Despite being adored by virtually everyone I know, who had visited, Barcelona was never high up on my list of places to go. Having lived in a city for the majority of my 20’s, I find I am much more swayed by the call of the wilderness nowadays.
Saying that, when my sister, Lucy presented me with a spare plane ticket, after her boyfriend couldn’t make their trip, I couldn’t possibly say no. In fact, I practically demanded we go together!
The flight was at a ghastly hour and we sleepily made our way to Manchester Airport, whilst the urban foxes still scampered silently around suburbia. The journey was short and sweet, much to our relief (we both like flying as much as a fork to the eye), and we touched down in sunny Spain before midday.
Negotiating the extensive metro network from the airport into the city was actually a doddle, and before we knew it, we were dumping our bags in our hotel bedroom and hitting the streets in search of breakfast.
We stayed at Hotel Ilunion Bel Art, a stones throw away from what would become my favourite neighbourhood in the city, Gràcia.
So without further ado, here’s what we got up to over the next 4 days:
Number one in my book; Gràcia honestly blew me away and I am so thankful that it was my very first taste of Barcelona.
The district is wonderfully authentic, with a quaint, bohemian feel to it. A great deal of it is pedestrianised; with indie shops and trendy eateries dotted around the narrow streets. Every so often we would find ourselves wandering into a snug little square, lined with trees and echoing the happy chatter of people dining al fresco.
It felt like every building was so unique, that it would take a lifetime to drink in every little detail and I found I spent most of my time looking up.
Almost every building boasted balconies filled with plants of all shapes and sizes; doors and windows ajar in the warm sunshine.
Explore Park Güell
Built between 1900 and 1914, Park Güell was designed by renowned architect, Antoni Gaudí. The majority of the park is open to the public, however the Monumental Precinct requires advanced booking and visitors can only enter at allotted times.
The park sits on Carmel Hill and as I climbed higher, the hazy views across Barcelona to the ocean became increasingly beautiful.
The park was teeming with brightly coloured flowers and chatterbox green parrots, darting from tree to tree.
The park’s pavilions are located at the main entrance on the south side.
The wall of the park is built from rustic stone topped with gorgeous, ceramic tiling.
The Dragon Stairway leads to the most iconic image of the park; the dragon, or salamander, which is covered with the most stunning decorative tile-shard mosaic.
The Dragon Stairway also leads to the Hypostyle Room, which is made up of 86 columns and a tile-shard mosaic ceiling.
The Greek Theatre, now known as Nature Square, is lined with an undulating bench, again covered in tile-shard mosaic.
Get lost in the Gothic Quarter
The Gothic Quarter is a labyrinth of narrow streets, which encompass some of the oldest parts of the city. Despite the name, a number of buildings in this area do not actually date back to the Middle Ages. A massive restoration project took place in the early 1900’s to transform the quarter from a run-down old neighbourhood to a hub for tourists.
Nevertheless, it is a must-see. I loved the maze of old, crooked streets opening out into delightful little squares.
Again, detail was key and I spent the majority of my time giving myself a neck cramp by gazing upwards.
Hunt for Gaudí buildings
Even if you are unfamiliar with architecture and Gaudí himself, when you explore the streets of Barcelona you will have no trouble in identifying his work. His unique and eccentric approach to the Art Nouveau movement has brought to life some of the most creative buildings in existence.
Casa Vicens was built between 1883 and 1888. Known as Gaudí’s first important building, it is covered in a variety of beautiful ceramic decorations.
Originally an old, conventional house built in 1877, Gaudí totally restored Casa Batlló in 1904 to become one of Barcelona’s most iconic buildings. It is made from a mixture of stone, ceramics and forged iron.
Palau Güell is the palace residence of the Güell family and is very unlike the rest of Gaudí’s works. I felt sorry for the man trying to clean the windows!
La Sagrada Família has been in construction since 1892 and as you can see, it’s still going! The church is enormous and the detailing, which depicts man, nature and religion left me speechless!
See the sights at night
After a late dinner one night, myself and Lucy decided to embark on an hour long stroll back to our hotel (Barcelona is pretty huge). On the way, we stumbled across the Arc de Triomf (no, we didn’t accidentally walk to Paris), and La Sagrada Família.
Both buildings were lit up in all their glory and virtually deserted. It was eerie to see them at night with so few people showing any interest in them. Especially after practically having to swim through crowds around La Sagrada Família during the day.
Catch the cable car
From the funicular station, we caught the Montjuïc Cable Car to the top of the mountain, home to Montjuïc Castle. The views over Barcelona were phenomenal, from the urban sprawl, dotted with its iconic landmarks, to the ocean, to the distant mountains.
Stumble upon some architectural gems
I wasn’t able to walk for more than 5 minutes in Barcelona without stopping to admire the architecture. Basic shop fronts were jaw-droppingly decorative and around every corner I would find something a little peculiar.
Ohla Barcelona Hotel’s exterior is home to a wall of 1000 ceramic eyeballs!
Casa Bruno Cuadros used to be an umbrella shop.
Good to know:
Barcelona Metro: I found the metro easy to navigate, cheap and the best way to get around the city quickly. Grab yourself a little map for free from a tourist information centre and you’ll be able to plan any route in advance with ease.
Language: I tried to speak basic Spanish wherever I went, but everyone I encountered was incredible friendly and happy to speak to me in English.
Pickpockets: Before my trip, I was warned by countless people to beware of pickpockets. I took a small, secure backpack with me and had no problems at all. I think its just a case of being sensible, aware and having some common sense.
Read all about the vegan food I ate during my trip here: Where I Ate: Vegan in Barcelona.