Barcelona quickly stole our hearts. We only planned for two full days in the city before moving on to Paris. While it was “enough” to see the major sites, I recommend staying at least three days. Allow yourself to be immersed by the laid back attitude instead of running off from destination to destination like we did!
Where to Stay:
Casa Gracia Hostel
At first glance, Casa Gracia hostel might not be the best location in Barcelona, but don’t let that stop you from staying there. The location isn’t too far from Park Guell and is a quick walk to Gaudi’s Casa Batllo. Depending on your definition of walking distance, you can easily walk to Sagrada Familia, about one mile away.
Our shared, four bed room was clean, towels were replaced daily, and the beds were incredibly comfortable–but maybe that’s just because I’ve been sleeping on a rock-solid mattress for a few months now.
What to See:
The Gaudí Attractions
First time visitors to Barcelona best acquaint themselves with Antoni Gaudí quickly, as his architecture takes the lead in regards to main attractions.
Park Guell offers Gaudí’s architecture in a scenic way, allowing an escape from city life. If you decide to visit this attraction, head over before 8:30am. Entrance to the park (including the “monumental core” is free if you arrive before they officially open! We learned this as we stood in line at 8:20am, waiting for the ticket office to open; someone came by on a golf cart to let us know we could be getting in for free.
If you’re a Cheetah Girls fan, don’t miss the opportunity to “strut like you mean it” and reenact some of the scenes from the movie while you’re at Park Guell!
La Sagrada Família
Guadí’s masterpiece cathedral began construction in 1883…and it still isn’t complete. While that shouldn’t stop you from visiting, it is something to consider when you are deciding if you want to pay more for the ticket that allows you to visit the towers. For an extra 13 euro, you can take an elevator to the top of the structure, but once you get there, you won’t be able to see much other than construction; there are no special viewing platforms with extraordinary views.
Purchase your tickets for the cathedral in advance and plan your visit around sunset. The light will beam through the stained glass windows and illuminate the inside of the cathedral with color.
Casa Batlló, also designed by Gaudí, was originally a private residence. Gaudí designed the house with no straight lines, evoking underwater imagery with various design choices.
The virtual tour (with a headset and device provided to you) allows you to envision the rooms filled with furniture–you might even see a window turn into a turtle.
If you stay at Casa Gracia, this is a great way to start a morning. We visited in the evening and wish we had gotten a chance to see the rooftop before it got dark.
The Gothic Quarter
Sandeman’s New Europe Tour
Everyone has mixed opinions on tours and as I travel, I hear even more mixed opinions when it comes to Sandeman’s tours. The Sandeman company offers free tours of many cities across Europe (and New York City) and they are often led by young locals. The free tour is about 2.5 hours long, is individually crafted by your guide, and often takes you past many highlights of a city. The tour guides don’t get paid, so it is expected to leave some sort of tip.
I’ve found that these tours are a really nice way to get introduced to a city. One thing I enjoy about group travel is that you have the ability to learn the history of a city or attraction as you visit it. This can be difficult when you are traveling on your own, especially when you don’t always have time to read up on your destination; I am actually in Florence for school after all. Sandeman’s tours were a really nice way to get our bearings and learn a little bit about the history of the city.
The Barcelona tour takes you through the Gothic Quarter (which you should explore more if time allows!). I learned facts that I never would have learned just from walking around on my own, like where Picasso’s father lived.
Flamenco Show: Jazz Sí Club
Flamenco isn’t native to Barcelona, it comes from the town of Valencia in southern Spain. If you aren’t visiting the south and still want to see flamenco, you’re in luck. Barcelona offers many flamenco shows…that are entirely created for tourists. Don’t give up hope yet! On Friday and Saturday nights, local club Jazz Sí offers a flamenco show that isn’t riddled with tourists. For 10 euro, you can see the show and get a drink.
If you want a spot, arrive early. By the time the show started, the tiny venue couldn’t hold many more people; people turned the staircase and ledge of the balcony into seats.
This is just the beginning of everything there is to see in Barcelona. Remember to take time to wander the streets, follow the music to hidden squares, and eat plenty of churros; looking back, we wish we had spent more time doing those things!