway between the square and the port. I love a good market, especially one that specialises in food. Let me tell you, La Boqueria did not disappoint. First of all there are maybe a million different stalls insert gross exaggeration that sell anything from fresh made paella to chocolate covered strawberries and fresh oysters. There are a few quasi-restaurants inside where you can sit and watch the chef cook you a seafood dish, while sipping on sangria or bubbles. It’s essentially a foodie paradise! Our generally packed schedule did not allow us time to really linger (which was a shame) – so I would definitely recommend that anyone going to Barcelona carve out at least 2 hours to sit and enjoy the market and all its wares.
When we got to the bottom of Las Ramblas we decided to walk along Port Vuell and find somewhere cute to have lunch. I mean, I had been in Barcelona for like 4 hours and still hadn’t had a single glass of sangria or ate a single plate of octopus! I needed to get my priorities in order!
We chose a random restaurant in the El Born neighbourhood – which is well known for its treasure trove of places to get good food and even better drinks.
After glutting ourselves on Sangria and various seafood dishes, we decided to go take a walk and look for the Picasso Museum (which we ended up only visiting the next day because my father and brother are uncultured plebs). On the way we stumbled on Cathedral Del Mar, which is absolutely the perfect place to end the day with some gelato and various street musicians serenading us in Spanish.
Pro Tip: Maybe don’t stand in the middle of the road to get the perfect shot of palm trees flanking you in all their lush, tropical glory. You will almost get hit by a car. You will almost die in Barcelona.
Day Two: Park Guell, La Sagrada Familia & More
After breakfast at the hotel – which consisted of both French Toast and Eggs Benedict because vacations are for enjoyment – we took a taxi to Park Guell. When I was researching the trip, I realised that there were mixed feelings about this park. Some loved it, some thought it was highly overrated. Never one to rely solely on other peoples opinions, I decided to visit the famous park. I can tell you right now, that like most of Gaudi’s artistic spaces in the city, Park Guell is an absolute must-see. The park itself is gorgeous, but the best part was the views of the city! You do need to get tickets in advance if you want access to the lower parts of the park, but the rest of the park is free and gives you a great intro to Gaudi’s works in the city. I will say though that while Park Guell was absolutely worth the visit, I found that not to be the case for Case Batllo (another one of Gaudi’s designs in the centre of the city). Its one of those buildings that you can visit if you have time, but I wouldn’t label it as a “must see”.
La Sagrada Familia is honestly one of the most mesmerising landmarks I have ever had the privilege of experiencing. The jewel in the crown of gifted architect, Antoni Gaudi, this UNESCO World Heritage Site actually defies description. The combination of physical beauty and religious and spiritual meaning makes the minor basilica unlike anything I have ever experienced. The sheer magnitude of the building alone is impossible to adequately capture in a photo – or even a series of photos. However, the thing that really sets this building apart from any other religious or cultural space is Gaudi’s attention to detail and the religious symbolism that permeates through every corner and crevice. I myself am not a particularly religious person, but there is something about that space that touched something essential in me. A really surreal experience. Together with scuba diving in the Great Barrier Reef, I count this as one of my favourite travel experiences.
After a quick lunch at Five Guys (don’t judge us, the burgers there are everything), my mother and I went to the Picasso Museum and spent an hour or two just appreciating the work of a master. Alongside Gaudi, Picasso is one of Spain’s most important cultural and artistic figures. The museum is located in a maze of streets on the edge of the Gothic Quarter, which is great for being able to explore some of the older buildings in the city. Its also a great place to pick up an souvenirs. One of these streets led us out onto Passieg de Picasso, which is a main road that leads to Parc de la Ciutadella and Barcelona’s Arc de Triomf. These two spaces we found by accident – they were not on the lists of top places to visit – and they ended up being some of my favourites. Especially the Arc, which reminded me of Paris. Which is why I always try and just walk around any city I visit; you always stumble on the best stuff that way.
After having my spiritual mind blown at the Sagrada, we went to Gaudim and had our tastebuds blown away at one of the best Paella restaurants in the city! Seriously, you have never in your life eaten Paella like the Paella I had. Seriously. We had the most delicious squid ink and lobster Paella. But, to be fair, when you’re paying 90 euros for a meal, it better taste like angel tears (spoiler: it did).
It was the perfect way to end the trip.
Bracketed by both water and an amazing mountain range, Barcelona is a city of dualities. Modern and yet every street has echoes of its rich cultural heritage, Barcelona is definitely a city I see myself returning to in the future.
by Nokukhanya Ntsaluba aka Pretty Bookish