After traveling all around southern Spain this past year, we figured it was finally time to give some love to northern Spain. We started with 3 days in Spain's Catelonian capital, Barcelona.
The minute we entered the city, we both knew we were in love. Not only is Barcelona vibrant at any time of day, but the city's Gothic district, where we were staying, was a beautiful mix of winding cobblestone streets and tiny alleyways. To make things even more appealing, our flat was a fifth-floor walkup complete with Spanish-tile floors, a balcony overlooking the city's surrounding mountains, and neighboring buildings that faced each other around a courtyard.
Our window opened up onto the balcony (left), and one morning we woke up to the delicate sounds of a rainstorm enveloping the city. The ability to still get a good night's sleep in this lively city did not go unappreciated.
Our first day in Barcelona we met up at Travel Bar near Las Ramblas and joined a free walking tour from the group Travel Bound. As I've said before, free walking tours are the best way to get your bearings in a new city and are educationally fun. (Yes, I just said educationally fun. It is possible.) Anyway, we joined the walking tour that took us through the Gothic Quarter and pointed out various historical sites around the city, including several pop culture spots like where Woody Allen shot scenes for Vicky Cristina Barcelona. The tour ended at the port, where we then all shared some sangria and conversation before going our separate ways.
While Barcelona is now the fourth-most visited city in Europe, it really didn't make its mark until they hosted the 1992 Summer Olympics. Ever since then, the city has been exploding with tourists and new business.
Gaudí’s Casa Batlló, Barcelona
Depending on what you want to do in the city, you could spend an entire day wandering Las Ramblas and the city's various markets and flea markets. Or if you have more expensive taste, you can walk the streets of Paseo de Gràcia, which features upscale stores like Gucci, Chanel and Valentino. We hung around Paseo de Gràcia for a very different reason, though: to see Spanish architect and artist Antoni Gaudí’s famous Casa Milà and Casa Batlló. The buildings are incredibly ornate and full of quirky details.
We skipped the inside tours; it can be quite costly to visit the insides of many of his buildings. But we didn’t want to miss this important part of Barcelona, so we downloaded an audio guide app of Gaudís architecture around the city. At each stop, including his famous Sagrada Família, we got an in-depth description of the artist and his works. There are also free Gaudí walking tours offered by various groups.
After walking Gaudí's city, we stopped for a delicious, affordable meal: a crunchy crepe filled with chilled salmon slices, salad and fresh hummus. Overall, finding affordable food in Barcelona isn't too difficult because of their tapas-style meals. Doing tapas – appetizers, basically, for the uninitiated – for dinner means that you have several dishes to try instead of just one. They range from meat to calamari and fish dishes to olives or, my favorite, patatas bravas.
If you're looking for a vegan option, I highly recommend checking out Veggie Garden on Carrer Dels Angels, which has great vegan options with decent prices.
We also stopped by Barcelona's main cathedral, The Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia, which has free entrance in the early morning and late afternoon/evening. The cathedral is dedicated to Eulalia, a 13-year-old girl who became a famous martyr during Roman times. Her body is supposedly entombed in the cathedral's crypt.
And to close up our whirlwind Barcelona trip, we knew we had to catch a Barcelona FC game here if we were given the chance. Fortunately, Barça was playing Moscow for the UEFA Champions League group stages, so we snatched up some tickets as soon as possible.
In an attempt to save money, we purchased the cheapest seats in the nosebleed section at the very highest point in the stadium. We figured it would be near impossible to see the players and perhaps make the game less enjoyable to sit that far away, but all our worries were dismissed as soon as we arrived – and realized we had the best view in the house. While it's nice to sit on the pitch field-level, you don't always get to see all the action and plays since you're at the same level as the players. Being high up in the stands, we could see everything play out beautifully.
Also, if you aren't as lucky and the team isn't playing while you're in town, you can always check out the FC Barcelona Museum, which includes a tour of the renowned 100,000-seat Camp Nou stadium.
Next up, we headed to Spain’s capital city, Madrid.