Cuitadella Park | Barcelona Cathedral | Port Vell | The Marina | La Rambla
Our journey to Barcelona was pretty smooth and we arrived around 12.30 in the afternoon thanks to a quick and easy flight with Ryanair (complete with congratulatory landing music!). We opted for the Aerobus over a taxi due to cost and headed to the back of a seemingly endless queue. After a short 15 minute wait, we dragged our bags on board, paid €6 and settled in to enjoy the views (and free wifi..).
The Aerobus stops at the central location of Placa de Catalunya; we stayed long enough to grab some free maps from the underground tourism office before heading to our hostel which was a 15 minute walk away. The walk took us past Casa Batllo, one of Gaudi’s many masterpieces which the locals call Casa dels ossos (House of Bones), as it has a particularly skeletal look to it! You can pay to get in (always buy your tickets online beforehand to save massive queues on the day) and it’s supposed to be beautiful inside, but we decided not to this time around due to time constraints.
Our walk was easy and consisted mostly of walking down one main road (Passeig de Gracia) which is lined with clothes shops, souvenir shops and places to eat. We decided to stop half way along to sit outside for a 5 minute break in one of the many restaurants. Having polished off our two Cokes, we nearly fell off our chairs when the bill was brought out – €10! That’s £7… for two Cokes.. which for the record, were served to us in cans!! Lesson number one for a budget trip: Never eat or drink along the main streets!
Shortly before arriving at our hostel, we also passed Casa Mila or ‘La Pedrera’ (the stone quarry) which is another Gaudi building, also on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Accommodation: We stayed in a hostel for the 3 nights to try and keep costs down as much as possible; opting for a private room over a dorm. We chose Diagonal House as the reviews were good, it looked clean and it was one of the cheapest options available. In total, our flights and accommodation were £101 per person (through Expedia). We were really happy with the hostel – it’s basic but clean and the location could not have been better! It was a 2 minute walk to the Metro, 15 to the Sagrada and a straight line (40 min walk) from our hostel to the beach. The walk to the beach also passed all the key sights (Cathedral/ Gothic Quarter/ La Rambla/ Boqueria Market) along the way! You can read my full review on TripAdvisor.
Originally we had planned to head up Montjuïc Hill on our first day to see the castle, grounds and botanical gardens. Unfortunately the weather was a little cloudy so we decided to save it for a day when the views would be much better. So instead, we went for lunch at Tosca, a small tapas bar opposite the Palau de la Música. We enjoyed 4 different tapas dishes (soon wishing we’d only ordered 3..) and washed everything down with a €2 beer. Read more about where we ate in Barcelona in my mini food guide!
After lunch, we walked towards the Parc de la Ciutadella, detouring by a couple of minutes to walk through the Arc de Triomf which sits at the end of the promenade leading in to the park.
The park was great and I’d definitely recommend checking it out if ever in Barcelona. It was sadly still a little cloudy when we went but we still enjoyed walking around, seeing the giant water features, gardens and statues and in particular the giant mammoth! There’s also a great feel to the park, with loads of people sat around, children’s parties, performers practicing and groups playing music. The 70 acres of green space also includes a Zoo, Parliament of Catalonia, lake and museums.
After the park, we walked through the El Born area of Barcelona to reach the Gothic Quarter (10-15 min walk). The El Born area is famed for its boutique shops, bars, cafes and restaurants. Here you will also find Montcada road, a medieval street home to the Picasso Museum, as well as the Textile Museum which has a lovely cafe with a terrace.
We headed straight for Barcelona Cathedral and after 20 minutes of walking around in circles through narrow cobbled streets, we finally found it! It’s worth noting, the Cathedral is free to enter between 8am and 12.45 and between 17.15 -20.00, or €7 Euros outside of those times. Although powerful and impending from the outside, the cathedral feels tiny on the inside – especially when later compared to the monumental Sagrada Familia! There is a small courtyard in the centre which is gated off and is home to a small pond, some geese and various plants. There are supposed to be 13 white geese which, according to tradition, represent the age of Saint Eulalia when she was martyred. Also within the Cathedral is a drinking fountain; legend has it, if you drink from it, you will definitely return to Barcelona one day!
The Gothic Quarter marks the centre of the old city of Barcelona, encompassing the famous road ‘La Rambla’, and even part of the seafront. The impressive concentration of medieval buildings is an intricate labyrinth, with some parts dating back as far as Roman times. The streets are almost fully pedestrianised, which makes it easy to explore the multiple winding roads and squares and their many eateries. It also makes it increasingly easy to get lost – take a map! There are also a few smaller markets to be found within the Gothic Quarter and we stumbled across a local market at one point, selling fresh cheeses, meats, chocolates and preserves.
Also within the Gothic Quarter is the Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar, a Gothic church built in the 14th century, which we had intended to visit. Unfortunately we only remembered on the last day, by which time it was too late! I realised going through my photos later that we had actually walked past it on day three, and I’d even taken a photo from further down the road, not realising what it was at the time! You can also opt to see the Basilica de Santa Maria del Pi, another Gothic Catalonian church, and another one of the most visited in Barcelona.
A short walk from the Gothic Quarter along the main road of Via Laietana brings you to the Marina and Port Vell. Here you’ll find a completely different change of scenery with boats lining the waters and a much more modern feel, with an aquarium and large shopping centre at the end of Rambla de Mar. This is also where you can pick up the cable car which takes you halfway up Montjuic Hill with views over the Marina and the city.
We had a table booked for dinner at the popular Cera 23 for 8pm and decided to walk there via the famous walkway La Rambla. A pedestrianised strip of shopping stalls lined with tall trees and a slow trickle of traffic either side, La Rambla is popular with both locals and tourists. It’s wise to keep an eye on your possessions wherever you are, but pick pocketing is especially prevalent along this bustling street so watch your valuables! It’s always busy and when we were there, a group had taken to the space to protest about the cruel tradition of bull fighting. That said, it was a particularly slow walk to the end!
Once we arrived at Cera 23 for dinner, we suddenly realised neither of us were hungry thanks to our massive tapas lunch. We were pretty embarrassed to turn up for our table, just to cancel, but the waiter was exceptionally nice and couldn’t thank us enough as we ended up doing him a massive favour as people were already starting to queue! We stayed for a drink – their speciality is fresh fruit cocktails and we both opted for passion fruit; one of the best cocktails we’ve ever had! Next on the cocktail-crawl was a place called Marmelade and my Berry Caipiriña (Brazilian Cane Rum, Raspberry Liquor, Crème de Cassis, Lime and Sugar) was delicious! Read more about what we ate and drank in Barcelona in my food and drink mini guides.
Although we only really started our day at 2.30pm after dropping the bags at the hostel, we managed to cram a lot in to our first day! After 8 hours of walking (yes, 8 hours!) we were ready for an early night. On our way home, we passed a small tapas bar filled with locals and realised we still hadn’t eaten. It was 10.30pm, so most places were heaving with the busiest part of their evening. The tapas bar was serving a type of tapas called Pintxos, where everything is piled on to small slices of bread and then speared with a small stick. Each item was around €1.50, and the beer €2 so it was a delicious and cheap end to a long and wonderful first day in Barcelona! Read more about our tapas adventures and what we chose at Txapela in my mini food guide.