If you’re picturing beaches, sangria and paella, you aren’t far off from what awaits you in Barcelona. When my best friend told me she would be visiting London, we wanted to take advantage of the opportunity to travel together and decided on Barcelona. From the architecture to the food and general lifestyle, the Spanish city did not disappoint.
Our whirlwind escape began on a Thursday, the day Ana arrived and a day when I had to attend a 9 am class. We both pushed through and made our way to Gatwick Airport. Once in Barcelona, we decided to take a taxi from the airport to our hotel. Taxis were our biggest expense, costing nearly €50 each way and while not my preferred method of transport based on cost alone, we’d had a long day and once we split the costs, the metro would have been about the same, plus the added stress of lugging carry-ons on public transport. We got to the hotel around 6 that evening, so the sun had set at this point, and we did the worst thing by climbing into bed for what turned into a five-hour nap. Luckily, things stay open quite late in Spain, but even more lucky was the fact that the Italian place across the street was still open. We had the most amazing food at Bell e Buon (seriously the best gnocchi of my life) and the service was incredible (we got free limoncello). If we had more time/didn’t want to experience all the Spanish food, I would have been so happy just eating here the entire trip. We followed our feast with a midnight excursion to the Sagrada Familia. Every review of our hotel said it was a five-minute walk away, but it was DEFINITELY 15 minutes. Regardless, the sight was amazing and the entire time we walked around the cathedral, I couldn’t believe how detailed and beautiful it was, and this was just at night. I definitely recommend a visit at night because not only is it stunning, it’s hauntingly beautiful and incredibly inspiring. We then walked back to our hotel, showered and stayed up until 4:30 am trying to plot out the next day and a half LOLOLOLOL #dumb.
Friday started out with a Sandeman’s free walking tour at 11 am (free, but they ask that you tip based on how well you think the tour guide did). Ana and I had an ambitious Google Doc of things we wanted to see/do, but we figured the tour would give us a good lay of the land and provide us with the opportunity to cross a lot of things off of our list while providing us with a history lesson. The tour met up in the Placa de l’Angel, so we made the square’s Cappukccino our new stop for caffeine on several occasions (unfortunately it’s cash only *rolls eyes but it’s okay because their lattes were good*). Our guide was an Englishman giving off dad joke after dad joke, but he was super cool and knowledgable. We also met this girl, Gretchen, who was also American and was travelling by herself. She was finishing up her European tour and heading to Asia for the next few months. Not only was she kind, but also super inspiring and every time I see a post from her on Instagram, I cry because she’s doing some really cool things ALONE. The tour started off by visiting the Cathedral of Barcelona, then migrated around some of the tiniest streets I’ve ever seen, learning about the structure of the city, the history of its art and what took place in each nook and cranny. We then had a short break where we took it upon ourselves to try our first Spanish sangrias…with a side of pain au chocolat because why not? For only €3.50, we had a massive glass of sangria and because we had about 10 minutes to drink it, we spent the second half of our tour stumbling a bit. We were showed a comical Picasso in the middle of the city, St. Mary of the Sea and Las Ramblas before the tour ended and our guide dished out lunch recommendations.
The three of us were in the mood for some delicious paella, so we hit the beachside restaurant Salamanca Silvestre. We were seated on wooden chairs in an outside dining area, so miles of beach and ocean were our closest neighbors. The meal began with a serving of Abuela’s fish soup – SOOOO nice – and then our paella dreams came true when these MASSIVE plates brimming with rice and fresh seafood arrived at our table. I honestly thought I was going to die right then and there and I was so happy with the quality of the food that I didn’t even care about spending €17 on one dish (it’s cheaper the more people in your party order it). This paella had every fish in the sea and as someone who doesn’t really like most fish/shrimp/things in shells, I ate every single bite and loved it all. OMG I just remembered we had these massive lemon wedges on our plates – they were seriously the size of our hands. We were then treated to some lemon-soaked cakes and some strange alcoholic drinks (apparently free yellow drinks after every meal is a Spanish thing?) before walking along the beach and having a photo shoot. The beach wasn’t too busy, but every other minute we had some guys come up to us trying to sell scarves, so important to note if you think you’re going to go to the beach and be left alone. The water was super clear and blue and looked really inviting, but it was too cold for a dip.
We split up from Gretchen at this point and headed back to the Sagrada Familia to catch it with the beautiful clear blue sky backdrop. We also tried going on a tour, but discovered that they were all sold out and we had booked a tapas tour for the night and we didn’t want to miss that/rush our Sagrada time. We then looked into going to Park Guell but discovered that was more out of the way and made it a point to hit both spots early the next day. Back at our hotel, we got back in bed and semi-napped until we had to head back to the Place de l’Angel for the Sandeman’s tapas tour. Now, I LOVE and will recommended the Sandeman’s free walking tours all day because every single one I’ve done has been amazing (I even did it twice in Edinburgh), BUT I’ve also done some of their pub crawls, and now this tapas tour, and I have to say that they’re a bit of a rip off. I think we paid either €17 or €18 each, and that’s OKAY, but I also feel like you can find cheaper/better tapas on your own. As for the pub crawls, those are only ever a good deal if you plan on spending a lot of money at each pub/bar because then the random discount you’re offered starts to pay off (it usually involves weird drinks or like, buying four drinks in each location). ANYWAY, despite the steepish price and my previous experiences with the pub crawls, I was excited to a) see Gretchen again and b) see more of the city’s nightlife/eat and learn about tapas. Also, these tours are a good way to meet people because food/alcohol always bring people together.
What are tapas you ask? Well, back in the old days, labourers and members of the lower class would exhaust all their earnings on cheap alcohol at the bar and then wouldn’t show up for work or would show up and be completely drunk and useless, so it then became a law that tiny foods had to be served with the alcohol to ensure that people were eating and could hold their alcohol…ish. Now, this tradition has trickled down and it’s no longer a requirement to be served tiny foods with every drink, but a lot of places have the option of ordering appetiser-esque foods for anywhere between €1-€5 depending on the size. We went to three places and each had a totally different vibe. The setup was drinks and tapas at each location, but the number varied. Our first stop was a basement bar where we received a demonstration of how to pour this particular cider in such a way that the method you chose affected the taste. We each had our free drink and as someone who hates cider, I wasn’t a fan, but then we were offered seconds so that people could practice pouring and not one to deny a free drink, I took another and it tasted worse than the first. I also got one tapas (the free one), but you could get more and hold on to your sticks to either pay the extra €1 or €2. I will say the tapas selection there was good and I definitely should have tried like, three others.
Our next stop was more of a restaurant and we were sat in the back at a long table. We could choose between beer and wine here, so I went with wine. We got four tapas here, but these were shared, so automatically not my fave. It was weird because there was a bread with tomatoes on it (literally. That’s it) that is supposed to be a traditional Spanish tapas item, some chorizo, and I can’t remember what the other two were but they were super small and I didn’t have enough food here. We did mingle more with our fellow tourists, so that was cool and made the next stop even more fun. The final stop was another restaurant, but we sat in the main room on another long table and had these strange glasses full of sangria in front of us. Here we learned how to drink the sangria out of a Spanish wine Porron pitcher, which looks really strange, meaning holding it and pouring the drink into your mouth are actually quite a task. We practiced with water before hitting the red stuff, but it was super cool and fun and meant that we bonded a lot more with everyone else. I have no clue what our tapas were here, but I’m pretty sure we received two. Our next stop was a bar across the street with our new friends – an American couple, an American guy travelling alone, a Canadian girl and her Australian friend, both studying in Italy, and Gretchen. The American guy from the couple bought us a round of tequila shots and then we were on the hunt for Spanish churros.
This quest proved quite difficult as it was already like, 10 pm. Our tapas guide recommended these specific churros that the Australian girl was determined to get, but we arrived to a closed up shop. we then found another place 15 minutes away and decided the trek was worth it only to find that they had stopped serving churros for the night. Our last option was Xurreria Trebol, miraculously open 24 hours one the weekend and selling nothing but churros! We had to take the metro for this one, so off we went and had quite a scary experience: we were buying our tickets with our group OF EIGHT PEOPLE when the Australian girl was literally getting pickpocketed as she waited for her friend to purchase her ticket. The American guy from the couple saw the thief put his hand in her coat and confronted him, which must have been really scary for this guy because the American was tall and built with a booming voice. The thief did nothing but run away and the rest of us were left thankful, but shaken up a bit. The Aussie laughed it off, saying she only had Tic Tacs in her pocket because she wore her important things around her neck and close to her body, but she did say it was unnerving that she and the rest of us had no idea what was happening until the guy intervened. Everything was fine once we got to our churros and finally saw what all the fuss was about and after the world’s longest trek for deep fried dough was completed, we were happy to stuff our faces. I got a vanilla stuffed churro with a side of melted chocolate and it was honestly just okay. I’ve had better churros from the outlet mall in my hometown and overall, I think Mexican churros are better because they’re covered in cinnamon sugar and sometimes filled with condensed milk (omg yum). Anyway, our group ate, laughed and hung out a bit before splitting up and because the others still had time in the city, I think they made plans to meet up again the next day, but we were on a strict mission of getting shit done.
We woke up on Saturday, packed, checked out and put our stuff in a locker, then headed out to get our Gaudi on. Now, IDK if Citymapper was messing with me and just gave me the worst directions, or it is actually just a nightmare to get to Park Guell but OMG THE AMOUNT OF STAIRS WE HAD TO CLIMB I WAS DYING and this is coming from a girl who walks up and down stairs/all around London all day, every day. Anyway, we barely made it for our time slot about five minutes after 9am, but it was totally fine, then we took our sweaty selves down to the main area. The park is a bit like a forest, but much shorter trees and a lot more colourful with all the tiles, but wow the work that Guadi did is so beautiful and blends really well with the surrounding nature and the overall colours of the city. We grabbed a coffee and pain au chocolat at the cafe (yes, there’s a cafe!) and then headed into the gift shop before walking the grounds and having a photo shoot. We spent about an hour and a half there and could have been there longer had it not been for our tickets to Sagrada Familia. We walked up to a metro station, maybe about 20 minutes away, then got to the Cathedral early and picked up some Starbucks before walking around the park across from the Sagrada Familia and taking in the events there.
It was finally time for our tour so we were let in on the side with the Nativity scene (my personal fave because there is SO MUCH DETAIL) and just looked at the facade up close for a while before actually entering the building. The inside could not be more different from the outside with it’s colourful windows and rays of light shining in on these white pillars that go up like tree trunks and connect through their “tree tops.” I was an emotional mess the entire time we were there. The walls have prayers written in English and Spanish and there’s also an alter with some seating that’s open to the public. My favourite area is high up, behind the Crucifix, where the stain glass lets in this hazy and bright yellow glowing light that just made me feel like that was done by Gaudi to show God’s presence. It’s definitely not your typical church and from the outside, I don’t think you would ever expect how colourful, open and bare it is, but wow it’s definitely worth a look and as a Catholic, I teared up on several occasions. Then we took some pictures outside on the stations of the cross side of the Cathedral and it was really cool to see the detail there as well because we had watched a video about that facade on our first night, so now we were able to see what they had pointed out. Then we went up the towers on that side and while it was cool to see Barcelona from there, and I personally loved being able to stand next to the golden resurrected Jesus Christ, I don’t know if it was something you HAVE to do; I think doing the regular Cathedral tour is just fine.
We walked around the Cathedral and got some more exterior photos after that and then headed back to our hotel to get to the airport early. Barcelona itself is a cool city that I feel I need to explore for much longer and at a slower pace, especially because two Gaudis are not enough for this fan girl. While the paella was spectacular, I have to say my favourite moments were definitely touring/staring at the Sagrada Familia. I learned about the Cathedral six years ago in an architecture course and was just blown away by the fact that anyone could ever come up with that and spend over a hundred years to build it. I have been wanting to pay a visit to the Cathedral before its completion date and I’m glad I did so because I believe there are about nine years left. Sure, it would be nice to get some pictures without pesky cranes in the way, but I’m glad I was able to witness it as it was being built and I was a part of that history/contributed to its construction with my ticket purchase. Being able to finally see the Sagrada Familia was truly a religious experience.
Barcelona is a really affordable city (I mean, anything is more affordable than London) with a metro system that’s super easy to navigate and it’s got it all: food, nightlife, beach, architecture and locals everywhere. We walked A LOT because that’s just the kind of city Barcelona is, but we also made heavy use of the metro and wished we had saved by buying the 10-ride pass since we diefinitly took the metro more than 10 times, but it was so affordable that it wasn’t a big deal. I say go to Barcelona expecting excellent food and drink and give yourself more than 48 hours in the city, especially if you also love Gaudi’s work. We got along really well with English and Mexican Spanish and actually, loads of people appreciated that we spoke such good Spanish (I say ‘we,’ but it was all Ana). While I don’t think I’ll be going to Barcelona any time soon, I do want to return and see a lot more/stuff my face with paella. Until next time, Barca. Xx, S.