I have been to Barcelona on four or five occasions over the past few years but each one was a flying visit — either joining a cruise ship departing the Catalan capital or disembarking from one! I was therefore determined to finally set aside two whole days so that I could take time to experience just some of what this Spanish jewel has to offer, and the destination didn’t disappoint.
The term ‘short break’ has two meanings — short in terms of duration but also short in travelling time as well — so it usually refers to destinations that are less than three hours flying time away. This far-from-definitive description covers most cities/resorts within continental Europe. The flying time to Barcelona from Dublin is usually about two hours and thirty minutes. Barcelona’s airport (El Prat) is undergoing a lot of construction these days so it must be said that it is not the most user-friendly airport to get around as the signage is both insufficient and somewhat misleading. If you are planning to take public transport into the city centre instead of a taxi, please be aware that that you need to take a 10-minute walk across an elevated pedestrian walkaway over to where the rail station is located within the airport complex. My confusion was further exacerbated by my inability to properly read Barcelona’s metro map whose stations (to my mind) appeared to bear a minimal relationship to the ones featured on the large maps located within the rail terminal. Suffice to say that the rail personnel in attendance were extremely helpful and provided me with correct instructions as to what lines to take; how many stops were involved and where to make a change. I followed those verbal instructions to the letter, but had I tried to follow the metro map in my possession, I would have become hopelessly lost.
The hotel for the duration of my stay was the Hotel Espana, a 4-star historic property, located literally 80 metres down a side street off the Ramblas. I chose the property based on a combination of its central location and its cost and my choice turned out to be an inspired one as the hotel was excellent in terms of its quality, décor, staff, food and, of course, the location turned out to be perfect. I would highly recommend the Hotel Espana to anyone wishing to spend a few relaxing days in Barcelona.
Don’t ask me why the Ramblas is famous as aside from its pickpockets, it doesn’t appear to have anything to recommend it other than the fact that it is a long, partially pedestrianized thoroughfare that runs right through the centre of Barcelona from the Placa de Catalunya down to the port area. The Boqueria market is well worth a visit but other than that, the Ramblas is just a Catalan equivalent of O’Connell Street in Dublin. Much more interesting are the streets and alleyways located to the east of the Ramblas which are collectively known as the Gothic quarter which are beautiful to meander around, and which contain many specialty shops, along with some good restaurants, particularly around the Placa Reial — a beautifully elegant and hidden square, located just off the Carrer de Ferran, itself just off the Ramblas.
Like many large cities frequented by hordes of tourists, probably the best and most economical way of familiarising yourself with Barcelona and its layout is to avail of one of the Hop-on, Hop-off bus services. The city is covered by three separate routes which are coloured Red, Blue and Green so your choice of route will be determined by which part of the city or its attractions you will want to see. Whilst central Barcelona is certainly compact enough to walk around, you will need top take a bus or use the metro if you want to visit all the worthwhile sites.
Top of that list must surely be the Sagrada Familia and trust me — pictures simply do not do this architectural wonder justice! Not only is it huge in scale and beautiful in aesthetic, it is also confoundingly complex and unique in its form — there is simply no other ecclesiastical structure in the world that comes remotely close to this amazing structure. There is no doubt that its creator, Gaudi, was a visionary genius. The crowds visiting the Sagrada Familia can be quite large so get there early and book your tickets online to avoid any of the long queues.
Dining out in Barcelona is a very pleasurable experience — not only because of the range, diversity and quality of restaurants on offer but also the costs associated such activity. A decent bottle of wine will set you back no more than €17 or roughly half of what you could expect to pay for an equivalent vintage in Dublin. Food prices are similarly good value for money. There is, of course, a lot of other things to do and see in Barcelona but we’ll save them for another blog.