Oh Barcelona, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways…
This weekend a fellow Iowa State group member, Renea, and I decided to take a girls weekend trip to the lovely Barcelona. We decided that it would be a very calm weekend. No schedule to follow, no plans set in stone, just us taking in the city and doing our best to blend in. If I had to pick one city to live in after college (of those I have seen) it would probably be here. The history and modernity mixed together, as well as the fact that it isn’t urbanized like Chicago or New York, gave it an artsy and antique feeling. Here are our highlights as well as my travel tips for the beautiful Barcelona:
Las Ramblas, a long pedestrian only street that cuts through the heart of the city and rambles all the way down to the shore, is a prime tourist spot. We visited both Friday morning and again Saturday night before dinner. Going early (around 9am) Friday morning was a good choice due to less congestion on the street. It used to be a main market street, but due to the influx of visitors in the past decades, the Las Ramblas has turned tourist with vendors focusing on post cards, t-shirts and other knick-knacks. Yet, one of my favorite stretches is where the flower vendors are situated–it smelled so nice! As we walked down Las Ramblas, we came to one of my favorite parts…
La Boqueria Market:
Just wandering through this enormous market was an adventure, so many of the items sold we would not see in the US! (For example, I don’t remember the last time I went to Jewel or HyVee and contemplated buying an entire pig’s head…). But with so many colors, people, and languages flowing, it was easy to get caught up in the Friday morning excitement! I would definitely recommend visiting on a week day, because when Saturday came, it was completely packed. As you walk along the outskirts of the market, it is surrounded by little cafes and bakeries, making this coffee addict very happy.
And because I loved everything about this market so much, I had to buy something!
For those in the exploring mood (like we were!) there are smaller and less touristy markets all over the city, and easy to spot! It was fun to have a more authentic Barcelona experience, listening to Catalan being spoken as we sipped our Saturday morning coffee and figured out what we wanted to visit. The markets are closed on Sundays and usually empty on Mondays (locals think it is bad to go because nothing is fresh–the fishermen take Sunday’s off!)
La Sagrada Familia:
Started in 1882, the construction of this enormous basilica is still incomplete–though it is intended to be finished in 2026, the 100th anniversary of the architect, Antoni Gaudí’s death. Currently enormous and still growing, this building has the ability to stop you in your tracks. The fact that you can go now and watch history being made as it is built is astounding. The constant line outside moves quickly, but if it gets a bit too long, there is a McDonalds right across the street!!
Parc Güell: While I do not have a photo of it, the first photo of this post (of the entire city) was taken from the park, so you can see the beautiful view! This park, also designed by Gaudí, is one of the rare areas of green space in the massive city. It is built on a hill, so if you plan to check it out, make sure to bring good walking shoes! (Not sequined flats–those were a very bad idea). Take time to explore it, there is so much to see! Gaudí loved details, so look closely at the bridges, benches, and sculptures throughout the park! Also in the park: the Gaudí house and museum. We did not go inside, but if you want to, I believe you can buy a discounted ticket at the Sagrada Familia! Pick up a bocadillo (sandwich) and a Fanta limón and take a bus or cab to get here to enjoy a picnic on a nice day!
Barri Gótic (Gothic Quarter): Just about the best place to get accidentally (or purposely) lost, yet feel like you are right at home. Just off of Las Ramblas, the tight and winding alleyways led us through 2000 year old Roman structures, a cathedral, and lots (and lots and lots) of shops. The only dangerous part about this part of the city is what it can do to your wallet…But it is a great place to get a real taste of Barcelona by popping in and out of plazas and stores. Did you know the espadrille shoe is originally from Cataluña? What a great chance to pick up a comfortable pair! Apart from the shopping, it is also a great area to see some beautiful architecture and the cathedral:
My recommendation for the cathedral: go during the free hours (everyday before 12:45 and after 5:15, all day Sundays). Also, if you are there on a Saturday around 6pm or Sunday at noon, make sure to stay outside in the plaza and watch traditional Catalan dancing, known as La Sardana. They sometimes even pull in tourists! With a band set up and everything, this dance is supposed to show community by placing all of your things in the center of the circle and joining hands:
La Pedrera/Casa Mila: Designed by Gaudí, this apartment building looks like melted rock formed together with windows. While we weren’t able to see it (closed for restoration in the off-season) it is definitely worth a visit to see the outside, inside, and attic of this fantastic structure!
Tips for visiting Barcelona:
1. When reading signs, everything is first written in Catalan (the native language that is required for citizens to learn–and used very frequently). Next, the sign will be written in Spanish, and then sometimes English is added. Yet, there are so many locals who speak English and will be more than willing to help you out!
2. Las Ramblas is one of the top places in Europe for robbery. That being said, we had no problems either time we wandered down it. Yet, be watchful of people coming over to you asking for directions, or standing and watching street performers because another person could be reaching in your pockets. Make sure to have your purse around you at all times–even if you are sitting! (Mine was almost stolen off of a park bench next to me–I saw a hand out of the corner of my eye and the kid took off running as I turned in shock!)
3. To find great restaurants, you will have better luck leaving the tourist area (around Las Ramblas). Prices may not go down, but you will be getting what you pay for rather than cheap, traditional food that locals are aware tourists want to eat. While we did manage to find a good paella restaurant along Las Ramblas, everything else wasn’t that great. There are plenty of fun tapas bars if you wander, so make sure to take some time looking before you chose!
After another unforgettable weekend, it seems that right as I unpack, I will need to pack up my bag once more…Off to London on Thursday morning to meet up with a friend and fellow Pi Phi studying in Ireland! And I am very excited to be able to speak English for an entire weekend!