Elegant Spanish Flamenco, valiant bullfighting matadors, mouth-watering Catalan food, lively fiestas, the clacking of castanets and the sights of colourful and artistic architecture – these are just a few of the wonderful things that await excited travellers who visit (or who are considering visiting) laid-back España.
Barcelona is one of the busiest and sought-after destinations. This vibrant city offers exciting and interesting shopping experiences, attractions that will leave you starry-eyed as you rapidly click your camera, and an infectious culture of familia and friendship that is undeniably free-spirited and welcoming. Taking into account the magnitude of lovely places to see and activities to do in Barcelona, we’ve narrowed down the itinerary to the “must-see” attractions in and around the city.
The pulse of Barcelona
Barcelona is a large, bustling city sprawling with tourists and good looking hombres (men) and mujeres (women), and like many other European cities, discovering the city by foot will be your best bet. If you know how the metro works (it’s fairly easy to understand), then travelling underground will spare you those aching and swollen feet you’ll encounter at the end of a long (but pleasant) day exploring. Another option is to buy yourself a ticket for the tourist bus, so that you can hop on and hop off at various hot spots and take your time leisurely strolling the old, narrow, cobbled streets. Another (most probably the best option if it’s your first time overseas, or in Spain) is to go on an organised group tour with a reputable tour operator. That way, you won’t have to worry about getting lost or feeling confused. If hunger pangs strike, you’ll have plenty of options to taste traditional Catalan cuisine at the many restaurants in Barcelona’s Old Town, the Eixample District, the Sant Marti District, and Placa Espanya. Don’t skip the country’s traditional food and make a beeline for McDonalds or Burger King – you’ll be missing out if you do.
Leave fast food for back home, and instead try these Spanish dishes that you may not ever have the opportunity of tasting again:
- Macarrons – Macaroni with Bolognese sauce
- Amanida Catalana – Mixed salad and cold meats
- Xai a la brasa – Barbacued lamb
- Botifarra amb mongetes – Barbecued or grilled sausage and fried beans served with allioli
- Escalivada – A salad of aubergine (eggplant), peppers, tomatoes, onions, salt, olive oil and vinegar.
- Tortilla Espanola – potato omelet
Note: Locals tend to have their breakfasts at 11am, lunch from 14:00 – 15:00 (most of the shops close at this time), and supper is between 21:00 and 22:00.
Shopping at a grocery market can be an eye-opening cultural experience in itself. It’s exciting to see which products are available that can’t be found in one’s home country, especially the fresh fruits and vegetables. Once you’ve had your cup of coffee or two, and breakfast at the hotel, you’re set to hit the streets of Barcelona!
Tip: Save eating out for supper only and buy yourself a sandwich and drink from Carrefour or El Corte Inglés for lunch, as this can help you save some spending money for other attractions.
You can’t say you’ve been to Barcelona if you haven’t strolled down the most famous walking street, Las Ramblas. It’s not exceedingly beautiful like the rest of the city but it’s a very pleasant walk and it’s here that you’ll find locals wholeheartedly enjoying themselves with friends. Las Ramblas isn’t one isolated street that starts at the bottom and finishes at the top – it’s actually a collection of streets that crisscross each other. Spain is completely safe, but still take the necessary safety precautions of safeguarding your valuables when you’re walking about sightseeing. At Las Ramblas, you’re most definitely going to spot street performers such as artists and mimes (just be careful of taking photos, usually they want you to pay as the performing arts is how they make a living). Spend an hour or two observing local crafts and enjoy a light meal at one of the tapas bars. Evening is when Barcelona really comes alive with a good party, so don’t exert yourself too much during the day!
The Sagrada Familia
Stop for a few moments at Antoni Gaudi’s most celebrated (and overly photographed) Sagrada Familia. You will notice that most of the architecture around the city has the same aesthetic – that’s because they were designed by the same man. The Sagrada Familia is truly an exquisite work of modernista architecture but don’t only peek inside – outside is worthy of exploring too. You won’t be disappointed by Güell Park, which emulates an English garden. Gaudi’s other works include Palau Güell, Casa Batlló, Torre Bellesguards and Casa Vicens.
Note: Sagrada Familia receives over three millions visitors a year, so be prepared for big crowds and long queues. The mornings are the busiest so it’s best to arrive in the late afternoon.
If you have a taste for the works of Picasso or enjoy the history of art and culture in Europe, then you’ll have an interesting and eye-opening visit at Museu Picasso. Once you’re finished ogling at the beautiful works of art, don’t forget to walk in the shoes of Pablo Picasso down Reina Cristina and 3 on Mercè, where his family once lived.
The Magic Fountain Show
The Magic Fountain show is out of this world. This is definitely one of the top ten attractions in Barcelona, so do make sure that you see it. Adults and children alike will marvel in admiration at the synchronisation of water, lights and music. The fountain was built in 1929 as one of the main attractions in Barcelona during the World Fair and today, it still manages to draw in the crowds. During winter, the light shows are on a Friday and Saturday only. In summer, you can expect to see the show from Thursday to Sunday.
You cannot go home or move on to another country without witnessing a passion-filled flamenco in Barcelona. Performances usually take place at restaurants or theatres, and tickets are easily available and affordable. If you’re seeking a Spanish evening out, head to the following places for a show:
- Cordobes Tablao Flamenco – Ramblas 35
- Palacio del Flamenco – Carrer de Balmes
- Tablao de Carmen – Avenue Francesc Ferrer
- Restaurante Nervión – Carrer de la Princesa 2
- Pata Negra – Calle Cáceres 32
- Teatro Poliorama – La Rambla 11.
If you’re confident and have a good sense of direction, travelling alone to Spain can be a great adventure, but if it’s your first time travelling overseas or you don’t feel like having the responsibility of keeping a cool head in a foreign country, then it’s probably better to travel in a group with a tour guide. If you live in South Africa, contact C the World to experience a grand tour of Spain.