I made a list of my favorite places in Barcelona. I’m not sure why I never posted it, so here it is now. It is followed by my notes on “useful to know” items for Barcelona and Europe more widely.
Best way to spend a Sunday (many stores are closed): Montjuic park. Visit any of these places that are within the park: Castle, Botanical Garden, Miro Museum, National Museum of the Art of Catalonia, Poble Espanol. If you’d just like a stroll, you can forgo all of these and walk along the top of the hill from the Miramar Hotel along a path that has a view of the sea from the W Hotel and superyacht basin to the cruise ship port and the container ship port.
Sagrada Familia basilica
National Museum of the Art of Catalonia
MUHBA-Museum of the History of Barcelona, walk through the excavation of ancient Barcelona back to the time of the Romans
Gaudi and Catalan Modernism:
Everyone visits Barcelona to see the architecture of Antoni Gaudi (Gow-DEE). There are other fascinating buildings by his competitors and students.
• Favorite Gaudi works: Parc Guell, Palau Guell, Casa Batllo, Casa Vicens (will be open to the public starting in 2016)
• Favorite works of others:
o Palau de la Musica Catalana and the Hospital de la Santa Creu I Sant Pau, or the Sant Pau recinte modernista (https://www.santpaubarcelona.org/en/qui-som) both by Gaudi’s competitor Domenech I Montaner and are fabulous examples of the extreme creativity of Catalan modernism. The “hospital” complex is no longer a hospital, is recently renovated and still finding its mission but the exteriors are gorgeous and reminiscent of a section of Disney World because of the number of restored period buildings included.
Day (or two) trips from Barcelona
o Beaches. There are beaches that range from a short bus or metro ride away from the old city, to a couple of hours. Barceloneta is the area closest to the city and has a highly developed area of restaurants along the shore. The beaches have facilities. Frank Gehry built a gigantic sculpture of a fish that looks over the beaches and the former Olympic harbor. We visited these beaches by bus.
o Beaches out of town. We visited Caldes d’Estrach one day, and Sant Pol de Mar another. Sant Pol has a hermitage dating to the 11th century on a knoll overlooking the water that is worth a look. These beaches were accessible by the regional short-distance trains (Rodalies de Catalunya). Try Sitges and the nearby town of Garraf, where there is a structure by Gaudi that is now a restaurant.
o Tarragona. We spent a day in Tarragona, traveling both ways on the train from the main Sants station in Barcelona. The lesson from this is that you need to know the final destination of the train you want to get on, as well as the stop you want, as the train may not be marked with your destination.
o Figueres. We stayed overnight in Roses on the Bay of Roses and recommend it.
In Figueres we visited the Dali Museum. There is also the Dali home in Portlligat, which we did not have time to visit. The bay is good for swimming and the beach if the weather cooperates. Nearby are two excellent areas for birdwatching, the Cap de Creus Natural Park, and the Emporda marshes (Aiguamolls de l’Empordà). We visited the marshes and had a wonderful day. There are hides to sit in, lots of parking and helpful ranger staff. We also did not have time to visit the archaeological of Empúries, the largest Greek outpost in Spain. There is also a later Roman occupation. The name of the town is related to the word “Emporium” meaning place of trade. For this trip, we rented a car from a Europcar office, located in a parking garage a short subway ride from our apartment. This proved more convenient than going to the airport to pick up a car, though not different in price.
• There is an excellent birdwatching area very close to the Barcelona airport, but ironically, unless you are a strong hiker and have a deft hand with the bus system, a car is needed.
Good to Know for travel in Europe/Spain/Barcelona
o Europe–Credit cards must have a chip to work everywhere. US credit cards that slide do work, but not in every kiosk, such as in train stations.
• Europe–It helps to have a phone data plan so that you can use GPS.
• Europe–Many apartments have a clothes washer but not a dryer. Apartments often have clotheslines or access to clotheslines on the roof of the building. You may have to ask a neighbor or concierge how to get access.
• Europe–If you are eligible for an ICOM, ICOMOS or other card that gives you a discount on museum entrance fees, consider getting one. Having to decide whether it’s worth another 12-15€ to check out a lesser known museum makes economic sense but sometimes the exhibits in the smaller museums can be interesting and less crowded than elsewhere. We saw an exhibit, Humans+: the Future of our Species, at the Centro de Cultura Contemporanea de Barcelona (CCCB) that was excellent. There was only one other exhibit at the center, however. With our membership there was no charge, and I probably would have skipped it for 8€.
• Europe–Look for free events in listings online English-language newspapers, free handouts from hotels, visitor information offices and guidebooks. I found free concerts by reading posters in the street. There are often free concerts associated with festivals. Not all of these are advertised to tourists. The Merce festival in Barcelona in September included a very large program of free concerts. The full listing only appeared in the Catalan program, paper or pdf. The Palau de la Musica Catalana features highly publicized flamenco concerts, but also hosts inexpensive concerts produced in house. Thus we saw Nosferatu with live organ accompaniment by the chief organist for Sagrada Familia on Nov. 1.
• Spain–Store hours can be unfamiliar. In Barcelona, many stores are closed from 2-3:30 pm, and open until 8 pm.
• Spain–Trash may go out to large containers on the corner of the block rather than go in containers in your building. Same with recycling.
• Spain–Dishwashers may need to be refilled with salt periodically. You’ll know because your dishes will come out filmed with white stuff. I went online and found where to add it in the model in our apartment.
• Spain–Lots of people speak English, but don’t hesitate to try out your Spanish, no matter how limited.
• Spain–If you are over 60 and plan to travel by train, spend a few minutes at the station and get a “targeta daurada” (gold card). It makes you eligible for a significant discount on train trips, though you’ll need help at the ticket machine the first time you use it to purchase a ticket. It cost us 6€ each and is good for one year throughout Spain.
• Barcelona–Unless you make multiple trips per day per person on the buses, subway, train, it doesn’t pay to buy a monthly, weekly or daily unlimited transit pass. The T-10 transit card for Barcelona is very useful because it can be shared between two people (maybe up to 4 people). All the other multi-ride tickets are specific to an individual. Each ticket includes free transfers to most other forms of transport within 90 minutes of your departure time.
• Barcelona–Aerial tramways don’t participate in the common ticketing sytem and cost significantly more each way (7-11€). You may consider taking a ride to view the city but don’t count on these as transport to a specific destination. The lines are usually long.
• Barcelona–If you are going someplace that requires you to be on time, identify two ways to get there so that you can take a bus if the taxis are blocked or on strike, the metro if the bus route is blocked by a demonstration, or a bus if the metro is on a slowdown. These things happened to us.