Barcelona was my first official solo holiday. I felt the usual build up of restlessness that generally comes after a few months of not travelling somewhere, and decided to take the plunge. No one was free to fit in a last minute holiday, and the flights were so cheap for that time of year. I purchased the tickets, kind of like the impulse purchases one might normally make while queuing at H&M, and decided to just go with the flow.
I arrived on a sunny day in the middle of June, and was pleasantly surprised by how informative the airport people were, and how easy it was to navigate around the metro. Two changes and I would be at my hotel. I had booked to stay at the Melon District, a student accommodation which also rents rooms to tourists. It’s about 10-15 minutes from Placa De Catalunya by metro, which is where I used as my basis for getting around. The hotel was faultless, quite plain and simple but then that’s what I paid for. And with the metro being around the corner (Marina) and the beach just a 15 minute walk, you can’t go wrong.
I will lay out my favourite parts of the trip below, but sadly as I was only there for a few days I didn’t have time to fit in everything.
Park Guell is about 35-40 minutes from Placa de Catalunya, depending on which route you take. There are different entrances to the park, and it can be slightly confusing but generally well sign posted. If you book in advance, your ticket will tell you which entrance to find. I booked a guided tour as I figured there was no point just walking around the park without knowing the history behind it. (A guided tour only cost 7 Euros on top of the entrance fee, and lasted approximately an hour). It was really worth it, as the tour guide took us through the main aspects of the park, and explained the reasons behind a lot of Gaudi’s architecture. As well as information about the park, our tour guide also delved into the general history of Barcelona, and she did a great job of setting the scene of how Gaudi’s architecture has shaped the city. The park itself was gorgeous. I made sure to go fairly early on (around 10am) before the sun got too hot, and luckily I beat the heavy crowds as well. Little parrots can be seen in the trees, and the designs of the buildings are extremely well thought out and strategically placed to create a beautiful theme.
After the tour finished we were free to roam around ourselves, and soak in some sun alongside the compulsory picture taking. I then decided to walk to the Sagrada Familia, as the sign posts indicated that it wasn’t too far away. In reality it took me a good 30-40 minutes to walk there, but then again I am easily distracted by shops so that probably what slowed me down. It was a lovely walk though, away from the touristy areas so you get a chance to see a bit of how the locals live. I also enjoy getting lost, so this generally adds on more time to every journey (it’s probably best that I was travelling alone for this trip as I got lost intentionally quite a lot 🙂 ).
On approach to the huge, gorgeous church, you can’t help but admire the towers set against the vast sky. This is where it starts to get quite busy, inevitably hoards of tourists are milling around and the queues can get quite lengthy to get in. I had already pre-booked my tickets, just to save time. I didn’t book any tours or audio for this though as I wanted to just take in the atmosphere myself. The fact that building work is still being performed on the church didn’t take away from the beauty of it, but it would be nice to see it again in the future when it is complete.
The inside of the church was my favourite part by far. Whilst I could appreciate the intricate design of the outside, it was the lighting inside that really grasped my attention. All the windows were different colours, mosaics beautifully laid out to reflect stunning rainbow effects into the building. My camera just couldn’t do it justice, and I found myself sitting inside and just taking in the warm reds, oranges and blues as they shone down. I didn’t pay to go in the towers, but if you are looking for a view across the city then it may be worth paying extra to go up them.
National Art Museum of Catalunya (MNAC)
Museums aren’t normally my top picks when recommending places to visit, and although I love to meander round them and admire the art and artifacts of times gone by, I usually use them as time fillers or when I have a free afternoon. The reason the National Art Museum gained my affection was due to the grand architecture and the area leading up to the museum itself. Fountain after fountain paved the way to the top of the steps (escalators were available up to a certain point) and trees lined the path up. Visually it was stunning, and anyone who has been will agree that the walk even from the metro station (Pl Espanya) infuses a sense of awe. Massive pillars indicate the entrance to the road that leads to the museum, and there are two other museums as well as two theatres along the way. The inside of the museum was lovely, with different art collections and exhibitions available, and I paid a bit extra with my ticket to get access to the roof. There is a balcony area where refreshments can be bought and seating to relax and take in the view. I think I spent more time on the balcony than in the museum itself, but hey, the view was too good to resist.
Cycling along La Barceloneta
So, even though I live next to a beach, I can’t resist checking out others on my travels. Not so much to sunbathe or swim, but I do enjoy cycling on the promenade and taking in a good sunset. Cycling along La Barceloneta was a very memorable experience for me, the beach was about 10 minutes from my hotel, and bike hire only cost 8 euros for a couple of hours. The beach itself was lovely and clean, and although still quite busy for the evening, people were respectful of the cycle lanes and pedestrian areas. I stopped at one of the restaurants for some seafood pasta (amazing) and relaxed to the sound of music playing in the background with the fresh sea breeze cooling me down. I didn’t get the picturesque sunset I had been hoping for, but instead was graced with a gorgeous pink hue in the sky which cast a warm glow over the entire beach. If you have a free afternoon I would definitely recommend coming down to the beach for a cycle, or even hiring out segways if that’s more your thing.
Arc de Triomf
I don’t know if I was just lucky that evening, but when I visited Arc De Triomf, I was greeted by a man playing his guitar and singing Bob Marley rather well, and I decided to relax on a bench and watch the roller skaters perform their tricks. The palm trees which line the path that leads down create a wonderfully Mediterranean feel, and the people sat around enjoying the music only enhanced the feeling of relaxation. I found this charm all throughout my stay in Barcelona, the constant vibrancy of the city made it impossible to feel bored or lonely.
So those were my top picks of the holiday, I also spent plenty of time wandering up and down Passeig de Gracia, shopping and marveling at the splendid architecture. I visited Casa Batllo, and learnt more about Gaudi’s fascinating ideas and designs (below is a picture from inside Casa Batllo). Las Ramblas also proved to be an lovely afternoon spent shopping for souvenirs and drinking fresh juice. If you follow it down you end up at the port area, and you can enjoy a nice coffee overlooking the water. The Gothic Quarter was also fun to explore, and one can easily get lost meandering down street after street.
Unfortunately I didn’t have enough time to visit other places such as Casa Milla, or Montjuic, but I see this as a good thing…I’ll have to return! And I will return for sure. Barcelona was so much more enjoyable than I could have imagined, and with so much to see and do, it would be difficult to limit the experience to just one trip.