Travel Barcelona: Tips for the Best Spanish Vacation

Part two of my solo backpacking trip took me on a ferry from Santorini back to Athens to catch a flight to Barcelona, Spain. As my luck would have it, this leg of my trip began with a BANG. Quite Literally. The ferry from Santorini to Athens hit a sailboat in the Santorini harbor just minutes before our on-time departure. Imagine that. We spent about four hours delayed at the port while authorities signed paperwork and sorted out the messy situation.

About two hours into the delay (chewing my nails and nervously checking the clock every other minute) I was ready to abandon ship and start swimming back to Athens just to make my flight. Finally, thankfully, we got into the Athens port seven hours later. I had one hour before my flight was due to leave, so I grabbed the nearest taxi driver and said, “Listen man, I need to get to the airport in 30 minutes, I don’t care how you do it but get me there.” And he replied (in patchy English, “Not possible Miss, is hour drive but I try.”

Weaving in and out of traffic going 23849274 kilometers per hour, running reds and nearly sideswiping other taxis, I held on for my life not even daring to look at my watch. Exactly 30 minutes and 40 euro later, I rolled out of the cab James-Bond-style, checked in and made my departure gate about ten seconds before they closed it. Whew. I was successfully en route to Barcelona and what would be a total 180-degree culture shift from my week in the Greek Islands…

Barcelona Bus Touristic—Day One and Two:
• I bought a Bus Touristic two-day pass for 27 euro. One day costs 21 euro. I know these tour buses can be really dorky but they’re actually a great way to see the major sights of a big city in just a few days. The hop-on, hop-off style (much like London, Rome, and NYC) let me change bus lines, go back to certain places and see as much (or as little) of certain areas as I wanted to.
• The tour comes with a super sweet headset and to plug in to your specific language for a complete audio tour.
• Some of the sights I saw included Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudi’s famous church that is actually still under construction, and his famous mosaic benches at Parque Guell.
• The bus has three lines: red, blue and green. Each intersects with the others at certain stops so you can switch and go in different directions. The Red line takes you up into the neighborhoods of Gracia and Sarria, as well as to Placa Catalunya (the city center) and to the Olympic stadium and soccer stadium. The Blue line stops at to some of the government buildings, as well as Montjuic where you can take a tram across the harbor for great views of Barcelona. The green line runs along the coast and takes you to the beaches, a nice indoor shopping center, a huge recreation park and the old Spanish Forum.
• TIP: The lines run ONE direction in their own respective circles so if you want to get to a site that you just passed, you’ll have to ride the bus all the way around the entire circle again (sometimes a two hour ride). Be sure you don’t miss a stop!

Shopping—Day Three:
• La Rambla is the main street in the Barcelona city center that is famous for its shops and elegantly dressed street performers. When I was there toward the end of July there were tons of sales. I met a Belgian journalist who told me that many European stores originate in Spain and therefore the prices are always better in Spain than the rest of Europe… I’m not sure how legit that is but one thing is for sure—I was in shopaholic heaven.
• About halfway down La Rambla is el Mercat de la Boqueria—a huge canopied area with colorful fruit, vegetable, dried fruit, nuts, bread, meat and cheese stands. Many of the stands have beautifully arranged fresh fruit cups and freshly squeezed orange, strawberry, apple, and coconut juice for a couple Euro.
• There is also a shopping center down by Port Olympic and one by La Diagonal Mar (near the beaches) if you like inside mall-like shopping.

Relaxing, Exploring, and Nightlife—Day Four
• On my last day I went for a run along Port Olympic by the ocean to see the hundreds of sailboats and larger ships. From there, if you run along the coast you will eventually come to Barcelona’s six beaches. Enjoyed a refreshing dip in the Mediterranean—sometimes the waves are six feet tall! This is a great way to get some exercise, some sun and see the most beautiful part of Barcelona up close.
• At night, Port Olympic turns into a long strip of bars and night clubs where you can bounce from one to the other. The Spanish eat dinner around 10 or 11pm and start partying later in the night, hitting the clubs around 2am. They don’t go home until 5 or 6am at the earliest so get ready for a long night. On weekends the clubs are jam packed. On weekdays, hostesses entice people inside with the promise of free welcome shots and drink specials.
• Try the famous Sangria—wine and fruit mixture. It’s superb and the signature drink of Spain. You can’t miss it.

Transportation and Misc. Tips
• You can buy a T-10 metro pass good for ten rides (around 7 euro). This ticket is good for any form of public transportation, including buses and NIT buses as well. Snag one of these and head anywhere in the city. The metro is very easy to navigate—it’s not nearly as big as New York City’s metro and only has six or seven lines. The metro stops running at midnight and starts running at 5am so plan your nightlife excursions accordingly…
• NIT buses run at night starting around 10pm and take the place of the metro lines; however there are less stops and run less frequently.
• From Placa Catalunya (the city center) there is a bus called Aerobus that takes you directly to both terminals of the Barcelona airport for 4.75 euro. It runs about every 5-10 minutes and you can’t miss them—they are huge and blue. The ride to the airport is about 20 minutes outside of the town so this is much more convenient than a gazillion dollar cab fare.
• Walking! You will walk TONS in Barcelona so bring good sturdy shoes or sandals. La Rambla itself is one kilometer long (0.6 miles) so each day, depending on where you are staying and how much you use public transportation, you’ll be walking around 5-10 miles.
• Watch your wallet. Spain is infamous for its talented, professional pickpockets. I met a girl who took her brand new iPhone out to make a call, put it in her front jeans pocket and a millisecond later it was gone. Keep your passport and big bills on your body and never ever keep anything of huge value on your back in a backpack. Invest in an over-the-shoulder bag that you can wear across your body and right by your hip where you can keep a hand resting at the zipper at all times. If you stop to watch a street performer, watch your wallet too. Pickpockets work in crowds and its easier when your attention is focuses elsewhere.
• Most people don’t speak English outside the city center. They all understand Spanish so if you speak a little Spanish, I took four years of Spanish in high school and it came back really fast after a summer speaking Italian (a similar language).
• Barcelonians don’t like it when tourists automatically start speaking Spanish to them. They see it as an insult to their native language of Catalan, so I learned how to politely ask them to speak Spanish instead of Catalan (the region’s language) with me. This worked out pretty well.
• I’d make a joke about how bad my Span
ish was and they’d normally warm up and be really communicative after that. They speak extremely fast but they also use hand gestures so it’s easy to get the gist.
• For all you non-Spanish speakers I would highly suggest investing in a little Spanish/English phrase book just in case. Inside the city center most people speak English but outside its touch and go.

Barcelona is a fast, modern city blanketed in a big-city haze and lined with man made beaches. It’s way different than the crystal blue waters and outdoors atmosphere of Greece but if you want to throw some variety in your trip, definitely come here! The nightlife is incredible and the cultured feel of the city is a must-stop in Europe.

Happy travels!

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