We flew from Nice to Barcelona by way of Zurich, Switzerland. We had 5 hour layover and decided to leave the airport to do a little bit of exploring. We had both visited Switzerland before and loved it, so we took this small opportunity to breathe in the fresh, alpine air that we both craved. We took a very quick (less than 20 minutes?) train ride from the airport to the city centre.
It was great to get out of the airport, but we really didn’t do too much. We both remembered Switzerland being incredibly expensive, and let me tell you, it was no different this time around. Very few restaurants were open (it was Switzerland’s national holiday!) and the ones that were were open were not within our budget for a quick “stopover snack.” I suppose we could have stopped at a Starbucks or a McDonald’s or something but… no. We wandered around the city centre, spending some time by the water and watching the holiday parade. It was nice to add another foreign city to the list of those we’d visited together and I’d say it was worth getting out of the airport because the train made it so simple.
We arrived in Barcelona and went to our hotel; the Princess Barcelona. We were immediately impressed by the size of our room, the fancy shower, and the wonderful view. The mini bar’s contents were free, too, which was a nice surprise. Our hotel was a bit outside of the city centre, but it was right beside a massive, beautiful shopping centre, near a few museums and was not at all far from the beach.
Our time in Barcelona was not as active and exciting as I had hoped it would be. The main reason for this is that by this point in our trip I was experiencing some of the worst of my (at the time not yet known to me) drug-induced lupus that I wrote about in this post. I was just not physically able to walk for very long (or stand up for very long, for that matter). For this reason, we didn’t do all that much sight-seeing or have any walking-intensive days in Barcelona. On one hand, this was disappointing. On the other, it was really very relaxing. I say all this by way of introducing the fact that unlike most of my other travel posts, this one will not include a day-by-day breakdown. Everything kind of jumbles together in my memory for Barcelona. Instead, I’ll just describe what we did do and include the pictures. The days might be out of order, though.
We were tired after a long day so we just grabbed dinner at a bit of a hole in the wall across the street from our hotel called Bar Blau’s. They had traditional Spanish food and standard American-style fare. It was super cheap and I got a fairly decent paella (my first) for less than 10 euros. We ordered cava and were thrilled that it was less than 2 euros per glass. Score!
The next morning we ate a full English style breakfast at one of the other restaurants across the street from our hotel. Super cheap and filling. We spent a large part of the middle of the day wandering around the Diagonal Mar shopping centre. Not the most culturally stimulating endeavour, but it was a really beautiful mall and the prices were absolutely fantastic by European standards. Alex bought several nice blazers and pairs of pants. I wasn’t as lucky, but I made out with a beautiful purse, a few bathing suits, and some sandals.
During the week, we also spent a TON of time at the rooftop pool of the Princess. It was on the 26th floor, looked out over the Mediterranean and was almost an infinity pool. We would camp out for a few hours (starting at 7am most days) so Alex could take sunrise shots and I could continue my slumber in the loungers. Once it got too hot as the sun would continue to rise, we would have breakfast and/or get ready for our day ahead. More than once, we brought cava up to the pool at nighttime to watch the sunset and to enjoy the view (the layout of the rooftop pool allowed for both sunrise and sunset views). The hotel also had a few good bars and lounges, and we really enjoyed snacking on patatas bravas, drinking cava, and relaxing on many a late afternoon or into the evening. Twice, we splurged and ate the massive, incredible, expensive hotel brunch. They had a seriously stunning spread with every kind of breakfast dish, fruit, meat, cheese, etc. you could imagine. Suffice it to say, we really enjoyed the hotel amenities.
For a few days, we used one of the hop-on, hop-off bus companies as our source of transportation and mode of sightseeing. Typically, I don’t love these systems, but my body was in so much pain that it was a good way for us to see a lot and to get to many of the sights without having to worry too much about transportation or walking. In a few days we traveled through all of the loops and saw a lot of gorgeous architecture in the process. My favourite neighbourhood was barri gotic (the Gothic Quarter); the oldest part of the city which includes the remains of the city’s Roman wall. I also loved seeing Antoni Gaudi’s influence all over the city. His architectural style is truly incredible. A visit to Barcelona wouldn’t be complete with viewing the famous Sagrada Familia. Did you know: Construction on the Sagrada Familia (a Roman Cathlolic church) began in 1882 and it is still not done! It’s expected to be completed between 2026 and 2028. Unreal!
We also enjoyed browsing the shops and markets on Las Ramblas (a famous, central, tree-lined pedestrian mall) and spent a fair bit of time wandering around La Boqueria (the most amazing market I’ve ever seen). I had the most delicious paella in a restaurant in La Boqueria and my mouth waters remembering it.
Finally, we enjoyed walking along the beach, getting lost in Park Güell (I was mesmerized by all of the beautiful, colourful, mosaic covered buildings), and using electric scooters along the boardwalk.
As mentioned previously, the shopping centre beside our hotel was really quite nice; inside it had a typical mall food court, but outside, on the third level (on a terrace) there were a number of really nice restaurants. We fully embraced the very-late-night dinner component of Spanish culture and would find ourselves ravenously hungry after our busy and tiring days. Two nights in a row we found ourselves at Casa Carmen; a beautiful, upscale-looking (and tasting!) restaurant with menu prices that were incomparably inexpensive to almost everywhere else I’ve ever eaten in Europe (only Greece being cheaper). In only two meals, we shared an order of steak, an order of pork tenderloin, and THREE (yes 3!) orders of their duck breast. As I write this, I’m now a pescatarian, but let me tell you, it was just. that. good. Get this: the duck breast (with sides!) was only 12 euros. We agreed that it was one of the most spectacular restaurant meals we’d ever tasted and for the best price we’d ever seen. At Casa Carmen we also enjoyed pitchers of sangria and many glasses of cava. One of the waitresses who served us both nights even gave us several glasses of cava on the house. I really, really recommend this place.
It wouldn’t have been a visit to Barcelona without doing a tapas night, too. One of the nights we were there we found a restaurant on the beach called Barnabier that offered a tapas menu for just over 16 euros per person. We dined on Iberian ham, pain au tomate, (bread with tomato) Russian salad, patatas bravas (crispy potatoes with a spicy sauce), pork & chicken croquettes, calamari, shrimp, and more little snacks. Of course, we washed all of these delectable foods down with lots and lots of cava.
All in all, I thought Barcelona was beautiful and had something for everyone: a good mix of both old fashioned and modern architecture, some of the most delicious food and drink I’ve ever tasted (at some of the best prices), a stunning beach, and fantastic public transport. That said, I didn’t fall in love with the city. Part of me feels like I wasn’t able to give it a proper chance, but then again, I don’t have to unequivocally love every city I visit. I’m happy I’ve been to Barcelona, but I feel like there are many more places in Spain that I’d like to visit before returning. Alex has been to Malaga and I’d love to go there. Seville sounds amazing too. Had we been in better health and had more time, I would have loved to have done day trips to both Montserrat and Girona; both easily accessible from Barcelona.
This concludes my travel series from my 2016 trip to Europe. Thanks for following along!