Two weeks ago, Julen and I headed to Barcelona to meet up with friends from Miami. Now, you know already how much of a planner I am, and traveling is the perfect time to flex those research muscles. I read as many blogs as possible before getting to our destination, searching for the best hole-in-the-wall restaurants, little known attractions and off-the-path trails. This planning usually yields a “best part of the trip” moment and it makes it all worth it.
Barcelona turned out to be one of the best short trips we’ve ever done, and I didn’t plan a damn thing. It felt so great not to have a schedule to follow and just go with the flow.
We flew on Norwegian from Bilbao to Barcelona for about 40€ each for round-trip. The trip times were less than ideal (we arrived in Barcelona a little before 12am on Friday night and left on Monday at 6am) but the prices couldn’t be beat. We were lucky to sit next to a guy that lives in Barcelona and was in the Basque Country on vacation. He gave us suggestions on where to go, what to see and where to eat.
We stayed in a Travelodge in Poblenou because it was close to our where our friends were staying. The hotel was pretty basic. They offer daily breakfast for 7€ per person that we opted out of and there were a few vending machines in the lobby if you wanted a late-night snack. Pizzeria Tio Mario was right down the street and was some of the best pizza I’ve had in Spain to date. Our room featured a very clean bathroom, decently comfortable bed, TV with international channels, a desk and a small rack to hang some clothes. Best part is the hotel was just 3 blocks away from the yellow Metro line, which was essential for getting around.
The hotel was about a 30€ cab ride from the airport. Uber isn’t a thing in Barcelona and I hadn’t looked into BlaBla Car (a ride-sharing service popular in Spain). So, I downloaded the myTaxi app at the airport and the taxi arrived less than 2 minutes later. There were plenty of taxis to pick from at the airport, but using the app saved us about 5-7€.
To minimize our spending, we used the Metro to get around town as much as possible. The Metro is incredibly easy to navigate. You’re likely to find a Metro stop close to wherever you want to go, trains come often and at just 2.15€ for each individual journey, it’s much more economical than taking taxis.
TIP: Had I planned ahead or stopped to ask a Metro attendant, I would’ve purchased the T10 transport card. It’s 9.99€ and is good for 10 individual journeys on the Metro, bus and tram. You can buy it at any Metro station.
TOP 5 THINGS TO DO
1. My favorite part of our trip to Barcelona was finding the Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria, a huge open-air market tucked away in an alley right off Barcelona’s famous Las Ramblas, a bustling and lively pedestrian mall. As a big lover of food, this market was a gold mine. You can find stands selling just about anything you can think of – fresh fruits and vegetables, delicious Spanish cured meats, fish, gelato, chocolate, and candy. Some stands doubled as makeshift bars where you could eat a few tapas and enjoy some sangria. I opted for the organic fruit juice stand (I was nursing a major hangover, see #3) and was pleasantly surprised at how delicious it was. I’ve done my fair share of juicing and getting a big cup of strawberry, banana and kiwi juice for just 1€ was awesome.
2. No trip to Barcelona can be done without visiting The Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família. Arguably what brought about the demise of the quirky architect Antoni Gaudí, this UNESCO World Heritage Site has been under construction since 1882 and while it’s still not complete, it is truly one of the most amazing architectural masterpieces I’ve ever seen. We arrived in the late afternoon with plans of just photographing the exterior. Once we arrived, I knew we had to go inside. I am by no means a religious person, but there was something so awe-inspiring about this building that drew me in. We stood in line for our entrance tickets for about 45 minutes. If you know you want to visit La Sagrada Familia, BUY YOUR TICKETS ONLINE AHEAD OF TIME! We opted for the cheapest ticket that offers access to the La Sagrada Familia without visiting the Towers or the audio guide. After walking through all of Barcelona for two full days, the last thing we wanted to do were climb the tower steps. The basic tickets are usually 15€ each, but people under 30 get a special discount.
3. Right after we landed in Barcelona, we met up with our friends from Miami in the top giri (tourist) spot – Port Olímpic. Located close to the stadium for the 1992 Summer Olympics, the only reason this part of our trip made it to the top 5 is because of how much it reminded me of Miami. Club promoters handing out flyers, girls in precariously high heels, sharply dressed bouncers and the incredible mix of music hit me with a bit of nostalgia. I recommend grabbing a few drinks at The Coconut Club simply because the bouncer is Cuban (I almost tackled the poor man with hugs – it was so nice to hear a Cuban accent!) We met a group of Irishmen on vacation and we spent the rest of the night singing, dancing and drinking with them.
4. I really enjoyed the Arc de Triomf. Built in 1888, it served as the main entrance to the Barcelona World Fair that same year. The brick and stone structure commands your attention and draws you in. Behind the arch is a rather long walkway that leads to Parc de la Ciutadella. You’ll find a number of street performers, musicians and people just lounging around enjoy a lazy afternoon. I suggest getting a coffee or some ice cream and enjoying this leisurely walk as a way to unwind after a day of sightseeing.
5. Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter is the perfect place to get lost in. This area is seriously a feast for your eyes. A mix of apartments, stores, churches and cathedrals; even the simplest of buildings are beautifully crafted. You’ll find a number of hidden plazas where you can enjoy a good glass of sangria, a cold beer, ice cream, or a delicious spread of Spanish cheeses and cured meats. The Gothic Quarter runs along Las Ramblas, which is definitely another must do in Barcelona.
I have to shout out The Black Lion, an English pub in Barcelona that is the gathering place for all things Athletic Club Bilbao. Julen really wanted to watch the Athletic Bilbao game, but being in Barcelona, a city with one of the biggest futbol clubs in the world, it was hard to find a bar that would show a Basque team’s game. Stepping into The Black Lion was like stepping into a portal that instantly transported me back to Euskadi. It was there, sitting in this small txoko-like bar watching my boo Raúl García score the only goal against Villarreal that I felt homesick. But not for Miami – for Mundaka.