Barcelona is like no other city in the world. It is full of amazing architecture, great art, tasty cuisine, and beautiful beaches. You can spend days exploring this big metropolis and never feel tired of it. It is not a surprise that Barcelona is one of the most visited cities in Europe.
For our family vacation, we decided to spend at least four days exploring Barcelona, then move to Portugal and spend eight days visiting Porto, Lagos, and Lisbon.
Our trip started with an overnight flight from Boston International Airport to Barcelona with Iberia Airlines.
First day in Barcelona. The day began with unpacking our suitcases and then walking around to get some groceries and bottled water. We discovered that our new neighborhood – Placa de Tetuan – is a quiet residential area within a short walk to many popular tourist places. As a bonus, our Airbnb apartment had a good size roof terrace with an amazing city view. We could even see famous Sagrada Familia towers from our windows.
Santa Caterina Market
Our first long walk was to Santa Caterina market, located not far from the Barcelona Cathedral. The popular market had a big variety of fruit and vegetable stalls combined with local cheeses and Iberian ham. On a way home, we stopped at the wine store and bought several bottles of local wine. We had our dinner on the roof terrace overlooking Placa de Tetuan park and enjoying the breathtaking view of the city.
After dinner, we headed towards the Arc de Triomf, which was a short walk from our new home. This monumental arch was built in Moorish Revival architectural style. It served as the main gate to Barcelona World Fair in 1888. The arch opens to a wide promenade surrounded by palm trees and obelisks.
At the end of a promenade there is a big green space of Ciutadella Park. This historical garden has the city zoo, a small lake with a beautiful fountain, and classic building of Palace of the Parliament of Catalonia.
Second day in Barcelona. We were still jet-lagged but decided to follow our plan and visit Park Guell in the morning and then spend the afternoon on the beach.
The Park Guell is one of the main attractions in Barcelona. It was designed and built by the famous architect Antoni Gaudi between 1900 and 1914. Originally the architect got a commission from capitalist E. Guell to create a park around his family summer residence. The only portion of the original project was completed. The land was later sold to the city of Barcelona and turned into a public park.
The park occupies a small area, but it is beautifully designed and full of architectural elements in Gaudi’s signature style. It’s colorful, cheerful and whimsical. There are grottoes, a colonnaded hall, winding stairs and other creative structures decorated in multi-colored tiles.
We walked around the park for several hours and then climbed on top of the hill located outside of the park. Here we found a small terrace with the best panoramic views of the whole city and blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea.
Walking around the park and climbing up the hill for the city views is a wonderful experience. But you get tired fast going up and down the hills. The best way to relax and feel that you’re still on vacation is to spend some time on the beach.
The city of Barcelona has many beaches which are stretching over 4.5 km (2.8 miles) of coastline along the Mediterranean Sea. Barceloneta is one of the most popular ones and is closest to the city center. It is easily accessible on foot, bus or metro.
There is a walkway which runs along the sandy beach and several bars and restaurants. We didn’t find many places with rentable chairs and umbrellas. But there were many local vendors who sold the beach stuff for 10 to 12 euros.
After spending the whole afternoon on the beach, we strolled along crowded with tourists and locals’ promenade and had a relaxing dinner at one of many waterfront restaurants.
On our third day in Barcelona, we decided to explore the old city and then stroll along Las Ramblas all way down to the Harbor Front.
Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter)
The Gothic Quarter is the oldest part of Old Town of Barcelona. There are remains of ancient Roman buildings dating back 2,000 years. However, most of the buildings and historic monuments are from the Middle Ages.
We wandered around. The streets of the Gothic Quarter were narrow and dark. Old buildings were built very close to each other, so the windows are opened right into your neighbor’s living room or kitchen. The dry clothes rods were hung above the pedestrians together with the geraniums flowers boxes. I could tell that the sun hardly ever reaches the bottom of these streets. It looked old, dark and mysterious. It was full of history.
After walking the streets of the Gothic Quarter, we took a short walk from the Old Town to the city center – Plaza Catalunya (Placa de Catalunya).
You can call “La Rambla” as Barcelona’s most famous street or a social hub. It’s located just off Plaza Catalunya and leading right down towards the spectacular Harbor Front and the beach. It is often called Las Ramblas because it’s a series of several different streets.
This wide avenue is lined with many shops, restaurants, and outdoor cafes, making it one of the most popular hangouts in Barcelona. At night, groups of locals and tourists stroll along La Rambla or sit at the outdoor café with a glass wine. There are many street performers or live music bands.
We spent some time enjoying this lovely street and a bustling hive of activity. But you need to be careful and watch your wallet. With thousands of tourists and locals wandering around there is a chance to get pickpocketed.
On our last day in Barcelona we were planning to visit La Sagrada Familia and then to go and see the light and music show of Magic Fountain of Montjuic at night.
Basilica de la Sagrada Familia (Church of the Holy Family)
La Sagrada Familia is one of the most popular attractions in Barcelona. The church is in the northern part of the city with tall towers soaring high above all other monuments. It’s a creation of the city most famous architect Antoni Gaudi. He was commissioned to design this basilica as a neo-Gothic church in 1883. But instead of following the plan, Gaudi created one of his famous surrealistic Art Nouveau architecture. He worked on this monumental church until his death in 1926. It was left unfinished.
We bought tickets online for the escorted tour around the church and were happy to skip the long waiting lines. It was my first time to see the interiors of this iconic building after the complete restoration. It was hard not to be entranced by the beauty of this enormous space soaring 90 meters high. I think everyone was admiring the decorative elements of the ceiling and multi-colored stained-glass windows.
The exteriors looked equally stunning with 18 towers of different heights, each dedicated to a biblical figure.
However, the restoration process is still going on. The cranes and construction equipment not always look pretty on the travel photos. The whole team of architects and construction workers is trying to finish this never-ending project by 2026. By that time, it will be a celebration of 100 years of building a church started by the famous architect in the 20th century and finished in 21st by his followers.
Magic Fountain of Montjuic
The light and music show of Montjuic fountain is one of the most amazing spectacles in Barcelona. The show gathers big crowds of tourists and locals who watch the spectacular display of light, water, and music.
It’s free of charge, but you need to verify the time and the day of the show. On our first visit to Barcelona, we missed it by arriving too late to the site.
The water fountain was built at the bottom of the Montjuic hill with a grand building of National Palace in Neo-Baroque style on the top. The cascade of large staircases adds another element to a stunning view.
After watching the show for almost one hour, we walked down the hill to Placa d’Espanya. This place is one of Barcelona’s most important and biggest squares. It was built for 1929 International Exhibition and still serves as a popular place for city’s festivities, celebrations, and fireworks shows.
Places to Eat in Barcelona
There are so many great places to eat in Barcelona. International and local food is super tasty here. For us, foreigners, Spanish food is all about tapas and paella. However, in several places, we had a great experience with simple dishes made from fresh ingredients, like tomatoes, artichokes, peppers, and eggplants. But my favorite food was all kind of sea products fresh from the Mediterranean Sea.
I have a list of places where we liked to eat:
Fiberbug – Brunch -Bar-Bistro. This place has a good selection of salads, sandwiches, tea, coffee, and pastries. We brunched there several times.
Restaurante Arume – a gourmet restaurant with a combination of Galician and Catalonian cuisines. Great octopus, carpaccio and paellas. It’s a small place, but the food is outstanding. We ordered the highly recommended house drink “Blackberry Mojito” and were not disappointed.
Café de L’Academia – this restaurant is in the middle of the Gothic Quarter. It’s very popular with tourists and gets very crowdy. The reservations are essential. Our food was excellent. The grilled octopus and the baby squid were super tender. My favorite was an eggplant terrine with goat cheese. A wonderful combination of fresh ingredients and flavors.
During our four days visit, we saw many beautiful places. I can see why people go back to Barcelona again and again, there’s so much to do and see. I would stay here longer and explore this wonderful city for weeks.
The next morning, we took a taxi and arrived 40 minutes later at Barcelona International airport to continue our journey to Portugal.
This part concludes Part 1 of our family vacation trip.
Have you visited Barcelona? What places did you visit? Which attractions in Barcelona do you consider to be the most interesting? Share your comments below.