We visited Barcelona in March 2001 for 3 days. It is the most interesting and captivating city we saw in Spain. (sorry, Madrid!)
Help is coming, however, in the form of a new high speed rail line which will make the trip in just a few hours.
We flew in from Madrid, thinking it would be the fastest way, and the ticket (purchased in Europe) wasn’t that expensive. Oh how wrong we were. Iberia is hell. They were on a “work to rule” campaign, and the plane was delayed for hours in Madrid. They changed the departure gate about 7 times on us, forcing a boatload of seniors to keep shuffling a long distance between terminals. When we finally got on the plane, we had to sit on the tarmac for 2 hours, because the pilot had some earwax (or something). Anyways, turns out we would have been faster taking the train. Bottom line: don’t fly Iberia if there’s any possibility of a work stoppage or slowdown (which is frequent).
On the good side, however, there are many, many flights from Madrid to Barcelona. Flying standby could be an option, and anyways I doubt it’s necessary to buy tickets that much in advance.
Leaving, we flew from Barcelona to Granada, and were only delayed 2 hours (for a 40 minute flight)!
From the airport in Barcelona, there are frequent shuttle buses that drop you off quickly downtown.
With an introduction like that, we were obviously extremely vigilant during our stay in Barcelona. We had no problems. Of course, we were there off tourist season, and were rarely in a crush of people where problems are likely to occur.
Walking around town
Be sure to put aside some time for getting lost walking downtown. In particular, check out the narrow alleys of Barri Gotic. We were also impressed with how clean Barcelona is (this coming from Canadians). There seemed to be a permanent cleaning crew just round the corner. There’s a bit of a competition between Madrid and Barcelona, and Barcelona seems to have decided that keeping things clean will help them win the race. Now, if they’d only increase police presence around Las Ramblas….
There are many cheap hotels all over Barcelona. We stayed at Hostal Plaza, with a location that couldn’t have been more central. It was clean, although the proximity to the road and questionable shutters made for a noisy night. It is advisable to reserve ahead: even in March, we had to go through several pages of hostels before we found one that had a room. Most of Barcelona hotels offer great services and affordable rates.
Parc Guell One of our first stops the next day was Parc Guell. Parc Guell is a Gaudi creation that was originally envisaged as a “city within a city” for the town’s elite but it never really caught on and was turned into a park. It features many interesting Gaudi buildings, the longest park bench in the world, (and certainly the most colourful!) and some pretty views of the city. It is not to be missed.
Our guidebook recommended we enter from the rear of the park, which was a great idea. There is a series of outdoor escalators which take you up the hill from Baixada de la Gloria. And don’t worry, the escalators aren’t broken, they turn on when you step on them!Try to visit this park on a sunny day, as the sun reflecting off all the colourful tiles really adds to the effect. There’s lots of other things to see on a rainy day in Barcelona. In fact, we ended up visiting this park twice to get better pictures.
Getting back from Parc Guell to downtown involves about a 20-30 minute walk to the metro, but there’s lots of taxis – on our second trip we got a taxi to take us just as far as the metro – very cheap and saved us a lot of time. The walk isn’t so pretty, either.
Casa Mila This is a Gaudi apartment building. The metro drops you off about a 15 minute walk from the building. Make sure you don’t miss The Manzana De La Discordia, or the block of discord, which refers to the stylistic clashes of three neighbouring buildings. It’s on your way. Casa Mila itself is spectacular – there isn’t a square corner anywhere. It’s amazing to see such a huge work of art right in the middle of such a normal looking city block. The tour will take you to the rooftop, where the chimneys are fantastic.
Not Gaudi’ed out yet? Try this building just off Las Ramblas. Tours take you through the house with some of the best Gaudi interiors we saw, as well as some more of his famous chimneys. There is fantastic steelwork at the entrance to this building, that was specially designed to let people see out, but not in.
Museu d’Historia de la Ciutat
This museum displays the history of Barcelona. The real charm to this museum lies in the underground excavated ruins of the city. Walk around on catwalks while you look down on the vestiges of the ancient Roman city. There’s nothing in English – be sure to take your Spanish speaking wife!
If you’re into Picasso, this is your 7th heaven. We’re not (but we did try to be), so we got confused at his interpretation of Velazquez’ Las Menias and left.
Sagrada Familia The Sagrada Familia is Barcelona’s best-known site, and deservedly so. This cathedral is Gaudi’s crowning jewel, and construction continues in earnest today. Gaudi is in fact buried in the building itself. Take the elevator (or walk) to the top of the tower, it’s well worthwhile for the view of the church and surrounding area.
The memory of this building will remain with me forever, and I look forward to going back one day to see a more finished product. Whether they will ever finish it, however, is a better question.
Barcelona has some good choices for vegetarians. Although I’m not sure if it’s typical Catalonian fare, we enjoyed these restaurants:
Juicy Jones: Fantastic fresh juice. Don’t be misled by the small entrance, there’s a restaurant a few steps below just past the juice bar. We tried a variety of small plates (tapas) for a very reasonable price. Nothing exceptional, but you get to try lots of things.
Terrablava: This buffet restaurant was heaven-sent. We were craving good veggies, and the salad bar served ‘em up, as much as we wanted. There’s also cheese (and meat) pizza and pasta. It’s apparently very busy during the day with business types, but in the evening it’s pretty empty. And how can you beat all-you-can-eat when you’re backpacking?