A Guide to Barcelona - heart of Catalonia
February 10, 2019
by Aditya Bagve
People often begin by asking, how many days are adequate for Barcelona? What should be my travel Itinerary? And probably search for a 4 days or 5 days itinerary. However, that doesn’t do justice to the city. Let me take you for a walk and while we are at it, let’s review what you should include and not include in your itinerary.
I am walking through a narrow lane, surrounded by many centuries year old buildings. They have seen it all, been through it all. They welcome my inexperienced legs as a cold breeze blows by. The sunshine has lit up the gothic quarters with an ageless charm. Small traditional shops and cafes dote the lanes along with new establishments. The fragrance of hot chocolate and coffee traverse through the air; I can hear the strings of a guitar humming a harmony in synch with its surroundings. And then, in a typical Romanesque style, the lane opens up in a beautiful square. A man dressed in white juggles a few sticks to the amazement of both tourists and locals alike, enjoying a delightful morning. The guitarist changes track to every-things gonna be alright. An aroma of hope is in the air.
The city grows on you. And so do its people. Tourists, locals, outsiders, refugees, rich, homeless! The city has all kinds. But, all with a smile on their face. All very welcoming. Barcelona is unlike any other city in Spain. It is unique, diverse and spell-bounding. Barcelona is a traveler’s dream.
Barcelona is a chocolate heaven
When one thinks about Barcelona, one thinks about Gaudi, architecture, splendid beaches, rocking nightlife, delicious food, gothic quarters and Monserrat! Not many think of Chocolate! Am not sure how many people know that Barcelona has a tradition for chocolates! Delicious and dark! Just the way I love them.
A walk across the Gothic quarters and you will find two best places to have hot chocolate. Valor chocolatier is a traditionally styled cafe that serves absolutely delicious hot chocolate. They also sell hot chocolate powder, chocolate bars, and other varieties. Try the dark chocolate bar filled with hazelnut. The next stop is Dulcinea. This one was a bit hard to find but is an absolute gem. The best churros in Barcelona!
Apart from the hot chocolate also try:
- gelato at Manna Gelats and Amorino. Delicious!
- macaroons at Enric Rosich (on Passeig de Gracia) – Yum! I packed some for home on my last day.
- cakes & sweets at Pastisseria La Colmena
- Turrons from La Campana – its a local delicacy, a type of nougat.
Next up was Bubo, they have a patisserie near Picasso museum or a small outlet on Passeig de Gracia inside Barcelona boulevard. Must try their Macadamia nuts coated with Vanilla and chocolate. The taste is bitter, to begin with, but slowly bursts into a salty chocolate flavor vanilla. Also, check out the chocolate coated ginger! Nice change from the regular stuff.
There is one local chocolate brand that did fascinate me the most though. Amattler, a brand whose history dates back to early 19th century and is as good as any chocolate I have ever had.
Things to do – what not to miss?
There are loads and loads of things to be done. But here are my favorite “things to do” list!
- Gaudi – breathtaking architecture
- Sagrada Familia – A church that’s under construction since 1882 and hopefully the city will fulfill Gaudi’s dream. His love for natural forms is clearly visible. Get tickets by booking online to avoid long queues.
- Also visit Casa Mila, Casa Batllo, and Park Guell
- Civil War tour – a unique way to experience the city
- The rumbles of the war can be seen and felt in the story that Nick Lloyd or Catherine Howley will present.
- No better way to experience the city, especially la Rambla and gothic quarter.
- 3 hours of the tour – I felt were totally worth the money
- Camp Nou – unbeatable experience
- The chants of Barca Barca will stay with you forever
- Book tickets online in advance
- Picasso Museum – a fitting tribute
- A wonderful museum covering the journey of Picasso
- Save Money: Most museums are free on the first Sunday of every month and all Sunday afternoons.
- Flamenco Show – sing & dance
- Various places to watch the show but none better to experience it than Palau de la Música Catalana
- Absolutely stunning concert hall showcasing talent from various fields
- No photos allowed inside – especially while the show is in progress.
- MNCA – unforgettable evening
- Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya showcases some of the best exhibits and arts
- Located on Montjuic hill, this is a must visit not just for the art but also for the serene evening scene from its staircase
- If you are lucky you will even catch a dance or music show performed by street artists
- However, the main reason to come here is the Magic Fountain that is right in front of MNCA stairs.
- Showtimes for Magic Fountain are published separately each year.
- Monserrat – amidst the mountains
- Even though the city is beautiful, who doesn’t like some time away in the mountains and possibly a good trek?
- Monserrat is an ideal escape to some fascinating mountains and a beautiful monastery in the middle of those mountains.
- You can take a train to Monserrat from Placa d’Espanya station. It takes about an hour to reach.
- Try any one of the cable trains up the hill after reaching Monserrat.
- Parc de Montjuïc – a walk and a cable car
- Parc Montjuic is a great walk once you reach up to the hill – also has Juan Miro museum
- Take the cable car to Barceloneta beach and back! It’s fun!
- You may club this visit with MNAC and Magic Fountain
- Barceloneta beach – early morning and evening
- A lovely walk at sunrise or a long walk (or nice swim) at sunset
- Look out for the locals working out on the beach.
- Nightlife – doesn’t stop!
- Famous for its nightlife that starts at 12 am and extends up to 6 am
- Barcelona is extremely safe even at night – so go ahead and have a ball
- La Boqueria (the famous market)
- Browse around in the famous market. Plenty of options to buy fresh vegetables, fruits, dry fruits and chocolates
- Sky Diving
- Empuriabrava is around an hour away from Barcelona and a fantastic place to experience this exhilarating sport.
- Book Online before you go. And pick a day with ample sunshine.
Where to Stay?
Living in a hostel gave me an opportunity to meet and interact with so many people from across the world. From the use of antidepressant pills by Belgians, Greece wanting world war 2 money from Germans, the tendency of the Germans to expect discipline, the Spanish siestas, Hindu-Muslim divide, Chinese speaking Italian over English and New Zealanders having sex on the bunk bed above me! The hostel gave it all!
- I would suggest staying at hostels. My favorite hostels are Barcelona Central Garden (BCG) Hostel & Primavera hostel. Both highly recommended.
- BCG has a very family vibe and really good facilities. It is also closer to the center of the city and a nice walk to the beach.
- Primavera, on the other hand, has a very young vibe, great facilities, and lively environment. It is closer to the Sagrada Familia.
Where to Shop?
Souvenirs, designer clothes, shoes or food. Barcelona has some great places to shop to your heart’s content.
- Casa Gispert (gift article shop)
- Diagonal Mar (one of the biggest shopping area)
- Maremagnum Mall (beautiful views of the port)
- L’illa (Avinguda Diagonal)
- Carrer de Sants – a street known for shopping
- Passeig de Gracia (street with branded shops and boutiques)
If you are looking to buy some Lindt chocolate – head to Carrefour – good collection at much cheaper prices.
Barcelona is definitely my favorite city in the world. Let me know your experience and things that you did in Barcelona. Would like to know more before my next!