By Warwick Hattingh
Being the countries second largest city and the largest metropolis on the Mediterranean, Barcelona covers an expansive area. It is easy to see why Barcelona is one of Europes most popular places to visit — it has a distinct identity that makes it an inimitable must-see-city. From Antonio Gaudi’s incredible architecture, to the diverse markets, delicious tapas, the beautiful beaches and the well stocked shops, it is any visitors perfect destination. Here are some of our top things you absolutely should not miss when visiting!
Visit the Beach
Upon our arrival at the end of May, it was a hot and humid afternoon — ideal weather for the beach, so we dropped off our bags at the Airbnb and made our way to the sea for some cheap beers and refreshing mojitos! The beaches — like many other tourist attractions — were well populated with both locals and holidaymakers enjoying the warmer weather. There are plenty of vendors around offering beautiful beach cloths, mojitos and beers. We sampled everything they were offering and even bought a chameleon covered beach blanket for €10 and it’s my favourite travel purchase so far, we take it everywhere! If you enjoy water sports then look no further! The Barcelona beaches are crawling with paddle boat rentals, jet skies, paragliding and tubing. There also several options to go on a cruise throughout the day. We went paddle boating for €15 each for an hour which was a lot of fun (we fell off a couple times — it is not as easy as it looks)! Buzzing with markets, excellent music, good food and cold drinks, the Barcelona beach is the pace to be and we certainly spent a lot of our time there.
Casa Batllo and Casa Mila
Both popular tourist spots that are certainly worth visiting however, we recommend getting to them early in the day as it is definitely more enjoyable. Located reasonably close to one another, they are the perfect places to visit after an early breakfast at one of the many cafes/restaurants. Casa Batllo is a beautifully colourful and intriguing building. It is one of the most famous of Gaudi’s houses. Casa Mila is a another Gaudi special and is also known as La Pedrera which means the Quarry. It is easy to see why as it is predominantly made of stone with undulating walls. Although we did not go inside the two houses were amazing to view from the street.
La Sagrada Familia
Perhaps the most popular site in Barcelona (with good reason), la Sagrada Familia is even more spectacular then you can even imagine! This magnificent building is without a doubt Antoni Gaudi’s most magnificent masterpiece in the making. When Gaudi passed away in a tram accident in 1926, the building was nit even a quarter finished and is still under construction, only estimated to be completed in 2026. As mentioned, there can be a lot of people here, and the crowds increase as the day goes on. Book the skip the line tickets online and be sure to get there on time! We went very early in the morning and it was definitely worth it. Once you leave you cannot re-enter so make sure to make the most of it! The lights are mesmerising and the attention to detail is incredible, we were in total awe of this structure. There is so much to see and appreciate, with most of the cathedral open to the public, however, in some areas you cannot take pictures in so be respectful and aware of this. The museums down below are very interesting and give you the full background to Gaudi’s life and work. What a remarkable man and building this is, we will be back to see it completed. We were so impressed that hi slegacy has been carried out by so many people.
Arc de Triomf
The Arc de Triomf or Arco de Triunfo in Spanish is located at the northern end of the promenade. It joins the old part of the city to the new and even though it can’t be compared to the one in Paris it is a stunning piece of architecture in itself. The red brick, unique carvings and surrounding area give it a real Mediterranean feel. With lots of street performers along the promenade, it provides and interesting walk that ended at a park where we got an ice cream! This attraction is a must see if you have some extra time in the city.
Visiting the cathedral of a city almost never disappoints and Barcelona is no exception. This magnificent construction is now a cultural heritage site and as of 1929 it is a National Historic Monument. The gothic architecture is impressive and with a little market selling antiques and artefacts nearby the atmosphere around the building in the late afternoon is quite splendid. The perfect place to relax on the steps, listen to some buskers and watch the long (large) bubbles float up past the cathedral.
Gaudi certainly commands the attention in Barcelona! Park Guell was another example of his amazing work. The park is further away and is built on the on the hills in the north of the city. The surrounding areas of the park itself are open to the public and we enjoyed a long walk and the phenomenal panoramic city views. The monumental zone does, however require a ticket and this is can be booked on arrival for a later time of online. Make sure to stick to your time otherwise (like us) if you get there too late you won’t be allowed in. We did re book for the following day and contributed extra to the conservation the beautiful park. The structures in the monument zone as well as around the park are beautifully unique, just like the rest of Gaudi’s work. The city is the perfect backdrop hi lighting the prominent Park Guell buildings, their colours certainly make for a pretty picture (if you can avoid the people that is).
Getting around: There is a reliable transport system that includes buses and metro and its worth getting a 24, 48 or 72 Barcelona Travelcard which allows you to get around the inner city limits as well as to and from the airport for the specified amount of time. Even though no one on holiday wants to spend time on public transport we felt that with its own unique traditions, culture and personality it was a pleasant experience. The travel card for 72 hours only cost us about €35 each.
Saving time: As mentioned before Barcelona is a very popular city for visitors and during the summer months its common for attractions to be crowded. Its most definitely worth having a look what you want to see and booking ahead of time, also make sure to turn up early so as not to miss your booking time (like we did for Park Guell).
Where to stay: Airbnb is your best bet as a budget traveller as it is popular city it can be expensive in comparison to other cities in Spain. WE paid around €45 per night.
Best value for money: La Sagrada Familia was definitely the best for us, we learned so much and really appreciate the experience. It was only €37 for both of us.
What to eat: Definitely try the seafood paella — absolutely delicious! We also loved the food sold from the little market in the station near the Arc de Triomf.