When I went to Barcelona with my husband in 2013, we had the misfortune of booking our trip during El Festival de La Mercé, which is their patron saint celebration (late September). Although the music, food and cultural events were fantastic, many museums and attractions were closed during the weekend or had shorter operation hours. Out of our week visiting the city, five were occupied by the event and we couldn’t see as much as we could have if we had gone at any other time of the year.
This didn’t help to convince my husband that Barça was a great destination. This and the constant problem of finding something other than tapas to eat. Spanish food uses a lot of tomato and olives, two of my hubby’s worst enemies. It is trending now which brings back memories of bruschettas and small yet expensive portions. This was before Yelp and Trip Advisor came into the scene for us so it was even harder to order food or find good restaurants. Ironic too since we knew the language and they understood us perfectly.
We stayed at Hotel Catalunya near Catalunya square. The hotel is right in the midst of La Mercé, and next to the north side of La Rambla. From the square we used the red double decker tour bus, Barcelona City Tours, which took us around the city conveniently and with Wi-Fi., stops at Park Güell, Sagrada Familia, Olympic Stadium, Camp Nou, the beach and La Diagonal, among others. It saved us a lot of time and cab money to use the two day pass. Worth the price! Note that to visit the Catholic churches you must have pants that cover down to your knees; you will be denied entrance if you don’t comply because they take their places of worship seriously. The festival itself has multiple opportunities to watch live local entertainment, flamenco and Castell towers where everywhere, so we didn’t have to book performances for those art forms. Outside if the festival time frame, the best place to enjoy Catalunya culture is El Palacio de La Música, which is must see and has various offerings during the week and weekends. Book functions ahead as they fill up fast!
To walk off the beaten path we decided to book a hot air balloon ride on the outskirts of the city, which included transportation from the hotel, champagne and a light lunch. Ballooning offers trips for groups and couples, ans since this was our “honeymoon” trip, we chose the private ride basket. At the end of the flight we got a certificate and a group foto. Because there were two balloons up in the air, my pictures are of the group balloon and vice versa. Make friends with the other crew to get some shots of your flying machine! 😀 My husband had the gall of telling the balloonist that he wasn’t into soccer and that he couldn’t care less about the local team. 😮 Gladly, I was able to quell the rage of our host by informing him that I am a fan. 🙂
Coincidentally, that same night my friend L and I had tickets to the Barça game at Camp Nou against Reial Societá (or Real Suciedad as my host pronounced it). Although we arrived late, and only missed the first 15 mins, Messi and Neymar already had the score up 3-0! Around the middle of the second half, one of guys ensured Visca Barça won 4-1. XD (Brush up on the fan expectations to make the game more enjoyable. Learning the chants and choruses alone are worth the trip. Dress accordingly.)
Regardless of your hotel’s location, go to the nearby department store or bodega and buy wine and snacks at the supermarket section. Stocking up on water and basic supplies saved us about $150 cash during our vacation. My crew bought items prior to touring Tarragona and Sitges, saving about $20€. It is easier to have these handy for the 2 hour ride, and the beachscapade. (My husband got severely sick during the trip and we had to stop at the local pharmacy to get him medication. Because of their holistic approach to health care, we ended up getting herbal and natural remedies from the Dr. It costs us about as much as a pack of Tylenol. Bring your own meds if you aren’t willing to do as the locals.)
If you can’t afford side trips, just walk around the city. You won’t go a few blocks without enjoying Gaudí works of art, the architecture of the city and the traditional Spanish landmarks. The museums alone are enough to keep you busy for the week. Although we discovered it late in the trip, La Boquería, or local food market, is a must see, and their variety is beyond words! Fresh foods, desserts, traditional restaurants and bars; you cannot go wrong here, especially if you buy edible souvenirs. (Check customs rule’s before buying and transporting to the USA.) After the market, hit La Barceloneta and bring a bathing suit to enjoy the crisp Mediterranean waters. Don’t forget to book a date by the boardwalk to eat some fresh fish and seafood. It doesn’t get better than this!
We took this trip back in 2013, and cannot wait to redo the experience with a bit more information and the help of Yelp and Trip Advisor. 😀 Have fun!