Brunette researches our travel destinations thoroughly and then leaves her extensive notes at home or in our room. But she does possess a prodigious memory and her research, combined with our recent experiences in Barcelona, can save you a lot of your own time. Without further ado:
Do these things:
- Go to La Sagrada Familia whether or not you give a hoot about churches. We have seen so many churches, mosques and synagogues that we tend to run away like the devil is chasing us at the thought of another. However, Gaudi’s La Sagrada de Familia has a very unique story and an interior that, to us at least, was completely and unexpectedly bright and fabulous. Tip: This is a good place to go on your first day, especially if you’ve come from the States or somewhere else with a significant time difference and you need to do something you can enjoy while groggy. However, the lines can be long and a good tour guide can add immensely to your pleasure in the experience. We did the Skip the Line trip with Viator and arranged it before leaving home. Register with them well before going on your trip and make a “wish list” for where you’re going. Often they will then send an email offering discounts – take advantage of those, we always do. The tour meets on the other side of the park across from La Sagrada and leaves from the office of a place that does not say Viator on any of its signs so give yourself a little time to figure that out.
- Take the bus to Parc Guell and explore it on your own. Some people will tell you to spend hours there but really it’s more of a walk around then leave experience but one well worth having. It’s another Gaudi creation, as is much of what you will want to see in Barcelona, and you’ll want to get a cheesy picture of you standing beside the giant mosaic lizard or maybe one of you dancing with a headless man if you’re as attention-seeking as Blonde. Tip: Eat before going because there isn’t anything decent to eat in the park.
- Do the one-hour tour of the Palau de Musica Catalana. This isn’t a Gaudi site (the architect was Lluís Domènech i Montaner) and you do need a breather from Gaudi every now and then! Because it’s so fiercely Catalan and in the modernistic style it’s unique and the tour provides just enough information to enjoy it and not enough to make you want to look for escape routes. Tip: Go to the ticket window and arrange for a tour in the language you prefer (no, “dirty” isn’t an official language) and then have a lunch or cappuccino at the little cafe while you wait for your tour to begin.
- Spring for the money (20 euros which includes an audio tour) to see the Casa Batllo, a private home designed by Gaudi and only open to the public since 2002. This is a World Heritage site so know how to turn off your flash before taking pictures inside but knock yourself out snapping away on the roof which is architecturally fascinating and also offers good views of the city. Tip: You can buy tickets online in advance using the link in this paragraph and you’ll pay the same price as at the window. This property is open 365 days a year so if you’re wondering what to do on a Monday when museums are closed, this is a good option.
- Brunette dragged her poor sister’s tired, aging butt here on the last night we were in Barcelona and don’t tell her but her sister loved it. “It” is the Parc de la Ciutadella and specifically the Cascada Fountain. We were able to get the #4 tram to the park from where we were staying. The park is at the northeastern edge of the city’s old town. When the fountain was first built in 1881 it did not have the elaborate sculptures it now has and which were added for the Universal Exhibition 6 years later by the architect Josep Fontsére. Supposedly it was meant to resemble the Trevi Fountain in Rome but Blonde felt that that the Cascada Fountain was much more impressive the Trevi. Tip: You will want to take pictures so be sure not to arrive 2 minutes before sunset like two idiots we know. Go on a day you have decent weather and try to get morning or late afternoon sunlight if you want good pictures.
- Use Barcelona as your base for some interesting day trips. We did two and they were very different and both wonderful. One was to the Dali Museum in Figueres and the other to the Pyrenees. If time, money and/or weather force you to do only one, do the Dali Museum just because you can figure out nature on your own, but not Dali.. (Read our earlier post about Dali and you will no longer think your brother-in-law is the weirdest person in the world.) We booked the Dali Museum Small Group Day Trip with Viator and were lucky enough to get comped on the Pyrenees trip by Explore Catalunya which is the company Viator uses for several of their trips.
We did a small group sailing trip in the Mediterranean , the Dali Museum and the Pyrenees trip all with Explore Catalunya and just loved them. They have excellent guides and the small groups are the way to go as there are no more than 8 people. You can use the link in this paragraph to book with them directly and see some of the other cool trips they offer. Tips: You do not want to do the Dali Museum without a guide as there are no audio tours and you will not figure out what was going on in that dude’s head or life without a guide! When you get to the town of Figueres the guide will probably give you some time to get lunch before the tour. Just pick somewhere nearby even though it will only have average food and inflated prices because it’s all you have time for and you don’t want to miss your tour. Sometimes you just have to accept being ripped off as a tourist! If you do the Pyrenees tour: Wear good walking shoes and bring a jacket as it will be very cold when you get to the mountain peak. Also, get yourself a good picnic lunch on your stop in Vic or you will be hungry later in the day.
- Use the excellent public transportation. We used the subway system. took buses, rode the tram, did an idiotic “GPS Go-Car” tour, walked and took cabs. The cabs can be expensive and feet can get tired but there are plenty of other fairly easy-to-navigate ways to get around.
Don’t bother with these things:
- You’ll probably go anyway but Las Ramblas is basically a long sidewalk full of tourists and (we were told) pickpockets. About 10 years ago it felt authentic but now it just seems like a crowded place to buy tacky things that weren’t made in Spain. It does have painted street performers if you’re up for some stupid pictures (as we were).
- Skip Poble Espanyol – a so-called “open air museum” in which the architecture, style, and culture of various locations from around Spain were recreated in a single place. The admission price is too high for the value. Brunette noted that it’s a Catalan version of Williamsburg, Virginia in the U.S. Everything’s made to look authentic – just go where it really is authentic and skip this – it’s mostly shops and not that easy to get to either.
- Eating in the touristy areas. Food can be very expensive in Barcelona and, if you don’t eat ham or seafood, good luck! We stayed in the @22 area of the city (not center city) and our favorite place to eat was Recasens which was very busy with actual real live Barcelonians (made that word up). (They let us eat outside without a reservation but, if you want to go there save yourself some likely rejection and make a reservation.) The @22 neighborhood was a lot of fun in the evenings with two block parties in the space of the 4 nights we were there and people of all ages dancing, singing, eating and of course blowing smoke all over the place.
- Getting your knickers in a knot over the possibility of pickpockets or political unrest. Take sensible precautions to protect yourself from the pickpockets and understand that the Catalans have been demanding to be separate from Spain for quite awhile and they continue to do so peacefully. We were there for their National Day and over a million people came in to the city. We just avoided the places where they were congregated and still had a lovely day with no issues. (That afternoon was when we did the Small Group Mediterranean sailing trip with Explore Catalunya.)
- Don’t go in August – to Barcelona or anywhere else in Europe because it will be totally mobbed.
The one thing you should definitely DO is go to Barcelona! If you have questions please leave them in the comments and we’ll answer them to the best of our snarky abilities.