Mid-December, with a few days between my last final exam and my flight home for the holidays, I decided to us my precious free time to go on a trip with my brother, who happened to be finishing up a semester studying abroad in Glasgow. We chose Barcelona for the hopeful escape from Winter weather that would allow us to experience some Catalan flavor in the Christmas season. While our time was limited, we tried to make the best of our 40 hours. I lay out my (perhaps too) detailed itinerary below, in the hopes that you will take some inspiration for your own future Catalan adventures.
6:00pm Arrive ; After arriving, we took the Aerobus from the airport to Plaça de Catalunya (the city center), walked the ten minutes to our hotel in Gothic quarter (or Barri Gòtic), and checked in.
8:00pm Dinner ; After settling into our hotel, we wandered around the winding alleyways of the Gothic quarter until we came upon a cute tapas restaurant, where we were able to snag the table by the window.
9:30pm Post-dinner walk ; Our bellies full, we walked down Passeig de Gracia, one of the main shopping streets in Barcelona, admiring the Christmas lights along the route. We wandered until we came upon Casa Milà, the last private residence that Antoni Gaudí ever built. For those who are unaware, Gaudí is a famous architect from Catalonia known for the whimsy of his designs (think Dr. Seuss meets Alice in Wonderland, with a little more structural stability). His works are all over Barcelona, and a trip there is incomplete without taking in at least a few of his masterpieces.
10:30pm Bedtime ; After taking in Casa Milà, we returned back to our hotel, making a pit stop for gelato along the way.
8:30am Wake up ; We donned our practical shoes and layered clothes, grabbing breakfast from the hotel and mentally preparing ourselves for a crazy long day.
10:00am Sagrada Familia tour ; We booked our tickets online in advance to Gaudí’s most grand and most ambitious project, the Sagrada Familia. Booking online was definitely a smart move, allowing us to avoid the long queue at the ticket booth outside. As we approached the church, the grandeur of the building truly set in. The longer you look at it, the more details you notice. We entered on the West side, where you find the “Nativity Façade,” depicting in highly detailed statues the birth of Jesus Christ. I’m not going to go into much detail about the architectural elements and feats of the Sagrada Familia (of which there are many), as I cannot pretend to know anything past what Google tells me, but I will say that the building truly did take my breath away. The interior is just as impressive as the exterior, with a “forest” of columns and some definitively instagram-worthy stained glass windows, refracting light in every color of the rainbow.
11:30 am Park Güell ; Following our Sagrada Familia tour, we headed to Park Güell, yet another of Gaudi’s wondrous projects. The park was about a 30 minute walk, mostly uphill, from the church, but definitely worth the hassle. We bought general admission tickets at the entrance, but there are also a number of paths above the architectural section that are publicly accessible. The highlight of the park is the long mosaic bench formed in the shape of a serpent, whose vantage point provides an aerial view of Barcelona. If you’ve seen postcards from Barcelona, there’s a good chance they have a picture of this bench. I was there in the tourist off-season, so I only had to wait a couple minutes to get a picture from this oh-so-recognizable of spots. However, in the summer season, I imagine you’d have to wait a bit longer to get your turn. I mean, were you even in Barcelona if you didn’t take a picture on Gaudí’s bench?
1:00pm Lunch ; Following our lovely trip to the park, we stopped at a small family-owned restaurant for a quick lunch. This is where I had the best carrot/apple/orange juice of my life. Friendly tip: Many restaurants in Barcelona will ask you if you would like bread and tomatoes with your meal. While a delicious, light addition to any lunch, this can add about five euros to your tab. So, if you’re trying to keep things cheap, maybe give a polite gràcies però no gràcies.
2:00pm La Rambla ; During our 40 hours in Barcelona, we had to visit arguably the most hip-hoppin’ (and definitely the most touristy) street in town, La Rambla. This pedestrian avenue connecting Plaça de Catalunya to the Port Vell is lined with shopping, restaurants, many (many) souvenir shops, and plenty of street entertainment. I would put your money in your front pockets, if you know what I mean, but a stroll down this avenue is definitely a must to absorb the cultural offerings of Barcelona in their most vibrant form.
4:30pm Port Vell ; We took a brief Starbucks break (because ya girl needs her caffeine) before heading down to the port itself. We found a bench dockside, where I proceeded to pretend to read on my Kindle… while actually people-watching. The port was definitely the best spot to be during sunset. As the crowds on the dock thinned out and the breeze got a little breezier, the sun slowly slipped away behind Montjuïc, the hill overlooking the harbor of Barcelona.
6:00pm Fira da Santa Llúcia ; If there is one thing I love about Europe in December, it is the abundance of Christmas markets. Check out my post last week if you don’t believe me. Therefore, when the hotel we booked happened to be about 30 seconds from one of the biggest Christmas markets in Barcelona, Fira de Santa Llúcia (celebrating its 231st anniversary this year), I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to stop by. Most of the stands sold hand-made trinkets for nativity scenes, but there were also a number of other artisan gifts, such as jewelry, art, lotions, etc. One distinctly Catalan tradition is called the Caganer, literally “the crapper.” These are figurines, traditionally of a Catalan peasant, who is in the act of pooping. Modern figurines depict figures of pop culture (from musicians to presidents to cartoon characters) taking up the position. While seemingly bizarre and inappropriate to some, these figurines have a rich tradition 3 centuries long. Two of the most popular explanations include that they represent the fertilization of the land or the equality of all men, as we all have the same basic needs. In any case, I found them intriguing, as it is these small quirky traditions, no matter how bizarre, that give cities their local color.
7:00pm Return to Hotel ; After the market, my brother and I split up so he could visit the geology museum (because he is very into that stuff), while I returned to the hotel for a nap (because I am very into sleeping).
9:00pm Flamenco show ; We met up again to head to a Flamenco show at a small venue called Los Taranto’s, which I found to be brief but highly entertaining. We arrived about 15 minutes early and snagged a couple seats in the second row after ordering a couple glasses of Sangria (they had Sangria on tap, which I have since strongly considered implementing in my apartment). On the night we went, they were featuring a couple, a man and a woman who were both fabulous in their own right. While the stage was small, it featured live musicians seated in the back, while the dancers utilized every square inch up front. The energy in the room was really contagious, the musicians stomping and shouting on the dancers, the dancers making eye contact with the audience like they know they command our attention, and the audience joining in with mostly on-beat clapping. The show built from a slow-paced almost trance-like song at first, the lyrics introducing a Catalan love story (or at least that’s what my brother told me they were saying, after his seven years of Spanish lessons). Following the intro, the dancers came out and the show picked up pace, until the grand finale where I could barely follow the quick movements of the dancers at the end. Definitely a highlight of the trip.
10:00pm Dinner ; Following the show, we grabbed a nice dinner at a restaurant nearby, digging into some seafood paella and somehow finishing the large skillet between the two of us.
11:00pm Sleep ; Okay, Netflix then sleep.
7:00am Wake up ; Following our wakeup call, we caught an Aerobus back to the airport.
10:00am Flight back to Paris
Overall, I am very pleased with my 40 hours in Barcelona. We definitely could have found more to do if we had stayed a couple more days (ex: take in the sights from Montjuïc), but I felt we were able to see most of the highlights and get a feel for the city in the limited time we did have. For anyone considering a visit, I’d definitely recommend the city to lovers of architecture, good food, and shopping. As always, please don’t hesitate to leave any comments if you want to share your experience in Barcelona or have any questions about mine! Fins a la setmana que ve 🙂