We were looking forward to Barcelona but booking accommodation in this town within a week of arrival proved problematic. It was too expensive so we stayed in nearby Sitges and commuted in (see the previous blog). This worked out well for us.
We're using Booking.com for our accommodation and on the whole this is going fine. We've booked some hotels months ahead but mostly we're booking just 1-2 weeks ahead. Sometimes you get caught out but generally it's going OK. I'll do a blog at some stage about Booking.com and our experience with booking relatively close to stay dates.
Our first full day in Barcelona was spent just wandering the town and then heading down Las Ramblas to Barcelona Harbour. We did a lot of walking but once again it's a nice walking town and the noticeable thing was that although Barcelona is densely populated, the streets and avenues are wide and tree lined and it generally doesn't feel crowded (apart from the craziness of Las Ramblas).
This was a planned design based on blocks or squares called Manzanas (see the link below) designed to create neighbourhoods, be more accessible to pedestrians and reclaim space for the community. It works pretty well and there is a lot of cool urban design in this city.
We arrived in the city at Barcelona Sants station and set off from there first wandering past Parc de l'Espanya Industrial, one of those cool urban designs. We then passed Arenas de Barcelona a former bullring converted into an upmarket shopping centre.
At Place de Espanya, a huge intersection/roundabout, you're greeted by the striking site of the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya on the hill above you. This is a beautiful building and we walked up the grand Av. de la Reina Maris Cristina that leads to the museum. There are many steps up to the museum or you can use a series of escalators to get you up there. These take you through gardens and past fountains on the way up.
The view from up there over the city is fantastic. Unfortunately, we had neither the time or budget to see the art museum but really enjoyed going up the hill to see the building at closer quarters and take in the view. Nice outdoor cafe up there too.
We continued on across the city reaching the formerly mentioned Las Ramblas, a busy shopping street that takes you down to Barcelona Harbour. This is a popular walk for visitors but to be honest it is crowded and possibly over-rated.
Barcelona Harbour is a nice spot and is in the middle of a building boom/re-generation linked partly to the Americas Cup event to be held there next year. We had a wander around and some lunch and then took an hour long cruise around the harbour. We managed to see all the Americas Cup team bases and an amazing number of super yachts moored there. Also saw how popular Barcelona was as a cruise destination with 6 or 7 enormous vessels in port, it's a busy place but well worth a visit.
We headed back to the station having clocked up 16+ kms and caught the train out to Sitges.
Today was all about one thing (well two actually). Firstly, Sagrada Familia and secondly Paella.
We really wanted to visit Sagrada Familia so booked several days ahead and were fortunate just to sneak some tickets in before we left. Again, we would recommend you book tickets to these big sites well in advance.
It was expensive - ~EUR70/NZD130 - but worth it. We blew the budget that day!
This building is amazing and nearly defies description. Building commenced in 1882 as a traditional gothic cathedral but when Antoni Gaudi took over in 1883, things got more interesting. Fair to say, his ideas for the building were somewhat different from the original design. The incredible thing is that construction is still underway and scheduled to be completed in 2026, 100 years after Gaudi's death.
I won't say much about the cathedral, the pictures tell a better story. Both inside and outside it is remarkable to look at. Almost organic as it grows up out of the ground. Inside, it is a beautiful space to be in and very fit for it's purpose. If you can, go there. Related link below.
I also got my first Paella of the trip - the traditional seafood and rice dish of Valencia. Verdict - it was good!
Barcelona is a busy tourist destination but absolutely worth the visit.
Catalunya Art Museum
View from the top
Walking the streets
Entrance to the markets
Down at the harbour
A former bull ring