This article was originally on GET.com at: Barcelona Travel Guide: Discover Spain's Most Vibrant City
Spain was the third most-visited country in the world in 2014, just behind France and the United States. And when Singaporeans go to Europe on holiday, many of them choose Spain!
There's so much to see and do in this country filled with warm and hospitable people. There is impressive architecture, a huge artistic heritage, beautiful beaches and delectable tapas.
Summer is definitely the time for Singaporeans to visit Barcelona in order to fully appreciate the sights and culture.
For those unacquainted with Spanish culture, there's one word that describes it perfectly - passionate.
From large family gatherings, bullfights and flamenco dancing to colourful festivals, the passion in Spanish people is hard to resist.
The country and people exude such life and enthusiasm it fills you up with an upbeat and positive mood just by walking down the streets.
Here's a handy guide we at GET.com have put together for those looking for an exciting adventure in Barcelona.
Top Things To See In Barcelona
Lovers of architecture and history will definitely love Spain. In terms of UNESCO world Heritage Sites, the country ranks just behind Italy to garner the second spot with the highest number of buildings on the list.
You can expect to see architecture with a Roman influence, architecture with a gothic background, baroque-style buildings, as well as Moorish architecture filled with features such as the horseshoe arch, patios, glazed ceramic tiles and elaborately carved wood.
La Sagrada Familia
The La Sagrada Familia is an iconic church and architectural art piece which helms as one of Gaudí's most famous works in Barcelona.
The church has been under construction since 1882 and one of the most famous things you'll hear about the church is that it's always under construction. In fact, it's estimated to be completed only in 2026!
Gaudi worked for 43 years on the La Sagrada Familia until his death from a tragic accident in 1926. After Gaudí's death in 1926, the construction of the basilica was continued by other outstanding architects and craftsmen according to his plans and models.
However, due to the difference in construction materials used then and now, his designs post a challenge to modern day architects which have to use their own interpretation of his designs.
When you visit this architectural wonder, do notice the contrast in the stone colour between the facade and back of the building. Queues to enter the building are always long so try to buy your tickets online.
Park Güell was commissioned by Eusebi Güell, who assigned the design to Antoni Gaudi to build a stylish park for well-off families staying in the area.
The park went into construction in 1900 and took 14 years to finish. While it started as a private estate, it was sold to the City Council eventually and officially opened as a public park in 1926. In 1984, UNESCO declared Park Güell a World Heritage Site.
The park has some amazing stone structures, splendid tiling and fairytale like buildings. There are several highlights you should look for here - the famous dragon stairways, a large terrace at the monumental zone named as the Greek theatre in the original plans, as well as the entrance and porter's lodge pavilions.
The park is divided into 2 zones, the monumental zone which requires you to buy a ticket, or the free access area which is open to all visitors at no cost.
You can access the park by metro but do schedule at least 20 minutes walk time as the park is uphill, so be prepared for some steep climbs. However, it's a great place that combines both greenery and interesting architecture so it's definitely worth a visit. Prepare to spend at least half a day there!
Montjuic is a prominent hill overlooking the Barcelona harbour, and within it contains a number of parks and attractions. One of the key attractions here is an old fort at the top of the hill called the Montjuic Castle, which offers a fantastic view of Barcelona.
You can take the Montjuic funicular, which provides an easy way up the hill from the metro, then take the cable car to get up to the castle directly.
Other than the castle, the park offers several other attractions, including an architectural museum called Poble Espanyol which was built in 1929.
It is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Barcelona because it offers a one-stop destination featuring contemporary art, architecture and gastronomy in a quiet and peaceful environment.
You can shop for exclusive wines, oils, cured hams, spices and candies within, as well as eat at one of the exquisite restaurants there.
Top Things To Do In Barcelona
The Dali Museum makes for a good day trip out of Spain into Figueres in the province of Girona, and takes just under 2 hours.
Figueres was Dalí's home town and the museum is home to a large collection of his work. Even the building itself is a work of art - at the top of the museum are golden mannequins and some giant eggs, reminding you of the surrealistic theme in his art pieces (these giant eggs reminded me more of Humpty Dumpty though).
Because of the surrealistic nature of his artwork, the museum provides a very entertaining visit for those who aren't into art-appreciation as well. You can expect to see a variety of art collections, including paintings, drawings, sculptures, photography and installations.
The Dalí Museum consists of three differentiated museum areas offering visitors an unguided and personal route to visiting the various galleries:
- The Theatre-Museum which was refurbished from the old fire-damaged municipal theatre.
- The group of galleries which contains many works from the artist's legacy.
- The Dalí·Jewels exhibition rooms.
Personally, it provided a very interesting visit with some monumental highlights, such as the Rainy Cadillac, persistence of memory, Labyrinth as well as the Mae West room.
While I may not be able to name the paintings and artwork as some art enthusiasts could, lots of these are so famous that we'd have seen them somewhere during our lifetime.
Being a lover of theme parks, a visit to one of Europe's largest theme parks was not to be missed.
PortAventura is located near the coastal town of Salou in the province of Tarragona. Reaching there from Barcelona is easy and the journey time should not be more than 60 minutes. The park is the perfect place to visit in summer, filled with thrilling rides and water adventures!
The park is split into 6 themed areas - a Mediterranean area modelled after a typical seaside village, Polynesia, an Asian-themed China, Mexico, a cowboy-themed Far West and the latest addition of a family-friendly "Sesame Street" area.
The park offers a variety of rides, from jaw-dropping drops to mellow rides. One of the most famous rides here is the Shambhala, the highest rollercoaster in Europe, which drops from a 76-metre peak, as well as its star attraction, the Dragon Khan which features 8 loop-the-loops at an acceleration of 110 km/hr.
After all the adrenaline rush, enjoy one of the park's many eateries consisting of a range of cuisines such as Mexican tacos, Chinese buffets or some traditional cakes and coffee.
If you fancy taking your time to enjoy the theme parks, you can also include an overnight stay at one of the hotels nearby.
Hit The Beach
With the gorgeous weather in summer, it is a waste if you do not hit the beaches of Barcelona. Golden sun-tanned bodies, colourful beach umbrellas and children building sand castles are some of the common sights you'll see!
The closest beach to the city is the Barceloneta beach. You can even take a 20-minute walk here from the city centre of La Rambla.
Be warned though, as this is the nearest beach to the town centre, it will be very crowded and isn't the cleanest beach you will find.
It is not uncommon for people to be half nude at the beaches, so do not stare or be surprised. If you want a bolder experience, you can always head to the Mar Bella beach, where there is a nudist stretch.
What To Eat In Barcelona
There's so much wonderful food in Barcelona and eating tapas is a popular way of dining here. Tapas are essentially small plates of simple Spanish delicacies and are usually served as a "bar food" to go with drinks before dinner (it's common to have dinners around 9pm in Spain!).
Eating tapas is a great way to dine here as you get to try so many different types of food in just one seating! Some of the popular tapas dishes to try in Spain include:
La Tortilla Española
This Spanish omelette is made with a generous serving of potatoes and onions and can either be served warm or cold. These are quite unlike the thin omelettes we know; over here, the omelettes are more quiche-sized, around 1.5 inches thick.
Pan Con Tomate
This is the quintessential Catalan tapa. It consists of white toasted bread smeared with freshly pressed tomato and drizzled in oil and garlic.
This is the Spanish equivalent of fries or chips. Small deep fried potato cubes served usually with aioli or a spicy tomato sauce.
These anchovies are unlike the sodium-soaked type that you may be more familiar with. They are served in vinegar with parsley and garlic.
Think of these as the Japanese croquettes that we are more familiar with here. Stuffed with various fillings such as ham, chicken or spinach, they are usually breaded and deep fried.
Pimientos de Padrón
These are not-too-hot peppers from the Spanish municipality of Padrón. The exciting part about eating them is that you never know when you might hit yourself with a mighty spicy one! They're usually fried in oil and served with sprinkles of sea salt.
You can find lots of restaurants serving tapas in Barcelona, or try out one of the restaurants at Plaça Reial, a square filled with some of the city's best nightclubs and a vibrant venue to dine and relax in the evening. It's located just next to the famous touristic street of La Rambla.
Other Spanish specialities to try include:
A popular fried dough snack that's usually eaten dipped in a thick chocolate sauce or sprinkled with sugar.
Some of us may already be familiar with paella, a common rice dish that can be found in some Spanish restaurants here in Singapore as well.
The dish is widely regarded as Spain's national dish and you can find it cooked with a variety of ingredients in Spain, such as with seafood, vegetarian or mixed.
Where To Shop In Barcelona
Mercat De La Boqueria
Mercat de la Boqueria is the central market in Barcelona that provides a colourful and enticing experience.
Although it is more of a produce market, you can look forward to a huge variety of fruit and vegetable stalls, seafood havens, and for those who love ham and cheese, this is probably one of the most convenient places for you to get them.
While its location at Las Ramblas obviously makes it a touristy area, it is not uncommon for locals to be here as well. One of the reasons is that there's an area in the market where you can find eateries and it's quite popular to have tapas while sitting at the bar-like counters.
There are several shopping areas in Barcelona, such as the famous Las Ramblas, Plaça Catalunya and Passeig de Gracia. You will be able to find international brands such as Mont Blanc and Armani, but also many small shops selling books, clothes, fine Spanish products and souvenirs.
At Plaça Catalunya, you will find one of the largest department stores in Barcelona, El Corte Ingles. Remember to stop by the cafe at the top level for a coffee break after your shopping spree.
Singaporean fashionistas may also want to look for apparel from the renowned Inditex Group that carries the familiar labels of Zara, Pull & Bear, Massimo Dutti, Bershka and Stradivarius. Prices are generally a little cheaper than in Singapore, especially if you visit during the sales period.
Money-Saving Tips For Barcelona
Hotels can be quite expensive in Barcelona since it's a very touristic place. If you're travelling on a budget, look for hostels or pensions as these are usually a lot cheaper.
Here you can find the cheapest hotel and hostel rates in Barcelona at Agoda.com. Remember to use a rewards credit card when booking your stay in order to save even more money on your trip. Here you can see our pick of the 2 best cashback credit cards for travellers.
If you're a on an even tighter budget and would like a free place to stay, you can try couchsurfing!
Couchsurfing is basically staying at a host's house for free, but keep in mind that it's not a hotel stay so treat your host with respect and try to get to know them and spend some time with them.
This is also a great way to meet locals that can give you insider tips of the city, and you might even end up making new friends! Remember to do something nice for your host, like inviting them to a restaurant (or cooking for them) or bringing them a souvenir from Singapore.
To start your couchsurfing adventure, you can make your account at couchsurfing.com.
To save money on food try to stay away from restaurants that are packed with tourists, usually these restaurants also have tourist prices. In the centre of Barcelona there are many nice restaurants and cafeterias on little side streets, if you see a lot of locals inside, that's a good sign!
Supermarkets in Barcelona sell a wide variety of typical Spanish food like cured ham, chorizo, aged cheese, olives, anchovies, olive oil, and a lot of other things at very cheap prices. If you buy these items at supermarkets instead of at very touristic street markets or specialised stores, you can save a lot of money!
If you're a wine lover you can get cheap bottles of decent wine at local supermarkets. A good bottle of wine costs as little as 2 euros in many supermarkets (personally, I recommend Rioja red wine)!
I'd recommend that you use public transport in Barcelona instead of renting a car or taking a taxi. Car rental is expensive and it's very hard to find parking spaces in the centre. Public transport in Barcelona is quite cheap and efficient. You can get all around the city by metro and you can also take buses if you prefer to observe the scenery.
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