Last fall I spent a family weekend in Barcelona. A city I had visited before during my teenage years. Back then Barcelona was a short break during a holiday full of partying in Lloret de Mar. As you might have guessed, I couldn’t remember a whole lot of Barcelona. It was time to give this city a second chance. And Barcelona definitely grabbed this opportunity to show itself. What a great city! Delicious food, nice atmosphere and that great Indian Summer-feeling. Curious to find out what I did in Barcelona? Check out my 5 must-do’s.
1. Getting lost in El Barrio Gótica
El Barrio Gótica is one of the most charming areas in Barcelona. It’s so authentic, so pretty. This neighbourhood is one big labyrinth with narrow crooked streets and intimate squares, all circling around a huge cathedral (Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia). No street is the same. Everytime you turn a corner you will be surprised. An old Spanish couple shuffling forward, kids playing on the squares and on the background you hear the street musicians play. Add some pittoresque balconies, soft-yellow walls and Catalan flags, and you’ll get the picture. This is also the neighbourhood where you can find some great streetart that gives the squares that extra spice.
2. Discovering Barcelona the Dutch way
One of the best tips I can give you is renting a bike in Barcelona. The bike is the best way to see a lot of the city in short amount of time. Moreover, Barcelona is a bike-friendly city with seperate cycle paths and traffic lights. A shame the Catalans don’t see this, because they hardly take the bike anywhere. Still this is the best way to discover the city. You can bike around by yourself, but I chose a guided bike tour. I highly recommend doing this, because this way you will also hear the story behind the places you visit.
3. Following the trails of Antoni Gaudí
The Sagrada Familia is the life work of Antoni Gaudí and it’s the only building in Barcelona that changes everytime you visit this city. It gets bigger, better and even more beautiful. And it’s still not finished. The estimated completion date is in 2025/2026. The exterior is amazing, but wait until you are inside. The lead glass really plays with the lights and colors. The seiling is gigantic and it is covered with a patron that reminded me of the scale of fish. Do you want to visit the Sagrada Familia, then make sure you buy a ticket in advance online (€ 15,-). This way you’ll avoid standing in a long queue.
Another masterpiece of Gaudí is Park Güell, a public park located in the neighbourhood of Gràcia. You could say that this was the playground of the fantasy of Gaudí. Out of a thousand pieces of ceramic he made a giant twisting snake couch, two candy houses that reminded me of Hans and Gretel and a fontain with a salamander on top. Be aware that you’re probably not the only one visiting Park Güell. The place is always crowded. Something the city counsel also noticed due to the rising costs of maintenance. That’s why they decided in 2013 to ask an entrance fee of €7,- for Park Güell with the limitation of 400 visitors per half hour. Still it’s definitely worth visiting Park Güell.
4. Settling down at Plaça Reial
One of the most pleasant squares in Barcelona is Plaça Reial (Royal Square), which you can find in a side street of the busy La Rambla. The palm trees, the fontains and the street musicians really gives you that Mediterrean vibe. During the day this is the place where the Catalans meet and drink coffee. This is also the best moment to pay a visit to this square. At night Plaça Reial turns into a tourist place with eager waiters trying to lure you into their restaurants. If this doesn’t bother you at all, then you can also come here for dinner.
5. Going local at Parc de la Ciutadella
You can recognize Parc de la Ciutadella by the red brick Arc de Triomf. This gate was the main entrance for the Barcelona Universal Exposition in 1888. Nowadays Parc de la Ciutadella is the place to spot the locals who spend their weekends in the park. Picknicking on the grass, playing a game and celebrating a kidsparty with your classmates, you name it! The highlight of the park is the impressive Cascada waterfall. It is designed by seven sculptors (one of them was Gaudí) who clearly tried to surpass each other. Dragons, horses and eagles, all around one silly fontain.