36 Hours in Barcelona

Julia Bennet walks us through the streets of summertime Barcelona


As you descend upon Barcelona you will find yourself blinking your eyes and lowering your window against the sunny onslaught of Spain’s seemingly perpetual blue skies, and the first steps off the aircraft are a breath of fresh air after months in St Andrews. Barcelona could not be more different from the freezing Fife coast.

If the first impressions of Barcelona (perpetual sun, blue skies, and vacation worthy weather) are not entirely false, then the whole of Barcelona is a much more complex story.

Like any good tourist, my first stop after dropping my bags was a late afternoon pick me up in the form of some good food. Quimet y Quimet is a perfect introduction to tapas. This tiny restaurant is centrally located, about a 15 minute walk from La Rambla. Its cheap prices (most dishes are only €2-3) are beaten only by the food’s presentation. Plus, the tapas are made right in front of you. Quimet y Quimet is a must have experience for first time visitors and seasoned travellers alike.

As the afternoon rolls to an end, head over to Park Guell for jaw dropping architecture and some of the most beautiful sunsets you could ever witness. Make sure to get there by early evening in order to make the most of your time, as the park closes at 8:30 pm most nights.

You can easily spend hours wandering around the gardens, taking pictures overlooking the city, or picnicking in the shade. The sculptures, mosaics, and curving architecture intermixed amongst vibrant gardens are nestled high above Barcelona could easily capture a full day of your time if you are not careful.

Wake up bright and early the next morning to catch the city before it is truly awake. Head over to the Sagrada Familia via La Rambla for uninhibited views of the Gothic Quarter and shorter lines at the famous cathedral. Make sure to bring your camera to capture picturesque shots of the city perfectly framed in the early morning light.

La Sagrada Familia opens early and for very good reason. Visitors can easily spend hours gawking at Gaudi’s masterpiece — every stone, window, and tile has a hidden meaning that tour guides and aficionados will eagerly point out.

If you wish for a more in-depth understanding of the Sagrada Familia or of Gaudi’s works, consider splurging on a tour guide or audio book. Tours range in length from one hour to half a day and give tour goers a much increased appreciation for the Cathedral. You might also consider visiting some of Gaudi’s houses, nestled throughout the city.

If, however, after spending an hour or two in the Sagrada Familia you feel as though you have reached your architectural limits, reward yourself with brunch at Federal Cafe. This Aussie-owned coffee spot draws locals and tourists alike. They cater to a wide array of tastebuds, with options such as shakshuka and berry french toast. I would recommend either the flat white or caramel latte for a piece of coffee heaven. They have a small patio area outside and a rooftop terrace where you can enjoy such treats whilst people-watching and enjoying the warmer climate.

Now that you are fuelled up and energised for the day, head out into the city for some shopping. For the fashion obsessed among us an afternoon browsing the racks is a must. Barcelona has a plethora of stores, with a Zara on seemingly every corner. Besides their multi story department stores such as El Corte Ingles, Barcelona plays host to boutiques and small chains featuring local Catalan artists and designers.

When hunger strikes again head to Santa Ceviche for a local twist on a Latin American favourite. The “Classic Ceviche” is a crowd pleaser, whilst the more adventurous can try the “Pear infused Ceviche,” just like what it sounds.

Alternatively, for those lacking the sartorial gene, an afternoon at the beach might prove to be a lovely end to your day. Indeed, Barcelona has a wealth of beautiful beaches to chose from.

La Barceloneta is one of the most popular beaches. It is close to the city center, about a 25 minute walk from the Gothic Quarter and accessible by metro. Apart from its enviable location, La Barceloneta is popular thanks to the number of restaurants and amenities found alongside its coasts. There is a wealth of yummy seafood restaurants nestled along the edge of the beach. Some favourites include the Blue Beach Bar, where you can walk right up to from the beach and enjoy tapas, burgers, and sangria.

For those looking for a more laid back beach day, head to Ocata Beach. Ocata Beach does not have as many amenities as La Barceloneta, but what it lacks in restaurants and shops it makes up for in tranquility and peacefulness. So, pack a picnic and hop on the train for the thirty minute  ride north of the city. You will not be disappointed with the white sand or crystal clear waters.

Before you head home, make a pit stop at La Boqueria to discover even more good eats. La Boqueria is a vast food market similar to Camden Market in London or Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia. You will know you are in the right place when you pass stand after stand of vibrant juices encompassing every color of the rainbow. Flavours such as mango, strawberry, and pineapple are fan favourites and definitely worth a try.

As you venture further into the market you will pass seafood, meat, cheese, and paella stands. For a day at the beach the empanada and salad sections are a must.

As the afternoon winds to an end, meet back up with your fashion loving friends and head out for a night on the town. Bilbao is one of the busiest tapas restaurants in Barcelona and once you dine here, you will see why. Not only is it centrally located in the Gothic Quarter, it is also fairly inexpensive and perfect for students. Its laid back atmosphere and serve-yourself tapas emphasises the fun loving casual attitude of the city of Barcelona.

End your night with a stroll down La Rambla to see the full character of Barcelona. Musicians, cartoonists, mimes, and street performers mix together along the strip, lightened only by shop windows and street lamps. This hazy glow, the colorful outfits, the flow of people, and constant chatter present all around truly encompass the lively attitude of Catalan’s capital.


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