When a $260 roundtrip fare came across Newsflash in early December, I immediately called my wife and asked her, “Should we go to Barcelona?” Ever the pragmatist, my dear wife responded, “Why should we go to Barcelona?”
After all, we weren’t planning any big trips in 2011 — especially after a trip to Sweden the previous August.
My response: “Why not?”
After all, this city on the Mediterranean is a cultural jackpot with mouth-watering cuisine, centuries of history and architectural masterpieces. Everyone who has visited has coming back raving about the city.
And, for $260 roundtrip — the usual cost of a one-way ticket — this was a no-brainer. We used American Airlines’ option for holding the fare for 24 hours while we made arrangements for our boys to stay with their grandparents, and then booked the fare. Off to Spain we were headed for our 10th anniversary!
I finally understand what we talk about when we say incremental travel.
We scheduled our trip for the end of February. We left on an overnight flight on Thursday night and arrived Friday morning, ready to spend the next three days exploring Barca. We met my brother-in-law and his wife in the city and had the advantage of some local insight from their friends living in the city, Travelzoo co-workers who had also taken advantage of the great fare, and colleagues based in our Barcelona office.
We split a taxi into the city — at about 30 Euro, it was more cost-effective than buying four train tickets. After dropping our luggage off at our hotel in the La Ribera area of the city, we set out to see the sights. We wandered through narrow streets of Barri Gothic, stopping at the city’s oldest church, La Catedral, on our way to La Rambla – one of the city’s most vibrant avenues. From there, we made our way to La Boqueria Market – an open public market that offers up amazing food options from fresh seafood to plentiful butchery options to fresh fruit. The strawberries, in particular, looked so red, juicy and ripe – as long as the cow’s heads don’t turn your stomach. We grabbed a strawberry/coconut smoothie to go and continued our ramble down La Rambla toward the sea and the Monument Colom, honoring Christopher Columbus.
In the afternoon, we fully embraced the Spanish concept of siesta. Settling into our hotel, the Chic & Basic Born, for a nap to get on the right time zone and prep ourselves for a late night of dining. (Most restaurants don’t get busy until 10 p.m.)
Built into an old building in the older part of Barcelona, our hotel combined modern and classic. There was a grand marble staircase, with glass beads hanging down the middle. Our room had a great balcony overlooking the street, but it also had mood lighting, more glass beads and a glass shower in the middle of the room. It was as if they were trying a bit too hard to be clever. Still, for the location and the price (about 130 Euro), we were pleased. It was a solid 3- to 3.5-star hotel. One great perk was free bottled water — nice when your itinerary includes a lot of walking and sightseeing.
On Saturday, we decided to go Gaudi. We walked to La Sagrada Familia (about 30 minutes), and after being a bit freaked out by the line (it goes fast), we took in this amazing architectural achievement. Still under construction, it’s impressive how finished the inside looks — despite all of the tower cranes and concrete mixers on site. One particular highlight was taking the elevators up the spire. You get a great view of Barcelona (much like Paris, very few structures are taller than 6 stories) and a better sense of Gaudi’s full vision. Well worth the three extra Euro.
After the cathedral, we took the subway a few stops to the L’Eixample neighborhood – including what seemed like Barcelona’s Fifth Avenue — to see two more Gaudi must-sees: La Pedrada & Casa Batilo. In between, we stopped for lunch at Cerveceria Catalana, a tapas place that several Travelzoo colleagues highly recommended (TripAdvisor readers do too – it’s ranked No. 23 out of 3000+ restaurants rated in Barcelona.) They were right. The food was incredible – from the patatas bravas to the calamari. It was the culinary highlight of the trip.
Well, almost. On the walk home, we found a great gelato stand and ambled through the Old City with a yummy mid-day treat.
After another siesta, we found a great little restaurant named La Luna in the Barri Gothic. The jamon was incredible. (I wish I could’ve taken some home.) The setting was also impressive. So many of the restaurants and shops in the Barri Gothic are built into these old buildings, and this restaurant had arched ceilings and felt like we were in a speakeasy. Good food, good wine, good friends.
Sunday we did the touristy thing and hopped on a double-decker tour bus — the same kind I laugh at in Manhattan. As cliché as the tour bus thing is, it ended up being a great way to cap our trip. We got to see a lot of the city we weren’t able to walk to — including a trip up to the top of Montjuic. The views of the city are breath-taking. If we had more time, we would’ve spent more time up there — visiting the Palau Nacional, Museu Nacional d’Art De Catalunya and Estadi Olimpic, home of the 1992 Olympics. The bus took us down to La Barceloneta and the port and we hopped off for a walk alongside the beach. There we settled in for a good meal of paella and wine.
We took advantage of another Travelzoo Tip and went over to the Musee Picasso, which was free after 3 p.m. on Sundays. We spent an hour looking at some of Picasso’s early work – but in hindsight, were happy we went when it was free.
One more trip to the gelato stand and another old church — Esglesia de Santa Maria del Pi — and we enjoyed one final night in the Barri Gothic before heading to bed in our trendy hotel and getting ready for our flight home.
So why not Barcelona? This Catalonian gem is on many people’s short list of their favorite cities in the world. Add my name to that list.
Some tips for visitors to Barcelona:
- Try to get on the time schedule: Barcelona is best experienced like a local, so make sure to eat dinner and lunch when the rest of the city does.
- Wander: The Barri Gothic has so many awesome nooks and crannies -– from plazas by 13th-century cathedrals to one-of-a-kind boutiques. Experience it without any schedule.
- Get up to Montjuic: The scenery is incredible. Not spending more time there was the one regret of the trip.
- Watch for pickpockets: Barcelona has a bad reputation for pickpockets, and it’s unfortunately well-earned. Be mindful of your money.
- Spanish helps, but it’s a foreign language in Barcelona: The preferred language in Barcelona is Catalan – similar to Spanish, but not the same. Generally, you can get by with English and a few well-timed Spanish phrases, however.
- Bring comfortable shoes: Barcelona is very walkable. But the subway is also a great way to get around the city and a 10-ride pass saves a few Euro.
- Bring your appetite: The food is just so good. Even the bread with olive oil and tomato spread is something you could live on for days.
- It’s not hard to convince a friend or family member to join you. Having a group made the experience more memorable.