I’ve just spent three full days in Barcelona, Spain, and absolutely loved it. Vibrant, sunny, relaxed, happy, and delicious. Out of all I did, these were my five favorites:
1. La Sagrada Familia
This is the most beautiful church I’ve ever seen. Brits often call it “the cathedral” when talking about places to see in Barcelona, which is a bit confusing since there is an actual, quite pretty Barcelona Cathedral (only one cathedral per city allowed, and it’s older), and La Sagrada Familia (The Sacred Family) is officially a basilica – so just keep that in mind, I had a bit of confusion when talking about where I went. :-)
The genius madman architect Gaudi designed it, and I spent hours inside it wandering around with an audio guide. I just couldn’t get over the colorful stained glass windows and the vast simplicity of the amazing space.
There is a line perpetually wrapped halfway around the church for tickets, so to avoid it I highly recommend buying your tickets online ahead of time. You pick a time slot, and you can buy a live guided tour (more limited timeslots), a good audio guide (what I did, gives you plenty of time to see it on your own), and/or ride to the top of one of the bell towers (which I’m sure is lovely, but I didn’t do that). You don’t even have to print the tickets out – I bought mine the night before I went and showed the ticket from the email on my phone to get in.
On a recommendation from a fellow Barcelona traveler, I booked a tapas tour through Urban Adventures with a local Spanish guide, and I’m glad I did. A couple other people who were supposed to be on the tour cancelled, so I ended up getting the guide all to myself, and she was fantastic. When I told her I was vegetarian, she took the challenge and showed me several places with fantastic veg-friendly tapas. The first place pretty much blew my mind – crispy fried eggplant with a honey glazing, and well-crafted vermouth, a common Spanish drink before dinner. I did not expect these things to be so delicious. Then came several more rounds: crusty bread with Manchego cheese, sauteed mushrooms, chocolate mousse, Tempranillo wine (one of my favorites). My guide and I discussed the differences between American and Spanish culture, and she showed me some interesting landmarks along the way. All the restaurants were non-touristy, locally-popular spots. I went home stuffed, content, and culturally enlightened.
3. Magic Fountain
This amazing fountain puts on a glowing, dancing, colorful, musical show that goes from 9-11:30 pm Thursdays to Sundays in the summer, a bit earlier in the winter – check out the schedule for more details on dates/times. I got there at 9pm on a Sunday, the last thing I did before leaving, and I sat there and watched it for an hour, thoroughly fascinated. A highly recommended free show!
4. Guell Park (Parc Guell)
This cute park is another one of Gaudi’s masterpieces. The Gaudi part of the park, a colorful, quirky Hansel and Gretel-like village, has an entrance fee during the day, but if you wait around until about 8:30 pm, they close down the ticket-taking entrances, you can legally walk in for free, and the park is still open until 9 (summer hours – check out the hours for when you are visiting on the park’s website). When I did this, the sun was setting, and it was gorgeous.
The rest of the park is free, and there is a high-up area which has beautiful views of the city, if you want to check those out while waiting for your free entrance.
5. Mount Tibidabo
This is the mountain right next to Barcelona that you can see from many spots in the city, and if you love high views as I do, this is the place to go. Getting up Mount Tibidabo is a bit of a trek, but you can basically take the L7 on the Metro to Avenue Tibidabo (the last stop) and then follow the group of obvious tourists to the tram stop across the street. You’ll take this up to the Funicular at the bottom of the mountain, and this final cable car will take you to the top. There is a theme park at the top of the mountain, which is fun, but I went for the gorgeous views. For the most breathtaking view, go into the basilica and take the two-euro lift to the top!
These five things would make for a lovely couple of days, but if you have more time I would also highly recommend taking a tour of some sort through Barcelona to see more of it . Runner Bean Tours has a few excellent free walking tours, and my favorite was the tour of the Old City/Gothic Quarter, a beautiful area of the city with a lot of history. Free walking tours tend to be great because you pay whatever you think it was worth at the end – they have to be good to keep working! These are so popular that I recommend reserving a spot online ahead of time. You could also do a hop on/hop off bus tour or a bike tour – whatever your preferred type of tour, Barcelona is lovely however you see it!