Barcelona, it’s been getting some bad rep recently for the issues around Catalonian independence, but we spent 3 nights there and had the best time ever. Sure it was busy, and we didn’t take any time to relax, but we’re here to show you what we did, let you know what was great, and as always, how you can do it on a budget.
Because of Jess’ job, we can only go away during the school holidays, which makes things busier and more expensive, but instead of just winging it, it just meant we booked things in advance, which was not only cheaper in some cases but also meant we didn’t have to queue for anything everywhere which was awesome!
We flew with Ryanair, having found £50 return flights (not bad for the Easter holidays), travelled to and from Stansted airport off peak, booking the train tickets in advance (and using our two-together railcard) made the travel very cheap. Don’t bother with the Stansted Express. It’s more expensive, and in the middle of the day it’s only 6 minutes faster!
When we arrived in Barcelona, we got a T10 ticket from the Renfe machines, which means you get 10 journeys on the metro and trains for €10.20, which is worth it, particularly for airport travel. We managed the 10 journeys across our 3 days, just whatever happens make sure you save two journeys for your trip back to the airport (when you put your ticket in the ticket barrier it shows you how many journeys you have back).
By the time we got into Barcelona was actually quite late, so we met up with some friends that had been out there for a while, and went to one of the places that we were desperate to get to Flax & Kale. Serving up Vegetarian and Vegan realness, it was awesome! It wasn’t expensive, but it definitely wasn’t cheap, but it was a very good value for money, and their house wine was top notch. Although not all of it was vegan, they do offer a huge selection of plant based dishes. The only word of warning is that on citymapper (switch to Barcelona when you get there), there are 2 Flax & Kale locations, and neither are the excellent vegan one, that you can find at 33, Carrer de Sant Pere Més Alt, it’s Flax & Kale Passage.
It was almost 1am by the time we finished dinner, so we didn’t head out for drinks as we knew we had an intense day ahead the next day!
Wednesday morning we got up slightly later than planned, but this worked in our favour as it left us without time to go to the Picasso Museum (which we did on Thursday as it was free then!).
We went for Coffee and Baguettes in Jaume I just outside of the metro station entrance, which was coincidentally where we picked up the Sandeman’s Free Walking Tour.
Now we’ve spoken about these before in other towns and cities (see: Berlin and Copenhagen), but they are great for an insight, a little history and some great tips for the city, and it’s free, or however much you can afford to pay the guide for the tour (they tend to go in high with what they say is “average” but don’t be fooled – just pay what you can afford to). Our free walking tour with Partick was amazing. He was excellent at giving us titbits of information, some great history and informative insight into the Catalonian troubles, and some good laughs along the way.
Some of the highlights, as well as the Roman columns from Roman Barcelona, and the Cathedral of Barcelona, were things like the information about where some of the Spanish Inquisition Trials were held, the height of different buildings (oh Gaudi) and the news that most of the Gothic in the Gothic Quarter is a modern revival. He also told us that most of the cathedrals are open free to the public before midday, which is why the queues are longer in the morning, but you can beat the queues by getting there at 8am!
After our 3 hour walking tour, we went to go and see some of the Gaudi houses and buildings by Casa Batllo and La Pedrera. They were beautiful on the outside but we were so hungry that we knew we should probably have some lunch. We headed to Tapas 24, which was just by Batllo. They are a chain, but this one was so great (we went to the one by Camp Nou on Thursday but walked out as it was so much worse than this one). It was SO cute. The staff seem to be wearing nautical themed outfits (I’m sure it’s perhaps something that is traditionally Spanish and I’m just ignorant), and the food was great and really well priced. It’s tapas, and the joys of us both loving food means that we could share the plates we ordered. We had truffle, cheese and iberico sandwiches, croquettes and olives. DELISH!
From there we headed up to Parc Guell. The Gaudi Park. It is a beautiful place, and the park itself is amazing to walk around in – very well curated and kept, Gaudi would have been proud of how it turned out, except that it is now owned by the state and not the rich elites as he had created it for. We paid the extra 7 Euros to go into the central part (core) which was full of all the Gaudi architecture. It also had the best views in the park, and I can’t explain how crazy some of the stuff he built was – fully merging nature with architecture. We booked the Gaudi core tickets online which was great as although it restricted us to time (you get half an hour leeway apparently), it meant we skipped all of the ticket queues and people being turned away for an hour and half, and jumped to the front of the queue at the entrance too.
It seemed like Parc Guell was miles from anywhere, but we had been recommended to go to Bunker de Carmel with a picnic and beers to watch the sunset. This we had every intention to do. We got an amazing selection of cheese and meet, and 6 beers from the local shop for €6 and headed up to what were the anti-aircraft bunkers from the time of the Spanish Civil War. It was cool up there, the steps were tough but the views were worth it!
We popped back to our beautiful Airbnb to have a quick freshen up after our epic day, and headed out in the Gothic Quarter for dinner.We popped to Sensi Tapas as it had been recommended to us by some pals, and it was phenomenal. We had to wait about 10 minutes to be seated, but it was worth it! The service was amazing, the food was delicious and it was really well priced too.
We couldn’t really be bothered to go for drinks after, it was late as we’d had a relaxed attitude to dinner (seemingly the attitude of the Spanish to everything), so went back to the Airbnb to refresh for Day 2.
Having already crammed lots into the day before, we were quite tired, however we got up even earlier to grab a coffee and a croissant from the local cafe and then got an uber to Mount Tibidabo. Now, the reason we got an uber, which seems a bit extravagant, was because to get up the mountain you must get at least one metro and then the funicular, and the cost of that was the same as the cost of the single cab journey for two of us so if there are two or more of you it is worth getting a cab because it takes half the time. Mount Tibidabo is amazing. The church: Templo del Sagrado Corazon De Jesus is beautiful, calming, serene and Rio de Janeiro-like. You can get up to the top of the church after 10:30am, however we were too early for this so we had to make do with the amazing views from the bottom of the church where the theme park also is. That’s right, there’s a theme park by a huge church up a huge hill and the views of Barcelona are spectacular. Of course if you’re feeling fit and healthy you could walk up but haven’t walked down we’re not sure it’s something that we would feel comfortable doing. But then we’re not the fittest in the world.
From the top we spotted and Observatory. Now if you don’t know already, we are massive space nerds; neither of us super intelligent, but both of us very interested. Although it didn’t look too far, when we attempted to hike there we found that it was further than it looked as these things always are. Annoyingly, it looks magnificent. However, even though there were a group of Spaniards in there with what seems like a tour guide, the gates were locked and we couldn’t get in-not even to have a look around the outside.
From there, we thought we would be impressive and walk down the mountain to where we were headed next or at least to the Metro station, and so we did. But rather than being on paths, we went down what seemed like footpaths, or long forgotten footpaths through the mountainside. At one point a local man did chase after us with some wild asparagus he had just foraged which he gave to us as a treat which was a lovely added bonus.
Our journey took us on to our next stop which was Camp Nou, home of Barcelona FC and something else that we had booked online in advance in order to make sure we could skip the queues and get straight in. Don’t get us wrong, it was amazing: so much history, lots of things to read and see, and lots of information, lots of things to touch and do and most of it in English too. A club with a history of players with so much talent that as a Watford FC fan one can only dream of. The only thing we would say, is that there there was a lot to read and some of it was not the best curated in terms of making it easy to follow in order. But the views the stadium the pitch Side access were all very worthwhile. We wouldn’t personally bother to pay more for the audio guide or the VR experience, but if you have the cash to spare and that’s what you want to do then sure.
As we mentioned, we popped to tapas 24 right by the stadium but it was firstly, more expensive, and secondly, didn’t have as much choice as the one we had visited the day before so we walked out and jumped on the Metro to try and go back to Sensi instead. Stupidly, we didn’t look up when it was open, and it was shut as it didn’t open until 6:30pm, but very close by was Bar Canete, which was glorious. Slightly more expensive than budget, and with a staff full of Spanish men that look like some of our mates, who seemingly weren’t in a rush, like most spaniards, the food was again exceptional tapas that we shared and it did not come to too much money.
We walked down Las Ramblas to the seafront and meandered along the port where we decided to get a Jazz Catamaran trip which cost €15 each. It had come recommended by some friends who had done it, and although we questioned out choice at first, it was brilliant and we’re both glad we did it. Now, when they say live jazz on the internet don’t think live live but it was a backing track with a live saxophonist. A cash bar on board, sails up, sun out, we headed into the sea. Being able to see Barcelona from the sea was also fantastic and it gave us an hour and a half of absolute chill Time. It was so so lovely we’re really glad we made the time for it.
In case that wasn’t enough for our holiday, once we were back on land we went to Sagrada Familia to check out the unfinished masterpiece. Again, we booked this ahead and for after 6 p.m. on a Thursday as it is €2 cheaper and meant we missed all of the queues. We did book the more expensive tickets with the audio guides but it was so worth it to get an understanding of the history the building and why on earth it has taken so long to build. We weren’t really sure what we were expecting but when we got there we were both flabbergasted with how incredible it was perhaps even one of the most amazing cathedrals we’ve both seen ever. The cleverness of the building from the light entering the stained glass windows, to the magnificence of the size of the hall, to the crypt and everything inbetween was overwhelming. We spent a very long time here just because it was so incredible to be in and although it was very busy it was very peaceful.
From there as it had been awhile since we’ve eaten we grabbed some gelato from an awesome looking place and headed back to the Gothic Quarter. We had read the day before that the Picasso Museum was free on Thursdays after 6 p.m. Jess had booked ahead and reserved free tickets for us which was lucky as when we got there at 7 they were sold out for the evening.
The Picasso Museum was great. It showed his life from a very early age at about 12 to 14, and had some absolute fine art masterpieces of his there. It showcased work throughout the years of Barcelona and people and other things and you could slowly see the development into the abstract artists that we know as Picasso today.
Somehow it had reached 9 p.m. And we realised we needed to have dinner. We were very naughty in that normally we explore quite a lot but we had enjoyed Sensi so much the night before that we decided to try its sister restaurant two doors down Sensi Mezzanine. It was as great, the decor was slightly better, we got seated slightly faster, however, the service was not as fab, and it was definitely a place for younger travelers compared to the other restaurant we went to the night before. BUT the prawns were to die for. A sangria and limoncello down, with an early flight back the next morning it was time to head back to the Airbnb for the last time.
Although it wasn’t very relaxing (we walked 47km!) we both had an epic time in Barcelona and managed to see most of the city and a lot of the tourist attractions for very little money. If you have the opportunity to be able to go over a Thursday it’s the best time to go to get free things additionally if you’re a student don’t forget to take your student card with you as everything is cheaper.