After an action packed few days in Paris we arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport to fly into Barcelona for the second part of our honeymoon. Having checked out the weather in Barcelona we could see that we were going to be fortunate with blue skies and mid teen temperatures, a pleasant surprise for a European city break trip in early January! We stayed at the Atrium Palace Hotel and with 4 days ahead of us we planned a mix of relaxation and exploration. Nial had been to Barcelona before but this was the first time we had both visited the city as a couple and it’s safe to say it didn’t disappoint. Here are just some of our highlights from our short stay in Catalonia.
Tapas, Cava and bustling streets
We arrived to Barcelona late in the afternoon and grabbed a bus from the airport to the Plaça de Catalunya which is the main square in Barcelona City Centre. The Hotel Atrium Palace in which we were staying, was only a short walk from here as it was located along the busy Gran Vía street in the city. As we knew the weather was going to be good for the days we were in the city, we decided to upgrade to a room with a balcony and outdoor hot tub. It was well worth the upgrade in the end as we were able to relax in the hot tub, soak up the sun and enjoy the wonderful view of Mount Tibidabo in the distance.
We checked in and enjoyed a bottle of Cava courtesy of the kind staff at Atrium Palace as a result of being on honeymoon. We enjoyed a few glasses before heading off to explore the bright lights of the city at night. The city centre was bustling and we took a short walk around the shops, squares and side streets of the city’s popular Gothic Quarter. We tried to take in as much as we could as the streets were so crazy – it seems Barcelona is a popular city for a New Year’s city break. We found a quiet tapas bar near our hotel on the way back from our venture around the city, so we called in there before calling a night. While we’ve certainly tasted better tapas, the dishes were a reminder of why we are both such big fans of Spanish cuisine and indeed the culture.
Another day, another city bus tour
Barcelona is a huge city and while the city centre is easy enough to explore on foot, if you want to explore everything the city has to offer, you’d need new shoes in no time if you set off to do this on foot. City bus tours are our go to when it comes to getting around a city and getting to see the most famous landmarks and attractions. There are three main bus tours available in Barcelona, and we decided to go with the City Sightseeing tour as it’s one we tend to go for in other cities. A one day ticket costs £21 per adult and a 2 day ticket costs £29.50 and this gets you unlimited trips for 24 or 48 hours – great value. There are 3 routes – the red one which stops at 22 points including the popular port and Montjuïc area, the blue route has 13 stops including the likes of Sagrada Familia, Gaudí’s Park Güell and the Nou Camp Stadium while the green route has 9 stops and is the night tour, running from March to October.
First stop, La Sagrada Família
We hopped on the bus at the Plaça de Catalunya and got off at the fourth stop and the impressive Sagrada Família. This imposing basilica was designed by local architect Antoni Gaudí, who’s inspiration can be seen all over the city including some of its most famous landmarks. Top of the list is Sagrada Família where construction began over 130 years ago in 1882. Now open to the public, you can take a tour of the basilica and find out the story behind the creation of the basilica and also sit in on a service if you time your visit well. The Sagrada Família is still under construction and relies very much on donations from the public, but it is an extremely impressive landmark and you’ll be hard pushed to find a more stunning church anywhere in the world. If you’re planning a trip to Barcelona make sure Sagrada Família is on your list of places to see.
Gaudí’s Park Güell is next
After spending some time exploring the area around La Sagrada Família, we hopped back on the bus to make the short trip to our next stop, Gaudí’s magnificent Park Güell. Park Güell is a public park in the hills of Barcelona with unbelievable views of the city. The walk up to the park takes about 15 minutes from the bus stop but it’s well worth the trip. With colourful mosaic tiles covering walls, statues and buildings, and so many nooks and crannies spread throughout the park, there was so much to discover. There were also musicians and street performers on view so you certainly have a lot to do when visiting Park Güell.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site there are so many popular spots within the park with the two buildings and “El Drac” (The Dragon) at the entrance, a popular spot for those all important photo moments. The park is also home to The Gaudí House Museum and really is worth seeing. We were blown away with how pretty and unique this park is. Do give yourself a good hour to explore the park though as there is a lot of it to cover. Thankfully there are plenty of bench’s to get some rest in between your walk when needed.
Gaudí 4D Experience
We were so impressed with Park Güell that we decided to pay a visit to the Gaudí Experiencia, where the story of Gaudí’s influence on the city of Barcelona comes together in 4D. The 4D exhibition lasts for about 15 minutes and we would strongly recommend visiting it when you’re at Park Güell. At a cost of €9 per person (kids and OAP’s cost €7.50) it’s certainly value for money for those of you keen to explore the history of the city in more detail. With the exhibition over, we made the long walk back down the hill to wait on the bus for our next stop which was the Montjuïc area of the city.
A cable car ride to Montjuïc
The Montjuïc area gives you an amazing panoramic view of Barcelona city and to really get the most of it, you need to hop into a cable car and ride up to the Parc de Montjuïc and the Montjuïc Castle. We spent some time walking around the grounds of the castle and even managed to come across a group of people enjoying some archery. With spectacular views of the port and the rest of the city, you really get an appreciation for just how big Barcelona is.
Next up, Port Olímpic and Barcelona Aquarium
Heading down from Montjuïc, our next stop in what was turning out to be a busy day was Port Olímpic, the area of the city that hosted the sailing events at the 1992 Olympic Games. This area is where cruise ships dock when visiting the city and with lots to see and do, it’s certainly been developed with tourists in mind. We spent some time walking around the area before heading in to the Aquarium to get up close and personal with sea life. The Aquarium was a little disappointing as we had seen everything in about 20 minutes, so at this point we decided to go and grab ourselves some food and call it a day and head back to the hotel. We still had plenty of exploring to do.
The Magical Fountains and Dining in Barcelona
As we were on honeymoon it was very much a case of mixing our exploration with relaxation. After spending a day relaxing at the hotel and taking in some of the sights near the hotel, we spent day 3 in the city back up towards the Montjuïc area of the city as we visited the stunning Barcelona Palace. The impressive Magic Fountain of Montjuïc (Magical Fountains) are located at the entry to the Palace. Unfortunately the fountains were turned of for cleaning due to the New Years party in the city. This was a bit disappointing but the grounds of the Palace and the National Art Museum of Catalunya made it a worthwhile journey. Having been to Barcelona before in the summer months and seeing the light and music show at the fountains, I’d ensure it’s on the top of any ‘to do’ list for those of you visiting Barcelona.
There’s also a large shopping centre near to Barcelona Palace and it’s actually set in the surroundings of an old bull ring stadium (or Plaza de Toros). Take a walk round this especially at night as it’s truly impressive. In fact, night time is probably the best time to head up towards the Palace and the fountains. Whether it’s on one of the city bus tours or taking the metro, it’s easy to make your way to the Palace grounds.
Marveling at the magic of Gaudí yet again
Having spent time around the Gothic area of the city and also at Sagrada Familía and Park Güell, we had become pretty accustomed to the talents of Antoni Gaudí. Our hotel was located just off the popular Passeig de Gràcia and flanking either side of this street are two of the most stunning buildings in Barcelona (if not the world). Casa Batlló and Casa Milà are two of the most popular buildings for tourists snaps and it’s easy to see why. The colourful, mosaic roof of Casa Batlló was part of the modernist architecture era in the city and some locals feel it resembles a dragon. You can get tours of the building, which is now a modernist museum celebrating the work of Gaudí.
Another building from the modernist era, Casa Milà is the last piece of civil work designed by the great man himself. Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the façade of the building is spectacular the self supporting balconies particularly catching the eye. The architecture of the roof, chimneys and courtyard leave a lasting impression. If you ever visit Barcelona and find yourself near the Plaça de Catalunya, make a short walk towards Casa Batlló and Casa Milà.
Dining out in Barcelona
There are no shortage of food options in Barcelona. Indeed, the city has a reputation for being one of the world’s culinary hotspots and with 23 Michelin Starred Restaurants it’s easy to see why. We stopped in at many tapas bars during our stay but it was the nearby La Vinoteca Torres Restaurant that really blew us away. Located on the Passeig de Gràcia, the restaurant is owned by the popular Torres wine company, so as you can expect, wine is a big part of this restaurant. We enjoyed a 3 course meal including spicy potato and sausage bombs, confit and crispy suckling pig and pineapple and mango ravioli. Washed down with a bottle of the finest bubbly the place had, this meal certainly hit the spot and just topped what was turning out to be an excellent leg of the honeymoon.
Other areas in Barcelona to explore
Barcelona is such a vast and impressive city and four days just isn’t enough to get to see all of the city. The beach, port and Barceloneta area are worth exploring as is the Barcelona Zoo. The shops along the Avinguda Diagonal are worth getting along to and no trip would be complete without a journey down Las Ramblas, a 1.2km street flanked with bars, restaurants, stalls and street performers. It has a reputation for pick pockets but is a part of the city that delivers everything about Barcelona – the sights, the sounds, the smells, the people. The famous Mercado de La Boqueria is located about halfway down Las Ramblas and well worth getting along to, to enjoy the fresh local produce.
Next stop, Madrid
Barcelona certainly delivered everything we wanted and more and was a great follow on from Paris for our honeymoon. The weather was a bonus for the time of the year and we’ll certainly make a point of going back. With so much to see and do, it’s worth planning your trip effieciently and giving yourself at the very least 4 or 5 days to try and get around it all. It was a very busy city and this was likely down to the New Year holidays, so we would recommend visiting in autumn or spring when it’s likely to be quieter and easier to get around.
Next up for us was the quick flight from Barcelona to Madrid. Madrid was to be a new travel experience for us both, and a memorable one at that.