10 days of sight-seeing, museum crawling, and eating your way through three of the greatest cities in Europe
- + 6
Europe6 days / April 2018
Highs & Lows
Beautiful architecture around every corner makes walking through these cities' streets an attraction of its own
High-ish prices and pickpocketing experts can take a toll on your bank account
Many cities claim to have "everything," but I'm not sure any of them can back it up as much as Barcelona. Forget the age-old personality test of mountains or beaches; Barcelona has both, as well as all of the culture, architecture, food scene, and nightlife that one could ever want in a city.
I spent my first day exploring some of the iconic Gaudian architecture in the L'Eixample barrio that characterizes Barcelona for so many of its residents and visitors. The Sagrada Familia needs neither an introduction nor a sales pitch as the most popular attraction in the city, but unlike many of the other fannypack-filled tourist traps that you see on European postcards, you will not be underwhelmed with this stop on your Barcelona tour. It is well worth the price of admission and in fact may be the most uniquely beautiful cathedral that I've seen in all of my European travels. I went in the late afternoon, and I highly recommend other visitors do the same; the way the sun struck the stained glass around 4 PM (in April) filled the space with a breathtaking array of colors.
The second day I explored the enchanting and historic neighborhoods of El Gotico, El Born, and El Raval. These neighborhoods are clustered near the southern-central part of the city, which was constructed prior to Barcelona's major revitalization around the turn of the 20th century, and they're chock full of restaurants, bars, shops, and yet more beautiful architecture. Walking through El Gotico is a trip through Barcelona's pre-Gaudi past with its gothic cathedrals, narrow streets, and eclectic ornamentations. El Born and El Raval are somewhat an extension of this area, but with a higher concentration of incredible restaurants and hip bars. If you have time after crawling through these areas, head down south just a few blocks to Barceloneta where you relax on the city-side beach and can enjoy gorgeous views of the Mediterranean. If you feel like splurging, pop up to the rooftop of the W hotel and grab a drink - they'll run you about 20 euros but you're paying for the view more so than the beverage.
On my third day, I headed over to the cozy northside barrio of Gracia. Gracia feels a little more residential/local than the rest of the city in the best way possible. There are no shortage of great bars and restaurants, but everything feels a little bit slower, more relaxed, and more spread out. There's a tapas place in Gracia called Gasterea that was one of my favorite dining experiences in all of my European travels. It's nothing fancy - you'll likely be sitting at a bar or even standing - but *everything* is delicious and you can get out of there for less than 15 euros easily. After tapas, you can head over to Parc Guell to see more iconic Gaudi designs, but I actually recommend skipping it in favor of a different park. Just a bit farther north, you'll find El Parque de Puxtet - I think the views are better, and it's much less crowded.
Q & A
What would you have changed?
The only real tourist attraction in Barcelona that I thought was totally worth the time and money was the Sagrada Familia - everything else is skippable in my opinion. Spend more time wandering the streets and popping in and out of every place that looks interesting - Barcelona rewards curiosity.
Anything go wrong during the trip?
Two of my friends were pickpocketed on two separate occasions. This is a problem everywhere in Europe, but it seems like the petty thieves in Barcelona are particularly skilled. Be extremely careful, especially in the more crowded, touristy areas.
How was the food?
Gasterea in Gracia, Macchina in Gracia/Plaza Catalunya, Koku Ramen neatr Barceloneta.
The metro is fantastic. Get a 10-20 ride pass and you'll save a ton of time without breaking the bank. There's no need to take a taxi unless you're going home late at night.