I wouldn’t say Gareth and I were particularly impulsive. My diary is usually pretty booked solid these days, and in the rare times when it’s not I spend most of my time glued to my computer screen, trying my hardest to power through my ever expanding ‘to do’ list. Gareth has also never, ever surprised me with a holiday before so its not something I’d ever expect him to do.
So you can imagine my complete astonishment when he popped into my office the day before my 30th, and said, “I was thinking that for your birthday I’d take you to Barcelona… in two days time!”
WHAT!?! Oh my God!
Never having done a mini break abroad before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I also had NO TIME to research or plan anything. Could we really see everything in just three days? Where were we staying? Was it in the right area? What clean clothes do I have? Where can I grab some Euros?!?
Luckily, my Dad travels to Barcelona a lot for work so Gareth has already grilled him on the best things to see and do. He came armed with a thorough and very packed itinerary!
If you’re after a honeymoon that offers you the best of both worlds then you really need to consider Barcelona. We stayed in the centrally located Alma Hotel on Carrer de Mallorca which is just off Passeig de Gràcia, the high end shopping area. It was a 20 minute walk down to the gothic district and just four Metro stops right down to the beach. Perfect!
As I said, we were only there for three short days but with Gareth’s packed schedule we really managed to see a lot! Here are my top ten Barcelona must sees, followed by a few other bonus tips to really get the best out of your time in this wonderful city.
I’d grab yourself a cuppa for this one, I have a lot to say!
1. Stare in awe at Sagrada Familia
One of the first things in Gareth’s plan was to visit Sagrada Familia, the awe-inspiring Gaudí cathedral. I’ll be honest when I say apart from knowing that construction started in the late 1800s and that it was still unfinished, I knew pretty much next to nothing about this iconic building.
As we turned the corner and saw it for the first time, we both audibly gasped. It was much much bigger than I expected (and it’s going to be even taller when it’s finished!) and completely incredible in real life.
Off we went to find the queue to get in and we – eventually – found the end of it about 10 minutes later! It was going right around the block, and although I have to admit to having a bit of a moan at the prospect of waiting over an hour to get into some old building, I’m really glad that Gareth forced me too. It was totally worth it and, if possible, even more astonishing inside.
A trip to Barcelona won’t be complete without stopping off here. Make it top of your list of priorities!
Check out the abseiling dude, working on the stained glass windows!
Now, I’m not really sure I believe in God, but this was quite an experience. I know if my Mother was there she would have said something poignant about the symbolism of these beams of light piercing through the windows!
I mean, damn… the coloured light reflections all over the place took my breath away. I couldn’t stop photographing them!
2. Get lost in Park Güell
Those Barcelonians sure are proud of that Anton Gaudí! Next on our list was a visit to Park Güell designed, again, by him.
So here’s the thing about tourist traps… you have to queue for ages to get into most of them! As we had literally no time to forward plan this trip, we were just rocking up to places and waiting in line. Which was fine for the most part, but at the park we were foiled.
Here, when you bought your ticket you were given an allocated time when you could get in. We got there at around midday and were informed that we couldn’t get in until 5pm. UGH!
So we actually didn’t end up going in to the bit you had to pay for but it was still totally worth a visit. The same thing actually happened at the Familia. We booked to go up one of the towers but it was a three hour wait and we wouldn’t be let back in if we left. We decided to forgo it because by this point we were both starving!
(I nicked these last three photos from my friend Rebecca Douglas, who was also there recently, because I didn’t really take any in the park. I think I was too pissed off about the 5pm thing… whoops!)
There is a huge area you can wonder around without paying here though, and although it’s probably not as impressive as the other bit, I’m still really glad we went there. As you can see from my photo at the top of this post, the view over the city at the top was ahhh-mazing!
3. Explore the rooftop of La Pedrera
La Pedrera is another house designed by that Gaudí fellow and was just a block away from our hotel. The museum inside was, honestly, a bit dull and not really my thing at all (it reminded me of boring school trips!) but the roof is something else and definitely worth the ticket price alone.
I got stared at a lot on this day… I think the flower crown blew people’s minds. It’s by Crown and Glory of course!
4. Go inside Casa Batlló
The Casa Batlló on Passeig de Gràcia is damn impressive from the outside. Its the first thing we stumbled across our first night there and it pretty much blew our tiny minds!
But just you wait until you see what’s lurking behind that amazing front façade. Designed, again, by that Spanish architect dude, it was created for a the Batlló family in 1904. The swirly ceilings, intricately patterned floors and foreboding but beautiful blue central well were completely amazing!
Gaudí was clearly not a fan of straight lines…
5. Window shop on Passeig de Gràcia
As I said, our hotel was located right in the hub off the designer shopping district. I knew which turning was ours because it was the one with Louis Vuitton on the corner for goodness sakes! While actually buying something might not be on the cards (I fell in love with this amazing, and in my eyes hilarious, jumper but it was €850 – sad face!) it’s certainly worth a wander around.
6. Venture into the markets
Who doesn’t love a good rummage in an outdoor market? Luckily Barcelona has loads of them! From art, vintage knick-knacks, food, drink and everything in between, don’t walk past one without popping your head in.
La Boqueria food market on La Rambla was my favourite and a complete a feast for the senses. Although if you’re a vegetarian I’d suggest avoiding the meat stands… I’ll spare you the gory details!
We also stumbled across this random vintage shop on a side street with some questionable but rather creative wall décor! Yes, that is a wedding dress with the skirt split in half framing a pink painted Elvis Presley. What’s unusual about that?
The shop owner kindly informed us this one-off creation was for sale. Unsurprisingly we passed…
7. Pootle around Port Vell
On our last day we hopped on the Metro to head down to the sea. We got off at the Drassanes stop which put us slap bang by the waterfront harbour. We were mildly amused by the street performers (although everyone else seemed very excited by them!) and then walked along the harbour and down some random back streets towards to Port Olímpic.
8. Take a stroll down Port Olímpic Beach
When we got here and looked back at the beach in front of us I felt like I could have been in California! It was completely picturesque and lined with palm trees. The impressive sail shaped W Hotel stood proudly at the far end.
I took my boots off and we wondered all the way down, before stopping for lunch at the row of restaurants underneath the W.
9. Eat underneath the W Hotel
I wouldn’t say I’m a particularly fussy eater, but I always get a little nervous when I travel that I’ll make bad food choices. One of the best meals we had on this trip was at Segafredo, overlooking the Mediterranean sea… now it really doesn’t get more idyllic than that does it!?
Gareth had a enormous burger and fries and I tucked into delicious crab and mushroom ravioli and treated myself to a fruit panna cotta for desert and… erm… two glasses of cava… well, I was on holiday!
10. Go for cocktails in fancy hotels
My Dad raved about the Arts Hotel so much that Gareth and I decided to stop in for a mid-afternoon cocktail. “It’s quite difficult to find”, he said, “but you’ll know it by all the Ferraris and McLarens parked outside…” Okkkay then… I’m sure we’re not going to feel out of place there AT ALL.
But the staff were all super friendly and welcoming, and even though my G&T cost €20 it was definitely worth a stop by.
I need to try rosemary in my gin at home. It was so good!
They also had pink peonies, scented candles and help yourself pink marshmallows in the lobby! I guess I could fit in here after all…
However I had the best Cosmopolitan of my life (and I’ve drunk a lot of them!) at our hotel. The glass was lined with caramelised sugar… YUM! If you like your cocktails then not only can we certainly be friends, but my advice to you would be to treat yourself to some at the fancy hotels!
Bonus Barcelona advice:
Here are a few quick tips to get the best out of your time in Barcelona…
♥ Dress up but be prepared to get stared at! I don’t know if it was mostly tourists or locals, but most people seemed to be dressed so incredibly boringly! I know comfort is key when you’re walking around all day but the lack of effort was actually a little bit depressing. Jeans or leggings, ill-fitting tee-shirts and trainers were the staples.
You know me though, I don’t like to blend in and even with my last minute packing rush I managed to squeeze in some pretty colourful ensembles. Gareth said I must have been blowing people’s minds because I was constantly being papped by tourists. Although super flattering, it did start to get a bit annoying after a while…
But whatever you do, make sure you wear comfortable shoes. Barcelona is a walking city and if you’re in anything other than your most comfortable flats, your feet will hate you for it. My fabulous new Topshop platforms didn’t even come out of my suitcase.
The skirt at the top is from Topshop, my striped dress is H&M, my pink vest is Oasis (I love it so much I’m considering buying it in every colour!) and my red flower skirt is Ted Baker.
♥ Walk everywhere and look up! The best stuff in Barcelona happens above street level. I wouldn’t say I’m really into history or architecture particularly, but the buildings here are flipping incredible. We got the Metro a few places that were a bit more of a distance but most of the time we walked everywhere. We found the most awesome and unexpected surprises around every corner and you’ll miss out if you get cabs or the subway. I mean look at this tower block that we found on our hunt for the Arts Hotel. How Blogcademy is that!?
♥ Free wifi! OK so this isn’t really a tip but I was THRILLED to find out the there is free city-wide open wifi in Barcelona! As an out and proud Instagram obsessive this was amazing news. Now why can’t every city in the world follow suit?
♥ Buy tickets in advance. As I said before if, unlike us, you have time to plan then buy your tickets to any attractions that you want to visit in advance. Queuing over an hour for anything sucks, so save yourself the hassle and pop online and grab your timeslot without the wait. Most places offer a small discount for advanced ticket sales too.
♥ Don’t eat in the first place you find. There are plenty of places to eat everywhere… some amazing, but others not so. On our first day we both had a very questionable lunch at what can only be described as the Spanish equivalent of a greasy spoon. Keep wandering around until you find somewhere that looks good, there are so many to choose from!
However I refuse to spend a million dollars on food, or to wait for a table for two hours when I’m hungry, so although we were given plenty of amazing restaurant recommendations, we kept things simple most days. Another thing about Barcelona is that they eat LATE. A lot of places didn’t even open until 8.30 or 9pm and and come 7.30 we were bloody starving!
Of the places we ate in I’d recommend Browns 33 on Passeig de Gràcia and Segafredo under the W Hotel. Browns 33 served pizza, pasta, wine and local beer. It was cheap (our meal cost around €50 and included my three glasses of cava and Gareth’s three beers!) and yummy.
♥ Get out your camera! I’m as obsessed with taking photos on my phone as the next person, but for this trip I decided to step it up and crack out my digital SLR. I’ll be honest, I’ve really slacked on this recently, relying on my photographer friends and Shauna (who always had her SLR on her) when I travel, so it was really satisfying to be taking ‘proper’ photos again.
Most of the photos in this post were taken on my SLR because my phone camera, as amazing as it is, just couldn’t quite capture the immense beauty of this city.
My camera handbag is from Accessorize. I was obsessed with this $300 Kate Spade one which came out recently but there was no way I was going to spend that kind of money on it. I was thrilled when I found this substitute for £25!
♥ Fly with style! As this was a special occasion, we decided to splash out on business class flights. I usually travel everywhere in economy so I was pretty excited about it! As it’s a short two hour flight it actually wasn’t that spendy either. I think our flights were about £500 instead of £250 in economy.
The little perks like being able to fast track through security (SO amazing when there’s a huge queue), wait in the lounge before boarding (I’m a British Airways silver card member), the free champagne and (actually very) delicious meal on the plane made the whole thing completely stress-free. The perfect start – and end – to the trip of a lifetime.
Barcelona is somewhere I’ve always said I’d like to visit one day and I can’t believe I can now say I’ve actually been. Despite not knowing a single word of Spanish before we went, we had a completely amazing time.
Thank you Gareth for making my 30th my best birthday EVER!!