Monday, April 20, 2015

Must-Do Tips for a Short Stay in Barcelona

Sculpture of Christopher Columbus at the end of Las Ramblas
It's taken me some time to gather up what to say about Barcelona, because honestly the two days we spent there felt like we barely scraped the surface.  There is absolutely so much to see, so much to eat, so many twisty gothic alleyways of mystery to get lost in.  There's no way to give Barcelona true justice in so short a time.  So here's just a list of things we did that I would recommend as must-do's, but please, if you make it there, do so so much more!

La Sagrada Familia: Honestly if you do nothing but stay in your hotel and shop at Zara, it would be unforgivable to not make it to La Sagrada Familia. This unfinished masterpiece by Gaudi, the artistic mastermind of many of Barcelona's most celebrated landmarks, is both fantastically beautiful, grostesque, and just down-right odd.  On the outside you get the idea of a traditional Catholic church imagined by a young child drizzling sand into sandcastles on the beach, and then you look closer and realize those spirals look way more like bones and ribs than sand shapes.  And then on the inside, with massive white columns and the rainbow light of floor to ceiling stained glass, I felt like I was in some sort of hybrid of a spaceship and an arctic forest.  With a slated completion date of 2026, my husband and I have already promised that if the church is ever completed we will definitely be heading back to see it in its final glory.  We both walked around a bit in a daze after our visit, so maybe plan on eating after you are done touring here.  There is so much for your eyes to take in and your brain to process, you might have a bit of a mental hangover.

Ceiling of the church
One side of the church depicts the Nativity (above) and the other the Crucifixion
Word of advice: book your tickets ahead of time.  We did not, and the line wrapped around for about a 40 minute wait but I've heard in peak times it is even longer.  Basic tickets are around 19 Euro

Gaudi Walking Tour: Ok this isn't a real thing (or maybe there is an actual guided tour you can take that accomplishes this), but I highly recommend just routing a path to see all of Gaudi's other more popular architectural wonders.  You can take the metro to more distant areas like Park Guell (which is still a big uphill hike from the nearest metro stop so wear comfortable shoes!!), and walking the main streets of Barcelona towards Las Ramblas will get you near most of the other homes he designed.  Park Guell was free to the public in the past, but now entry does have a fee (7 euro).  You can see a good bit of the park if you are tight on money by walking around the free outskirt area, but you miss the main Gaudi designs this way.  

Park Guell:

Casa Battlo:

There are more of course, but when we went to see the popular Casa Mila, it was undergoing repairs so they had completely covered the building with a screen and nothing was visible.  

Mercado de La Boqueria is located right off of the main tourist thoroughfare of Las Ramblas and is a true education on cuisine. We bought turron here for gifts to bring back, a delicious nougat and nut concoction.  There is plenty of fresh fruit and cheese and bread to buy and snack on, but for us the main point of fascination was the butcher booths.  It was disgusting and yet strangely fascinating to see normal cuts of meat right beside lamb's head (eyeballs in place!), or cow tongue, or pigs ears.  I didn't really eat anything at the market as you can imagine.  I have pictures, but I didn't want to spoil your meal either.

Arc de Triomf and Ciutadella Park  are relatively close by Las Ramblas as well and offer a perfect place for photo-taking.  Within a few minutes you'll easily be able to find other travelers who are also looking for someone to take their picture that won't mind returning the favor.  There's not much to do here besides looking around, but it would be a nice place to enjoy an afternoon snack.

Gothic Quarter: Just outside of the craziness of Las Ramblas you'll enter the gothic roots of the city, with plenty of dark, twisted alleyways to make you forget about even trying to use a map here.  These areas are some of the most interesting in the city -- lots of fascinating architectural touches like gargoyles and elaborate doorknockers.  The Cathedral of Barcelona dates to the 13th and 14th centuries.  Also nearby is the now defunct Merdado del Born -- there is no market here anymore because during renovations they found an even older area of the city and now the archaeological site is open to the public to view.

Montjuic: Located near the train station, this is a great area to visit for a look at the city from above. Many of the 1992 Summer Olympics facilities are located near here if you are a sports fan, but honestly this is a looong hike if you are walking (did I mention we are allergic to cabs for some reason and walk everywhere you can't get by metro?).  If schedule permits check out the Magic Fountain, a light/music/and choreographed water show that occurs at night on certain days of the week (check the schedule because times differ during every season).  This is said to be the inspiration of the Bellagio fountain show in Las Vegas, so I'm sure its a ton better, but we weren't able to catch it because times didn't match up with our stay.  If all you do is just hike up the steps and enjoy the view, it will be well worth your walk.

You can see La Sagrada Familia in the distance here!

Stay tuned, because we still need to talk about food and hotels in the next post!  

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