Barcelona! Such a beautiful horizon. Like a jewel in the sun.– Freddie Mercury, from the song “Barcelona”
We ended our two week Mediterranean vacation in Barcelona after a stay in Naples, Rome, and a Mediterranean Cruise. We thoroughly enjoyed every city we visited and cannot wait to return to experience more of Italy and Spain.
Day One: Tour of Barcelona, Montserrat, and Park Güell
The last stop, and port of departure on the 4-day Mediterranean Cruise, was Barcelona, Spain. The cruise line had several excursions in Barcelona but most did not interest us so we selected a tour with port pickup through Viator: Barcelona and Montserrat Tour with Skip-the-Line Park Güell Entry, with Top Day Tours. We were picked up at the port at 8:30am for our excursion, with our first stop being Montserrat. Little did I know, it was absolutely freezing! Barcelona was a little chilly during our visit, but our first day here was in the 30s. Plus Montserrat is a mountain, so with the higher elevation the temperature dropped. The best part of this tour was simply visiting Montserrat as it is outside Barcelona, and it can be difficult to get there. Since we were there so early we were easily able to drive up the mountain and gain access to the park. Our guide explained to us, that in just a few minutes cars would be lined down the mountain trying to gain access. This is also due to that there is a limited number of cars allowed in the park at any given time. She was right! When we left Montserrat an hour or so later, cars were lined half way down the mountain! If you decide to visit Montserrat when you are visiting Barcelona, be sure to arrive early!
When we arrived at the peak, we took a stroll through the Montserrat National Park, we stopped in the Montserrat Monastery which is evidently famous for their Boys Choir, and we learned about the “Black Madonna” that constitutes this monastery as a major Christian pilgrimage site. If you wish, you can wait in a really long line to visit the shrine, we skipped this and instead explored art at the Museu de Montserrat. This was ideal as we were freezing, so the museum offered a nice warm sanctuary.
Once back in the van we drove up to see the Annela Olímpica (Barcelona’s Olympic stadium) on Montjuic Hill and use the restrooms and take in the amazing views from the hill at the Museu Nacional de Catalunya. We were unable to visit this museum during our visit in Barcelona, but it is definitely on the list for when we return.
Barcelona is also home to several architectural creations of Antoni Gaudi, so another great part of this tour was that it included a skip-the-line tour of Park Güell. While visiting this unique park, I felt like I was in a gingerbread house/village, all of the intricate details and recycled materials mimicked gumdrops and candies. Around the park you can see the influence of environmental features like trees, rivers, animals, and intricate details that are super unique to Gaudi.
After our visit at the Park, we walked around to admire architecture around the city, including a stop outside La Sagrada Familia and Casa Batlló. We purchased tickets to visit the inside of La Sagrada Familia the following day, if you’d like you can add these tickets to your tour ticket through Viator but you have to visit on the same day. I opted to purchase separate tickets for the following day because as I predicted, we were quite tired from all of the activities, and I wanted to be able to take our time at the church.
Day 2: Explore Barcelona
The Bed and Breakfast was located in Eixample which was a perfect location to walk to several points of interest. Right down the street were some of Gaudi’s works the Casa Batllo and Casa Mila. We walked by these buildings on our way to visit La Sagrada Familia, but decided not to purchase tickets for admission. La Sagrada Familia is one of the most interesting places I have visited. It began being in built in 1882 by Gaudi, and is still not complete! When Gaudi died, who is fittingly buried here, it was only 25 percent complete. First things first, you must schedule your tickets way ahead of time. You cannot be spontaneous with your visit here. I know someone who went a few weeks before us and she was very disapointed because they were unable to purchase tickets. You an choose from a few different tours. I debated for a while if I wanted to spring for a more expensive ticket to climb the towers, and I am very happy with my decision to do so. We were able to climb the tower and view the city from amazing heights. As you approach, the outside is rather ugly, in my opinion, but wait until you enter! It is seriously one of the most incredibly unique buildings I have ever entered. Each wall, shelf, window, scripture, everything has a significance. Everyone of the 18 towers represents parts of nature, and people and stories from the bible. As always the pictures do not do it justice, this is another place you have to see for yourself!
I went to have a look at the cathedral, a modern cathedral, and one of the most hideous buildings in the world.– George Orwell, in reference to La Familia Sagrada
After our visit at La Sagrada Familia we took a Free Gothic Walking Tour: Gothic Quarter. This tour was awesome! In my experience free city tours are always super informative and interesting, and great way to get an introduction to the city. Our guide was a Barcelona native and history major. Something to keep in mind if you do schedule a free tour, remember that most of the time the guides are students and work for tips. We met at Plaça Reial at 11:00am for our roughly 2.5 hour walking tour where we saw the following highlights, plus more along the route:
- Plaça Reial and Sant Jaume
- Jewish Quarter and Roman City
- Medieval City and Placa Del Rei
- Cathedral of Barcelona
- Santa Maria del Mar
Day 3: Museums of Barcelona
The next day, we wandered down Las Ramblas, a famous street with shops and cafes, and arrived at La Boqueria Market, and ate at several booths to sample the local cuisine. We also visited a couple museums that were really neat:
- Museu Picasso: This museum, as the name implies, is dedicated to the life and work of Pablo Picasso. In general, I prefer the early works Picasso, before he really launched into his cubism. The neat part about this museum is that it hosts many of his early works, it was fascinating to physically walk through the progression of his work. Side note: There is a fun TV series called “Genius” on National Geographic where each season spotlights a Genius, one season was on Picasso.
- Admission Price: €14
- Hours: Mondays: 10:00-5:00pm and Tuesdays to Saturdays 9:00am-8:30pm
- Museu d’Història de la Ciutat (MUHBA) / Museum of Urban History: I had not originally scheduled this in our itinerary, but we learned about it on our historic walking tour and it sounded really interesting (another great reason to take these tours- you learn about places that were not previously in your itinerary!). We decided to go and I am glad we did! There was great history of the city, and some of the museum is underground, which are the original grounds of when Barcelona was established. It was very fascinating, and provided an audio tour which was great, because I much prefer listening to the history rather than reading the signs, unlike my travel partner who reads every sign!
- Admission Price: €14
- Hours: Tuesdays to Saturdays: 10:00am-7:00pm and Sundays: 10:00am-8:00pm
For my next visit
As with all adventures, there is simply not enough time to see , do, and eat all the things. So here are a few other places I would like to have visited given the time:
- Casa Batllo
- Casa Mila, aka La Pedrera
- Museu Nacional de Catalunya
- The Magic Fountains of Montjuic– these look absolutely amazing! We went in the off-season so we were unable to view the magic show, but I would definitely look into it if you are in the city when the show is on display.
- Tons of other museums!
Eat and Drink
Barcelona is known for Paella and Tapas, so we went in with this as a mission. We had tapas in several locations, and surprisingly found ourselves never hungry enough to order Paella until our last night in the city. Paella is typically a lunch specialty for locals, but we went touristy and ate it for dinner.
- Paella- duh!
- Cava and Cava Sangria: While in Monserrat I learned about Cava: a sparkling wine that monks created and a popular drink in Barcelona. I already loved Champagne, and found a new love for Cava while in Barcelona. Now there is almost always a bottle in my fridge. It has a similar flavor and feel to, but is much cheaper than, Champagne (and obviously not made in the champagne region of France)- hence always having a bottle on hand!
- Cervesería Catalana was only a 3 minute walk from our B&B and has incredible Yelp reviews. This was our first food stop in Barcelona, Andrew ordered a bunch of random tapas…most outside my comfort zone!
- Milano Cocktail Bar has a $10 minimum drink order and often requires a reservation. The drink minimum is easy to cover with a drink or two. We made a reservation the day before we went, and we really enjoyed it. Of all the places we visited, we had the most difficulty with communication here. We had made reservations for drinks and dinner, but were not very hungry and wanted to switch to Tapas, it was a little tricky, but we made it happen; we had some simple tapas and a few cocktails, and ended the evening with a glass of Cava. The night we went a three piece jazz band was on stage and they were super talented. It was a really cool experience to sit back and listen to a local band kill it on piano, stand-up bass, and guitar while drinking Cava…can’t get much better than that!
- Other Places still on the list:
- Old Fashioned Gin and Tonic Bar
- Hemingway Gin and Tonic Bar
- La Pepita – Tapas Bar with great Yelp reviews
Where to Stay
One of the cutest and coziest places we have ever stayed was Circa 1905 Boutique B&B in Eixample. They served a delicious breakfast, and had an all-day coffee and tea bar, and had fantastic 24-hour service. We mentioned we were leaving super early (like 4:00am) the day we were checking out, and they packed us a doggy bag of fruit and sandwiches for our flight. This was especially appreciated because we waited in line at the airport for nearly 2 hours to simply get our boarding passes…at 4:00am no less! I usually have our passes on my phone, but we flew TAP Air Portugal and they do now have these App capabilities. Note to self, for future reference!
Overall Barcelona was a such a pleasant surprise. I did the least amount of research on this city in preparation for our trip, organized fewer attractions, and simply hoped for the best…and it worked. We loved the city, it was beautiful, clean, easy to navigate, and we had wonderful food and interactions with locals. It is definitely a city I could see as a great option for American ex-pats. It was a perfect way to end our Mediterranean Meandering trip to Italy and Spain. What city have you visited that surprised you? Good or bad?