BARCELONA is one my favourite cities. My trip there left me swooning over the bustling, bright Catalan capital. With a brilliant beach, a distinctive culture and heaps of amazing sights and things to do it’s hardly surprising that Barcelona is firmly entrenched on the backpacking circuit. As with much of Western Europe, the city isn’t particularly cheap; luckily, there are plenty of things you can do even if your pockets aren’t exactly overflowing with Euros. Served by numerous low cost airlines, packed full of history, sun and otherworldly architecture, it’s definitely worth a visit.
1) Take a stroll down Las Ramblas
Las Ramblas is one of my favourite streets in the world. Walking down the tree lined boulevard on a scorching June morning was one my highlights of visiting Barcelona. There’s always something going on, from breakdancing troupes to musicians and human statues. It’s busy, beautiful and full of life even in the early hours.
Las Ramblas stretches out all the way to the Pier, which is a great place to sit down and relax, or throw some food to the rather creepy looking fish in the harbour.
2) Be awestruck by the Sagrada Familia
You can’t come to Barcelona and not take in the formidable sight of the Sagrada Familia. Gaudi’s still unfinished masterpiece is beyond incredible and is the only time I can honestly say I’ve been left speechless by a cathedral. Unfortunately I didn’t get to go inside this UNESCO World Heritage site(massive regret) as the queues were enormous and I had a plane to catch.
3) Take a cable-car ride up to the top of Montjuïc
Catching the cable car (while admittedly a little expensive, with a round trip costing just shy of 16 Euros) up to the top of Montjuïc to explore the 18th century fortress at its peak is another great thing to do. The views over the harbour are lovely, the castle is gorgeous, and it’s a beautiful place to chill out.
While quite difficult to get to, the Castell de Montjuic is full of history and well worth a visit. The former military prison has a colourful history – it was used by both sides during the Spanish Civil War and lot of executions took place there, although now it’s happily a much more peaceful spot! and it was also the site of the 1992 Olympic games. The cable-car ride up to the top provides some stunning views – although if you’re scared of heights I’d recommend giving it a miss!
4) Hit the beach!
Barcelona is also blessed with a great beach. It’s an entertaining (albeit packed) place to catch some sun. The singing food and beer vendors who dance around with their wares on their heads provide a fair amount of amusement even for those who aren’t sun lovers. Here’s a picture of one man who did a pretty excellent job of dancing with a tray of burgers on his head – he seemed to be raking in the cash!
Barceloneta is the closest beach to the city centre, and as such, the busiest – it can be hard to grab a spot when the sun’s out.
5) Get a bargain at La Boqueria market
La Boqueria market is a complete assault on the senses. Stuffed with a mouthwatering assortment of food and drink, it’s definitely worth a visit if you’re a foodie. Located just off Las Ramblas, it’s easy to get to. The fruit smoothies in there are brilliant after a heavy night out, or just to help cool you off.
For those on a budget, the food in there is cheap – stock up and make your own meals to cut down on costs. Also on the subject of food – there are vendors selling crepes with various tasty fillings inside dotted around the city – these are really cheap (1-2 euros) and incredibly moreish – eat at your own risk.
6) Visit a real-life Wonderland at Park Güell
Park Güell was my favourite thing about Barcelona.
Located a few miles away from the city centre (it’s a hell of a trek if you don’t take the Metro- nearest stop is Lesseps) is the masterpiece that is Park Güell. Built by Antoni Gaudi in 1900-1914 the park is a UNESCO world heritage site – and rightly so.
The whole bizarre creation is an explosion of colour and insanity. The best views of the city are from the park’s highpoint – where you can take in an incredible panorama of the city all the way out to the sea.
The buildings reminded me of something from Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory – I kept expecting oompa loompas to jump out at me.
Entrance to the Park itself is free, but there is a cost for going into Gaudi’s house.
7) Chill out at Plaça Reial
I stayed at Kabul Youth Hostel in Plaça Reial, which is a gorgeous square with some beautiful gothic buildings.
I found that the square was a great place to sit with a cold drink and watch the world go by.
Warning: If you stay at Kabul, do not expect to sleep. Barcelona isn’t a city known for turning in early with a good book. Kabul is an unabashed party hostel – expect to get hammered.
Once you arrive at Barcelona El-Prat, take a bus from the airport to Plaça Catalunya, a 40 minute journey. A return ticket costs 10 Euros.