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Having studied in Barcelona in the early 80's and visited again in 1987 I was anxious to return and to show the city to my family. My older daughter had been there with a school trip and my husband and younger daughter had never been. With only a week to spare, I recommend setting up a "home base" in one city and not trying to do too much. I know we are tourists, but for some reason I prefer to be a "visitor," and try to absorb some sense of the city, rather than checking off a list of all the must-see sights. We didn't get to everything, but what we did do was thoroughly enjoyable.
From a personal standpoint, I cannot believe how much this city has changed. I know 1987 is not exactly yesterday, but the Olympics did a lot to open up a large are of the city and to reclaim the close in beaches and shore area. The city is cleaner, more environmentally aware, has many fewer smokers, more predictable traffic, and is filled with convertees to the fitness craze - with bike lanes, joggers, walkers and a large number of high end fitness and training facilities.
Additional random thoughts: Don't forget to download the Trip Advisor City guide ap (only for iphone at the moment - I hope they add an ipad edition). It can be used offline, and breaks down attractions, restaurants, etc. by neighborhood. It also includes a city map, a metro map and other nifty features, that are niftier if you are actually online. My only complaint is that even with frequent updates, I had limited luck finding the restaurants that were recommended - many were simply closed, but others had changed names or no longer existed.
Catalan - in the last 25 years, pride in the Catalan language has only increased, and many signs, menus, etc. are written in Catalan only. I never met any Catalan speaker who could not speak Spanish (and most people we met had some English or even excellent English - also we had no issue with speaking in Spanish to people - they have pride in their language but don't necessarily expect random tourists to be adept in it.), but expect that much of your initial encounters will likely be in Catalan. Also you will notice a large presence of Catalan flags and Catalan independence movement flags (same red and yellow stripes, but including a blue star).
Privately owned 3 br/ 2 ba apartment. We really enjoyed having an apartment in this lovely neighborhood, walking distance to Placa Catalunya, the Ramblas, and also to Sagrada Familia. I really liked dealing with bizflats, the management company. They take all payments by credit card, so there is recourse if something does not work out. When we travel as a family we much prefer having an apartment where everyone gets their own space, there is more than one bathroom, and we can at least make coffee and have breakfast at "home" before going out for the day. This apartment had wifi (didn't cover the whole apartment though - mainly the living area), central heat (getting AC soon) and lovely furnishings, though I noted to them they might provide some more towels.
3. Restaurante Can Cargol (Can is house or "chez", and Cargol is snail - updated/corrected by local expert)
Loved this museum! Really gave me an appreciation for this artist, less known in the US than Picasso. In general, try to see as much of the Catalan artists as you can - Tapies, Picasso (not Catalan, but spent time in Barcelona - Updated/corrected by local expert), Guinevert - if you're "over" impressionists, as I am, this is a breath of fresh air and creativity.
You can spend a day or more here - there is so much to see - botanical gardens, museums, the "magic" fountains on weekends. People think so much about the Ramblas and accompanying neighborhoods that this area may get overlooked. Even poor neglected Poble Espanyol is worth checking out.
Great walking neighborhood. Lots of schlocky touris crap, but also some nice bars and galleries. Check out Calle Petrixol - cafes wich xurros con chocolate (fried dough and thick hot chocolate - trust me), and galleries with affordable local art.
Well, I guess you have to do it, but yeesh - crowded - pickpocket haven - dumb street performers you have seen everywhere else, etc. There are lovely smaller pedestrian streets all over. Boqueria market is crowded but still cool - again check out other markets - same stuff fewer crowds. "our" market, in Eixample, was Mercat de la Concepcin - but here's a list of others: see wikipedia's "list of markets in Barcelona" - wouldn't let me paste the link
Tripadvisor (mobile) app recommended this plaza in Gracia. When we went it was filled with (high) musicians, indigents and begging dogs, but I'm sure it has its moments. We spent a little time people watching. I think in the evening it might get more ominous.
Spend a lot of time here! Ignore the hoards of people at the beautiful and strange entrance to the park. As you stroll the grounds you will hear amazing street musicians, see gorgeous views of the city and appreciate the vision of Gaudi in creating this urban oasis.
So this attraction is kind of odd - it's a series of model streets meant to reproduce traditional architecture in different regions of Spain. It was built for an expo in 1929 or so and supposed to be destroyed, but it never was. These are some pretty solid buildings and glad they left them up. There are "artisan" shops as well as artists' studio space, restaurants and a LOT of toursity souvenir shops. We thought it was worth a visit, if only to see their small modern art museum with a wide range of Catalan artists, and the Espai Guinevart, a fabulous and whimsical art installation in the theater near the museum. If you temper your expectations, this is an interesting visit off the beaten track (or not - we got there very late so it was almost abandoned).
Excellent restaurant but bring your appetites and expect it to be expensive. Actually I did not look at the bill because I suspect it would have ruined the experience. But if you're going to really splurge one night, and if you like seafood, and if you're not too picky, this is a great restaurant.
Reminded me a bit of South Street Seaport, but why not - add it to the list of scenic walkarounds with good people watching, pretty views and public art. Don't go all the way out, however, and expect to walk to Barcelonetta - unless you want to take a long detour....or swim.
Formerly the purview of drunk tourists. Barcelonetta (nobody calls it "little Barcelona") has really been cleaned up and has many charming bars and cafes - also you can catch the cablecar to MontJuic - it was a long wait (over an hour) for a 15 minute ride, but whatever, it was camper's choice, and that's what the girls wanted to do.
A must visit - we had not ordered tickets online so we contented ourselves with the outside of the church - plenty to see there too - remember, we were there with teenagers and thus limited forcing them into sites- they enjoyed the museums and churches they did visit and can put off a visit to the fabulous and interesting interior for the future. Buy timed tickets online!
Another up and coming neighborhood (or already came up) off La Ramblas with MORE boutiques and shops and tourist schlock, but loved the architecture and the cafes and had a look at the main Barcelona cathedral (where you can see the Sardana dancers on weekends - I think - do they still do that?)
Start here (you can actually start at Barcelonetta) and walk north along the Beach - so beautiful and plenty of places to play, have a drink, enjoy the views. We went as far as the Casino (a mile or mile and a half?) and headed home - lovely relaxing walk on our last day in Barcelona.
High end street where you will find both La Pedrera and Casa Battlo - line up early for expensive visits. The view from the roof on La Pedrera, and the architecture, is spectacular, though Casa Batllo has more curb appeal. The architecture on this street in general is phenomenal (in fact the architecture in most neighborhoods can keep you wandering and snapping photos for hours). There is also high end shopping, Chanel, Gucci, etc.
The girls shopped (extensively) at Stradivarius and Bershka, which had nice current fashion (similar to home but with a bit more pizzaz) at reasonable prices - even in Euros. Also, slightly off the Passeig you will find Tapas 24, a high end Tapas place which probably merits its reputation - we had a snack there and found the food to be very high quality if a bit pricey (with uncomfortable chairs - a good way to force turnover, I suppose).
Open since January - from Sants Station you are in Figueres (actually a little outside the town - Figueres Vilafont) in 53 minutes (you probably have to go to the station to buy a ticket if you are from the U.S.)- I tried online, but it wouldn't go through. (note: most European credit cards are chipped and have PINs) - if they ask you for your code say you don't have one, and most times it will go through and you can sign in pen or electronically - most places have these cool portable wireless credit card machines. ONE MORE NOTE: Make sure you have a picture ID if you are paying by credit card. Many establishments will ask for this.
Taking the Ave allowed us to beat the crowds and purchase Dali museum tickets with no waiting - tickets are only available online for groups and during the summer.
Dali designed the whole museum based on an old municipal theater in his home town. It is worth a couple of hours of exploration and gives you a sense of his evolution as an artist. They also display items from Dali's personal collection, and you can see some of his influences - take your time and read some of the explanations - although the museum is meant to be interpreted by visitors with their own imaginations - the collection is not really chronological or thematic. Don't miss the room with the face (I think it's Mae West). Actually don't miss anything!
As listed in many of the tour brochures, this is a great complement to a visit to Figueres - it's a 30 minute train ride from Figureres and a beautiful medieval town with a long history. It is famous for its pre-Inquisition Jewish quarter and medieval synagogue (which we never found, but I suspect it was on the grounds of the closed museum of Jewish History) - we were there on Good Friday and many things were closed.
Lovely residential town on the Costa Brava with wonderful waterfront restaurants. If you have a car you might want to stop here on your way up the coast. There are no hotels to speak of and no clubs so it is quiet and local. Might be a good place for a vacation rental. The beach is beautiful. (went there to visit friends) - somewhere nearby we visited a 1,000+ year old church - there are lovely villages on the coast and also old medieval villages in the surrounding hills.
This is a really great place to go if you're interested in the intersection of politics, sport and history. My kids are soccer players so we wanted to check it out (unfortunately there were no games scheduled during our stay), but even if you know nothing you can really appreciate the history of this club and its importance to the city, to the region and to the country, as well as to Catalan pride. It also has a social mission and is reaching out internationally through sport. Finally, famous artists, like Miro and Tapies, were fans, so you can see the promotional posters created by them - more convergence of sport and culture - worth the 23 Euros!
Between the Passeig de Gracia and the Rambla de Catalunya the Passatge de la Concepcio is a chic little alley with a number of higher end restaurants and bars. Having struck out at the Cerveceria Catalana (lines out the door) we were hungry and tired and ended up here. The host looked us up and down and was not particularly pleased with what he saw but condescended to give us a table in the bar. Once there we had a better experience. The waitresses were really sweet and the food was quite tasty (and overpriced). The service was a little inept and they forgot a few things, but they took them off the check. For a drink before or after dinner, however, I would recommend it - the bar was something out of the turn of the century - absolutely beautiful and you must must must visit the bathrooms - would you believe the bathroom has a dj?! That's all I'll say about that - very cool.
29. Final comments
So, a few additional thoughts: If you are looking for good restaurants, wander off the beaten path - go into the neighborhoods - off La Rambla - off Passeig de Gracia - you will find higher quality food at lower prices and possibly fewer tourists. House wine is usually pretty good - available by the glass and cheaper than water (available still or sparkling). Food to try in general: Pan con tomate - Catalan garlic bread; little fried fish (sometimes referred to as sand eels); grilled fresh sardines and other fish - especially lubina (sea bass); rape (monkfish) and merluza (hake); bunny; paella; cabrito (goat);all kinds of ham and prociutto; fideos and judias (different beans - also lentils) - available as tapas or main dishes - sometimes mixed with fish or squid, any marisco (shellfish) a la plancha (grilled), including gambas (prawns) and bogavante (langosta - tiny lobsterlike thing), crema catalana (kind of like creme brule), flan, tatin (apple pie- ish - very different every place we went), churros and bunuelos, grilled and baked vegetables and salads - local and fresh, tortilla espanola (potato omelette - typical tapa), white or red sangria or made with sparkling wine (cava) - drinking age for beer and wine is about 16.... I know I'm forgetting something. Buy tickets online when possible. Do some things that are NOT on the top ten list - whether it's visiting a small town, or a neighborhood like Gracia, or the Caixa Forum, or a music performance in a small club - then you won't feel so much like a tourist checking boxes off a list. And don't do too much - enjoy what you choose to do and don't rush through everything - it will still be there in the future and you will remember and savor the activities you choose. If travelling with young people always ask for the youth price. For many sites "youth" is under 26, and there are also "student" prices. Some places will ask for a special student ID that anyone not from Spain is not likely to have, but my kids carried their school student IDs and that occasionally saved us some Euros. WALK as much as possible - even with my bad knee I loved walking through all the neighborhoods and appreciating the beautiful architecture and small surprises - when tired you can always stop for a drink, an espresso, a hot chocolate, a gelato, or all of the above. The metro is easy to navigate - we bought tickets with 10 rides and were able to pass back and use the same ticket for all four of us, but we ended up taking a lot of taxis, which are plentiful and inexpensive. To get to the airport early in the morning, I approached a taxi driver who had a van and asked him to pick us up the next day - he gave me a business card and was very prompt. Due to the economic crisis people are anxious do do anything that brings in some cash. What I will do next time (some of which I did 20 years ago): Gaudi's house, Fundacion Tapies, PIcasso museum - if the lines are not an hour long, Montserrat, wineries, other parks beyond Park Guell..... and more.
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