Travel Guide: Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain

January 10, 2018

Barcelona will always hold a special place in our hearts after spending a full week there on our honeymoon. Let's start this post off with a story, shall we? (If you don't like stories, you can skip down a couple paragraphs to the travel tips.)


We have a running joke in my family that Parke (my maiden name) vacations are doomed. At least 1 thing can and will go wrong. I guess I should change my name asap because the curse followed us to Barcelona. But my luck might be changing, because what could have been a major downer ended up only majorly affecting one day of our trip.


If you don't know already what happened in October 2017 in Catalonia, there was a referendum vote, in favor of Catalan independence from Spain. I'll spare you the details, because a quick google search will explain it better than I ever could in my politically ignorant way. Anyway- there were violent riots happening all over Catalonia the. day. before. we arrived. So how did it affect us? Well, the police brutality during the riots set into motion a series of protests and demonstrations in Barcelona the day after the riots (aka our arrival date). Many of them centered in Placa Catalyuna, the main plaza in the city center of Barcelona. Guess where we stayed? 1 block away from said plaza. The day we got to Barcelona, there was a city-wide strike. Most restaurants, stores, all public transportation, and pretty much every street within about a 1 mile radius of Placa Catalyuna was closed.


So, how do two Americans, who don't speak a word of Catalan (the local language) get to their hotel? They walk. When we planned this trip, we booked a bus service that takes you from the airport to Placa Catalyuna. The day we arrived, the bus was on strike too, sortof... They were only going as far as Plaza Espana, which is a little over two miles from the hotel we were staying in. After wandering around Plaza Espana trying to figure out a way to get to the hotel and being turned down and/or laughed at by a few people, we started walking. And kept walking all the way to the hotel, right through the protest... with two carry ons, two backpacks, and 2 large rolling suitcases (We must learn to pack lighter). Viva Catalonia! Good thing they were peaceful demonstrations this day, contrary to the previous day, because we were literally in the heart of it. We arrived about an hour later, very sweaty, but safely. Needless to say, we weren't really ready to brave the crowds that night, and most restaurants were still closed, so we hit up the hotel rooftop bar, then ordered room service and hoped it cleared up the next day. To our delight, we woke up to a quiet, empty street, with running public transportation, and open restaurants. It was a D'Auria miracle!

Here's the view from our hotel room... no joke. They estimated 15,000 protesters were there in Placa Catalyuna that day.

Now that that's over, I will get to the part you are here to hear. Like I say, we stayed a full week in Barcelona in the very beginning of October. We stayed in Placa Catalyuna and did A LOT. It was a packed week if I ever saw one. So let me break it down for you:


Location and Transportation

The gothic quarter is where Placa Catalyuna is located. It's at the heart of pretty much everything and it was a really good centrally located spot to be for all of the sights we wanted to see. We were able to walk or use public transportation to everywhere we wanted to go, and in fact never even had to use a taxi. (Uber is banned in Spain). Granted you are NOT arriving during a city wide strike (your chances are pretty high for this), the AeroBus is an awesome option. I think it was only like 6 euros a person and it takes you straight from the airport to placa catalyuna. The signs for it are easy to navigate and find, so I would highly recommend it. Although we couldn't use this service on the way to our hotel, we took it from our hotel back to the airport when we left and it was swift and easy. As far as day to day transportation, two working legs are your best friend. We used google maps for all of the other transportation we needed, for when things were too far to walk, and I don't think it failed us once.



Must sees


Basillica La Sagrada Familia: If you've done any research on Barcelona, you already probably know what this is. It's the HUGE cathedral in the middle of the city that Gaudi started before his death. Its till not 100% complete, and it won't be until 2027. Shockingly, I read reviews that said the cathedral is not worth going inside of. Despite these reviews, we went in and did an audiotour. They also offer in person guided tours, but were not really guided tour people, so we opted for the self-guided. After doing so, my reaction to the people who said its not worth it is, "??!!!???!!?!" It was spectacular- absolutely breathtaking. I am not a religious person and going inside was the most spiritually moving experience of my life. The audio tour although not essential, gave some cool information that I felt was worth the small pricetag. You can buy tickets online prior to arrival, which is what we did.

Parc Guell: This is the park- also a Gaudi creation- with the cute little buildings that look like gingerbread houses and the beautiful mosaic tile walls. (You've probably seen it at least once on social media). This was definitely a bucket lister for me. It was fun to see and really quite cool to see the hard work that went into the part. Unfortunately, like most tourist highlights, it was reeeeally crowded, and that kindof made it hard to enjoy parts of the park. IMO, the little house that you have to wait to go inside was not worth the wait. Its kindof a weird little museum with not much to look at. Stick to the mosaics, and just explore the rest of the park, its really beautiful and peaceful. If you can go all the way to the top, you also get an amazing view of the city.

 La Boqueria: This is the biggest food market in Spain and is an incredible experience. We went as part of a cooking class (more on that later) but its definitely worth a visit. If you're going on your own, go hungry. So many booths have things to eat or drink and the food there is rumored to be incredible. Definitely known by locals as a place to get quality foods.


Barceloneta: The beach in Barcelona. It's a cute little beachy town with a pretty awesome sandy beach. We only took a walk on the beach and got some lunch while in town. If I had known how nice the beach was, I would have brought a towel and worn a suit and had a beach day. There are also a lot of cute little bars right on the beach to get a drink and a snack.


We did a handful of daytrips and experiences that I would HIGHLY recommend. We did a lot of research into things to do and places to go, since 7 days in Barcelona is a long time, we wanted to see more than just the city, so here's a breakdown of what we did.


Castle Experience Wine Tours:

This company is awesome. I had it reccommended to me by two different friends who had travelled to Spain. They offer a lot of different experiences throughout Spain, so their site is worth perusing. We used them for a tour to Montserrat. They offer a few options for this location, but we booked the Montserrat + Lunch + Wine tour. You meet in front of the Hard Rock in the middle of Placa Catalyuna, and they take you up to the tram that takes you to Montserrat (a montessary in the mountains) on the way there they tell you all about it and give you some history. Once you get there, they take you on a tour of the church and then you get about an hour or so of free time before lunch. We went for a hike which provided an amazing view. You can also try local cheese and liquers, or shop for souvenirs. Then they took us to a "castle" private winery with a country club attached. We had a delicious 6 course lunch, then headed to the winery for a tasting. The guide gives you tips on how to taste wine like a local and you try 6 wines. Everything was top notch. Tour guide was awesome, food was great, and wine was delish. Highly highly recommend this tour.

Foodie Experience Cooking Class:

One of my personal favorite experiences while we were in Barcelona was a cooking class led by two sisters. We took a walk around La Boqueria, bought some things to use for the dinner we prepared, then went back to the kitchen to make dinner. We made sangria, pan con tomate (tomato bread) Spanish Tortilla (A potato fritatta), paella and catalan creme (sortof like creme brulee). It was an absolute treat. The woman leading the class was authentic and charming and gave awesome insight into local culture. The food was amazing, and it was an experience I will remember forever. After the class, they send you all the recipes too, so you can recreate the meal at home. The price might look high, but it was SO worth it. This is an experience I think I will do in any foreign country from here on out. It's a great way to get an authentic taste of the culture. Be warned. If you take this class, you WILL come home wanting to buy a paella pan. And when you do... lemme know because I found a site that sells good ones!


Bonus: The women teaching the class grew up in Girona. We just happened to be visiting Girona the following day, and she gave us a whole list of things to do there- so helpful.


Girona & Figeures:

Girona is a charming little village northeast of Barcelona. If you are looking to experience a less touristy town with good food, and a relaxed culture, its a short day trip from the city. It's easy to get to via high speed train, and only takes about 1 hour each way. Technically you could go there and back in 1 day if you are short on time, but I would recommend staying at least 1 night so you can take advantage of the whole day. There is a roman wall surrounding the city that you can walk and get a cool view. There is also (surprise) another cathedral, as well as some roman baths that you can tour. We just walked around the village and took in the sights. There are lots of cute little restaurants and quaint shops. There is a jewish quarter of town with cute little alleyways and more shops. There is also a whole section of town that is blocked off to cars- pedestrian traffic only. There is a little courtyard near the bridge called placa de la independencia with a lot of restaurants where you can get some tapas and a drink on the patio.



Figeures: If you're doing research on Girona, you might see the Salvador Dali museum. It's located in the city of Figeures and you can get there from a local train from Girona. If you are a big Dali fan, it might be worth it, but IMO its not worth the trip. The day we went it was insanely crowded almost so much so that I was getting claustrophobic being inside the museum. Its a big museum with a lot of art, and it is cool, but it just wasn't for me. There isn't much else to do in Figeures other than the museum, and it was kinda out of the way for an underwhelming experience, so I would personally recommend skipping this one, but you do you!



Hotel H10 Cubik [Barcelona]: We loved this hotel! It was sooo cute and trendy inside, and they had incredible service. Everyone there was SO friendly, and the hotel was very clean, quiet and classy. 

Pros: Free bottle of water every day, really nice rooms and bathrooms. Cool rooftop bar/restaurant. Location is GREAT. Pretty good pricing.

Cons: The only thing I can think of is that the breakfast was a little pricey. But we only got breakfast at the hotel once, so it was no biggie.

The Bottom Line: Would DEFINITELY recommend this hotel. If you don't book this one specifically, at least look into this neighborhood, or the H10 hotel chain, as they have many hotels in Barcelona.

Hotel Ciutat De Girona [Girona]: This was the cute little hotel we stayed in for 1 night in Girona. We kept our hotel in Barcelona for the whole time, and left all our stuff there so we didn't have to lug our bags on the train, etc. We could afford to do that, because I think this hotel only cost like $80/night.

Pros: Good Location, clean rooms, friendly staff, cheap price. Close enough to walk to the train station.

Cons: None :)

The Bottom Line: If you're going to Girona, consider this hotel!


If you've made it this far, I commend you. I know this is a long post, but were getting to the good part: the food. By far my favorite part about Spain. The food and drinks are the stuff dreams are made of. A couple of MUST-HAVES:


-Olives: try them. eat them. repeat. Sean DESPISES olives in the U.S. and he couldn't get enough of them there!

-Iberico Jamon: Stay away from Serrano- it's tough and chewy. The Iberico is worth the extra money.

-Gin & Tonic: They like their Gin, and they do it well.

-Wine: Ever heard someone say "the wine is cheaper than water"? They weren't kidding. Sometimes they just bring you a bottle, even though you only ordered 2 glasses. Wine for every meal!


Barcelona Dining Guide:

We didn't go to every single place on this list, but all of these places we either dined at and liked, or were personally recommended to me.


Tosca Palau [Barcelona]: One of our top 3 restaurants of the whole trip. Good for dinner. It was so good we actually asked them to bring us seconds of one of the tapas we got. #noshame.


Oggi gelato [Barcelona]: Top rated gelato place. It was pretty good. Not my favorite, but decent.


Alsur cafe [A Few Locations]: I think they all have the same menu. Very good for breakfast/brunch.


Milk bar bistro [Gothic Quarter]: Great for breakfast. This was our last breakfast of the honeymoon. *sad face* but it was really good!


Elsa y Fred [Barcelona | Near Arc De Triumph]: Good for a quick light breakfast. They have small dishes, pastries, and coffees. 


Casa Lolea (Barcelona N.1) [Barcelona]: TOP 3 FOR SURE A MUST!!! Ever seen the cute sangria bottle that has red polka dots on it in the store? This is the original and only restaurant by that company. Reservation recommended. Adorable restaurant and AMAZING tapas. This place is really popular, and other restaurants have tried to rip it off. This is the ONLY one, so don't be fooled if you see "casa lola" or "lola cafe" it's not the same.


Flax&Kale [Several locations around BCN]: When you're sick of tapas and just need some real food, this is your place. Budda bowls, vegan, vegetarian, gluten free, you name it- they have it and its dang good. Also its freaking adorable inside.


Citizen Cafe {Barcelona]: Really cute cafe in Barcelona that is good for breakfast or lunch.


Bodega La Tinaja [Near Barceloneta]: Sadly didn't get to go here because it was closed the day we tried to go. A friend recommended it to me and said it was one of her fave restaurants in BCN. Good for tapas and wine. :)


La Fabrica [Girona]: An adorable cafe fit for bicyclists and hipsters alike. Really cozy inside, and cute little patio outside. You can even grab a cushion and sit on the stairs outside to eat. Good for breakfast or an afternoon cappuccino.


Occi [Girona]: Don't let the menu scare you away. It sounds a bit crazy & you might not know what most of it even is but just trust. This was recommended to me by our cooking class instructor and a family member. I was nervous because the menu seemed adventurous, even for me but it did not disappoint. Good for a nice dinner, it's a little pricey- but doable.


Taqueria Tamarindo [Barcelona | Eixample]: Didn't go here... Recommended by a friend who said it's good for when you are tired of tapas.


Obama Gastropub [Barcelona]: Didn't go here either, but same friend recommended this one for when you're tired of tapas.


General Tips De Espana + FAQs

You will also find these under my Mallorca post. Just some tips to get you through traveling in Spain, and answers to questions people have asked me since our trip.


1. Safety: Since we got back from our trip a lot of people have asked me how I felt safety-wise while in Barcelona/Spain in general. Pretty much anyone who knows anything about Barcelona will warn you about pickpockets. Apparently the people there are accomplished at it and many many tourists get taken advantage of. Maybe I am completely ignorant, but I never saw it happen once, nor did I feel at risk of it. Either way, travel smart. I invested in a small Travelon backpack that I wore pretty much every day of the trip. It had lockable zippers, RFID blocking for cards and passport, and antislash straps. I felt safe with it, and needless to say, I took the normal precautions. I only held 1 credit card and a little bit of cash on me any any time. Leave your passport in your hotel, and just keep your eyes open. Wear your backpack on your front when on public transportation, or in crowded areas like La Boqueria. Everyone is really helpful, and the Catalan people sortof like tourists. Their city thrives on the money it brings in and they are thankful for it. Which brings me to #2.


2. Language: When we first booked our trip, we were all rah-rah espanol. We downloaded duolingo and were going to try to brush up on Spanish, and then wedding planning happened and I straight up ran out of time and energy to relearn another language. Lucky for us, most people there speak english, especially younger folk, because we learned that its actually mandatory to learn Catalan, Spanish and English in school there. A couple basic terms will help you when necessary. As long as you can say hello and thank you and have a good day, pointing, and smiling will get you anything else you need. Cue #3.


3. Catalonia: Also- hence the aforementioned Catalonian independence battle, Catalonians are very proud of their culture and they don't associate themselves with Spain or Spanish people. They do speak Spanish but they mostly speak Catalan. So it might be worth your time to learn some basic phrases in both Catalan and Spanish.


4. Tipping and Dining: If you've been to Europe, this might be old news, but if this is your first time, keep reading. There is no tipping culture in Spain, or pretty much anywhere else in Europe for that matter. But as far as dining goes, no tips necessary, or expected. If you take a tour with someone that you really enjoyed or worked with a guide of some kind, tip might be nice but not expected. And speaking of dining out, the experience is a lot different than in America as far as service goes. Don't expect to be greeted when you first walk into a restaurant right away. And don't expect constant table service like you are used to either. The server will generally come to your table twice, at most 3 times... once to take your order, once to bring your food, and MAYBE once more to make sure everything is all good, and to see if you want any coffee after your meal. They will not ask if you're ready for your check and they also won't bring it unless you ask for it. The best way is to just make eye contact with your server and motion in the air like you're singing a check and they will bring it. Sounds stupid that I would even need to include this, but it took us a few tries to get this right, so there ya go.


5. Cell Phones: I mentioned above using google maps while we were there. We switched to T Mobile with unlimited data like a month before our trip so that we could use our phones and I am so glad we did. Google Maps was clutch and pretty much navigated our whole trip. With T Mobile, you get free 2g data in a handful of foreign countries, Spain being one of them. If you don't have T Mobile, see how much it is to get an international plan for a month... if it's not too much, it might be worth it. If not, then at least download the Google maps of where you're going to be offline so you can access them. I've heard that works pretty well.


6. Payment: Random little tip, but most places in Spain did not accept American Express cards. Luckily we also had a visa card that was accepted pretty much everywhere. If you are planning on using a card, make sure you have a VISA that does not incur foreign transaction fees. Otherwise, use euros. If you are going to be using euros, go to your bank a month or so before your trip, and get them there, so you don't have to pay any transaction fees like they charge at the airport. You can also use a debit card in pretty much any ATM, but I still would recommend the bank idea.


7. Water: It's not free anywhere. If it's offered at a restaurant, it means you have to pay for it, and they usually will bring it to you in a bottle, not a cup. I drink like at least 80oz of water a day, and I was dying of thirst basically all the time. We basically went to a market anytime we were going back to our hotel and stocked up on water. The good thing is, its cheap and the bottles are huge in the markets. Another option that I HIGHLY reccommend is a self-filtering water bottle like this or this. Then you can just fill it from any old sink and have clean drinkable water!


8. TripAdvisor: Last but certainly not least... more like most important. If I can give you one tip in planning a trip: Trip Advisor Trip Advisor Trip Advisor. This is your new yelp, and the holy grail of tips and advice. Look up restaurants, transportation, hotels, excursions- anything. Real people, giving real advice and we used it to make ALL decisions regarding our trip! (Other than personal recommendations from friends, that is...)


And that will about do it! Let me know if you have any other questions! I love to share my research and tips. Happy traveling! Salut!



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© 2018 by Hayley D'Auria