Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Things to do in Barcelona

Can you see Barcelona in a weekend?

This was my challenge, to see if it is possible to do all that Barcelona has to offer in two days, well less actually as I had only 34 hours to cram in the best of Barcelona. Here’s what I did and what I saw!

Preparation for my Barcelona Trip

I got onto YouGoDo.com’s Barcelona Activities Guide which has over 200 great things to do in Barcelona, and used their simple hit list builder to create my hit list of the things I wanted to do while in the city. I then did a little research about getting into the city from the airport. Job done ready to explore!

Seeing Barcelona in 2 days – Day 1

I landed in Barcelona at 8:30 am and headed into the city. Getting from the main El Prat airport into the centre of Barcelona was a breeze, I took the Aerobus and this dropped me off at Plaza de España about 30 minutes later. Plaza de España is quite a place and one to tick off the list of things to see. Basically a huge traffic roundabout, but it’s far better than this basic description, you have great views through the impressive 47m high twin Venetian Towers up Avinguda de la Reina Maria Cristina, to the National Palace and on the other side Arenas de Barcelona, the old Bullring now converted into an impresive entertainment and leisure complex. From here I walked down Avenida Parral-lel, the main street to the port, found my hotel and quickly dumped my bag. Then a stroll to Las Ramblas, another of the key Barcelona attractions to tick off the list. Las Ramblas is the busy main street which runs from the main Barcelona square (Plaza de Catalunya) to the main harbour (Port Vell). Las Ramblas is a colourful main street, busy with people going about their business, colourful flower stalls and great shops and restaurants. Too be honest its not something that special to me, but a good place for people watching I guess.

While heading up Las Ramblas to Plaza de Catalunya I came across the La Boqueria market with its main entrance off Las Ramblas. I live in Spain so know these places are great for drinking in the culture of Spain. Alive with colour and noise they are always worth a look. With it many very colour fruit stalls, smelly fish stalls, meat stalls and noisy restaurants it was a great place for walk about and take some highly vibrant photos.

Then onward to the main Tourist Information Centre in the impressive Plaza de Catalunya. Possibly the most disappointing part of the trip. With limited time, spending over 30 minutes in a large queue while 2 of the 6 staff behind the ‘customer service’ counters served the waiting tourists, and the other 4 chatted about one of the girls new trainers (to be fair they did look nice but..), did their facebook updates, or whatever they were doing drives you mad. But that’s Spain – it’s surprising just how bad they are at this type of thing, even in a place like Barcelona.

From here it was out and up the Gracia road into the area of town with many of the great Antoni Guadi buildings, passing by some of these like Casa Batllo and La Pedrera which are within 200m of each other. I did not have time to go into either but admired the splendid Gaudi facades, and took the obligatory photos.

Then onto my best tip of the day for those with lots of Barcelona to cover and little time – the Barcelona Tourist Bus. This was a superb investment and almost a must if you want to cover many of the top Barcelona sights, without being underground on the metro. The city is huge and covering it on foot, or even pushbike, in this amount of time would have been tough (and I have been known to cycle over 100miles in a day). So onto the Blue route and first stop was the Segrada Familia. Spain’s most famous building site! Antoni Gaudi’s ‘work in progress’, the amazing Cathedral which he started back in 1882, which is still being completed to this day. An amazing structure. Hopped off the bus for a walk around the building to admire its facades and details. Truly awesome. But there was a fairly long queue to get in, so I did not have the time to do the interior! I hopped back on the bus and up stairs to the open top deck. Several passengers up front with maps over their bald heads – mmmm tip here - remember the sun lotion if you are doing this trip and want to enjoy the views from the open air top deck! Especially if, like me, you have an open top hair style!

On for several stops now, passing a few I would have liked to have done, like Tibidabo but time was too tight! My next stop was the Nou Camp, the football stadium which is home to arguably the best football (soccer) team in the world – FC Barcelona. This 99,000 all seater stadium (it was 120,000 capacity before being made all seated) is very impressive. I did the tour, which took you pitch side, up to the press areas at the top, through the multi media area, into the trophy room, etc. I am pretty sure the whole of the Notts County Football Club home crowd could have fitted into the FC Barcelona trophy room! Quite a place.

Then a change from Blue to Red route at Plaza de España again, and I was heading up to the cable cars in Montjuic Park. Well I was, as we got into Montjuic Park the views over Barcelona were superb, and the National Palace building (home to the Museu National d'Art de Catalunya or MNAC) looked too stunning to miss, so I ‘hopped off’. I’m no big museum or arts person (so many of you will no doubt have a totally different hit list to mine for your Barcelona trip), but the views ensured I got off the bus. While there I did pop into the MNAC and it’s a stunning space with some great works – I did recognise a Picasso so I can’t be totally culture illiterate! I did also spot the Oleum restaurant which has a stunning location at the top of the National Palace overlooking Barcelona, and looked great for those looking for a top class formal meal with amazing views.

Then, with the vista photos taken, it was time to ‘hop on’ again, and head on past the Olympic Museum and numerous other great attractions like the Joan Miró Foundation in Montjuic park to the Teleferico (Cable Car) up to Montjuic Castle. Hop Off time again! I took the cable car up to Montjuic Castle at the top, and had a climb to the top of the castle to enjoy more amazing views over Barcelona, the ports and the coast line, and take in some nice welcome breezes.

Then back down in the cable car and hop on for one more stop to the top of the next cable car. Here I left the tourist bus and took the Barcelona Port Cable car, which takes passengers from Montjuic Park right over the main habour of Port Vell. More great views (you will probably have picked up by now that I like great views!). A nice ride over the port with great views over the coast line and Port Vell. A few more good restaurant tips here – at the Montjuic end of the cable car line you have the Miramar formal restaurant and a less formal snack bar and terrace, and at the other end, at the top of the cable car tower, you have the Torre d’Altamar restaurant offering dining at 75m. Both looked great but time was against me! Another theme coming to the front in this write up!

So a walk to the beach at Barceloneta, and then a nice long stroll around the harbour past the boats to my hotel near Parral-lel to freshen up for the evening. The bus trip was excellent, allowing me to cover so much of Barcelona today, with good informative commentary, plenty of very regular clean modern buses with clear windows, and the audio worked at every seat I sat at after my regular hop off and hop ons! Highly recommended. There were three routes available and I only managed to cover half the red and half the blue routes! Plenty left to see for next time. On the evening I took a walk down to the harbour and across the Rambla de Mar (an arty extension of Las Ramblas street) which crosses the harbour to the Port Vell Imax Cinema, Barcelona Aquarium, Magnum Mare shopping centre and restaurants.

Here I screwed up – I did not read my Hit List properly. I set out to enjoy the views (funny enough) from the Eclipse bar high up on one of the top floors of one of the top hotels in Barcelona. I saw the Barcelona Tourist bus was still running (about 8:30 now) so hopped on the bus down to Port Olimpic (that’s how its spelt) to visit the Eclipse bar at the top of the Arts Hotel (or so I thought!). I got to the Arts hotel and did find a bar on the 33rd floor, but it was a private guests bar. So I read the hit list again – Eclipse is in the new futurist W Barcelona hotel about 3 miles up the coast! Oh flip. Never mind I had time to admire the Goldfish, a huge copper clad sculpture outside the Arts hotel built to celebrate the Olympics and reflect Spain’s sea fairing history – from one angle it looks like a fish, and from the front it looks like a Spanish naval hat. So I took the opportunity to take a walk around the Port Olimpic marina. It was a bit grubby – I felt sorry for those who had invested in the bars and restaurants here as I doubt it has delivered what they expected. Maybe its too far out of town, but it was very quiet and dull. It was a Tuesday night when I was there – maybe its different on a weekend.

Then a nice long walk along the seafront, past the trendy bars and clubs of the area like Ice Barcelona, Opuim, Agua and Shoko. Then further along some funny art, Homenatge a la Barceloneta showing a block of 4 apartments?, maybe built to mock the planning decisions made not allowing buildings over a certain height to be built near the sea, yet allowing the huge and impressive W Barcelona hotel.

By now my desire to hit the Eclipse bar had wilted and it would have meant another few miles on foot, so I headed inland and walked into the Gothic area for food. A nice pizza and a few pints in Boga before my stroll back to the hotel, stopping at a little local bar mid way! I'd like to say I then got changed into something more dressy, and went out hit all of the top clubs in Barcelona - but no - maybe 20 years ago! Day 1 was done!

Barcelona in 2 days - Day 2 – Just the rest of Barcelona to see!

Up reasonably early and a walk into the Ciutat Vella, the old area of the city. Took breakfast in a nice café, and then made my way around this area admiring the old Cathedral, the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia, and the many nice smaller squares and old shopping areas. Then at 10 it was time for my Barcelona Segway Tour, with Barcelona Segway Fun. Their name is a pretty good description of the tour. My first time on a Segway, and time to disprove the theory ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’! After a few minutes, in the small ‘play area’, you can master the Segway, an amazing and fun piece of machinery. Within 10 minutes, along with the other 3 on the tour, we were winding our way through the back streets of Barcelona and heading towards the port. Behind Port Vell, in the wide open spaces, we were encouraged to get our Segways ‘flat out’ – 20kmh – weeeee! Great fun. Then over the Rambla de Mar and around Port Vell. By now confidence was growing and this tour was getting more and more fun by the metre! The guide explained what we were witnessing, and contributed some fun banter. From here we made our way to the base of the amazing W Barcelona hotel. Very impressive close up – wish I’d made the Eclipse bar last night! But I’m out of time so yet another one on the hit list for my next visit.

Then we segwayed (can I use that as a word!) along the wide promenade, past the beaches and up to the fish sculpture, before heading around Port Olimpic. It was a bit of a repeat of my walk last night, but as I was now Segway mounted it was great fun. Took in the views of the beaches to the north east of Barcelona, and then it was time to start our way back. 2 Hours of great fun – anyone who has not taken a Segway tour I can highly recommend them – My 1st but not my last – a really brilliant and eco friendly way of seeing the sights and covering some distance effortlessly. We covered about 7km on our 2 hour tour.

Then I headed back into the old town, and a look around the Cathedral, and started my hunt for the Motorcycle museum, which took about 45 minutes. The Museu de Moto is not a well known Barcelona attraction, but it was of interest to me. Even asking those within 100m of the place drew blank looks. I eventually tracked it down, and it was closed for a refurb! Flip.

Back to the La Boqueria market for some fruit, before taking a late lunch on the Plaza de Catalunya. Then a stroll around the Ciutat Vella, just walking around the city is one of the pleasures of Barcelona before heading back to the hotel to pack and check out.

My last stroll up Avenida Parral-lel for this visit, up to Plaza de Espana, and one last chance to take in some great views of the city. I took the external elevator to the top of Arenas de Barcelona, a superb redesign of the old 1900 Bullring which has now been converted into a shopping and entertainment complex. The top floor of the complex is all restaurants with superb views over the city, and especially up the Avinguda de la Reina Maria Cristina, to Monjuic with the National Palace at the top. All viewed out!

Then the efficient Aerobus back to the airport and home!

What I missed

I had planned to do a jet ski tour of Barcelona, or get out on a speedboat tour, but the winds were high (there was quite a big sand storm on the beaches while I was there) and the sea was rough so this was missed!

So can you see Barcelona in 2 days?

Back to the original question. Can you see Barcelona in two days – Hell No! You will see from the above report I skipped past numerous great places, did not get inside some of the epic Gaudi buildings and there were whole areas I did not get a chance to visit like Tibidabo. I never made it out to sea, and there were so many great bars and restaurants (many with great Views – a favourite of mine you may recall) I did not get chance to sample.

You need many more than 2 days to really see Barcelona, but two days is enough to give you a great taste of the place for your next visit!

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