Post-Barcelona Series: 10 things every tourist should do [Part 5 of 5]

As a tourist, there are two more things that you should really do if you get to go to Barcelona. Just like in any city, you absolutely-positively-must get lost! And last, but not least, you should explore the surrounding region of Catalunya.

You will find a link to the PDF version of the entire list at the bottom of this post.

Barcelona

9) Get lost

Barcelona is such a beautiful city, with so many different neighbourhoods, hidden treasures and unexpected events to experience that it would be a shame to limit yourself to the things that are easily accessible. On my first walk alone in the city, more than two years ago, I got lost and stumbled upon Plaça Sant Felip Neri. For the longest time, I could only find it by getting lost. Now, it is my favorite place in the city, if not in the world. Getting lost can be the best decision you’ve ever taken.

I think this advice rings true for any city that you visit. You only really get to know if you get off the beaten path and explore for yourself. Your experience will be more unique if you stay away from te tourist road and from the “known”. Venturing into the unknown is always a thrill. If you’re afraid of getting lost, ask yourself this: do you actually know anyone who has gotten lost in a city to the point of never finding their way back ever? The answer is definitely a no. When in a city, being lost only means not knowing your exact geographical coordinates for a while. Is that really so bad? Anyway, in Barcelona you will always find someone who can show you the way back to your hotel/hostel/apartment/next destination. And anyways, you can always just pull out your iPhone.

10) Catalunya

Last but not least, I could not write an entire guide about Barcelona without mentioning the region in which it is: Catalunya. (In English it’s actually written Catalonia, but I don’t think anyone who have ever lived there actually spells it correctly in English, it kind of loses its independent spirit in translation).

After a year, my biggest regret is not to have visited more of the region. It is beautiful, full of beaches, mountains and cute villages. However, there are also plenty of cities to visit such as Girona, Sitges – which I mentioned in the post about beaches – and Figueres where you can find the Salvador Dali museum.

Taking the train is cheap and doesn’t take too long, so you can easily make a day trip out of it. But you could just as easily stay overnight, which is probably cheaper than sleeping in Barcelona.

In any case, Catalan culture is unique, even within Spain. And Barcelona is so international that it is not necessarily the best place to enjoy Catalan culture. So, explore!

Closing remarks

This list is in no way exhaustive, but covers the key aspects of Barcelona. In addition to these points, I highly recommend attending whatever major event is happening in the city while you are visiting. And most importantly: enjoy!

You can download the PDF here

Post-Barcelona Series: 10 things every tourist should do [Part 4 of 5]

I’m almost done my five-part-ten-item list of things to do in Barcelona.  In this post, I discuss Barcelona’s bar scene and its parks.

The first part can be found here.

Barcelona

7) The Bars

Bar-celona. I might have mentioned this before, but as happy coincidence, when you break down the word Barcelona in Catalan, you get “Bar, Cel i Ona” which translates to “Bar, Sky and Wave”. Hence, I have to talk about bars. As you know Barcelona has built up much on its reputation on its nightlife. I have already mentioned clubs, but nightlife would be incomplete without bars. Unlike my post about clubs, I will not list places that you should go to. That’s what the internet is for. In any case, there are far too many bars in Barcelona. After living there for an entire year, I have never gone to the same bar twice. Besides, bars have too much personality and people are too different to make a definitive list.

I will make an exception to my non-list by mentioning Irish Pubs. For some reason, that I still don’t fully understand, there are a lot of Irish pubs in Spain – especially in student cities. It might seem odd to see so many Irish pubs in Barcelona and even more so to actually go to one. However, I think it is part of Barcelona life. As a tourist, there is the added advantage that Irish pubs are a place where you can order something without fear of getting mistaken. The staff always speaks English. And, there is something friendly about these pubs. You might end up meeting people who will give you great travel tips.

Of course, your BAR-celona experience should not be limited to Irish pubs. Cerveza is probably one of the most known – and used? – words in Spanish. You should definitely use it yourself. Random bars in any Barcelona neighbourhood could be a good place to start. But what kind of guide would I be if that’s all I suggested? For the best cervezas and bars, I suggest turning to the Gracia and El Born neighborhoods.

In Gracia, you are sure to find countless bars, each one cooler than the next. And dirt cheap. Gracia is definitely the go-to area for cheep beers, students and/or a laid-back crowd. If you can’t find a bar to your liking – but I highly doubt it – you can always turn to the “cerveza-beer” guys. I mentioned them in the post about the beach. The truth is, they are everywhere. On an evening in Gracia, you will easily find one to sell you a beer for a euro. You can then sit in any of the plazas and enjoy your beer. Be warned that even though everyone does it, the cops can fine you for drinking in public like that. And also, no matter what you do, don’t ask how the “cerveza-beer” guys keep their drinks cold.

                   8) The Parks

Coming from a green city like Toronto, I tend to judge cities based on their parks. Barcelona passes the test. I definitely wish there were more parks, but that is something that I compromise for the high quality of the parks. In any case, I know that it isn’t realistic to expect many parks from an old European city. It’s all about quality, not quantity. And how can you get better quality than parks designed by the master of incorporating nature into architecture: Antoni Gaudi. Three major parks come to mind when I think of Barcelona: Ciutadella Park, Park Guell and Montjuic.

As you already know, technically speaking Montjuic isn’t a park, it’s a mountain which contains multiple parks. If anything, that makes it even better. There are endless kilometres of green, paths to explore and I am sure many have enjoyed getting lost in the Montjuic “wilderness”. The great thing about Montjuic (as a park) isn’t so much the people who go there, but rather the nature. Anyhow, I have already dedicated an entire item of my list to Montjuic.

Park Guell is one of Gaudi’s most well-known works. I’ve already mentionned it in items one and five, so by now you’ve probably understood its importance. What I haven’t said yet is that Park Guell was originally supposed to be a gated community featuring sixty houses! Due to lack of funds, only two were built – although it is rumoured that they weren’t designed by Gaudi. One of the house is currently inhabited, and if you walk through the park you might even see the inhabitants hanging their laundry or performing daily chores. Gaudi lived in the second house, which has now been turned into a museum. The park also features a school, which the public cannot access, and the “guard’s post” at the entrance of the park, that Gaudi designed, which is now a gift shop. Unfortunately, since October 2013, there is an entrance fee for the more touristy parts of the park (which I wrote about at the time). But you can still entire the grounds.

Saving the best for last Ciutadella Park, which unsurprisingly Gaudi also contributed to. Located next to El Born and the beach, Ciutadella is the ultimate downtown park. But, it is more than just a park. Within its gates you can find the Barcelona Zoo, the Catalan Parliament, a secondary school as well as two museums. At any time of the day – and any time of the year for that matter – Ciutadella Park is full of people, from mothers pushing strollers, to joggers running laps, musicians playing their instruments, funambulists practising tightrope walking, street performers blowing giant bubbles, readers getting lost in a good book, friends laughing, people soaking up the sun and of course… the “cerveza-beer” guys.

Post-Barcelona Series: 10 things every tourist should do [Part 3 of 5]

The third part of my five-part series about what tourists should do in Barcelona focuses on the beautiful views of Barcelona, as well as my favorite place: Plaça Sant Felip Neri.

The first part can be found here.

 

Barcelona

 

      1. The Views

Barcelona is a beautiful city, both architecturally and naturally. You can appreciate its beauty as you walk through its streets but you really only get the big picture if you look at it from a high up place.

I’ve mentioned a few spots briefly in the previous posts I will go over those quickly. For example in the part about Montjuic, I talked about the view from the MNAC at Plaça Espanya. It’s a great place to start because not only is the view beautiful but also because the spot is easy to access. For a slightly different view from more of less the same location, I suggest going to the rooftop of Las Arenas. From there you can get a 360 view, which includes Montjuic and the MNAC.

Gaudi’s masterpieces Casa Batllo and La Pedrera both also have nice views of Barcelona. The advantage of going there is that you get to visit a historically significant and beautiful building as well as a unique view of Barcelona from the city centre. But if you are looking for the iconic view of Barcelona that you find in all the movies and postcards. You’ll want to go to Gaudi’s Park Guell. It’s a bit of a trek to get there and I swear every tourist in the city is there and you’ll have a hard time taking an unobstructed view of the city, but it sure is beautiful.

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My favorite spot to check out Barcelona is actually right next to Park Guell, it’s called the Bunkers. During the Spanish Civil War, the Bunkers del Carmel were one of the popular places to take refuge from the bombs. After the war ended, it was taken over by gypsies and homeless people for a long time. It was only in recent years that the government decided to clean up the area and now it is a lesser known but still popular destination for tourists and locals alike to sit down, have a picnic, enjoy the view and ideally the sunset. The walk up there is much harder than to get to Park Guell. You have to follow dirt trails up a mountain, and you sometimes feel like you are on an actual hike. But the result is worth it. I have been there many times now and the view has never failed to move me.

Lastly, I will suggest a place that I have not been to but that I desperately wanted to visit and have heard great reviews about: Tibidabo. I haven’t had the chance to go because it is very complicated to get there and I could never gather the courage, or the right people, to actually go. It is at the top of the highest mountain in Barcelona yet there is both an old – but functioning – theme park and a church. Supposedly it is the best view of the city. I guess that is for you to confirm – or deny.

      1. Plaça Sant Felip Neri

Located in the middle of Barrio Gotico, Plaça Sant Felip Neri is my favorite place in Barcelona. I have already dedicated two posts in this blog to this beautiful spot and I have made it the cover photo of this blog, so it should come to no surprise to you that it features on my top ten list. Every single person who came to visit me in Barcelona has been brought to this place so they could experience for themselves how unique this place is.

As paradoxical as this may sound, I could talk about this place for hours and have probably spent enough time there and reading about the place that I could write an entire book. Yet, there isn’t much that I can say now that I haven’t said before. Adding more would mean expanding on the already long post I wrote previously.

So instead of talking about the place, describing it or giving you reasons to go there and love it, I will try to show you that there is no reason why you shouldn’t go there.

Firstly, Plaça Sant Felip Neri is a place that you can visit alone or with a group. The experiences will be different of course, but still both worth doing. Alone, you can take your time and enjoy the details, the subtleties and the general vibe of the place. You take on a more observant look. Whereas, in a group, you give life to the place and become an active participant. Together, you share a collective experience and you can also take great selfies ;-)

You can visit Plaça Sant Felip Neri at any time of the day or night. During the day, you can sit at the terrace, go to the soap shop, maybe even catch a glimpse of the church where Gaudi went or watch the children playing in the square at recess. At night, the experience is quite different. There usually isn’t anyone there, maybe a group of people like yourselves just drinking a few cervezas and smoking. Getting the place to yourself is quite enjoyable, the mood is more laid back, the air feels more magical and maybe even a little romantic.

In the dead of winter or in the middle of the burning summer, Plaça Sant Felip Neri always delivers. In winter, the square looks bare and feels cold, but in a way, this better reflects the tragic history of the plaça. In spring, the trees start to take life and hints of green can be discerned. You feel hope. Summer, however, is my favorite. The trees are in bloom, flower petals float in the fountain and entirely cover the cobble stone pavement.

Thanks to its central location, going to Plaça Sant Felip Neri is easy. It doesn’t represent a detour from one’s usual walk in downtown Barcelona. Yet, you feel miles away from the hustle and bustle of La Rambla and the neighbouring tourist areas. You can choose to only walk through the plaça, stay for five minutes or for three hours

In other words, the who, when, where and how should not prevent you from going. And as for the why… well why not?

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Post-Barcelona Series: 10 things every tourist should do [Part 2 of 5]

Continuing my 5-part 10 item list of things that tourists should do if they get the chance to spend a few days in Barcelona. The first part can be found here.

Barcelona

 

  1. “Vamos a la playa”

The great thing about Barcelona is that it’s a beach city. It features not one, not two but at least nine beaches and I’m not talking about the beaches that are outside the city such as in Sitges or Castelldefels. Better yet, all these beaches have sweet names that just make you want to dive in: Sant Sebastia, Sant Miquel, Barceloneta, Somorrostro, Nova Icaria, Bogatell, Mar Bella, Nova Mar Bella, Llevant.

At any time of the year – although I would recommend the warmer months – the beach is a great place to just chill. You could go by the standard approach which is to lay a towel on the first stretch of sand you find, but what kind of person would I be if I didn’t give you better advice than that? To best maximize your beach enjoyment, I have to give you a little geography lesson. The beaches I named earlier are in order from South to North. Avoid Sant Sebastia and Barceloneta like the plague because you will run into tourists and all their trash in the water. I don’t even walk barefoot on those beaches. Actually, as rule of thumb the further you go north, the better the beaches get.

The good thing about Barceloneta is that is a very long beach and there are plenty of delicious (but overpriced) restaurants. If you keep walking North, you will hit Somorrostro, which I call the clubbing beach. There you will find nightclubs like Opium, Shoko, CDLC as well as the Casino. In other words, don’t bother going there during the day, you’ll get more out of it at night-time. In order to get to Nova Icaria you have to get your feet out of the sand and walk on some concrete to cross the Port Olimpic, which I will later refer to as “The Bronx” (see #4 about Clubs). Suffering through that small stretch is well worth arriving at Nova Icaria beach. I have personally renamed it the volley-ball beach in honour of the very attractive self-less volley-ball aficionados (male and female) who play there all the time. You could say that it is the most visually interesting beach, just be careful not to drool ;-). At this point you’ll notice that the sand and water are much cleaner, you hear more Spanish and Catalan. If you go one more beach over to Bogatell, you will see a bunch of snack shacks on the beach and you’ll know you’ve hit the jackpot. Going past Bogatell into Mar Bella, means hitting the nudist beach, and although there are certainly fewer people after that, you really do not need to go that far to enjoy your Barcelona Beach Experience.

A few bits of advice: beware of pickpockets. If you thought the one’s on the streets of Barcelona were good, wait until you experience the one’s on the beach. Hopefully, you won’t have to. Always keep a good visual of your belongings, while keeping them relatively hidden and at close proximity to you

Saving the best for last: As annoying as they will get, embrace the presence of the “cerveza-beer » guys. You might not understand what I am talking about now, but you will recognize them immediately once on the beach. They walk around all day selling 1€ beers and water – they also sell other things if you ask. Having to hear them and ask them to go away all the time is a small price to pay for 1€ beers on the beach. Some goes for the Asian masseuses. It’s part of the Barcelona beach culture. Embrace it!

      1. Go Clubbing

I couldn’t possibly write a guide about Barcelona without mentioning its world-renowned night scene. The great thing about Barcelona’s nightlife is that there is something for everyone. Unfortunately, I will not cover bars in this post because there are too many bars that I haven’t tried, and I couldn’t do them all justice.

The first thing you should know is that Barcelonians party late (very late by North American standards). There is no point in showing up at 1 A.M. Because the club will barely have opened by then. The only times when I tried to go early was to avoid a line and be guaranteed entry when an artist I particularly enjoyed, or someone really famous, was expected to play. On a regular night, if you aim for 2 or 2:30 things begin to fill up and get interesting. In any case, expect to be out clubbing until at least 5 or 5:30. Even if you are only planning on getting a few cervezas in bar-club, you most likely won’t be in bed until the sun rises.

In terms of recommendations, most tourists and Erasmus students flock to the many clubs that are on the beach, especially in summer. If you get off at the Ciutadella-Vila Olimpica metro station, you will have access to Shôko, CDLC, the IceBar and – the most famous – Opium, which has featured the likes of David Guetta, Avicii, Afrojack, The Black Eyed Peas, Steve Aoki and Fedde Le Grand. I would only recommend going there if you like very commercial music and you want a stereotypical clubbing experience.

However, if you continue walking along the beach to Port Olimpic, and down a few steps, you’ll reach what my roommate and I have baptised “the Bronx”. It’s a dark stretch of bar-clubs filled with promoters trying to lure you in with free shots. In terms of music, you can find anything from hip-hop to bachata and reggaeton. It might seem like a sketchy area but you are guaranteed to have fun if you’re into that kind of music and scene.

If you decide to walk to the complete opposite end of the beach, you will reach the W Hotel, nicknamed “La Vela” (The Sail in Spanish) by locals because the building is supposedly in the shape of a sail. Located on the 26th floor of the hotel, this club is pretty high-end. You might line-up for a while and/or have to be willing to spend a lot of cash to get in. But, the view is amazing. The club takes over an entire floor of the hotel and exterior walls are all made of glass. You get a full view on all of Barcelona’s beaches… even in the washroom. The big spenders amongst you will definitely want to stop there.

If you are afraid of water, the beach isn’t your scene or you hate getting sand in your shoes, you might consider going clubbing on Barcelona’s Calle Tuset. It feels like there are only clubs on this street. It tends to be a bit exclusive, but like any “exclusive” place, you can easily go in by either becoming friends with the bouncer, dressing well, looking good or acting like you have money. I would suggest going to Bling Bling, Boujis or Sutton. All these clubs have hosted international celebrities in their VIP sections. Even if you go on an off night, you’ll probably see or meet a famous footballer or important businessmen. But I must warn you, expect to see a lot of entitled rich kids, girls who think they are untouchable goddesses, as well as the type of music that attracts those people. The good thing about the Sutton however, is that you can always escape that crowd by going into their reggaeton room or chatting up the model-bartenders.

Personally, my favourite club is the Apolo… but only on Mondays when they host Nasty Mondays (or Nastys for short). It is the only place to go on a Monday night. The concept is so popular that they exported it to New York! Unlike all the other clubs I have mentioned so far, the scene and the people are much more casual. You don’t need to worry about the dress code. The music is also much less commercial; it is a bit more electro at times and at a certain point of the night it gets very rock’n’roll, but don’t worry, they only play classic hits that we all love to dance to. I’ve never regretted going out to Nasty Mondays, even if I had important things to do the next day,

Last but not least: Razzmatazz. Opinions diverge on this club. It is very different depending on the night you choose, and it has changed a lot in the past few years. Prices have gone up, the crowd has changed and there are more tourists, which leaves many to wonder if Razzmatazz still is the best club in the city. But there is one thing that everyone can agree on, Razzmatazz is by far Barcelona’s biggest club. With its five rooms, you are sure to find music that you’ll like. Just make sure not to lose your friends. The smoke room is actually a the rooftop terrace and is a great place for socializing without being intoxicated by the smoke. People might not have a clear consensus on this place but one thing is for sure, if you are only in Barcelona for one night and you want to go clubbing and get a typical Barcelona experience that you can brag about to your friends, you should definitely consider going to Razzmatazz.

Of course, a city like Barcelona has many more clubs you could go to. There is something for everyone’s liking in every neighbourhood of the city. I don’t mention bars or smaller clubs because the only real way to find the best hidden gems is by following the locals, no guide will ever reveal the places off the beaten path. It might be because some places are best kept secret, or simply because the one writing the guide has no memory whatsoever of what those places were called and where they were located.

Post-Barcelona Series: 10 things every tourist should do [Part 1 of 5]

During my eleven-month stay in Barcelona, I was able to explore the city a lot – but by all means I was not even close to exploring all of it, that would require decades – and I feel like I have seen enough of the tourist attractions to make a list of the ten things a tourist should do in Barcelona. Every time someone came to visit me, I discovered new things in the city and also perfected my list. I am not simply going to name specific things you should see, but rather describe experiences you should have, the same way I would if you came to visit me. When I first started writing this, weeks ago, I thought I would just write a short paragraph about each activity. I was aiming for a condensed by thorough guide to the city. However, as I got caught up in the writing, every item started bringing up fond memories. This made it not only difficult to write – because I was constantly day dreaming – but it also gave me more things to share. So instead of having a one-page condensed post, I ended up writing in over 10 sheets of paper – both sides of course – so I will break this post into five parts, each going through two experiences you should have as a tourist in the city. By no means is this list exhaustive, ten is a completely arbitrary number. Furthermore, this list is aimed at tourists, those who have a more limited amount of time in the city – from two days to two weeks – I will write an other post about things to experience as a (temporary) inhabitant. I purposely do not mention certain things and as I have said before I have not lived in Barcelona long enough to cover everything. In any case, I hope this helps the lucky ones who will get to go to Barcelona one day.

Barcelona

  1. Get lost in Gaudi’s universe

Barcelona is known for its architecture, which Antoni Gaudi helped to shape. Although he drew inspiration from preexisting Catalan architecture, let’s give credit where credit is due, he also took architecture further, pushing boundaries and incorporating elements of nature like no one had before. So even though Barcelona was the home to many more architects during Gaudi’s time (Lluis Domènech i Montaner, Josep Maria Jujol, Josep Puig i Cadafalch) and it continues to inspire more modern architects today (Jean Nouvel, Josep Lluis Sert), when people think of Barcelona, they think of Gaudi. Seven of his works are now UNESCO World Heritage Sites, generating even more of an interest. Places such as La Sagrada Familia, Casa Batllo, Casa Mila (also known as La Pedrera) and Park Guell are symbols of Barcelona. Every year, millions of tourists visit these places in the hopes of being amazed by beauty or simply to begin to understand who Gaudi was. One thing is for sure, no one can feel indifferent about his work. Of course, you should be prepared to spend quite a bit of money if you wish to see all of his buildings. I think that two of them are an absolute must-see: Casa Batllo and La Sagrada Familia.

For reasons that escape me, Casa Batllo is not as famous as La Pedrera. Some argue that it is because La Pedrera’s view is better. The truth is that since both Casas are on the same street, Passeig de Gracia, the views are comparable. I think Casa Batllo is more worth it because unlike La Pedrera, the entire building was turned into a museum, not just one floor, and the complimentary audio guide helps to enjoy the full extent of Gaudi’s genius and capacities, from furniture design to architecture. You could spend hours in there looking at every single detail. I remember being obsessed with the curves in the wood, the ceilings and his use of colors. It was the first Gaudi building I visited and I think it should be everyone’s first. It blows you away just in the extent of his genius.

La Sagrada Familia is Gaudi’s infamous – unfinished – masterpiece. He started building it in1882 and died before being able to see it completed. For years, due to lack of funding, the church was left more or less abandoned. It is only in recent years that construction has taken up again. While trying to stay true to Gaudi’s vision, the new architect Mark Burry is taking this masterpiece to the next level – quite literally – he is making it much bigger and taller than originally planned. He should be done by 2026. La Sagrada Familia is worth the visit because the inside is amazing. Looking at it from the outside does not even begin to give you an idea of how breath taking the inside is – okay maybe I am a little biased because I don’t really like the outside. I remember having a neck-ache following my visit because I spent most of hit staring at the ceiling in awe. Once you get over the initial shock as you enter the church and you finish your tour, I suggest heading to the basement and to smaller rooms on the side which feature exhibits about Gaudi. My favorite one is the tiniest exhibit that explains how Gaudi draws inspiration from nature !

      1. Explore Montjuic

Barcelona is a city set in between mountains and the sea. One of the most well-known mountains (or hills) is Montjuic and a visit to Barcelona would be incomplete without a stop there.

The key to planning a great day on Montjuic lies in how you pan on getting there. The best way is to go to Paral-lel (metro station) and from there to take the free funicular ride to the top. I recommend it because you’ll end up spending most of the afternoon walking up and down hills, so it is best to save your energy. But hey, if you love walking, by all means walk up to Montjuic.

Once you’re up there, the possibilities are endless from the Joan Miro Foundation to the Olympic Museum and Olympic Stadium, Palau San Jordi and the botanical gardens to the Poble Espanyol and the Montjuic castle. If you go there in the summer time, Montjuic is the place where they hold the infamous Piknic Electronik. But the best thing to do on the hill is to just walk around. Wandering on Montjuic feels like you are in a different city, maybe even a different country.

What I would recommend doing is going to the Botanical Gardens because it is cheap, peaceful and the layout – divided by continent – is really neat. You learn a lot and you actually feel like you are somewhere else. The Miro Foundation is also a must, given that you like his art of course. It features him prominently but also his friends, who often have similar styles or visions. From there, you can go to the Stadium, which is completely free of access and is only a few minutes away. This then brings you closer to the MNAC, which is the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. It is a giant castle-looking building at the top of the mountain. From there you get an amazing view of Barcelona and as you go down the hill you can stop and see Barcelona’s magic fountain which features a beautiful light show at night. This brings you to Plaça Espanya where you can either go to Las Arenas, a former bullfighting ring turned into a mall, which has many rooftop restaurants or you can go back home by subway and enjoy the other parts of the city.