3 Score & More is thrilled to have guest blogger Wendy Lee of Empty Nesters Hit The Road share her insights on Barcelona. Best of all, here are some fabulous Barcelona flight deals for early 2018, to make her post your reality!
Barcelona is full of history, art, architecture and great food, so there are endless sites to see throughout this beautiful city. However, after spending an amazing week here, there are definitely five sites that we’d recommend everyone see when coming here.
It took a visit to Sagrada for me to fully appreciate the genius of Antoni Gaudi, the Spanish architect who designed this and many other stunning buildings throughout Barcelona and beyond. Construction on this church began in 1883 and is scheduled to be completed in 2026. The interior is complete and was consecrated as a minor basilica by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010.
While the exterior is fascinating in all of its exquisite detail, it is the interior that’s simply stunning. I had been told about the beautiful stained glass, but to enter and see the sun streaming through hundreds of colored windows was even better than expected. Gaudi directed that the windows on the Nativity facade (East facing) would be in cool colors and those on the Passion facade (West facing) would be in warm colors. Thus, depending on the time of day, you will see the respective colors projected on the floors and columns.
Barcelona is the third most visited city in Europe and Sagrada its most popular destination, so I strongly recommend buying your tickets online in advance to save considerable time and enter when you choose.
We opted to purchase the package that included admission, an audio tour, and entrance to one tour. While this was perfect for us, I recommend that anyone choosing one of the two towers–Nativity or Passion–be fit and in good health. There is an elevator that takes visitors part way up, but there are several short staircases to reach the top. What I found most challenging were the hundreds of stairs in a narrow, spiral staircase required for the descent. Fortunately, most of the interior of Sagrada is flat and easy to navigate. And since this is a church, there is plenty of seating for anyone wishing to take in the beauty or simply rest.
We started our visit to Barcelona with a free walking tour of the Gothic Quarter and it was an excellent way to be introduced to a city with such a long and rich history. The Gothic Quarter is a mix of ancient, new and refurbished buildings throughout dozens of narrow and curving streets. Mixed throughout are restaurants, cafes, shops, museums, and homes.
Since this is a strongly Catholic country, there are churches everywhere, including in the Gothic Quarter. Two cathedrals were pointed out during our tour, with the most prominent being the Catedral de la Santa Creu I Santa Eulalia, more commonly known as the Gothic Cathedral.
One of my favorite stops during this tour was Placa Sant Antoni Neri. History was brought to life while standing in the plaza and seeing the extensive damage to the walls as a result of bombs during the Spanish Revolution. These same walls were also marked with bullet holes made during the execution of men and women by firing squad.
We selected Free Walking Tours of Barcelona for this tour and were very happy with the 2.5 hours spent exploring the Gothic Quarter. The area is reasonably flat and easy to walk around. About halfway through the tour there is a break for the restroom, refreshments or an opportunity to rest. If this tour sounds too long, or you prefer to go at your own pace, then I recommend a self-guided tour. Several companies, including Frommer’s, offer a detailed plan for a self-guided tour of the area.
Mercado de la Boqueria
We love to visit food halls whenever we travel and this one, La Boqueria, did not disappoint. Officially, this market has existed for 150 years, but it’s believed to have been around in some form since 1217. Located near the famous Las Ramblas, La Boqueria is full of stalls selling both fresh and prepared food.
Technically the market opens at 8 a.m., but you won’t find much open at this hour. By noon all the stalls are open and hungry people are arriving ready to eat. We opted to eat and walk, but there are also some tapas bars with limited seating that sell beer and wine in addition to the food.
The market is easy to navigate since it’s all on one level and the isles are fairly wide. Its located a block off of the well known Las Ramblas and within walking distance of Placa Catalunya (a transportation hub in Barcelona). Surrounding the market are a variety of small restaurants and shops which are quite charming, so all together, this is a nice one to two-hour experience in Barcelona.
While quite different than the Sagrada, the Parc Guell is another excellent example of Antoni Gaudi’s genius. Now a city park and tourist attraction, Parc Guell was originally a private housing development for the very rich. For a variety of reasons it failed, was sold to the City of Barcelona, and today offers a fascinating paid attraction within a lovely public park.
If your budget or time is limited, visit the free public park. When we arrived there was a guitarist playing lovely Spanish tunes which made for a perfect soundtrack for this outdoor setting. This area is built along a mountain slope, so be prepared for some great exercise!
We opted to purchase the admission to the Monumental Zone and a guided tour and felt it was worth every penny. The lovely guide, Berta, was a wealth of information about the history, challenges, and innovations of Parc Guell.
If visiting during peak season, its advisable to purchase your tickets in advance online avoiding long lines. The tickets are timed which is a nice way to space out the visitors and make it a better experience for everyone.
After Sagrada and Parc Guell, this was the place most recommended by our friends to visit. So on our last night, we visited Museu Picasso which is home to over 4,000 works by the legendary artist. The collection includes paintings Picasso completed as young as 14 years old as well as those he finished shortly before his death. Even the buildings in which the museum is housed are quite lovely. We opted to purchase the audio guide and found it very informative. This museum isn’t overly large, so it’s possible to view most exhibits at a leisurely pace in about two hours.
This museum has a very strict “No Photos, No Videos” policy, so we are only able to share exterior photos. But believe me, as someone who really appreciates good art museums, this one is worth a visit.
To stop at five sites seems unfair to the great city of Barcelona, but I hope that this short list will get you thinking about a trip here soon. If at all possible, consider visiting off season. Our trip was the week after Thanksgiving when tourists are at a minimum. It’s nice to walk right up to a ticket window or show up for a guided tour that is half full.
One final thought about getting around Barcelona. It’s a very walkable city. Thanks to Google Maps, we walked to many places in combination with the excellent public transportation. And for those with limited mobility, the public transportation is fully accessible. If you get tired of walking, taxis are plentiful and affordable (unfortunately Uber is not currently available in this city).
Whatever you chose to see in Barcelona, and however you opt to get around, you will not be disappointed. If you’re like us, you’ll return home and start talking about how soon you can go back.