Sunday, 4 August 2013

Barcelona's Best Bits

'O le le, O la la, ser del Barça és el millor que hi ha'

I called Barcelona 'home' for a year whilst working as a Teaching Assistant, and it will always hold a special place in my heart.  It’s where I learnt about a new culture and two languages, Spanish (Castellano) and Catalan.  I ate amazing food, drank delicious sangria, and made friends for life.  I worked in a Catalan school about 30 minutes down the coast by train, and lived in a flat-share in central Barcelona. 

I'm going to share my top must-sees in this city and its surroundings.  They cannot all be ticked off in one weekend city break, but this is a place that you will want to come back to time and time again, so there is plenty of time to tick them all off .

1)   La Sagrada Familia

This is an obvious one.  Gaudi’s unfinished Basilica.  It is still being built and does not have an official finish date.  This was right by my apartment when I lived there, so was a backdrop for many amazing memories.  Every time you look at it you cannot help but be in awe of its grandeur and unique character, and if you return to the city a few times you notice the changes as they continue to build it.   
Walk all the way around it to take in each façade, or sit outside a nearby cafe with a 'cafe con leche' and take in the view.  

Accessible via metro stop Sagrada Familia (blue line 5 and purple line 2)

2)   Parc Guell

This park has featured in several films set in the city (L’Auberge Espanol, Vicky Cristina Barcelona) and is an icon of Barcelona.  From the famous mosaic bench are beautiful panoramic views of the city.
Accessible from metro stop Lesseps (green line 3).  

BEWARE- very steep hill to walk up before you get there!  Wear sensible shoes!

3)   Parc de la Ciutadella

Come out of the metro to find the beautiful Arc de Triomf, and remind yourself that you are not in the French capital.  Head down Passeig de Lluis Companys and into Parc de la Ciutadella.  This central park is great for relaxing on a sunny day.  In the middle is the Cascada with a huge fountain and waterfalls- a great photo opportunity.  There are rowing boats for rent on the lake, and plenty of grass to settle on for a picnic.  It is also home to Barcelona’s zoo if you are visiting with children.

Accessible metro stop Arc de Triomf (red line, line 1)

4)   Plaça Reial

Just off the bottom end of La Rambla, this beautiful plaza is great for an evening aperitif; you can sit at one of the many bars and restaurants’ outdoor tables and watch the world go by.  Head on down the side streets off the plaza to find small hidden bars with an unlimited variety of beers, wines, cocktails and sangria- Sugar bar was one of our favourites!
Accessible from La Rambla

5)   A beer or a jug of sangria from L’Ovella Negra

This chain of beer halls are a must-see for any fun loving traveller visiting this city.  They are rustic and relaxed, with rows and rows of long tables, giving it a beer-festival feel.  They sell very reasonably priced beer and sangria by the jug, along with free popcorn to nibble on.  A fantastic location for mingling with other travellers and locals before heading to a club to dance until the sun comes up.  
The bigger 'L’Ovella Negra' is right near Razmatazz, so a great place to go until you are ready to hit the dancefloor.   There is another just off La Rambla on Calle de les Sitges.

6)   Razmatazz

A huge multi-storey club not too far from the marina.  They often have international DJ’s playing, and you can find a music genre to suit all tastes.  Hang onto your friends, as it is hugely popular and easy to get lost, but a guaranteed good night and a great way to experience Barcelona’s nightlife.

Accessible from metro station Marina (red line 1)

7)   Watch Barça play at the Camp Nou

'Més que un club'.  After living in the city for a year and working alongside Catalans, I realised how true this slogan is.
Going to a match at the Camp Nou is an unforgettable experience.  I have been to see them 3 times and still have to catch my breath when I first come out of the stairwell into the stadium.  It is gigantic, and the atmosphere is electric.  They are a much-loved team and you truly get a feel for how important this sport is to Catalan culture.  From some parts of the stadium you can see the sun set behind Tibidabo.  
Tip: to fit in with the locals, bring a baguette sandwich for a half-time snack, as the matches are often played late, and all the cheering is hungry work!

Accessible from metro station Collblanc (blue line 5), or Les Corts (green line 3)

Camp Nou

8)   City view from the top of Parc Guinardo

Get off the metro at Hospital de San Pau and walk into Parc Guinardo.  Head right to the back and walk up the hill.  Eventually you get to a concrete abandoned bunker. 
The great thing about it is the lack of people, so you can take in the spectacular view without the crowds that you get at Parc Guell.  It’s about a 30-40 minute walk up the hill and steep in certain areas, but well worth the effort.  
Head up just before sunset, take a couple of ‘cervezas’ with you, and enjoy the view!
Accessible via metro to Guinardo i Hospital de San Pau (yellow line 4)

9)   Day trip to Sitges

Sitges beachfront
If you have a spare day, pack your swimsuit and towel and hop on a train down to Sitges for the day (approx 25-30 minute train ride).  This beautiful coastal town is where I worked when I lived in Barcelona, and has a wonderful character.  With its winding cobbled streets, boutique shops, beachside church and charming beaches, it is definitely worth a visit.  It is a popular destination for gay and lesbian travellers, and the home of Bacardi! 

Tip: Best time to go is during Carnival at the start of lent, as they host a huge street parade much like the famous event in Rio.  With floats carrying hundreds of dancers and local performers, street parties and every fancy-dress costume you can imagine, this is a party not to be missed!

Accessible via train from Barcelona Sants Estacio, or Passeig de Gracia.

10)   La Rambla

This is an obvious one.  While it is important, it is not top of my list, as it is extremely busy, and lined with overpriced restaurants and bars.  However it is regarded as the centre of the city, and leads down to the Port where you can see the Colon statue and head round to Barceloneta beach! 

Tip: pop into El Bosc de les Fades (fairy bar) for a tipple.  It is just off the bottom of La Rambla down a little alley on Passatge Banca.  Inside it is decorated like a forest with trees looming up the walls and leaves hanging overhead, a starry sky, and even the odd rumble of thunder. 

Accessible via metro stop Catalunya (green line 3, red line 1) or Drassanes (green line 3) or Liceu (green line 3).

11) Magic Fountain of Montjuic

Great free evening activity.  
The impressive waters of the fountain dance along to famous music tracks along with a light show, and the Castle of Montjuic is magnificently lit up behind it. The times of the shows do vary according to season and day of the week, so check out the official website before heading down there.

Accessible via metro stop Espanya (green line 3 and red line 1)

12) Parc del Laberinto

This place is a hidden treasure, and a great way to spend a peaceful afternoon in the outdoors and away from the crowds.  Run through the maze, admire the plant sculptures and the 'romantic garden'.  It is cheap, and simple, old-fashioned fun.

Accessible from metro stop Mundet (green line 3)

13) Eat tapas

This is the final one, and can be incorporated into many of my previous points!  I am a tapas fanatic, and there is an endless choice of bars and restaurants to choose from in Barcelona. 
The famous Catalan speciality is ‘pa amb tomaquet’, which quite simply is ‘bread with tomato’, and is a feature at most meal times in Catalunya.  It consists of crushed tomato, along with olive oil and usually some garlic, spread across bread.  So simple, but divine.  The Catalans use this combination in most sandwiches instead of butter or mayonnaise.  Since living there, I have taken this habit home with me.  It is tastier and healthier!
Other favourites include ‘patatas bravas’, ‘pimientos de Padron’ (warning! Can be very spicy), and ‘anchoas en vinagre’ (anchovies in vinegar…. don’t knock it until you have tried it!)
Have a wander down the winding roads of the Barrio Gothico, perusing the menus until you find one that suits.  It is in the hidden corners of the city that you find the best, most authentic tapas. 

I could talk about this vibrant city for hours on end, but these 13 points give an insight into why Barcelona is a great place to both visit and live.  

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