When I tell people I’ve been living in Spain for about the last two years, I’m usually met with impressed looks and a lot of oooohhh and aaaaahhh. Now that I think about it, I should start working on new methods of getting instant brownie points with people since I’m moving back home soon.
Anyway, in these conversations people always want to talk about Madrid and its rival city Barcelona. They’re always surprised and sorely disappointed to hear that I’ve only passed through those cities but never really visited.
Come on people, there’s a lot more to Spain than just Madrid and Barcelona! But still, in a way I do understand their shock. I can’t possibly leave this country without visiting two of its major cities, so recently I decided to change that with a visit to Barcelona. (Don’t worry. Madrid is coming up next month.)
You’d have a hard time finding anyone who talks about Barcelona without mentioning Antoni Gaudí and the fabulously weird buildings he designed all over the city. Many tourists visit the city solely to admire his work, and with good reason. It’s pretty amazing. Now, Gaudí may be the golden child and a big breadwinner for Barcelona, but the city has much more to offer. Here are just a few of the things you can do in Barcelona when you’re done gawking at Gaudí’s masterpieces.
Go to the beach.
When planning a trip to Barcelona, people who go for more than just the party scene often get caught up in all the sightseeing and don’t even realize until later that the city has a great beach to be enjoyed too. Don’t be one of those people. Take a break from the sites and check out the beach whether it’s to lie in the sand and take a dip in the water or to stroll down the restaurant-lined boardwalk and enjoy a meal with a view.
Walk down La Rambla
La Rambla is a very popular boulevard in the middle of Barcelona with a pedestrian walkway lined with shops, restaurants, street vendors and other points of interest. Take a bus or the metro to Plaça de Catalunya and you’ll be right at the beginning of the street so you can enjoy a walk down the whole thing. Even if you’re not shopping or grabbing a bite to eat, it’s still a great spot for people watching and getting a feel for the vibe of the city (although this street is admittedly filled to the brim with tourists).
Visit the city’s opera house, Gran Teatre del Liceu
Whether you’re an opera lover or not, a visit to the Gran Teatre del Liceu could be worth your time. First established in 1847 but then burnt down by an electrical fire in 1994, the Gran Teatre de Liceu was rebuilt in all its glory five years later as a new and improved opera house with a decorative style that was and still is an exact replica of the original. Inside the building is absolutely gorgeous with its colorful columns, ceilings with murals, chandeliers and a hall or mirrors. During a guided visit you’ll hear more about its interesting history as focal point in the Barcelona social life. If you’re a fan of the opera, maybe you’ll get lucky and they’ll have a show playing while you’re there.
Eat at the Mercat St. Josep de La Boquería
Spanish cities seem to have a thing for converting old train stations into marketplaces. I’ve seen it done in several cities, and Barcelona is no exception. The St. Josepf Market was once a train station but today is a huge market with hundreds of stalls selling everything from ready-to-eat snack and sandwiches to seafood, meat and cheeses. Stroll around the market for a midday snack, and I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.
Side note: I’m not sure if it’s available all year or just during the summer months, but if you see a stand serving freshly squeezed fruit juices or smoothies… GET IT! They’re delicious and nothing like the overly processed garbage you’re probably used to.
Visit some museums
Like most big cities, Barcelona does not have a shortage of museums to visit. They have everything from the usual science and art museums to the not-so-common Erotic Museum fully equipped with a Marilyn Monroe impersonator tempting you to go inside. No matter which museum is your speed, keep in mind that most of them offer a discount for students, children and senior citizens. Many museums are free at certain times every Sunday while others are free all day on the first Sunday of the month. Check for these discounts before heading to the museum!
Admire the work of other architects!
Gaudí gets all the credit, but he’s not the only one who has contributed to Barcelona’s interesting architectural landscape. All over the city there are examples of buildings that just won’t fit into any category of architecture that you’re used to seeing. With building that range from modern to just weird, make sure you walk around with your head up enjoying this citywide landmark. Check out this list for some ideas on which buildings are worth paying special attention to.
Some of these buildings (mostly the Gaudí ones) can be visited from the inside. In my humble opinion, unless you’re an architect yourself who can really appreciate the work of the people who designed these buildings, it’s just not worth the hefty entrance fees (I’m talking 20 euros and up) to go inside. If you do decided to visit some from the inside, choose wisely.
The one building I would say is 100% worth going inside would be Gaudí’s famously unfinished cathedral, La Sagrada Familía. Now that church was worth my 15 euros, and I don’t say that very often about churches I have to pay to visit.
BONUS: Watch a castellets or falcons performance
If you’re lucky like I was or just plan to be in Barcelona during one of their regional festivals, you may get to see a performance by one of these groups. Both castellets and falcons are traditional in Catalonia and both impress their spectators by building human pyramids and towers sometimes one, two or even more stories high. Performances are usually held in the street and are very fun/nerve-wracking to watch. It really is a special treat if you happen to run into one of these, so I hope you do! **fingers crossed**