Posted by: Ciaran | December 29, 2009

Changing places – Barcelona

Barcelona is the sort of place that is perfect for a city break throughout the whole year.  Its Mediterranean coastline climate brings hot summers but also mild winters, meaning you can either visit just for the culture or factor in a bit of beach time too.

A quick word of advice, though, on booking to go.  If you want to fly in on the cheap (and, let’s face it, who doesn’t?), then make sure you know which airport you’re going into.  In the same way that Luton airport tries to swindle foreigners by calling itself London Luton, budget airlines fly into Barcelona Girona airport which is in fact a good hour or more away from Barcelona.

It’s not a problem, so long as you know about it in advance; there is a great and reasonably-priced bus transfer for every flight (download the timetables and get more information here), so don’t be conned into paying for a taxi.

On to the fun stuff.  If you are a sun-worshipper then there are seven beaches in Barcelona; I went to one down by the marina which was nice, although the water didn’t look great for swimming and any attempt at sun-bathing was interrupted every 15 seconds or so by the persistent vendors of beer/hash/massages/fruit/water etc.

The beach; miraculously, no vendors in sight

A walk around the city centre can easily take the whole day; the brilliant Boqueria Market needs a visit (make sure you try the ice-cream, the flavours are amazing) and you can while away hours on end watching the street entertainers along Las Ramblas.

The entrance to Boqueria Market off Las Ramblas

Another word to the wise; Las Ramblas and its surrounding side streets are high on entertainment and always packed full of people.  Here more than nearly anywhere else I’ve been you need to be on your guard against pickpockets; I had two guys follow me for about 20 minutes trying to steal from my bag.  Just be cautious and especially wary of people trying to chat to you as they can be distraction techniques, and make sure you keep valuables either under lock and key in your hotel or at least securely on your person.

A rather unfriendly Ronaldinho impersonator

The influence of the architecture of Antoni Gaudi is rife throughout Barcelona, and you can visit a house which he renewed in the city centre or the spectacular but still unfinished Sagrada Familia in the north of the city.  Work is scheduled to carry on there for at least another 31 years having been incomplete when Gaudi died in 1926.

Casa Batllo, known locally as the 'House of Bones'

Further out of the centre, be sure to visit Gaudi’s Parc Guell.  It’s a stunning space which uses art nouveau designs and natural shapes and, to me at least, felt like stepping in to a fairy story.  Allow plenty of time to explore the massive park with its many different routes as there is so much to see.

The buildings at the main entrance to Parc Guell

To get there I would recommend taking the Metro up to Lesseps on the Green Line/L3, and then following the signs to take the 20-minute walk.  This route, however, requires a bit of instinct as the signs aren’t great and, more importantly, involves a substantial uphill section and some steps.  Make sure you take plenty of bottled water to stay hydrated, particularly if it’s a hot day, and try and go first thing in the morning as the temperature will be lower and you’ll also have the double benefit of smaller crowds.  Anyone wanting to avoid this route (sensibly in many ways, though the views make it worthwhile) can take a bus from the city centre, though be mindful that to get the best out of Parc Guell a bit of walking is required.

View from the main entrance into Parc Guell

The other place further out that is well worth a visit is the home of FC Barcelona, the Camp Nou.  The home of one of Europe’s most decorated football clubs runs slick tours throughout the day and allows great access to the dressing room (though only the away one), the press areas, and an opportunity to walk down the famous tunnel.  You can even stop off for cava and canapes in the presidential lounge if you want to!

The majestic Camp Nou, which holds almost 100,000 people

The stadium, a few miles to the west of the city, is served by four Metro stations and a dozen or so bus routes.  The tour, which is self-guided (you can easily make your way without the expensive audio guide as everything has a write up in English and Spanish) is worth about two or three hours of your time, although a football fanatic could easily spend a day there.  It’s easy to turn up and buy a ticket without waiting for too long.

A small chapel in the tunnel at the Camp Nou

End your day of sightseeing (or sun-bathing) in one of the city’s great restaurants.  There are a number of lovely seafood places down by the marina, but the best place I found was down a nearby sidestreet.  It was called Sensi, and the food was reasonably cheap but outstanding.  Find it here and see for yourself:

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Responses

  1. I’ve recently wondered about the merits of visiting Barcelona in off-peak months, other than the obvious weather differences. It may be a strong contender for a long weekend trip some time before April, so thanks for the pointers.

    • Wonderful place


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