2024 started well for us as we headed off to Barcelona for a holiday on the 1st of Jan. We only spent about three and a half days there and enjoyed it. Barcelona is the kind of city where one can spend many more days. There are enough blogs and resources about what to do in Barcelona so I won’t try to duplicate that but will focus this post on (1) some useful information and tips to make the most out of your trip, and (2) a few highlights of our trip.
Useful Info and Tips:
1. Advance bookings: Some of the attractions are very popular and it may not be possible to get tickets if you just walked up, or even if you tried booking online on the same day. It is advisable to book a few days in advance. La Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell are the ones we struggled with, but there are others too. We were able to get tickets to Castello Montjuic quite easily the same day and there wasn’t much line at the castle itself either.
2. La Sagrada Familia: This is one place where I highly recommend taking the guided tour, even though it’s quite expensive. The Basilica has quite a storied history, a lot of symbols and symbolism, and a story behind every small detail. It would just not be the same to visit and not know/hear all the stories. There are guided tours run by La Sagrada Familia themselves and many other private tours. We took a private tour (it’s still a group tour) and loved it.
3. Metro tickets: All the research I did before leaving told me that I could use my contactless debit/credit card, or Apple/Google Pay to directly tap and go on the metro system (like London). I don’t know where I went wrong in my research but, not only did it not work for us, I did not see a single other person use it while we were there. After much trial and error, we figured out that the 10-trip ticket would work out the best value for money (~€12 for 10 trips vs €2.40 per trip). It is an individual ticket so each member of the family needs one.
Also important to know is that (1) the regular tickets are not valid on the metro to the airport, if you were to take it (we took the airport bus, much more frequent), and (2), in some stations, the entrance and ticket turnstiles are for that platform only and if you enter the wrong platform then you have wasted your ticket. So look out for the direction at the entrance to the platform tunnel.
4. Watch out for thieves: I’m sure everyone gets this advice everywhere. We, thankfully, didn’t experience anything negative but did ‘make’ one guy, trying to look like a tourist, follow us and get pretty close to try and reach inside a backpack. As soon as we stopped, turned, and glanced at him, he pretended to be lost and looking for directions, and then went away in a different direction. He looked absolutely like a tourist so if we were not already paranoid then we probably wouldn’t have made him.
My MO in such cities is to not keep anything valuable in my backpack, put my feet through the backpack straps when seated (the thieves don’t know I don’t have anything valuable in it), not keep anything valuable in a back pocket, keep my hands in my pocket that has my wallet/phone (I have a very slim wallet), keep very little cash, put a backup card in a different pocket than the wallet (and/or leave one in the hotel safe), frequently watch out for anyone walking too close for too long, and, if carrying a suitcase, never leave it standing anywhere without my hand on it. And leave the passport in the hotel safe.
Be aware, be paranoid, have backups.
5. Drink ‘Vermut’: For some reason, vermouth is a very popular drink in Barcelona and many bars have their own Vermuts. While I have never been a fan of Vermouth, it just feels different in Barcelona and goes very well with the Tapas.
Highlights of our trip
We had about three and a half days in Barcelona so we largely spent them just walking around the Gothic Quarter and La Rambla. We also went to Parc Guell (but could not enter as tickets were not available), La Sagrada Familia, and Castello Montjuic, and walked around those places exploring the many streets and shops. If you enjoy walking to explore a city then try out this app.
Many shops sell all sorts of souvenirs everywhere and, barring a few differences, they all sell the same products. There are many shops selling cute/crazy/funky socks too and we enjoyed sock-shopping.
We also enjoyed shopping for some leather goods (handmade shoes, bags, etc.) for prices that were not too unreasonable.
Highlights of our trip
A few places (shops, restaurants, attractions, etc. that I would recommend)
1. [Attraction] La Sagrada Familia (map): Not much more to say apart from what’s already mentioned above.
2. [Attraction] Castello Montjuic (map): Lovely view of Barcelona from the top of the castle and the entry ticket is not very expensive, at least compared to other top attractions. From the base of the mountain, you can get up there by a combination of funicular and cable car, funicular and walk, or there is a bus that goes all the way up too.
3. [Food] Mustafa Gemuse Kebap (map): There are a few Mustafa Gemuse Kebap places and some claim to be the original. I don’t know if this one was the original but we loved the Gemuse Kebap. There was a long line outside to order and after ordering one could go and sit in a simple seating area (no service). The pita breads for the kebap rolls were being made fresh and it was loaded with meat, veggies, and three types of sauces. One kebap is a full meal and only costs €5.5. We went there twice.
4. [Food] Mercado de la Boqueria (map): This is a market that sells meats, veggies, fruits, juices, coffees, etc. that people buy and take home, or tourists buy and eat there. Lot of fun to walk around, explore everything on offer, and eat small portions of various delicious foods.
5. [Food] Ciutat Comtal (map): This was recommended by an ex-colleague and it lived up to the recommendation. A slightly up-market (but not super expensive) tapas restaurant with a huge range of tapas and quick service. We sat in their outdoor seating area and enjoyed people-watching along with our food and drinks.
6. [Food] Lonja de Tapas (map): We stumbled upon this place while roaming the area around the Basilica of Santa Maria del Mar. They have a nice tree-shaded area to sit outside or a charming bar inside. All the tapas are displayed on plates, buffet style, and one can walk around and pick whatever they want. Each piece has a toothpick and the waitress comes by later to count the toothpicks for billing (€2.50 each). The rating on Google Maps is not very high (noticed that only later) but we enjoyed the tapas and vermut.
7. [Shopping] HAND|MADE (Family Owned Leather Workshop) (map): The map location points to a cafe next to this shop as this particular location is not yet listed on Google Maps (it is visible on street view). The same shop has other branches too. They have a small range of very elegant hand-made shoes. I bought a pair. It’s not cheap but not too unreasonable either for a hand-made pair of shoes.
8. [Shopping] SanoVation Barcelona (map): I didn’t buy anything here but my wife bought a very nice leather backpack which was quite inexpensive. I was quite tempted to buy a sling/messenger bag and also a backpack but I would probably never use it so didn’t.
There’s a lot to just walk and explore in Barcelona. Here are some pics from around the Gothic Quarter.
That’s it for now and I hope this is of use if you are visiting Barcelona.