Europe

Exploring Barcelona: Exploring Catalonia's lively capital

Ema Bakalova

May 27, 2023

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Plaça Reial in Barcelona, Spain
Plaça Reial in Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona was the first stop on our trip around Spain. After catching a red-eye flight, we were exhausted and looking for somewhere to grab lunch and a coffee. We chose to travel to Barcelona because of the city's rich culture and iconic architecture. Barcelona is also centerally located, providing convenient access to nearby destinations like Madrid, Mallorca, and Bilbao (just to name a few), all just a few hours away.

Coffee in Barcelona
Coffee in Barcelona

Overcoming the jetlag

In the heart of Barcelona, conveniently near our hotel, we stumbled upon a place to eat where we enjoyed a coffee and some food. Following an overnight flight, I've found that the most effective approach is to stay active and spend as much time outdoors, resisting the temptation to sleep.

Pro tip

Overcoming jetlag becomes significantly more manageable when you push through the day and align your sleep schedule with the local nighttime routine. Try not to nap longer than 20 mins.

Coffee first, always

Exploring new cafes has become an integral part of my travel adventures.

It is the first thing I think about when the plane lands, and it becomes a personal quest that I embark on whenever I'm traveling. There's something that I love so much about discovering local cafes tucked away in unfamiliar corners, offering different foods, pastries and drinks, and it provides an initial glimpse into the local culture and nearby neighborhoods.

Honest Greens restaurant in Barcelona

Honest greens

Honest greens was probably one of the best health food spots for lunches, dinners and desserts I have tried abroad. They have a great allergy awareness menu.

Honest Greens restaurant in Barcelona

Honest greens

Honest greens was probably one of the best health food spots for lunches, dinners and desserts I have tried abroad. They have a great allergy awareness menu.

Coffee in Barcelona
Coffee in Barcelona

The first day is meant for exploring

The first day of any trip is typically my "let's explore and familiarize myself with the city" type of day. It's usually a bit unstructured, with no concrete plans other than finding a good coffee spot, grabbing some food, doing groceries and trying to get a feel for my new surroundings.

We stayed in a hotel in the city center, just a few minutes walking distance from La Rambla, Barcelona's most famous promenade, and that's where we headed for our first walk. It was very busy, but the streets were lined with trees, street performers, flower stalls, and cafes - it was beautiful. The highlight of the walk down La Rambla was the opportunity to explore the charming narrow side streets that branch off from the main strip. While looking at the historic buildings with their beautiful 19th-century facades, intricate detailing and ornate balconies you find yourself accidentally running into open plazas and squares, each with its own unique charm and character.

The streets of Barcelona
The streets of Barcelona
Hotel Praktik Vinoteca in Barcelona

Hotel Praktik Vinoteca

Barcelona was generally affordable, except for accommodation. We stayed at Hotel Praktik Vinoteca, the "most affordable" option we could find amid inflated summer prices.

Hotel Praktik Vinoteca in Barcelona

Hotel Praktik Vinoteca

Barcelona was generally affordable, except for accommodation. We stayed at Hotel Praktik Vinoteca, the "most affordable" option we could find amid inflated summer prices.

Although our preference typically leans toward Airbnb accommodations, at the time of booking there wasn't a single option available in the entire city. This increased the cost of our trip since instead of having a kitchen, buying groceries and making home-cooked meals, we had to dine out everyday.

Running into Casa Batlló

Casa Batlló is one of Antoni Gaudí's masterpieces in Barcelona. It's just a 10 minute walk from La Rambla, easy to get to, and close to the city center—no complicated plans needed. In fact, you're likely to come across the building while exploring the city without a specific plan. Its organic, skeletal façade is filled with colorful mosaics and intricate wrought-iron balconies. It stands out from the neighboring buildings with its undulating façade that makes it look as though it's alive.

Casa Batlló has a hidden secret: the design of the building follows an underwater theme. The exterior is said to resemble the scales of a dragon, and the vibrant colors and undulating shapes within the building mimic the movement and colours of the sea. Gaudí, inspired by nature, often incorporated elements from the environment into his designs, giving Casa Batlló an artistic and organic connection to the underwater world that many may not notice at first glance.

Casa Batlló by Antoni Gaudí' in Barcelona
Casa Batlló by Antoni Gaudí' in Barcelona
Casa Batlló by Antoni Gaudí' in Barcelona
Casa Batlló by Antoni Gaudí' in Barcelona
La Pedrera-Casa Milà by Antoni Gaudi in Barcelona

Movement in Gaudí's work

La Pedrera-Casa Milà (a few blocks from Casa Batlló) also showcases the wave-like shapes present in the detailing of Gaudí's work, particularly the undulating lines in the design, could be symbolic of the movement of water.

La Pedrera-Casa Milà by Antoni Gaudi in Barcelona

Movement in Gaudí's work

La Pedrera-Casa Milà (a few blocks from Casa Batlló) also showcases the wave-like shapes present in the detailing of Gaudí's work, particularly the undulating lines in the design, could be symbolic of the movement of water.

Ways to see Barcelona

Like in many European cities, the best way to experience Barcelona is by foot. There is no vehicle that can take you through the narrow streets and tight corners better than your own two feet. If you want to cover a larger part of the city at a faster pace, I would recommend paying €‎30 for a day pass or €‎40 for a two day pass on Barcelona's hop-on, hop-off bus.

We alternated between walking and using the city bus to reach places that were farther away. You can hop on either the red line or the blue line, which will transport you either north or southbound in the city. We opted for a two-day pass, which allowed us to complete the blue loop on one day and the red loop on the next, effectively covering most of the city. You can get on and off the bus wherever you want, which makes it a very flexible and convenient sight-seeing strategy. You can buy the bus tickets directly inside the busses themselves.

Walking down La Rambla in Barcelona
Walking down La Rambla in Barcelona
The streets of Barcelona

Outwardly focused shopping experience

I admire how European cities incorporate open-air markets and shopping districts into their historic centers, offering direct street access to shops for a walkable outdoor shopping experience (e.g., Strøget in Copenhagen or Koornmarkt in Delft).

The streets of Barcelona

Outwardly focused shopping experience

I admire how European cities incorporate open-air markets and shopping districts into their historic centers, offering direct street access to shops for a walkable outdoor shopping experience (e.g., Strøget in Copenhagen or Koornmarkt in Delft).

Street-scape

Transitioning from La Rambla to the streets of the Gothic quarter makes you feel like you're stepping back in time. The small streets of Barcelona are nothing short of amazing. Narrow cobblestone streets wind their way through historic and labyrinthine-like neighborhoods.

These winding, narrow passages have an irresistible charm, guiding you through alleys in the Gothic Quarter or the El Raval neighborhood. Many of the old buildings are tilted in one way or another, leaning towards each other creating a canopy overhead. There are hidden plazas, quiet cafes, artisan boutiques and all kinds of intimate spaces tucked away in unexpected corners of the streets. You could easily explore the city center without a plan, and I assure you, it won't disappoint.

The Gothic Quarter in Barcelona
The Gothic Quarter in Barcelona

Is it just me or do cappuccinos feel like a fancier way to enjoy your coffee on holiday?

Brunch at Cremat Lounge

Nowadays, our breakfast routine often involves drinking a couple of coffees before transitioning into brunch mode around 11 or 12. We stumbled upon a charming spot close to our hotel, where we ate almost every day. The inside was pretty, and they offered outdoor seating that was incredibly charming.

Brunch at Cremat Lounge in Barcelona

Cremat Lounge

C/ de la Diputació, 200, 08011 Barcelona, Spain

Brunch at Cremat Lounge in Barcelona
Brunch at Cremat Lounge in Barcelona

Exploring Plaça Reial

After brunch, we headed to Plaça Reial, which is lined with cafes, restaurants, and tapas bars with inviting terraces. Plaça Reial is a beloved public square in the heart of Barcelona, nestled within the Gothic Quarter. The palm trees within the plaza add a distinctive personality to the space and introduce greenery to what would otherwise be a stone-filled square. The trees cast beautiful shadows on the ground, contributing to an interplay of light and darkness that dances across the stone pavement.

The square was commissioned by King Ferdinand VII in the 19th century, and the architecture reflects the neoclassical style prevalent during that era, with its symmetrical layout and uniform facades. The purpose of this design was to create a harmonious and grand space for public gatherings, social events, and civic activities. The original purpose of this space remains relevant and lively even today.

Plaça Reial in Barcelona
Plaça Reial in Barcelona
Plaça Reial in Barcelona
Plaça Reial in Barcelona
Plaça Reial in Barcelona
Plaça Reial in Barcelona

Barcelona Cathedral

Walking deeper into the Gothic Quarter, you'll encounter a variety of impressive architectural wonders. One of my favourite was the Barcelona Cathedral, a stunning example of Catalan Gothic architecture with its intricate façade and serene cloisters. The plaza in front of the cathedral is just large enough for you to be able to step back and capture the entire building in one photo.

The Barcelona Cathedral in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona
The Barcelona Cathedral in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona
The Barcelona Cathedral in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona
The Barcelona Cathedral in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona

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