Barcelona has been on my bucket list for a long time, but I did not have the opportunity until recently. My goal was to really explore Barcelona at a leisurely pace. My friend came on this adventure with me and we settled on a Tuesday to Sunday itinerary. In this post, I will highlight our trip to Barcelona and what we learned from it.
Day 1: Tuesday (Arriving in the afternoon)
We arrived in Barcelona in the early afternoon and both of us took separate taxis from the airport as we were in different terminals. Prior to this trip, my friend and I were warned to be cautious of taxis and pickpockets in Barcelona. I did not truly believe that Barcelona was an unsafe city as it is an international European destination. Unfortunately, the following taxi incident shook my faith in the city. After getting dropped off a block away from my destination, my taxi driver grabbed a 50 euro bill out of my hand and drove off after I disputed the fare. The fare should only cost approximately 35 euros. My friend was also overcharged approximately the same price even though she had taken a small car and only a duffel bag with her.
My advice is to have a car service pick you up if possible. If that is not an option, make sure the dispatcher gives you a regular taxi, otherwise you will be charged for a van even if you did not request or need one of that size. Additionally, you should request a receipt before leaving the taxi as you will need it for any disputes. On my last day, I ordered a taxi through Book Taxi Barcelona which allows you to pre-book and also pre-pay with your card for the trip to the airport. I had a satisfactory experience with this company and I only paid 42 euro for a black car pickup service.
Once we made it to our AirBnB located within walking distance to the Cathedral of Barcelona, we unwound and tried to let the bad taxi experience not ruin our first impression of this city. We walked around the narrow Gothic quarters and soaked in the sight of the Cathedral at a nearby café. Besides the Cathedral, there are also the Basilica de Santa Maria del Pi and Museu Picasso de Barcelona nearby. Strolling through the endless streets and alleys in the Gothic Quarter and discovering new places to shop, eat and drink was the highlight of the day. Eventually we arrived at Placa Catalunya where a bustling city scene awaited us. We strolled around the area and visited the police station there to report our cab incident. A while later, we headed to La Alcoba Azul for our first of many tapas meals. It was a small tapas restaurant and was a perfect way to unwind from an eventful first day in Barcelona.
Day 2: Wednesday (Gaudi)
We started the day early and headed to Arco de Triunfo de Barcelona and visited the Ciutadella Park. The park reminded me of a mini Central Park in New York City. As the clock ticked toward 10 am, we made our way to Sagrada Familia for our reserved entry for the famous Gaudi masterpiece. It was already swamped with tourists even when a majority of the visitors had purchased their tickets in advance. You must reserve your ticket for Sagrada Familia at least 2 days in advance otherwise you may not get in at all. We spent the next few hours marveling at the genius of Gaudi’s imagination and strained our necks staring at the intricate and whimsical architecture. The best place to take a picture of the Sagrada Familia is from the park across the street by the Carrer de Lepant. This part of the park offers scenic views of the cathedral without all the tourists blocking the cathedral.
Our stomachs started growling so we walked toward our next destination and tried to locate a relatively local restaurant for lunch. My suggestion is to walk a few blocks away from the Cathedral to find better food and less of a crowd. Since the restaurant we discovered was small, I was able to have the waiter charge my phone for me. I ended up doing this during every lunch on this trip as charging stations or electrical outlets are nonexistent in Barcelona.
After a leisurely lunch, we visited Gaudi’s Pedredra or Casa Mila and paid the entrance fee to visit the inside and the rooftop. We received the recommendation from the local shopkeeper to see the interiors of Pedredra instead of Casa Batlo. This was worth the ticket price as the views were worth many pictures. The famous chimney covers resembled landscapes from another world. As we walked toward Casa Batlo, we saw the gorgeous exteriors and opted not to go inside due to the long lines.
Pedredra or Casa Mila
We had a reservation for Cinq Sentits, a 1 Michelin star modern gastronomy, later that night. The service and food was exquisite, though it was pricey at 120 euro per person for a 6 course tasting menu. It is definitely a splurge and a nice break from the hustle and bustle of the day.
Day 3: Thursday (More Gaudi)
Our day began at Gaudi’s Parc Guell. Unfortunately we did not know we needed a ticket (approx. 7 euro) to enter the monument area. The next available time was at 1pm and it was currently 9am. The admission ticket is relatively new as my friend did not need one when she visited a few years ago. Even though we didn’t get to visit the monument, I did not feel that I missed much as we were able to stroll around the park and see many of the sites. At this point, I was starting to be “Gaudied” out. I would suggest doing Parc Guell first before Sagrada Familia and the other Casas as it is the simplest in terms of Gaudi’s creations.
Next we headed over to the Palau Reial de Pedrables for a quieter stroll around the gorgeous free public park that also housed more of Gaudi’s smaller works. We opted for the only place to eat lunch nearby to rest our weary feet. After a short lunch, we start off for the Monastir de Pedrables. This is a Gothic monastery that has a wonderful cloister and houses exhibitions throughout the year. It also has relatively fewer tourists and we ended up having most of the cloisters to ourselves.
Palau Reial de Pedrables & Monastir de Pedrables
Next, we took the subway to Mercat de la Boqueria to witness the bustling marketplace with many wonderful local fruits, vegetables and sweets. We then headed down the Rambla which is a tree-lined pedestrian mall that stretches 0.75 miles in central Barcelona. My friend characterized the Rambla as the Champs-Elysees of Barcelona which was not the case. It is basically a wide street with a ton of tourists. By the time we located the café at nearby Place Reial, we were ready for a long afternoon break from all the walking. We soaked in the remaining sun and snacked on tapas at Café Ocana. Once we had our fill, we headed to the Mirador de Colon to see the Christopher Columbus statue and called it a day. Later that night, we tried another tapas restaurant in the Gothic quarter called La Vinateria de Call and it was delicious. This is a bigger restaurant than the previous night and most of the diners were tourists as we ate early at 8 pm, whereas the normal dinner time is 10pm for locals.
Day 4: Friday (Montjuïc and Palau Nacional Museum)
We started the day taking a cable car, Transbordador Aeri del Port, near Playa se Sant Sebastia to Torre de Miramar on Montjuïc. This is the base of the Montjuïc area and has sweeping views of Barcelona. We made the mistake of walking from the base to Montjuïc Castle as it is a 2.7 miles uphill walk for approximately 1 hour. This left us breathless and exhausted for most of the morning as we had been walking nonstop for 3 days. A taxi ride to the castle would have cost less than 10 euros. Montjuïc Castle lacks decor so the 1 hour uphill battle felt like a wasted effort. The castle is generally empty and only the ramparts offer another view of Barcelona. Next, we took a cab to Poble Espanyol (Spanish Village). After speaking to the ticket attendant, we found out it was more like a small scale amusement space than an actual cultural area. Also, the activities offered in the village are geared toward children. We opted not to pay the entrance fee at Poble Espanyol and took another taxi to Plaza d’Espanya for lunch.
We ended up at Tapas Gaudi near Carrer de Llanca for lunch. My friend and I found the restaurant to be surprisingly good for a large chain. My squid ink paella hit the spot and it was even better that they had nice outdoor seating for us to enjoy the breezy spring weather. There are not many options to choose from in the area unless you know specifically where you are going. After a leisurely lunch, we made our way to Palau Nacional Museum which was a delight. The impressive scale of the museum with its gorgeous fountains and numerous stairways at the entrance was worth the visit alone. We spent the next few hours exploring the various exhibits including the Romanesque frescoes and modern art. At the end of the day, we picked the cable car ride and the Palau Nacional Museum to be the most memorable and worthwhile.
Palau Nacional Museum
We decided on Tapas 24 for dinner and headed there around 6:30. This is a very small restaurant that is insanely popular with tourists and locals. We were seated promptly but I noticed the lines that went out the door by 8 pm. The tapas were great, but the service was lacking and abrupt. This is a small and busy restaurant that I would not recommend having more than two people for dinner. The tapas are well executed and there are some innovative dishes making it one of my favorite restaurants during our stay in Barcelona.
Day 5: Saturday (Museum de Picasso and Camp Nou)
My friend left Barcelona early so I was sightseeing solo for the day. I purchased the ticket for the Museum de Picasso online as I was worried about the crowds. I mistakenly ordered my tickets twice as the site had issues. Luckily, the museum refunded the extra ticket after I sent an email to customer service. The museum’s collection focused on the formative years of Pablo Picasso and gave visitors great insight into the artist’s life through his works. I highly recommend a visit to this museum even if you are not a fan of Picasso’s art.
After a few hours at the Museum de Picasso, I stopped at Bar Tapeo for lunch. The tapas at this venue has dominant international influences and every dish was simply delicious. Additionally, the service was personal but like any good restaurant in the city, it gets very crowded during the evening. Quickly after lunch, I ventured to the other side of town to visit the Barcelona FC Stadium, Camp Nou. This is a rite of passage for all Barca’s fan. The tour is open to the pubic most days and is self-guided. My favorite part of the tour was the beginning section where a detailed history of Barcelona FC and the numerous trophies were presented. The rest of the tour took me around the stadium and out onto the seating area. I was not impressed since I have been to numerous stadiums in the US. However, other tourists seemed to be impressed by the 99,354 capacity stadium. Overall, this is a must visit for Barcelona FC fans.
Camp Nou / Barcelona FC
I made a point to try Le Plata that night for dinner. It is a small tapas bar that only serves a few dishes since 1945. Their main dishes are 1) fried sardines, 2) bread with crushed tomatoes 3) sausage and 4) a mix of onions, tomatoes and olives in olive oil. They have some beer and wine and that is it. There are very few seats so most people end up standing by the bar and tasting these delicious tapas to start their night. After trying all four tapas, I walked around the area and discovered El Salon. It is a charming restaurant that would be good for a romantic dinner. Alas, I was having a romantic dinner by myself and still had a fantastic meal. The restaurant serves light and fresh international cuisine which can be a welcoming treat after days of tapas and heavier Spanish food. After eating more than my fill for the day, I stumbled onto an outdoor band concert in the Gothic Quarter that had everyone stopping in their tracks to enjoy the vibrant music. There was a good group of locals and tourists swaying to the music and cheering the band students on. The spontaneous celebration of food and music was a great way to end my first visit to Barcelona.