Sangria here I come! Barcelona has become one of my favorite European cities. Traveling in big cities to me, while I love them, seems to be more about seeing the sights and working through a tour book checklist. Barcelona has a much more comfortable feel to it. It’s hard to feel at home in a big city even when you live there, let alone as a tourist. Barcelona (and Spain in general) allows you to slip through the hussle and bussle and find a street or a bar or a plaza that is a perfect fit for you. Where you can return to again and again and feel at home in a place far from home. While at the same time getting to know your temporary home-away-from-home a little deeper than just where the guidebooks will take you.
Guidebooks – There is always more to any destination then what’s in the tour book, but if you’re a stranger in a new land a guidebook is a must have to get yourself started. For European travel my go-to are Foder Travel Books. When we traveled to Barcelona we were also traveling to other destinations in Spain and were using Fodor’s Spain Book – it served us well and I never felt the need for anything more, such as a city specific book.
Transportation – Driving is possible, but not fun or efficient and parking is expensive. Public transportation is clean, reasonably priced, and easy to use. Walking is the best option, but where you’re staying will really decide if you are able to walk everywhere you need to go.
Lodging – There are plenty of charming lodging options, unfortunately I can’t personally recommend any. I have only stayed at Marriott and Accor Hotels, both of which are good options. What I would recommend when researching hotels is- if they are not within walking distance to the main sites use google maps (or other similar site) to map the pedestrian route from the hotel to the closest metro stop. Also consider how many metro transfers will be needed daily when comparing hotels.
Basilica of the Sagrada Familia – As an architect, while I have an appreciation for most of the amazing cathedrals in europe, this one took my breath away. It needs a category of it’s own it’s not just another cathedral. This amazing structure combines the scale of old European cathedrals with organic and natural forms and glasswork that is a masterpiece in it’s own right. Besides being just an amazing design (and probably one of my favorite sites I’ve ever been to from an architectural point of view), it’s is also a living, breathing building still under construction. Local artists are still working on the stained glass and each piece represents the artist that created it. This is a must see whether you care about architecture or not. If you’re traveling in Europe you will inevitably go to more old cathedrals then you can count and while they are all impressive in their own right, some might say (not me of course, but some), that they start to blend together; this one will not. It’s like the grand canyon, guaranteed to impress regardless of background. — Must See
Numerous Gaudi Houses – If you have an extra day a self guided tour by all or most of the Gaudi houses is a wonderful way to spend a sunny, summer day away from the lines and crowds of the bigger sites. As far as which ones you might want to see in detail it is up to your specific interests. It is also slightly based on opening hours and locations and how they fit into your already busy schedule. — Must See, you decide at what level
Casa Batllo – This is one of the Gaudi Houses that you are able to tour. There is a full audio guide which provides architectural, historical, and personal information about the house and the building of it. I was very impressed at how it was done. It’s a full tour – including the rooftop and servants quarters.
Park Guell – Also designed by Gaudi. We took a beautiful relaxing walk through the lesser known areas of the park. We found a somewhat uncrowned corner and took a small break for pictures before entering the madness and actually exiting through the main entrance. If you have time I would recommending doing a route similar to what we did. If you are short on time (or interest) you can visit the park and never leave the view of the main entrance to see most of what there is to see. However unless you love pushy crowds and people posing for pictures this might not be the most enjoyable way to see the park. — Must See
Santa Maria del Mar – Old Church. I’m going to refrain from going into too much or really any description here, because it would read the same as my description of 90% of European churches. See a guidebook or Wikipedia for facts. It is well located to other tourist sites and the main boulevard for restaurants so if you’re in the area why not check it out. — If You’re In The Area
La Boqueria Market – The oldest market of its kind in Europe (according to our guide book). It was a wonderful mix of Moroccan food souks, West Coast farmers market and boutique tapas restaurants. As we entered the madness we joined the locals in purchasing something scrumptious to eat off a stick and a fruit smoothie as we wandered the market. After gathering our goods from the various fruit and vegetable stands, meat and fish areas, and an assortment of pre-made food vendors we found a small standing table outside a wine bar at the edge of the market to set up our picnic, now complete with a glass of wine. — If you like trying different food this is a Must See
FAVORITES – Basilica of the Sagrada Familia, La Boqueria Market, and walking the city taking in life.