Barcelona is the cosmopolitan capital of the Catalonia region of Spain.
Once a Roman city, Barcelona is now known for its world-class architecture, city-side beach and delicious tapas, seeing thousands of visitors descend upon its winding backstreets every day.
We landed at El Prat Airport with the sun shining down upon us and we were keen to get into the city to start exploring, though we soon realised we had one small problem – James had left our rucksack on the plane… After an hour or so wait in an empty airport arrivals lounge, our bag was finally chaperoned to us. Thankfully, all cameras, chargers and phones were still in the bag, although it had been rummaged through and was drenched in water, otherwise, all was good again. Back on track, we headed into the city.
How to get to the city from the airport:
This is by far the most convenient and cheapest option, with a bus stop directly outside the arrivals exit at T1 and T2. The Aerobus takes around 25 – 30 minutes to get into the city, stopping at Plaça d’España and Plaça de Catalunya.
Single Ticket: €5.90
Return Ticket: €10.20
A return ticket is valid for 15 days
Travelling by taxi is easy, though it is obviously going to be more expensive. When being picked up directly from the airport, fares will be around €30 from T1 and €35 from T2.
The RENFE train runs every 30 minutes to and from Barcelona airport to the city center, with the journey taking around 25 minutes. If you land at T1 there is a shuttle bus which will take you from the terminal to the train station. The quickest way to get into the city via train is by getting off at either Barcelona Sants, Passeig de Gràcia or Clot which are all serviced by metro stations, all of which will then take you straight into the city.
Where to stay:
There are loads of Barrios – also known as neighbourhoods – throughout Barcelona to choose from when looking at accommodation. Initially, we were a bit stuck when deciding where to look for accommodation, so here’s a quick rundown of the different areas and what each is best suited towards.
Las Ramblas –
We’d heard from a few different people to avoid Las Ramblas, as it’s jam-packed with tourists, as it’s a busy promenade that runs all the way from Placa de Catalunya to the seafront. Filled with restaurants spilling their tables out onto the promenade, street performers and trinket sellers, there’s definitely always something going on here.
We actually choose to stay in a small hotel on a side street just running off from Las Ramblas and we had absolutely no issues here. Sure, we didn’t have the fanciest hotel and our small bedroom window looked out onto a very picturesque terracotta wall, but it was close to everything and we could walk straight out of our room and into the hustle and bustle of the winding, narrow Barcelona streets.
Gothic Quarter –
Also known as the Barri Gotic, we loved wandering the small narrow streets here which are packed with medieval architecture and cute cafes which beckoned us in for a coffee and an ice cream.
El Raval –
I’d describe this part of town as the equivalent of Shoreditch back in the UK. Once known as a bit of a rough-and-ready part of Barcelona, this is now a gentrified spot filled with cool and eccentric bars and clubs.
La Ribera –
Leafy, beautiful and charming. Boasting the largest park in the downtown area of the city, this is a fab spot to spend a few hours relaxing away from the main hustle and bustle of the streets.
If you’re looking to splash some cash in the city, head to L’Eixample and you’ll be greeted with fancy shops and swish restaurants. This area also happens to be home to some of the most iconic modernist architecture, with the likes of La Pedrera and Casa Batllo tucked away in these streets.
What to see and do:
Barcelona has the best of both worlds when it comes to activities and sights. We found it to be a vibrant and cosmopolitan city, yet it also had to charm and eccentricity of a coastal town near the seafront. For us, it is the perfect city to indulge in local delicacies, discover iconic sights, stroll past not only beautiful but historic architecture and perhaps most importantly, relax on the sandy shores of the city for a bit of R&R.
Go on a walking tour of Gaudi’s most iconic buildings –
Whilst Gaudi wasn’t the only architect to leave a modernist mark on Barcelona, he is one of the most well-known and as a result, his most popular buildings are rarely found without a crowd gathered outside during the day.
As everyone knows, this well-known site is STILL a work-in-progress more than 140 years after Gaudi first started this incredible architectural challenge. With completion expected in 2026 – coincidentally the centenary of Gaudi’s death – there’s still a long way to go before visitors can marvel at the finished Basilica. New and old sections of the Basilica are clearly distinguishable, but this just seems to add to the charm and sheer determination for the mammoth build to be complete. Entry tickets start from €15.
The clearly noticeable Gaudi touches in this picturesque public park add to the views of the city stretching out across the horizon. The mosaic work on the main terrace in the park is possibly the most recognisable feature, though unfortunately, you’ll have to pay €7.50 to get near them…
Wake up early and buy tickets to see the sights from the beautiful rooftop of La Pedrera for €39 before the crowds gather. If not, you can get a standard day ticket for €22 – though the early morning views from the rooftop bridges are well worth the wake-up call.
Whilst we were wandering down Passeig de Gràcia it was easy to spot Casa Batllo from the mass crowds gathered outside with their cameras pointing up at the beautiful building. This was my favourite Gaudi building and the colourful tiles – symbolic of a fierce dragon – drew me in from first sight. Get online quick before you touch down in Barcelona and buy a ticket for €24.50 to make sure you can explore the building in its full beauty.
Tapas all day, every day –
Embrace the cultural dishes of the city and try all the tapas you can get your hands on. The smells drifting out of restaurants and bars are sure to bring you in to at least ponder the lengthy and far-reaching menus. We learnt that tapas is usually an aperitif to be enjoyed with a glass of wine, rather being than an actual meal in itself. This probably explains our shock when we got a massive bill after ordering enough small plates to fill two small tables when thinking we should buy the equivalent of two main meals. Note: You can’t. Not without racking up an unhealthy bill at the end anyway.
Take me to the beach –
One of my favourite things about Barcelona is the easy switch it can make between a city break and a beach break. The city has over four kilometres of beaches stretching out from the outskirts of the city, and it’s the perfect place to roll out your towel, grab a good book and chill out after a morning spent strolling through the city. We spent late afternoons sat in the sand, people-watching the crowds play volleyball and beach games and jumping into the clear blue sea. It was easy to forget we had just walked through Las Ramblas, and instead, it felt like we had been transported to another destination with a lively beach where we could sip sangria before paddleboarding and parasailing to our heart’s content.
Barcelona is up there as one of the best city breaks we’ve been on and it’s thanks to the handy blend of city and beach alongside fab food and an endless supply of sangria on demand. What more could you want from a city?