Despite Barcelona being the second most populated city in Spain and objectively, the most popular, it’s always been one I expected to visit only if the opportunity presented itself. In our case that opportunity was catching very decently priced roundtrip flights while doing a broad “Europe” search around the date of my February birthday.
Two months later, those decently priced flights took us on a journey to Barcelona, a visit to Montserrat, a day trip across the border to the lesser-known country of Andorra and on a walk along the walls of Girona. While we’re glad we got to experience as much as we did, we do wish we had set aside more time for Barcelona itself, as it’s a city that thoroughly surprised me.
Grab a café au lait or an espresso from the closest café or bodega near your stay of choice and head out early to the Gothic Quarter. This area, locally known as Barri Gòtic is made up of narrow medieval streets and courtyards, and is home to the beautiful Cathedral of Barcelona and several trendy bars and restaurants.
It’s also where you’ll find the Bishop’s Bridge or El Pont del Bisbe, seen in many films including the “renown” Cheetah Girls 2 (if you know, you know). What I enjoyed most about getting lost in the Gothic Quarter without a plan was how easy it was to stumble upon random pathways, brightly colored courtyards, and small museums.
Just about a ten-minute walk away from the Gothic Quarter is the Mercado de La Boqueria, one of the largest food markets in Barcelona. With dozens of stalls selling multi-colored fruit and spices, charcuterie to-go, and street food – be sure to come hungry.
Don’t fill-up too much though; Spain is known for its tapas restaurants. Following your self-guided tour of the market, grab dinner at one one of the many restaurants offering these small plates built for sharing. During our stay, we ended up at Restaurante Arrosseria las Arenas. I loved the interior design of the space; it was very modern but minimal with hints of greenery and florals. And gratefully, the food surpassed the ambiance.
We started our meal off with Sangria and Margaritas but delving into an extensive list of tapas like patatas bravas, pan con tomate, and choricitos. But of course, we had to pair those along with some chicken paella, the serving size of which is enough for a few people.
Round off your busy day in Barcelona by visiting the Casa Milá. We had specifically purchased tickets to La Pedrera at Night, an exclusive night tour and experience of Casa Milá and the rooftop.
This is one of the experiences that I’d highly recommend for anyone visiting Barcelona. It’s an excellent way learn about Antoni Gaudí’s inspiration for the external and internal designs of Casa Milà, as well as his other architectural creations. Our tour guide also went into some details about the lucky families which have previously been able to call Casa Milà home. The experience cumulates in a light show atop the rooftop showcasing marble and glass structures designed by Gaudi.
My second day began early as I had booked a half-day, small group tour to Monstserrat from Barcelona. I’d long wanted to visit Monserrat and this particular tour combined several different activities that I had wanted to experience while visiting from a short hike (the views are stunning and this tour does not require one to “be” a regular hiker to enjoy) to seeing the Black Madonna, to riding a cable car up into the mountains to visit the monastery. The price is already, in my opinion, incredibly reasonable but to make things even more convenient, the tour also includes pick-up and drop-off from a designated location in Barcelona.
sBe warned, the journey by van from Barcelona to Montserrat is anything but relaxing during the second half, in which you weave and drive along winding roads to the top of mountain of Montserrat. Once you arrive at the “top”, you catch the funicular which takes you even higher and to the location of the actual abbey.
The Abbey of Montserrat is essentially built into the mountains, something seen in others around the world as it was believes those who lived and served at the monastery would then be closer to the heavens.
The half-day tour of Montserrat packs enough adventure for one day into just six hours but Barcelona will be ready to greet you for the remainder of your day so long as you have the energy. I had timed the end of our tour (and included some buffer space) to ensure that I booked proper timed tickets for our next stop, Park Güell. We even had enough time to spare prior to our entry time that we stopped at Guelly Sandwichpark, a small sandwich shop at the base of Parc Guell for a quick bite. The shop sells churros and pastries but of course, is most popular for their sandwiches which are simple but high-quality and delicious. I had a simple cheese and salami sandwich and would still make this my lunch spot if I ever found myself again in the area.
As far as “must-do attractions in Barcelona” go, Parc Guell was honestly one of my least favorite. This has nothing to do with the park itself as Gaudi’s designs are incredibly unique – but, in my opinion, it lacked the magic of some of Gaudi’s other works throughout the city. The crowds were also massive which may have stolen some of it’s appeal. That being said, I do believe you have to visit at least once.
We took a bit of a detour following our walk-through of Parc Guell and headed to the church found on a majority of Barcelona postcards, La Sagrada Familia. We did not get to enter the building on this trip, but spent at least half an hour taking in the building which is a piece of art in itself. If you look closely, there are hundreds of specific designs and carvings of biblical figures which brings some familiarity to an otherwise eccentric basilica.
Barcelona may be most known for tapas, but as I’d heard great things about their Argentinian steakhouses, I had researched some local options before coming across 9Reinas (which translates to ‘9 queens’). The atmosphere is very welcoming but still feels decently high-end and the service dictates that sentiment.
Our meal began with some bread and tapenades, followed by our steaks which came with a duo of potatoes. We also enjoyed some beef empanadas for the table, and some mashed potato and grilled mixed vegetable sides. Our meal wrapped up with dessert and a complimentary glass of wine. Of course, 9Reinas instantly made it on my list of restaurants worth returning to and worthy of recommendation to others.
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