I may have run into a bit of unfortunate rain in sunny Barcelona, but what I missed in the sunshine, I made up in friendships gained, sunrises seen, and authentic culture learned. I fell in love with Barcelona in a week and I’m already dreaming up thoughts of returning to live there in the future. I’m so glad my trip unexpectedly took me to Palma de Mallorca which led me to Barcelona.
This warm, Mediterranean coastal city is the capital of the Catalonian region which’s culture holds a heavy influence within the city. Not only an influence in language but also food and holidays among other things.
Being on the Mediterranean, you can expect long summers and mild winters with few extremes throughout the year. In my opinion, the perfect vacation destination. The city has about 5.3 million people who reside within the Barcelona metropolis who are all crazy about their world-class FC Barcelona soccer club.
When you get to the Barcelona Airport, there are two options for budget travelers like myself. For the cheapest option, follow signs to the metro and purchase a T-10 public transportation card from the ticket window in the station. This gives you 10 individual rides on Barcelona’s public transit for only 10 euros. And as long as you stay within the metro system, you’ll be able to get to your hostel for as little as a single euro (like I did).
The other option, which I ended up taking to get to the airport, is a little faster and a lot more convenient. The Aerobus will take you to and from the airport for six euros each way. It will drop you off and pick you up at Catalunya Plaza which is directly in front of Las Ramblas and the Gothic area (where most hostels are located).
Where to stay
I stayed at two hostels in Barcelona – both of which I can recommend with a high rating.
Kabul Party Hostel
Barcelona’s oldest hostel is right in the middle of all the action. Located just off of Las Ramblas, inside infamous Placa Reial near the Gothic Quarters, this is nearly a perfect location. It’s easy to find (especially when stumbling home from their nightly pub crawls offered).
Kabul is cheap, but prices vary depending on what season you visit in. It’s a lively atmosphere every night in Kabul Party Hostel and certainly lives up to the name. Free walking tours, free breakfast, free dinner, and a free all-you-can-drink beer happy half-hour every night; what else is there to say about this place? It does an excellent job of combining a party atmosphere and still keeping it personal enough to meet people.
However, if you’re an early morning adventurer in Barcelona, I would suggest a different hostel. It can get loud at night because of the party happening downstairs and the beds aren’t the most comfortable.
Barcelona 360 Arts & Culture Hostel
I went here after partying half the week at Kabul ready for something a little tamer and this ended up being my best move in Barcelona. I met some excellent people at this place and made memories I won’t soon forget.
They also offer free dinner and free walking tours at Barcelona 360 Arts & Culture. In addition, they offer a pub crawl for 15 euros, but allow you to go with them every night you are in the hostel after you have paid. They switch up the clubs and pubs that they venture to nightly so this is a good, affordable way to experience Barcelona nightlife. The atmosphere in this hostel is perfect for any traveler.
The city is famous for works by Catalan architect, Antoni Gaudi, such as:
The main attraction in Barcelona, set to be complete in 2026 (yeah, we’ll see) after centuries of construction. This thing is the most impressive cathedral you will ever see.
It’s only about half as tall as it will be at completion. If you want to wait ten years to see it at completion, you can, but don’t hold your breath. It’s still impressive nonetheless. The price to go inside varies depending on who you are, but all entrance fees go towards donations to the construction of the cathedral. Annually, they pull in over 54 million euros that go towards building it bigger and making it impossibly more impressive
Across the street is a park that would be an excellent place to people watch and feed pigeons on a sunny day with La Segrada Familia as the backdrop.
One of my favorite parts of the city. Originally designed as an estate area for wealthy families, this place was turned into a public park that can be entered for seven euros (which is the least expensive admission price to any of Gaudi’s works.
Park Guell is a beautiful, picturesque park, but crowded year-round. They only allow a certain amount of people in the park at once, so make sure you book in advance – especially in the summertime. It’s a relatively inexpensive attraction to see, however, you can get a majority of the Park Guell experience from the views you get outside of the paid area of the park. There’s also a lot to see outside of the park. There’s a hill with a fantastic view of the city if you follow the trail behind Park Guell that you can access without paid admission.
Casa Mila and Casa Batllo
Both of these homes designed by Gaudi are located in the Gracia neighborhood of Barcelona. You can pay to tour them if you’re interested, however, I chose to view them from the outside for free. I was told the rooftop of Casa Mila (or “La Padrera” as the locals call it referring to its relative ugliness) is pretty cool to explore and is basically an artistic jungle gym.
But there’s also so much more to this city than Gaudi’s colorful, kooky, creative masterpieces.
Side-note: As I was people watching in a small café along Las Ramblas, I watched as many tourists tried to communicate with the Spanish café employee. It was interesting to observe how non-locals initially communicated with the employee until they figured out she spoke broken English. The human race and its ability to create a centralized language that everyone can communicate in from all parts of the world is truly astonishing if you take some time to think about it. It is sometimes difficult to communicate in English and even Spanish in Barcelona as a large portion of locals speak Catalan.
Mercat de la Boqueria
La Boqueria is huge; I’ve probably never seen a larger farmer’s market with so much variety. However, you can tell by the “I Love Barcelona” frosted cakes and candies that this market has been turned into something for tourists.
For an alternative, more authentic Spanish market experience, you can walk a half of a mile away from La Boqueria and Las Ramblas street to Mercat de Santa Caterina. The market is noticeably catered more to locals here.
At Santa Caterina I suggest trying a juicy Catalan specialty, jamon iberico. It must be impossible to go home without at least something from this Spanish farmer’s market.
Make it to the Mirrador and the walking trail right by it for my favorite views of Barcelona where the rolling hills and sandstone-colored buildings you imagine in Spain meet the perfect shade of blue sea you will ever see. Right next to the Montjuic Castle in Park de Montjuic.
Get lost wandering Barcelona’s Barri Gotic – Also known as the Gothic Quarters; it’s impossible to find anything you are looking for in this area, so just expect the unexpected.
Montserrat is definitely a whole day’s worth away from Barcelona so decide if you can allocate an entire day in your itinerary. It’s worth it. The train, which leaves from Plaza de Espanya regularly, and will cost 10 euros for a round trip ticket. It takes about an hour each way. Once in the village of Montserrat, you can choose to pay another five euros to take the cog train to the cathedral at the top of the mountain or hike from the village to the cathedral. The cog ride is about twenty minutes but doesn’t leave very regularly, especially in the morning when you’d most likely be arriving.
The hike will take about two hours depending on your fitness. This is a strenuous, uphill climb. You ascend roughly 2,000 feet. However, if you choose to do the hike as I did, you will be rewarded with fantastic spruce-filled hill views the entire way up.
Pro-Tip: Pack a lunch and save money as there aren’t many food options at the top near the cathedral. Get a chorizo for a euro at any market in Barcelona and it will serve your protein desires.
Eats and Nightlife
Other than the farmer’s markets, you’ll find plenty of places to get a Spanish food experience.
- Gracia District – In my opinion, this picturesque neighborhood is the place to get an authentic taste of tapas and paellas. You’ll notice there are a lot fewer chain stores and restaurants over in this part of the city.
- Terrablava – located just outside of the Gothic Quarters, this buffet is affordable and gives you many tastes of Spanish favorites. It may not be the best quality you can get, but it’s a good way to try everything at once.
- Sala Razzmatazz – this place feels like a Budapest ruin bar in the middle of Spain. With a different scene in every room of this mammoth club, what’s not to love? Maybe a cover charge of 10 euros and expensive drinks. Still, it’s a must for Barcelona nightlife at least once. It doesn’t even open up until midnight and is only open on the weekends. They will regularly hold concerts in various rooms that start and play late into the night. Try to find a night to hear some live music and make that cover charge worth it!
- Sala Apollo – another great club environment. Go on Nasty Monday’s – the biggest rock n’ roll party in Europe for the past ten years. Keep the beginning of the week party alive. The weekly tradition at Apollo is known worldwide and even popular with the locals.
- Dow Jones – a fun bar that runs as the stock market does. Drink prices fluctuate throughout the night based off of what is selling at that particular time. Stick around and hurry to the bar when the market “crashes” and prices go way down.
Barcelona won me over. I always imagined falling in love with this city but in no way did I expect an experience this great. I will definitely be back to stay longer in the future. The feeling this city gave me is indescribable.