Booked a ride in Catalonia? Nice one! You’re in for a real treat, both on and off the horse. Whichever route you take to get there, it’s likely you’ll go through Barcelona, a city so packed with unforgettable sights, sounds, tastes and experiences that you might not want to leave! I’m sure the thought of the spirited Andalusian steed waiting for you in Catalonia will help you pack your bags, though. To help you make the very most of your time in Barcelona, we’ve gathered up the must-see sights, must-do experiences and must-try eateries, plus top-notch hotels where you can rest up for your big adventure.
Sights and Activities
There’s a reason Barcelona is on so many people’s bucket lists. From art galleries to bustling boulevards, from dream-like architecture to spine-tingling performances, this Spanish city has something for everyone. Adventure waits around every corner, whether it’s a burst of Catalan music or a psychedelic palace. Here are our top recommendations for a whirlwind city tour. If you’re really set on seeing something in particular it pays to get online and book ahead. Some attractions can be booked up days ahead and queues for tickets can be long.
It wouldn’t be Barcelona without Antonio Gaudi. One of the most gifted architects the world has ever seen, Gaudi’s legacy is not only alive in Barcelona – it’s still in the making! La Sagrada Familia has been a work in process since 1882 and isn’t expected to be completed for at least another 30 years! This massive basilica is right in the centre of town, and is arguably the city’s most popular attraction. Other jaw-dropping examples of Gaudi architecture can be found all over Barcelona, from the otherworldly Park Güell to Casa Batlló with its ‘skulls and bones’ facade.
The Museu Picasso receives over a million visitors every year, and it’s easy to see why: it hosts a huge collection of Picasso’s works, arranged chronologically from the beginning of his career to his very last artworks. Whether you’re a fan of Picasso or just curious to see what all the fuss is about, this is undoubtedly the best glimpse into his life and works that you’ll ever have. Educational, insightful, but above all visually powerful, the Museu Picasso is a feast for the eyes and the soul.
Barcelona’s most famous boulevard, La Rambla (also called Las Ramblas) meanders through the city centre from Port Vell to Plaça Catalunya. It is an ever-thrumming area with colourful displays and performances during the day and a lively, somewhat notorious nightlife. On a walk along La Rambla you’ll pass buskers, hawkers, street artists, flower stalls, the towering Columbus Monument, the Liceu Theatre and maybe even some ‘night women’. Enjoy the thrill of the unexpected on this bustling street – but hold tight to your valuables!
When you reach Port Vell, be sure to check out the Museum of Catalan History for a taste of Catalan history and culture. You’ll be well-versed by the time you reach Catalonia, with exhibitions covering every period from the Stone Age to the present day. The rooftop terrace also has a lovely cafe with spectacular views over Port Vell.
While you’re in Las Ramblas, witnessing the fiery beauty of a flamenco dance is an absolute must. There are plenty of venues with performances every night, and you can combine the experience with some authentic tapas, or even a dancing lesson! We recommend Tablao Cordobés, a venue that has been hosting authentic flamenco performances featuring some of the world’s best flamenco artists since 1970.
While we’re on the topic of performances, I’d be remiss not to mention this incredible music hall. To call it ornate is an understatement: mosaics, stained glass roofs, windows and skylights, plush furnishings and a perfect blend of old and new architecture. There are several ways to see the Palau. For the best glimpse of the famed interior, you’ll need to take a guided tour. You can also enter some spaces, including the restaurant and gift shop, without a ticket. But perhaps the best way to experience this place is to attend one of the many classical concerts that grace the grand Concert Hall throughout the year.
Take a day trip out of the city to this historic monastery atop Montserrat mountain. While away the day walking the many paths that meander all over the mountainside and enjoy the beautiful Spanish architecture of the buildings, including the magnificently intricate and lavish Basilica. Refresh yourself with lunch at the cafe, where you can top up on a snack or go the whole hog with a full meal, then round off your visit by browsing for gifts and souvenirs at the gift shop. There are any number of tours available from Barcelona but we found the train to be an easy way to get there and it meant that we could explore the place at leisure.
Places to Eat
Plaça Reial is a beautiful square located right next to La Rambla with restaurants and bars galore. Relax and admire some more Gaudi architecture as you sip on Spanish wine and nibble on tapas at Glaciar.
For traditional Catalan cuisine at seriously decent prices, you can’t go past El Convent Restaurant. Located near the famous La Boqueria market, this restaurant is housed in a rustic four-storey house dating back to 1713. The food is seasonal, simple and absolutely sensational. A great introduction to the local cuisine.
For a wider range of mediterranean meals, try Safra 18. Serving everything from tapas to paella to seafood, this restaurant is authentic to the last and you’ll often spot a local or three sitting together sipping sangria. It has rave reviews from tourists and locals alike, and there are plenty of menu options whether you feel like sticking to the budget or splashing out. The atmosphere is homely and the service exceptional. The risotto comes highly recommended!
Another popular haunt for locals (and tourists in the know) is Canete. Slightly more upmarket (but won’t break the bank), this little gem is tucked away in a laneway off La Rambla. Canete offers a stylish dining experience with first class Tapas and fine wines. It is super popular so do book ahead for this one.
If it’s seafood you’re hankering after, try La Fonda Del Port Olimpic. Recommended to us by our local connections, it’s backed up by online reviews with descriptions such as ‘seafood heaven’ and Spain on a plate’. For tapas, local recommendations to try are the reputedly cheap and cheerful 100 Montaditos and the slightly more upmarket La Tasca del Corral.
For more traditional accommodation, try Hotel Pulitzer, which has well-designed, comfortable rooms from around $150 per night. It’s smack bang in the middle of the city, with the Old City at its doorstep and public transport galore. There’s also a lobby bar, rooftop bar and glass-roofed restaurant on-site.
And if you’re feeling really luxurious, why not treat yourself to a stay at El Palace? Once a Ritz, the hotel oozes 20th-century glamour. European aristocracy and opulence is all around you, and you might just feel as though you’ve stepped back in time. A rooftop pool, Mayan-themed spa, Roman baths, award-winning restaurant and multiple themed bars will have you relaxed and refreshed before you set off on the next stage of your journey.
If, like us, a couple of days in a major city is more than enough for you, our globetrotters have reported back that it’s an easy train ride to experience the smaller (but equally – if not more- beautiful) city of Girona. Not only will you get to experience a new place on your journey, but you’ll be heading in the right direction to the ride destination, so you’ll save on transfer costs as well.
So there you have it! Enjoy this most beautiful of cities, Globetrotters, and we’ll see you in Catalonia!