I’m just on my way back from a wonderful four days in Barcelona. I may have written recently that I had no upcoming travel plans, but there were particular reasons for why I was keeping this Barcelona trip under wraps, and in any case, I find that a city break is very different from a month’s backpacking, which is what I haven’t been able to do in a very long time (bring on next summer)!
City break vs backpacking
I love both types of travelling – with city breaks, I love the snapshot of a foreign culture you get and the feeling of surprise at how much you can see and do in a few days, a momentary break from your everyday routine, the chance to try some new foods and splash out on treats. With backpacking, you’re dealing with a more relaxed pace of travel, but a tighter budget and probably more time spent on the road going between destinations (not necessarily a bad thing). What’s great in my opinion about a city break is that because you’ve only got a few days in a city, there’s a real sense of get-up-and-go – that’s not to say you have to have a manic holiday or that there’s no time to while away a few hours in a cafe with a fresh orange juice on a lazy afternoon, but it does give you a certain energy which you can’t sustain over a longer period. Of course the snapshot-esque nature of a city break also means you inevitably leave with a long list of things you’d love to stay and do, but with a city as easy to get to as Barcelona, I know I’ll be back.
I can’t remember the last time I went to a city and loved so many aspects of it in an instant. I will hesitate before calling Barcelona my favourite European city because I’m currently in the post-holiday thrill stage, and I perhaps wasn’t there for long enough to see the downsides, but I would certainly rate it very high on my list.
What’s to love?
- The food. I’ve already raved about this in a previous post, but oh my god it’s good.
- The architecture. Many cities have beautiful old town areas, but few have just normal apartment blocks throughout the city as interesting as Barcelona. Just walking around the main parts of town, you constantly look up and see something else stunning; it’s a far cry from the drab grey blocks of Stockwell.
- The combination of landscapes. My three favourite things rolled into one – a city with interesting places to see, surrounding hills with lush parks and fab views, and a BEACH. I mean, literally what more could you want?
- Good weather. (Don’t know what it’s like in December, but in September it’s warm enough to feel great but not too hot that you can’t do anything.)
- Speedy and cheap public transport, even a few cable cars for good measure. I really can’t stand cities where it is difficult to get around…
My top Barcelona recommendations
1) La Sagrada Familia
I highly doubt that anybody who visits Barcelona misses out this impressive Gaudi masterpiece, and it’s hard to write about it without just using a string of superlatives. However I definitely think this basilica would make it worth visiting Barcelona even if it was the sole tourist attraction: I’ve rarely felt so “wow”ed. Leave yourself time to sit down and admire the details.
2) Cervecería Catalana (Carrer de Mallorca, 236)
We went to this tapas bar on our first night and I have to say I think it was my favourite food place in the whole city, also helpfully close to out apartment. Do give it a try.
3) Museu Frederic Mares
We stumbled into this museum in the gothic quarter by accident and it’s fascinating, if under-visited: we didn’t meet many others inside. Give the religious art sections a miss on the lower floors and head up to the top two floors – they hold the private collection of an intriguing hoarder, a man after my own heart. Wander through rooms devoted to collections of beautiful painted fans, or strange scissor devices, of old locks and keys, of faded sets of individually painted playing cards. It’s one of the most bizarre museums I have been to, but well worth a visit if you are looking for something a little unusual.
What would be your top three recommendations for a trip to Barcelona? Do you prefer city breaks or backpacking? (Or something else? Most of my trips abroad fall into those categories…)