While traipsing Eastern Europe in 2015, I traveled from the middle of Poland to the tip of the Balkans before rounding out my adventure in Italy, France and Germany. I had such good intentions of heading to Spain for some siestas and sunshine; however, my Schengen visa was soon to expire and I didn’t want to take the chance of being banned from the continent for three years (not likely to happen, but there is always the chance). Fast forward eighteen months, and I was finally on a plane bound for Barcelona for a short two-week holiday. And to make the trip even better, my mom was joining me!
Bring on Barcelona!
Our Barcelona hotel sat on the northern edge of Parc de la Ciutadella. Complete with winding trails, tree-lined alleys, creamy statuary and even a zoo, the park was a wonderful venue for early morning runs/walks. It was also a great grassy nap spot for catching-up-on-sleep-due-to-jetlag. Lucky for us, our accommodations were only a ten-minute walk from the Gothic district and beach.
My mom and I made good use of our short time in Barcelona. We hit most of the recommended highlights; stuffed ourselves silly with savory cuisine; checked out museums, churches and city/harbor vistas; and walked dozens upon dozens of miles. And we probably drank our weight in alcohol more than a few times…but when in Spain…and when there’s sangria…right?
Here’s a sampling of our favorite Barcelona experiences:
La Sagrada Familia
Wow! Gothic arches, lofty towers, fanciful carvings, and sweet-faced cherubs: the Sagrada Familia certainly evokes an ethereal ambiance. Gaudi’s surreal imagination truly comes to life in this famed church, especially when sunlight streams through the stained-glass windows. All I needed was Enya singing in the background.
Seriously, you’ll get a crink in your neck from staring up for so long. From the tree-like columns sprouting to the ceiling to the incredibly diverse designs between the Nativity, Passion and Glory facades, there is so much detail and symbolism to take in! The church has been under construction for over a century, but there is hope for a completed structure by 2026. This would commemorate the 100th anniversary of Gaudi’s death. Eek – they certainly have a long way to go though!
Eat your way around Barcelona
Paella, tapas, sangria, seafood, pastries and plenty of coffee. We had it all and then some. Of course, I’ve eaten paella. I’ve even cooked it a few times. But the actual paella experience isn’t complete until it’s served to you in an iron pan in a hole-in-the-wall Barcelona restaurant with a liter – or two – of sangria.
I have to say that being a vegetarian in Spain is not the easiest task. Tapas, the delightfully small dishes so famous around Spain, are often a selection of jamon, meat-filled pastries and deep-fried tasties (with meat). I had to suffice with snacks of peppers, creative mushroom dishes, bread topped with fruity concoctions and cheese – lots and lots of cheese. But I like cheese. The adventure of eating in a tapas bar, of grazing the buffet for goodies and comparing dishes with your buddies, and simply enjoying the joyful camaraderie that effervesces from any tapas bar, is a Spanish experience not too miss.
Immerse yourself in Gaudí’s Art Nuevo world
I’ll admit that I didn’t know much about Antoni Gaudí before Barcelona. And after visiting his most famous works – the Parc Güell, Casa Batlló and Casa Milà – I can sum up Gaudi’s creative genius as a mix between the architecture at the Wonka Chocolate Factory and what I would imagine a grown-up-sized Candy Land landscape to look like. His bric a brac houses topped with whipped cream and gumdrops, curving window boxes, and ceramic-crusted balconies are quite reminiscent of a storybook setting.
Stroll along Las Ramblas
Be warned. This infamous boulevard is a bit seedy; however, if you look beyond its dusty outer layer, the bustling street offers a host of sight-seeing opportunities. Everything from street performers, artists, and hooligans to tapas bars, caricaturists and souvenir ships line the pedestrian path. Oh yes, and the hordes of tourists that are there for the same reason. Begin up by the La Boqueria food market and wander all the way down to the sea front near the Columbus monument. Squeeze through the crowds, hold on to your wallet or purse, perhaps stop for a glass of wine and enjoy the moment.
Explore Barri Gòtic
Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city. Alleys are lined with dragon-laced lampposts, fountains bubble from the center of cobbled piazzas and smoke-filled cafes overflow into the street. You can follow a shadowy lane and let it wend you by a maze of boutiques, tapas bars, flamenco bars, restaurants, tattoo galleries, art shops, the odd church hear and there and so much more. This is definitely an area where you should get a little – or a lot – lost.
Climb the hill to Montjuic
We spent an afternoon exploring the hilltop perch of Montjuic, if only to see the harbor vistas from the Castell de Montjuïc. Barcelona’s funicular took us to the top. From there, we walked uphill to the castle and paused for a few Mediterranean Sea photos. Then we followed the trails back down the hill through some pretty botanic gardens, past the ’92 Olympic stadium and wound up at the National Palace and magic fountain. The magic fountain wasn’t so magic as the water wasn’t flowing while we were there.
Or simply sit back and people watch
Finally, we stopped following my itinerary and super planning and simply pause to take in our surroundings. One of my absolute favorite activities when traveling is to perch on a bench/step/doorway and watch as daily life unfolds before me. I like to see what people do in their leisure time and how they communicate and interact with one another. Plus, it is a great way to get some fantastic people candids.