The Barcelona City Guide
This whole trip started the night my friend coaxed me into buying these cheap roundtrip airfare tickets over a few glasses of red wine (our usual drink of choice).
Eventually I thought…why not!? CHEERS! Let’s go to Europe!
After a successful trip I thought I’d share what was so great about our experience and what my personal guide of this beautiful Catalan city would look like. If I ramble it’s because I don’t know how little or how much to include or when to stop word vomiting so there’s my disclaimer…
While I took tons of pictures on the trip most of the ones featured on this blog post are from Dayra's camera. Her shots are incredible :)
HOW TO GET AROUND
We ended up staying at the hostel Mambo Tango which was really affordably priced this time of year (late May) compared to the other temporary stay options. My cousin, who is currently studying his masters in Barcelona, said we could've found cheap AirBnb options but it was pretty much impossible to book a consecutive 10 day stay last minute - so book your AirBnb stays well in advance! The Mambo Tango hostel was close to tourist attractions like Montjuic, Las Ramblas, and a nice walking distance to Plaza de Espanya. Not to mention we were around the corner from Blai street where you can grab delicious “pinchos" for one euro each and share pitchers of sangria for a great price! We were also really close to the Parallel stop on the metro (green line) and we could hop on nearby bus routes. Getting around is super easy, especially if you’re used to reading subway maps from NYC. Our hostel served free breakfast every morning which included items like toast & jam/butter, cereal, orange juice, cheese with olive oil and tomatoes - and they offered free apples, coffee and water all day. It was great to grab an apple on your way out for an emergency snack and it helped us save some euros to spend during lunches and dinners!
I also suggest staying at a hostel at least once in your life. At a hostel you get the opportunity to meet some really interesting people from all around the world traveling just like you! It’s easy to connect with like minded people. When everyone is excited by their new surroundings people are more prone to opening up and you can make some friends that you’ll know for life! It’ll also encourage you to travel to even more new places cause you’ll now have the option to possibly crash at their place in their respective countries. We met a Finnish girl and some people from Utah. One day I could end up in either one of those places!
After we arrived at the airport we hopped on an Aerobus for 6 euros and that dropped us off on placa catalunya. From the BCN airport you can also take the metro now which is a bit more affordable and with transfers you can likely find a stop that’s close to wherever you’ll be staying. Anyway, when we landed we ended up walking along Passeig de Gracia getting our first glimspes into how gorgeous everything was from the buildings to the people.
I could not be low-key about my immediate fascination for europeans.
Their whole sleek long coats, adidas sneakers, rolled up jeans or pants with a shorter inseam which exposed their ankles adding a clean effect to their unique style. OK you get it, they looked good, but let me tell you - they smelled even BETTER! Yes I know I can come off as a creep, but I was just using all my senses in this city because it was all new and exciting to me! I felt alive!
Anyway we ended up around the block from Casa Batlo (pictured above), one of Gaudi's famous buildings and it was the wrong address! The directions provided to us in our emails after booking were wrong. Slight freakout moment...especially while feeling that jetlag after a red eye flight. I called the number and the woman at the front desk of the hostel explained we would have to take the metro to get there. Talk about diving in! I asked a local commuter if she could help me with the ticket machine to properly buy a single ride since it was all in Catalan. She suggested that we each buy a 10 trip ticket since it was MUCH cheaper and we would end up using them during our stay. SO insider tip, buy the 10 trip ticket if you’ll be using the metro a lot. One takeaway from this and many other interactions I had was that spanish people may seem standoffish, probably a projection of mine since I’m used to people rushing to get somewhere in NYC, but when you engage with them they are super helpful. I even hugged a local after she told me how to get back to the airport on my last night. Ok maybe I’m just too comfortable with strangers...
ALSO, the ticket machines have language options at the bottom of the screen and if you're not brushed up on your Catalan, the dominant language in Barcelona, you can certainly proceed with the good old English option located on the bottom right of the ticket machine screen. Their metro system is color coded and the stops are read either going up or down on the map. We took the green line to the parallel stop and walked a couple blocks asking multiple people where the exact street was and FINALLY made it (hint: there’s a Burger King on the corner of the block if that helps). We were overtired, in desperate need of a shower, and hangry. I tell you all this so that if you book with Mambo Tango through HOSTEL WORLD triple check the address and find your own way to get there using google maps.
There are more ways to commute, you can take taxis, buses, metro or the Renfe rail network if you’re traveling outside the city and across spain. A swedish couple I met on the plane to Barcelona suggested that if I hopped in a taxi that I should make sure it has a meter because otherwise cab drivers can just name their price. Didn’t get to test this as I only took the metro and buses when I wasn’t walking in the city, but just take the advice of the Swedes.
WHAT TO EAT AND WHERE
If you want to know where we enjoyed eating the most, check out my post on the Top 5 Cheap-Eats in Barcelona!
What I love about eating in Barcelona is you can eat for what feels like a pretty reasonable price. It also helps to talk to the locals to get the scoop on where to eat for less without sacrificing on quality and experience. This Catalonian culture enjoys eating Pinchos, Tapas and menu del dias. I especially loved menu del dias because it meant that for around 10 euros you could pick a first plate, second plate, dessert, and drink of choice…of course, it was vino tinto (red wine). That was all included in the menu del dia. I know...
You HAVE to visit Blai street for the reasons mentioned above! The food staple Catalonians are known for is their Jamon Serrano and Manchego Cheese combination. It’s so good. I’ve never tasted ham like that.
Can we just pause over the amount of wine we drank? It was trophy worthy.
One thing I love about Barcelona is how everyone enjoys eating outside and how restaurants encourage it. Europeans not only know how to dress in style - they know how to eat in style too! They’re just perfect.
PAELLA. Have it. You will love it. Many places offer it, but go to La Paradeta if you’re going to be near La Sagrada Familia. Our walking tour guide suggested we go for some reasonably priced seafood.
My favorite “postre” was crema catalana particularly served at this recommended restaurant LA FLAUTA.
It was like creme brûlée and MAN was it delicious. It came with our menu del dia meal.
Also, go to La Boqueria! It’s this great open air food market. Everyone goes there on their trip to Barcelona and you should too. I loved the fresh fruit juices…mmm strawberry-coco and the variety of meats, seafood, and cheeses.
My friend on this trip also reminded me of the value of eating mindfully. This came especially in handy when eating the smaller european portions cause mindful eating means bringing all your focus into the action of eating and noticing your feelings and sensations while being present. The longer your chew the quicker you feel satisfied because it gives your body the time to recognize it's eating. It takes about 20 minutes for your brain to signal to your stomach that you're full and you may feel fuller when you eat slowly.
I think the combination of eating European food that was less processed than American food, eating European portions and eating mindfully contributed to my great looking body by the end of the trip. Not to mention all that walking!
WHERE TO EXPLORE
If you’re on a budget and want to learn a deeper understanding of Barcelona then you MUST go on a runner bean tour. This walking tour company was so cool and the guides were really enthusiastic and informative. You can reserve your spot online the night before to guarantee your inclusion on a walking tour or if you’re lucky you can even show up 15 minutes before the tour begins and sometimes you can join the tour last minute. These tours were free of charge as they are donation based which means if you really enjoyed the tour afterwards you can tip your guide whatever amount you feel it was worth to you. Not a bad deal for a really great experience! It was one of my favorite experiences on the trip.
We got to walk through the old city and learn all about the history of the alleys we were walking through. My favorite aspect of Barcelona was probably walking through the Gothic Quarter and El born district. The streets were so skinny and cute and everyone decorated their tiny balconies with plants and the Catalonian flag.
There were tons of incredible Cathedrals to check out that date back to the 13th-14th century - especially throughout the Gothic Quarter. If you step into Barcelona Cathedral having heard the awful crucifixion process of Santa Eulalia and proceed to walk down to her crypt inside the church I guarantee you it will trigger a reaction of stillness. If you're really into Cathedrals or Monasteries then definitely head over to Monsterrat (about an hour train ride outside of the city of Barcelona via the RENFE train system). Some images above are from our visit there!
OF COURSE, another place of worship you should not miss if you're into this stuff is La Sagrada Familia! Incredible heights and awe inspiring design with limitless detailing.
One of my favorite things to do when I’m traveling is to get a really great view of the city. Barcelona has a couple different vista points you can check out, but the one that was recommended to us as being the best view for the best price (FREE) was Bunkers Del Carmel.
It honestly was worth the hike and it was breathtaking, especially as we watched the sunset. It reminded me of the time I watched the sunset from Twin Peaks in San Francisco. Another favorite vista point.
Another free activity to take advantage of is watching the light show at the Magic Fountain! I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a fountain that entertaining. Music along with choreographed water lit up by different colors. It was memorable for sure. My friend laughed at me for getting into it.
One of the things you’re bound to do while you’re in Barcelona is risk getting pick pocketed as you stroll down Las Ramblas! This is apparently one of the hottest zones where pickpocketing occurs and apparently it’s a very big problem. I watched a video on youtube that caught pickpocketers in action prior to the trip and I realized that these pickpocketers are really skilled at what they do, will try anything and are not afraid of getting close to you because the law isn’t that harsh on them. SO, keep your belongings in your front pockets or your bags in front of you as you stroll down this attraction.
If you want to enjoy the sun or maybe eat at a restaurant by the Mediterranean sea check out la barceloneta beach. Fun fact, it’s manmade! You can drink on the beach. I bought some picnic items like jamon serrano, queso, bread and a bottle of wine at the “supermercat" for a couple of euros! There are also a group of Pakistanis walking around selling beers, Mojitos and Sangrias on the beach. Feel free to haggle a bit since their eager to sell to you, but just be warned they may not be very strong. Mine felt weak, but it was still refreshing under the warm sun.
Afterwards you can stroll down Port Vell either during the day or at night and walk over the little wooden bridge by the Christopher Columbus statue and sit down on one of the benches while taking in the still water reflecting the streetlights.
WHERE TO SHOP
If you’re into fabrics, jewelry, antiques, clothing and just about anything else you can possibly find then set aside some time to check out Mercat del Encants - Barcelona’s largest and best known flea market and one of the oldest in Europe, dating back to the 14th century. I didn’t end up walking away with anything, but I did see a lot of clothing options for women. I’m not really into collecting objects, but it was really cool to walk around and see all the different things for sale. I even engaged in conversation with a local elderly woman who reminded me to haggle. “Whatever price they offer you, say you’ll pay them half!” is basically what she said. Thank you lovely old lady. I also noticed a small flea market somewhere on Carrer de San Pau that I wanted to check out, but didn’t have time to.
I honestly didn’t get to do much shopping. I’m not into souvenirs so I didn’t buy from the tourist shops. When I travel I would much rather buy jewelry or clothing, something I can wear and use that reminds me of the places I’ve traveled to. I would’ve loved to have found an authentic blanket scarf, but I didn’t know where I could find one for a reasonable price. I would’ve loved to have come back with one! Next euro trip I am returning with a blanket scarf!
Well, that’s just a fraction of my takeaways from my incredible time spent in Barcelona, but I hope it at least inspires you to book your flight to this wonderful city! Watch the video below to get a visual glimpse into what we got up to!