By Rebecca Lee
The stunning Sagrada Familia
Barcelona’s one of those places in the world where everyone who’s anyone knows someone who’s been before. Therefore after hearing countless positive reports about just how beautiful the cosmopolitan city is and just how much it has to offer I decided it was time for me to make my way there to sample the Catalan way of life for myself.
Safe to say I wasn’t surprised to discover Barcelona truly is as Freddie Mercury would say a ‘perfect dream’. I spent an entire four days exploring the delights the city on the North Eastern Coast of Spain had to offer and I certainly wasn’t left disappointed!
There’s something extremely pleasant about the relaxed pace of life in the seaside city. The culture, wining and dining are world class, the weathers pretty decent and the shops are second to none (would you believe I was actually all shopped out after day one!)
I visited Barcelona during the last week of November which was a fairly decent time to go as 1) It wasn’t uncomfortably warm at 14 degrees most days (you can expect temperatures of around 33 degrees in August!) and 2) It wasn’t peak tourist season meaning I wouldn’t be queuing for hours on end to experience all the delights the city had to offer.
I managed to visit a number of Barcelona’s main attractions during my stay. Some of the highlights for me included a guided walking tour, a visit to the famous Torres vineyard and I never thought I’d say this watching a match in Camp Nou!
I stayed in the NH Rallye Hotel located slightly outside the city in the area of Les Corts. The hotel itself was pleasant, the staff were extremely helpful and my single room came at a nice price of 80 euro per night. Although a little bit away from the centre of the action, the NH Rallye was located a mere two minutes walk from the Les Corts metro station and with trains arriving every two minutes I found it fairly easy to get around.
If you’re planning on visiting the ever so chic city for the first time like I was I would highly recommend going on either a bus tour or a walking tour. Tour buses run regularly and have a hop on hop off option, meaning you can explore whatever attraction tickles your fancy in greater detail. Tickets for the bus tour aren’t too pricey either, they cost around 26 euro for an adult and 19 euro for a child which is reasonable considering you have the whole day to experience and explore your attractions of choice. There are also plenty of options available should you fancy the walking tour option, many of which depart from the Barcelona Tourist office in Sant Jaume.
Being an exercise enthusiast I decided to embark on a walking tour the highlight of which had to be none other than the stunning Sagrada Familia. The enormous church (which is seen by many as the landmark of Barcelona and is designed by Gaudi) depicts the spiritual symbol of Catalonia. Still in construction, each side of the Cathedral boasts a series of delicate, detailed sculptures. On one side there’s the passion façade which represents the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus while on the other there’s the nativity façade which consists of a series of tiny stories that demonstrate the joy of all creation. For those curious to inspect the interior of the unusual landmark you can also visit the Gaudi House museum where you can learn about the history behind the development of the church and gaze up at the stunning giant glass ceiling which beams streams of light softly from pillar to pillar. I would highly recommend you visit the Sagrada Familia as whether you’re a fan of history or architecture it is simply an unforgettable experience (not to mention a prime photo opportunity!) Entry to the Basilica and Gaudi House museum costs 18.30 per person.
Another area I recommend you visit would be Las Ramblas. Las Ramblas is the central boulevard which cuts through the centre of the city (in a way it reminded me of O’Connell Street.) The lengthy commercial tourist ridden strip is 1.2 kilometres long and boasts a huge array of shops from Pull and Bear to Zara to Bershka to H&M. It’s an area that’s littered with a selection of top tapas bars, restaurants and market stalls. In addition to this it features some of the best mime artists in the world which are part and parcel of Barcelona’s cultural heritage. If you plan on visiting the area then light refreshments in the El Corte Ingles Department store in the Placa Catalunya Square are a must. A selection of restaurants on the tenth floor of the tall tower shaped department store provide dazzling landscape views of the entire city and the surrounding mountains. Be warned though the food is certainly no pièce de résistance and is a tad overpriced, but for a true birds eye view to me my pricey panini was worth every cent!
If you want to see something truly spectacular then it may be an idea to visit Avinguda Maria Cristina to watch the marvellous Montjuïc Magic Fountain display. As one of Barcelona’s most famous attractions it features a stunning illuminated water ballet show that at 15 minutes long will delight and enchant both young and old. It’s free to watch so don’t be surprised if you spend hours gazing at it among the crowds of tourists and locals like I did.
The Montjuïc magic fountain
Onto the footie and whether you’re a football fan or not a trip to the home of Barcelona FC Camp Nou is a must, particularly when there’s a match on. The giant stadium has a rather impressive capacity of 98,787 people. Therefore when the pitch is in use the atmosphere is simply electric. Expect lots of chanting, whistling and stomping if you’re going to see Barcelona play. I just happened to visit when Barcelona were playing Granada and the excitement and buzz surrounding the match itself was out of this world. If you’re interested in the history of the club then I would recommend you try the interactive museum and stadium tour. Tickets for the official Camp Nou tour are around 23 euro for adults and 17 euro for kids. Although a tad pricey it’s a dream come true for genuine footie fans.
Supporting Messi at Camp Nou
Another attraction I found well worth experiencing was The Torres’ winery. A visit to the attraction which is 3kms away from Vilafranca del Penedes saw me spend half of my final day in Barcelona sampling a selection of fine wines on a guided tour set in a vineyard about 40 minutes drive from the city. The tour (which was a lot more interesting than I thought it would be) takes you into the darkness of underground ageing wine cellars by train and tells you the story of how Torres was first created. You are then led into a wine museum where you can see barrels, bottles and labels of all shapes and sizes which make for a genuine vineyard visit. In addition to the tour you can also do what I did and treat yourself to a wine tasting session to finish off your day in true Barca style. There’s also a shop and restaurant on site should you fancy some fine dining overlooking the rather impressive vineyards. While I was there I was lucky enough to run into Junior and Senior Miguel Torres who are considered Royals of the wine industry. The standard tour for adults is just 6.60 euro each and includes a tippletastic glass of wine at the end.
Did Barcelona meet my already high expectations? Yes. Would I go again? I’m booking another trip over as we speak! My only regret is that I wish I had more time to explore as there was so much more to see and do. Whether you’re looking for culture, authentic tapas bars, incredible shopping or historic landmarks all within reach, it’s fair to say Barcelona has the ‘B Factor’.
I booked my trip through online travel agency BudgetAir.ie. The fully licensed travel operator allows you to compare and book flights for over 200 airlines for any destination worldwide. Flights from Dublin to Barcelona El Prat cost from 120 pp return via Aer Lingus or Ryanair. For more information see http://www.BudgetAir.ie
I stayed in the NH Rallye, Travessera de les Corts. Prices for the hotel start at 80 euro per night including breakfast
For more information on:
Tour Guides see http://tourguides.viator.com/tour-guide-cesar-escuin-5128.aspx
Camp Nou see www.fcbarcelona.com/camp-nou
Sagrada Familia see http://visit.sagradafamilia.cat
The Torres tour see www.tinyurl.ie/torrestour
As featured in The Mail on Sunday