Barcelona Travel Journal
Journalliing has always been my favourite way to document my travels but, I'll admit, I haven't kept up with it for every trip. It's definitely something I'll be working on because sharing about the trips I took during my exchange in Ireland would be really difficult to do so without the help of my journals and old blog posts!
I don't like the idea of calling these posts "guides" because I know I didn't see enough to know with certainty that these are the best things to see and do and I definitely made some mistakes along the way. I have no idea why I decided to start with Barcelona but let's just go with it... Enjoy!
Where to Stay
Barcelona is an unforgettable experience before you even get on the ground. The airport is just off the coast, so when our plane was landing I swore it was going to land on the water. The easiest way to get to our hostel was using an airport shuttle bus.
I was still cool with staying in hostels at this point so we booked an 8-bed room at St. Christopher's Hostel, which I had stayed at before. This hostel was in a great location, just steps from Plaça Catalunya and La Rambla. I also love it when hostels have a lively bar (with drink specials, of course).
Tip: Since I took this trip I started staying in more Airbnb's. If you are a light sleeper like me, it might be worth looking in to.
What to Eat
McDonald's (If You're Gluten Free)
I sound insane, but I couldn't wait to get to Spain because I heard that McDonald's has gluten free burger buns. When I got my double cheeseburger it was marked with a receipt that said “special order: sin gluten” which is always reassuring. I was SO excited and when I took my first bite all my lovely memories of eating two cheeseburger meals came flooding back. I hadn’t had a McDonald’s burger in OVER NINE YEARS at this point.
La Boqueria Market
Just off La Rambla is a famous market called La Boqueria, which was a perfect place to stop for a quick snack. It was super busy, but it was worth it.
The market was a spectacle of dried fruits, fruit juices, and fresh fish. I had never tried dried kiwi before and it didn't disappoint! Looking at all of the fish laying there as thought they had been thrown on the table minutes earlier was an interesting experience for me... due to my fear of fish and all.
Wok to Walk
Wok to Walk is a chain take out restaurant that we found for the first time in Amsterdam. It was perfect for me as they were able to tell me which sauces were gluten free, and there were enough options that I didn't get sick of it.
There were so many great patios lining the streets that branched off of Plaça Catalunya, including Cachito's! The serving staff helped us pick a gluten free paella with sausage, chicken, and pork loin to pair with our red wine sangria. It was so delicious. Someone told me that it's considered rude to eat the fruit in sangria there, but I wasn't sure so I just did it anyways...
Tip: Paella looks really cheap at first, but that's usually because the price is per person.
Tip: The staff told me to take my camera off the table because people would run by and steal people's phones, wallets, etc. off the patio tables. I am usually really careful, but I always felt secure at restaurants. I was really greatful for the advice since some locals just let you fend for yourself.
I usually end up picking where to eat based on what has the best view. I hate spending time indoors or in a boring restaurant without a unique twist. We checked out Tapa Tapa when we were ready to, well uh, try some tapas. They had a large patio right along Barceloneta Beach!
We ordered fried potatoes with spicy sauce, sausages, shrimp, and spicy pork skewers. Each thing we ordered was so delicious but if I had to pick favourites I would say the sausages, and potatoes were the best.
What to See
If you stay at St. Christopher's, Plaça Catalunya is just steps away. It was a perfect place to people watch and is home to hundreds of pigeons (gross, but entertaining). It's a great central point to orient yourself as La Rambla stems off of it, as well as the streets leading to the Gaudi Houses.
La Rambla is a famous street in Barcelona lined with massive lucious trees. It's a great place to get out of the sun and do a bit of shopping. It also houses the La Boqueria market that I mentioned earlier. If you are looking for frozen yoghurt or gelato there are tons of options. Because it is so busy, this is another place you need to be extra mindful of your stuff and be aware of pickpockets.
Port Vell is at the opposite end of La Rambla from Plaça Catalunya. It's a great place to see all the action with sail boats and cruise ships. If you follow the path that lines the port, you will get to Barceloneta Beach, which is where Tapa Tapa is.
The Barcelona Cathedral is beautiful, but we knew that the next day it would be one-upped by the magnificent Sagrada Familia. I've mentioned this before but I pick and choose which places I purchase tickets for, and this was one that I decided to just enjoy from the outside. I get the most joy out of wandering the streets and looking at the architecture and only like to spend my money on something that is really different.
There are two Gaudi Houses - Casa Batlló and La Pedrera. We stopped at Casa Batlló first. My favourite part was the balconies that look like opera masks. I would have loved to go inside, but the line was massive and the cost to get in was around 20 Euros. I knew I would be going to see the Sagrada Familia the next day (which we pre-bought tickets for) and we had also planned to see Park Guell. I thought between those two things I could get my Gaudi fix.
Tip: This is one place that I regret not going into. Make sure you pre-purchase tickets for anything you want to see in Barcelona. It was one of the only cities I have been where almost every attraction has a 2 hour+ wait if you haven't bought tickets.
We then moved on to La Pedrera which was covered in a banner ad because it was under construction. I totally support restoration work but it doesn't suck any less when you are on a trip that is most likely once in a lifetime.
We pre-bought tickets to enter the Sagrada Familia temple and visit one of the towers. When we arrived, I realized that was the smartest decision ever since the line was already wrapped around the building. Since we arrived early, we hung out in the Sagrada Familia park directly across from the Nativity Façade. It's a great spot to take photos!
Once we were able to enter, we went to “wait in line” (we waited like, two minutes). We started our tour in the mini Gaudi Museum which basically goes through Gaudi’s style of architecture, which was completely inspired by nature. They take you through the different features that you can expect to see in his work and what he wanted them to represent. After that, we went into the temple and were completely blown away.
We spent about an hour viewing the cathedral, museum, gift shop etc. and then realized we still had over an hour until our appointed time to visit the Nativity Façade tower.
Tip: If you visit the Sagrada I definitely recommend only leaving about an 1-1.5 hours between the time you book your entrance to the cathedral and the time you book your visit to the tower since they don’t let you leave between your visits.
Ascending the towers was a really cool experience because there were windows every few steps so you could see the intricate architecture of the temple up close. There were also amazing views of the rest of Barcelona!
After skipping the line at Sagrada Familia, I thought I was totally on top of my game. The only problem was I thought that Park Güell was really just a park... and not ticketed. When we got there, tickets weren't available for another two hours. There are still a few areas you can visit without a ticket but we decided to come back the next day and buy our tickets in advance. I've FINALLY realized that if you can buy tickets in advance, just do it.
Park Güell was well worth the trip. I loved the gingerbread houses and colourful lizard. We spent quite a while waiting in line to get our photo taken with the famous lizard. I ended up awkwardly squatting for my photo to avoid angering the massive line of people...
I definitely could have done a bit more research on beaches in Barcelona. Barceloneta Beach was the first beach we came across and seemed to have the most things to do and places to eat. It was super busy and more of a place to people watch and do things, rather than actually relax and go swimming.
We tried to rest our eyes but every few seconds someone yelled, MOJITOS, FRESH MOJITOSSSSS or BEER CERVESA BEER ICE COLD BEEEER. It was funny at first, and then just plain annoying - ha.
Tip: You definitely need to go here to check out the patios and do some people watching, but make sure you also check out Barcelona's Top 10 Beaches and do your research based on what you want you want to do.
Barcelona is a place that I would love to revisit. Things I would love to know are:
- The best time of year to visit
- Tips and tricks for seeing all of Gaudi's best work
- Your favourite beach or hike
If you have any tips, please share them in the comments below!