VISITING BARCELONA

Intro to Barcelona

*The city itself is very sprawling and busy, but built in a way to provide wide, sweeping streets with an open feel, as the street corners are angled off and junctions are big. You have the waterfront and the beaches.  At the bottom of the waterfront is the Christopher Columbus monument (or Chris on a stick), from which the Ramblas starts.  This is a wide pedestrian boulevard that has the Old town or Barri Gotic on it’s right, a big square called Placa Catalonia at the top, and Montjuich (or the really big mountain) to the left.

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*Spain was under a brutal dictatorship until 1975, so is a little bit behind the rest of Western Europe and retains a unique untouched flavour.

*Most people live in small, dark flats with very high rents, so life is lived on the street: in the cafes and bars, parks and beaches, and socializing with family.

*Poor people who make a living as pickpockets and thieves, are accepted as a part of life.  The police are pretty well powerless to them and as long as you are careful and prepared, you will not lose anything to them.  They are opportunists, not violent thieves, and usually from out of town.

*Barcelona is situated in Catalonia.  The people are unique and speak their own dialect of Spanish, called Catalunyan. You pronounce a ‘sss’ as a ‘th’, not unlike talking with a lisp, or ‘lithpe’.   It’s not Bar-sa-lona, but bar-tha-lona. Not gras-e-as, but grath-thee-ath

 

Getting around Barcelona

The city has a brilliant metro system.  The rule is when buying tickets from machines, have mappa_metropolitana_barcellonayour money ready, so you are not seen digging around in a wallet or purse.  If someone asks if you need help, say no (unless it’s another tourist).  They may be con artists trying to rip you off somehow.  The machines have an English language button and are fairly straightforward.  They also run until 2am on Fridays and all night on Saturdays.  Check out the metro site for a description of the types of tickets you can buy, as they have some good bargains.

They have an extensive system of hop on-off buses, which cover all the spread out sites.  These can be very busy in the high season, where you may wait for your next connection but may find it full.  Plan well if you are going to use them during the height of summer.

 

Getting to Barcelona city from the airport

You can get a taxi, or take a public minibus, but the quickest and most efficient way is to follow signs in the airport for the RENFE train and buy a T10 travel discount card. You will find ticket machines at the entrance to the train platform.

You can get off at Barcelona Sants, Passeig de Gràcia or Clot which are serviced by metro stops. From these you can change for the Barcelona metro system to go to your final destination.  It takes 25 minutes for the train and they run from the airport every half hour.

 

The Ramblas  (all my directions are walking from waterfront and up the Ramblas)

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Christoper Columbus at the bottom of the Ramblas

*I’m assuming you have a good tourist map with the metro stops and areas clearly drawn out.  The Ramblas is the main pedestrian walkway that starts at the waterfront at the Christopher Columbus monument and ends at a big square called Placa del Catalunya.  It is lined with cafes, kiosks and A-walk-down-La-Rambla.-Barcelona-6you will see the best human statues and street performers anywhere.  Beware of the cafes, as they overcharge and serve watered down fruit juice as sangria and frozen paella.  Anything you buy on the Ramblas will more than likely be overpriced.  Go into the side streets to shop and eat there.

Some must visit places off the Ramblas, are:

 

Placa Reial – which is a courtyard which will come up on your right as you walk from Columbus.  In this square, if you look to the far left hand corner, you will see a café with a white canopy.  This is one of the most popular local’s restaurants  Les Quinze Nits.

If you want to experience a half an hour of Flamenco for a small fee, you will find a club called Tarantos, in the square (as you enter, go right).

 

If you walk past Placa Reial, and take the street Calle Ferran and follow it to the right. After you hit the government square of  Placa St Jaum, walk through it and turn left into the side street.  This will take you to the gothic quarter (the Barri Gotic) and the cathedral.  Visit the cathedral to see the 13 white geese who guard the church.

Cathedral of Santa Eulalia. Generally open 8am-12:45pm and again from 5:15-7 pm/ 6pm Sundays.  There is an admission fee for the museum, or to take the lift to the roof top for great views.  Check online for varied times and prices.

Returning back to the Ramblas, there is another flamenco on the left hand side of the road called Tablao Cordobes. The show is longer and unless you take their dinner option, you can get stuck with some dodgy bench seating off to the side of the stage with restricted view.

 

Another must visit place is the old market on the left hand side of the Ramblas, called Boqueria Market.  Monday-Saturday 8.00-20.00.  There are all kinds of weird and wonderful meats, fruit and veg.  You will find several food counters where the locals eat.  Grab a seat and order a chunk of Tortilla (a thick omelette with various fillings), and a small glass of wine or beer. Look for the most rubbish on the floor for the best stand.

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The market hall

 

At the top of the Ramblas, in a big square called Placa Catalunya, you will see the stands for the hop on-off buses.  These are good value as the city is big, but if you have the time, you can use the metro to the same effect.

In the square and over to the right, you will see a big department store called El Cortes Englese.  This is a good place to pick up souvenirs and everyday things you might need.

If you turn right at El Cortes Englese and find the side street Portal Deloangelo, it will take you past some fantastic shops and back to the Cathedral and the gothic quarter.

If you were to continue up the Ramblas and across the square to Passieg de Gracia, there are more nice shops and cafes.

 

Sagrada Familia

This is the proper name for Gaudi’s magnificent cathedral.  It resembles a melting sandcastle and you either love it or hate it. Gaudi was one of those eccentric types who created things that no one has ever come close to.  He worked from his imagination, and didn’t get due credit until he was long in the ground.

gaudi

Sagrada Familia

There are two stories as to his demise.  One is he was run over by a tram on his way to confession, and the other is he was high on drugs and backed up to look at his cathedral from a distance and was run over by a tram.  Either way, he was dressed so shabbily that no one bothered too much with his injured body and he ended up in a pauper’s hospital.  When he was finally recognised, he was taken to a proper hospital, but it was too late to help him.

It’s kind of off to the side of the city, but easily accessed by metro, taxi or on the tourist bus.  You can visit it after dark, as they light up the outside.   Oct-Mar Daily 9 am to 6pm .  April-Sept open until 8pm..   

 

Montjuic

The mountain has many attractions and there are several ways up to the top.  My favourite was to get to the starting point of the cable car that goes over the bay.  It is in an area called Barceloneta on the water front.  It carries you across the water  in two stages and half way up Montjuich.  We then walked around the different viewpoints and caught the funicular part of the metro back down.

From here you can make your way to the Olympic stadium, and the fun park.  Get a map of the mountain before you make your way up, as it is covered with sites, look outs and road systems.

 

There is a Barcelona hop on-off bus that just concentrates on the mountain, during selected times of the year; or if you have a ticket for one of the big hop on off buses, you will be covered.

 

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The Dancing Fountains

Another way to experience the Mountain is to take the metro to Placa Espanya, and walk up the grand street towards he magic fountains, where beautifully lit fountains dance to music with shows every 30 mins May-Sept, Thurs to Sun between 9:30-11pm/ Oct-Apr, Fri & Sat from 7-8.30pm.  

 Walk towards the National Museum of Catalan Art (MNAC).  Tuesday-Saturday 10.00-19.00, Sunday 10.00-14.30.  Closed Mondays.  Saturday afternoons free entry from 3pm onwards. 

 

Use the  escalators to the right hand side of the museum. Look for signs for Poble Espanyol, which will be off to the right.  This is an exhibition site which has all kinds of Spanish architecture, with shops and food places.

 

Here you will find the best flamenco show in the city.  If you prebook for the first show of the night, they leave your name at the Poble Espanyol entrance, and after 4 pm you can wander around the village for free.  Order either the drink only, or the cheaper tapas option, as they bring out masses of food, sangria and dessert. The seating is good for everyone and the show is big and authentic.  It’s called El Tablao de Carmen.

flamenco

Flamenco at it’s finest.

If you time it right, you can visit the Spanish village free, see the flamenco and eat too much and finish the night watching the magic fountain light show.

 

The Beaches and promenade

There are seven beaches that run along a 4.5 mile strip. There is a metro stop at Barceloneta, but any of the other metro stops will take you a few blocks inland from the sand.  Several buses run along the water front and drop you off closer to the beach.

Begin at the Christopher  Columbus monument, and head towards Barceloneta and the old part of the city.  There is a massive port and shopping centre at

 

Port Olimpico, where you can see all the yachts.

All of the beaches are long and sprawling, some with beach bars that go very late night when the weather is good.

What you need to know is the last two beaches are for nudists.  Once you see the beach start to close off with bushes and hills, you are at the gay nudist beach.  Just past that, where it opens up again, is the family nudist beach.  Ladies, it is acceptable to leave just your bottoms on if you wish.

 

Other sites around Barcelona

Football fans: Camp Nou Experience & Museum.  Monday to Saturday: From Apr 4-Oct 9, 0930-1930.  Winter 10.00-18.30. Sunday (year-round): 10.00-14.30.  Camp Nou Tour ends one hour before the museum closes.  On match days, Museum is open 10.00-15.00, and tour is not available.  Shop hours are (roughly) the same as Museum hours.  Tour begins in the passageway between the FCB Botiga Megastore and Pans & Company and takes about 1.5-2 hours. Metro: Line 5: Collblanc i Badal, and Line 3: Maria Cristina, Palau Reial and Zona Universitària.  

 

Joan Miro Museum.  Find it on Monjuic past the Poble Espanol.  Tuesday to Saturday, 10.00 – 19.00 (October – June) Tuesday to Saturday, 10.00 – 20.00 (July – September). Thursdays, 10.00 – 21.30. Sundays and public holidays, 10.00 – 14.30. Closed Mondays.

 

Southwest Cemetery.  Open 9-17 daily.  Free Admission.  C/Mare de Déu de Port 54-58.  Designed by Leandro Albareda in 1880, this enormous necropolis, sits at the side of the motorway out of town, and is a daily reminder to commuters of their own mortality. The dead were originally placed in four sections: one for Catholics, one for Protestants, one for non-Christians and a fourth for aborted foetuses. It now stretches over the south-west corner of the mountain, with family tombs stacked five or six storeys high.

 

Maritime Museum. Recently renovated, see a good collection of boats and all things nautical. The highlight is the 60 metre war ship. If nothing else, have lunch in their excellent cafe, with hearty local specialities. You will find it at the bottom of the Ramblas near the Columbus monument. Daily 10.00-20.00.   Free admission Sundays from 3pm.

 

Picasso Museum.  A great way to understand the great man and also visit a fabulous building.  Open 10am to 7pm Tuesday to Sunday. From March 15th open Thurs till 9.30.  Closed Mondays/ 1 Jan, May 1, June 24th, 25th June, 25th and 26th December.   Prebuying tickets online is highly recommended.

 

*Gaudi attractions: Another major draw on the tourist trail are the spectacular town-houses designed by Antoni Gaudí on the glamorous Passeig de Gràcia. The two main ones are La Pedrera (or Casa Milà) and Casa Batlló. Of the two, I’d recommend you admire Casa Batlló from the pavement rather than pay the hefty entry fee. Save your cash for entrance to La Pedrera, where you’ll be rewarded by the sight of ‘witch-scarer’ chimney stacks on the roof.

Park Guell is in the north of the city and is a fantasy land of mosaic creatures and sculpture. There is an entrance fee and I suggest you look it up for the many ways you can get there.

 

More tips on getting the most from Barcelona

*To find the best place to eat, look for a tapas bar.  Tapas is little bits of appetisers or small sandwiches, which you can order bit by bit to share.  Examples are dishes of olives, marinated shrimp, sardines, tripe stew, garlic snails, salami or ham on a small bun, artichokes, deep fried mushrooms, etc. The best tapas places will have the most rubbish on the floor.  The custom is to spit out olive pits, and throw paper serviettes on the floor as you eat.  The more rubbish, the more people eat there, so the better the food. Tapas is normally rolled out around 6ish.  If you google ‘tapas bar hopping’, lots of suggestions come up to help you plan a route.

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Tapas for tea.

*The clubs and bars really kick off after midnight and if you order spirits in a local club or bar, they free pour huge measures.  Sometimes they leave the entire bottle on your table. There can be a hefty cover charge, and you can party every day of the week.

*Be in the square in front of the Cathedral at 6:30 pm (summer time) to witness the Sardana.  This mass dance was banned while the country was under Franco, as it is about the unity and pride of the Catalan people.  It looks easy when large groups of people hold hands and circle to music, but it is actually quite intricate and organised.  It’s the kind of thing that can make you well up a little bit.

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Sardana in front of the Cathedral

 

 

*It’s not wise to go down side streets off the lower left Ramblas, being the part from the Liceu Opera House to Columbus Monument, as they become unsavoury at night, with aggressive African prostitutes, drug dealers etc.

*There are several companies offering free walking tours of different areas, as well as many bike tour companies. One of former travellers all time favourites has been Fat Tyre Bikes. 

*The people of Barcelona banned bullfighting in 2010, and now the bullfight ring is an unusual shopping mall called Las Arenas.  It is stunning inside and full of trendy shops, but the main feature is the roof.  It is full of restaurants, and you can walk around the top for 360 degree view of the city.  A top tip is to be on the roof for the magic fountain show.  open 10am-10pm

 

*There is a museum dedicated to the art of Bullfighting, as it really is magnificent in it’s pageantry.  Open 11.00-14.00 Monday to Saturday.  11.00-13.00 Sunday. Nearest Metro – “Bullring” on L2.

shopping mall

The bullring shopping mall.

*When using public toilets, be aware that the Spanish use a lot of bleach, which sometimes drips down the porcelain.  Try to keep your trouser legs from touching the side of the toilet when you drop them, if you can smell a strong bleach smell.

 

Theft and pickpockets

Don’t be freaked out by this, but be prepared.  Barcelona has a very high number of pickpockets and the police can’t do much about it.  They are mainly gypsy types and can range from groups of children, to nicely dressed adults.

The main places they work are The Ramblas, around Sagrada Familia, and the metro stations.

I suggest having a concealed, protected pocket somewhere or a money belt that can’t be accessed by lifting your shirt.  You can push a money belt down under your waistband and wear a leather belt to secure it.  Socks are also a good place to carry cash.  Just carry what you need for that day.

I had never experienced it until I was in Barcelona in May 2012.  I was looking at Sagrada Familia from across the street, when out of nowhere a group of 6 kids appeared from the bushes.  One ran up to me yelling ‘Do you want to sign for earthquakes?’ while flapping a clip board in front of my face. The others surrounded me and I could feel hands in all pockets.  And as quick as that, they were gone.

Afew hours later, I was on the Ramblas and I had a tourist map in my back pocket, folded so it looked like a wallet.  I was heading towards the metro, when I felt a flick from my back pocket, the map flew out, and a woman overtook me and ran down the metro stairs.

Never ever leave a handbag on a chair or table top or it will go.  You just have to be really careful in Barcelona.

If you are in a metro station and you see someone on the floor wailing, make a wide berth around them.  They are trying to distract kind passer bys.

Watch for the ketchup trick, where someone tells you that you have something on your clothes.  Sometimes they squirt ketchup on you  and while helping clean it off, will be also helping themselves to your phone or wallet.