Barcelona is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. From the waterfront to Montserrat, Barcelona is home to the unusual, a mixture of modern and ancient, the beautiful and the bizarre. Founded by the Roman Empire as a trading post, you can still see the ruins of the Roman wall and the outline of the Basilica de la Sacred Family in the background. With the Mediterranean Sea to its front and the mountain range of Collserola to its back, Barcelona is a city of contrasts.
Its language is Catalán, but Spanish is spoken by everyone; street signs are written in both languages. However, like in all other European Union countries, all tourist information offices and literature are disseminated in several languages, English one of them.
Navigating Barcelona is very easy. There is a superb public transportation system, on the surface and below ground, and easy access to intercity trains. The T10 card is good for all transportation, including metro, bus, tram and train in zone one. We bought this card (good for 10 trips) used it well. It’s also good for discounts at some museums and attractions.
A couple of plazas are good to know. The Plaza de Cataluña and Plaza de España.
Las Ramblas, the main tourist artery, runs from the port to Plaza de Cataluña. You can access metro stations and bus stops at either end or anywhere through Las Ramblas. La Boqueria market, Barcelona’s farmers market (much, much more than that!) is off Las Ramblas and well worth a visit, especially if you like to mingle with the “natives”. El Corte Inglés, Spain’s best chain store, also has its flagship Barcelona store at the Plaza de Cataluña.
Plaza de España is at the foot of Montjuic, one of two small hills that flank the city. This plaza is the communications hub. Here you can access the metro, surface transport, trains, hop-on-hop-off, and other tour companies. Street vendors from all tour companies will assail you but it’s always good to buy your tickets from the official tourist office which you can find at a couple of corners of the plaza. From here you can also walk up the staircase to the Alfonso XIII building or Palau Nacional de Catalunya, which houses the Art Museum. Montjuic is well worth a visit with its fortification and beautiful views, its gardens and art museum. While walking is only for the strong and willing, there is a good trolley transportation system inside the park.
We like to use the hop-on-hop-off. You can buy a ticket good for 48 hours in most large cities. We usually do the whole tour first, in larger cities like Barcelona we do both routes. This gives us an idea of what we’d like to see more in depth. Then we get off at those stops we’ve chosen to investigate further.
Tickets for the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia should be bought online before arriving in Barcelona. The site is accessible through metro or bus. It is extremely crowded and unless you have tickets bought in advance you may find that you cannot enter if they are sold out.
Montserrat, the shrine of the virgin at the top of Collserola, is well worth a visit. Not only is the church and buildings worth seeing, but the views are spectacular. There is a small hotel at the abbey and the food at the cafeteria style restaurant is decent.
The Barceloneta and port are also a great day trip. Right at the foot of Las Ramblas, the port has a wide walk, many stores and fabulous seafood restaurants. La Barceloneta, the old fishing town, is adjacent, a nice walk away, and gives you a good flavor of what Barcelona was like some decades ago.