Barcelona is one of those cities which comes up in many conversations when it comes to discussing short breaks in Europe and there are many reasons why. Situated on the coast, a lively city which has many connections with most parts of Europe into its 3 airports and with so much to see and see, whether you like art, culture, clubbing, shopping or laying on the beach, Barcelona has it all. Let us take a look below at why Barcelona can be a good city and also a little about the negatives at the end, to give some balance to what the city is all about.
One of the most popular group of attractions are those based around the architecture and this is largely down to the quite stunning Gaudi sites. Make sure for example to come and see Sagrada Familia, Casta Batlló and La Pedrera, The attractions are not the cheapest in the world but are quite unlike any other buildings you are likely to have come across before and I would strongly recommend visiting at least one of these sites. Sagrada Familia is quite a spectacular structure which also offers some very good views of the city’s skyline. This building was started by Gaudi but given it has taken decades to finish, Gaudi never got to see the building finished.
There are plenty of free activities you can get involved with if you are looking for a budget trip experience and these include strolling around the marina and Port Vell area (where you will find the IMAX theatre and the aquarium), down Las Ramblas (where you can enjoy all of the street performers or sit in one of the open cafe’s or pop into the world famous La Boqueria Market) or amble through the historical Gothic Quarter. Other free options also include Parc de la Ciutadella, Las Arenas Shopping centre (which used to be a bull fighting ring before it was converted into a shopping mall and which now offers 360º views of the city on the roof), or you can watch the Magic Fountain show which takes place in the Montjuic area. You also have plenty of beaches to choose from and which are free to use.
As a romantic holiday destination, Barcelona holds up well with the beaches, great seafood restaurants, many very good places to shop, great markets, live entertainment and an outdoor style location with the weather to match. Travel here as a family and there are many excellent parks, attractions such as the aquarium and more than enough to keep the children inspired and entertained.
For sports fans, Barcelona is arguably one of the best cities in the world to visit as a tourist. Why not take a tour of the Nou Camp Stadium or even go to a live game (you can normally get tickets direct through the club via their website). The games between Barcelona and Real Madrid (known as El Clasico) and between the cities two teams, FC Barcelona and RCD Espanyol) are the two best games to try and see, from my own experience.
If you prefer to be a spectator of sports rather than to be a participant, you can also visit one of the numerous British and Irish style pubs where you can enjoy watching the latest La Liga and Premiership games, in between spending all day on the beach, shopping or sight-seeing. Other very popular events include the Barcelona F1 Grand Prix and the Barcelona Open tennis. A lot of options for trying water-sports also exist for the active types. Why not try your hand at sailing, para-gliding or head out onto one of the 9 or 18 hole golf courses which are a short drive from the centre of the city.
Be a Part of the Sonar Festival – Music lovers flock to Barcelona because of the Sonar Festival, a festival which offers a delightful blend of dance and electronic music and which is held in the middle of June. The festival is a combination of techno, electro, house, hip hop and other experimental forms of music. Bjork, LCD Soundsystem, M.I.A. are among those who have performed at the event in past years. Do note that the festival is not in Barcelona itself, but many people use this city as the arrival point by air.
Visit the Beaches – Some of the loveliest and most well-maintained beaches in the world are in Barcelona. Although constructed for the 1990 Barcelona Olympics, these beaches are still maintained well and draw huge crowds of tourists. The beaches locally are also supported by some stunning towns nearby including Sitges. You might want to jump on a train and enjoy an over-night stay in Sitges (roughly 50 miles from the centre of Barcelona).
Enjoy the Night-life – During the summer, Barcelona comes alive and parties go on well into the night (and through until late the next morning in some cases). Sampling the night-life in one of the city’s many clubs is a key reason for visiting this city for some of the younger crowds. The clubs tend to cater for a wide range of interests and many of the best clubs are close to the board-walk by the main beach. If you decide to go on the beach early in the morning, do not be surprised to see night clubbers on their way home. Some of these clubs do charge relatively expensive entry fees but as a holiday maker, these clubs are certainly worth it.
Enjoy Tapas – Although food is not the only reason tourists flock to Barcelona, it is definitely one of the reasons. Spain is famous for its tapas (a collection of tiny dishes which you can choose and sample according to your taste). There are plenty of bars and restaurants dotted throughout the city which offer tapas menus, including in many of the tourist hotels. Tapas in Barcelona can taste quite different from those you will try in Madrid and other parts of Spain, in that food does tend to be quite regionally based. I will leave it up to you though to decide on the quality of the local food. Do make sure though to try some true Catalan food. The interestingly named Madrid Barcelona restaurant in the heart of Barcelona (Calle Arago, 282) is well worth a visit and my own personal favourite in this city.
Since the turn of the century, Barcelona has become one of the most chic and popular destinations in Europe to visit. Of course, with such fame, prices have inevitably risen, making accommodation, tourist attractions, and eating out rather expensive.
The first thing you are advices to do before even arriving is book your accommodation. Despite the size of the city and the large range of accommodation options, rooms can get booked quickly in the busier months. You can get some late deals but generally speaking, I would recommend to book earlier rather than later. In addition to a range of different standard hotels (including some boutique hotels), you can also choose from self-catering holiday rental apartments and also local guest houses (although these are less popular in Barca). Try a company such Venere or Expedia for a good range of prices and different graded accommodation types. Staying outside of the peak season is a great way of saving, although you then have more unreliability with the weather. March through to October is a great time to visit but August can be too hot for some people.
The location you choose to stay in the city is very important too, Barcelona is made of a variety of different districts, each offering you a different experience and for a different price. For example, if you stay in Barceloneta, you may end up close to the beach, but you will have to pay more for a privilege. As long as you base yourselves close to a metro station though, getting around the city can be quite easy. Therefore you can consider staying in residential areas such as Sant Martí, Poblesec, or Les Corts. Most visitors though tend to prefer areas such as Eixample, Las Ramblas, Barri Gotic and Sagrada Familia.
The choice of where to eat largely comes down to your budget and own preferences. If you love sea-food, you can actually get very affordable food such as a large pot of mussels on the board-walk and very centrally. Avoid eating in the main tourist street Las Ramblas and choose a side street and prices soon get cheaper. You might even decide that you ish to cook for yourself if you are staying in a rental apartment. Just pop down to La Boqueria market and you can buy fresh and vegetables daily. If you do not feel like cooking though and prefer eating out, you might want to eat at a local bar instead for a truly authentic vibe.
Much like with accommodation, various areas of Barcelona will provide you with a different dining experience. The aforementioned Las Ramblas will usually land you an expensive meal with poor service, whilst Passeig de Gracia normally means a more luxurious eating experience if you can afford it. An area such as Gracia and further into the Eixample districts can be where you will find the best experiences for the best price.