Barcelona is an ideal target for the winter months here in Germany. You will still have moderately warm weather with around 10-15 degrees and during those months it is much less crowded and feels less touristy.
Ryanair flies frequently to the main airport, so we jumped on a flight after work on Friday and had a return Sunday night. Giving us the full 2 weekend days to enjoy Tapas and Gaudi’s crazy architecture.
Our hotel was not directly in the city center, but in Sant Gervasi. Public transport is excellent in Barcelona so getting around is simple and fast.
The arrival Friday night was very late and we got to the hotel after midnight. So straight to bed after a long working day.
Since this weekend was mainly an escape from the cold and nasty winter weather, the focus was on the essentials again: The key sites for some great pictures and excellent food. So first stop: a breakfast place!
We got a very lucky pick with On y Va Coffee
The place is not expensive, coffee is good, and the owner is very nice and friendly. Plus the place is decorated nicely with bikes, biker gear and all is in style about bike sports. Not many seats but we stayed for quite a while and planned the day.
Our first destination was – of course – La Sagrada Familia – the still (and probably forever) unfinished church designed by Antoni Gaudi. Crowds are massive. You can get expensive “pass-the-line” tickets (you must buy online in advance!) or you just go when there is a public mass (for example often on Sunday 9am) and get in for free.
We did not stay that long and continued onwards to La Rambla, which is *the* main street in Barcelona. It starts at the central Plaza Catalunya and goes down all the way to Port Vell and the Columbus Monument. The street is full of life (and tourists, so beware of pickpockets), has some beautiful facades and many nice picture spots.
Take your time when you go down, I do not mean head into every (overpriced) brand store, but rather jump off into the food markets in the side streets (there are a few). Of course it is quite expensive, but the sausages and cheese selections or fried seafood is great for a quick lunchbreak. Locals come here as well to shop and there are some open courtyards in the back. You can sit in the sun, enjoy your snack and relax among the locals.
We went very slowly so it took us most of the afternoon to get to Port Vell at the end. The main sights there are the historic port authority building, the columbus monument and the Rambla del Mar bridge. Another popular photo spot. The Maremagnum shopping mall on the other side of the bridge is another [not recommended] thing you should skip. A thing you should NOT do is go to Barcelona and end up in Starbucks in a Shopping Mall. 😉
Still, head across and all the way around. You will reach Plaça de l’Ictineo. This is like a mini park/square, you have a good view of the sailboats and the bridge and it is very quiet and great to sit and enjoy for a while. We did that and then circled back to see the Gothic quarter (Barrio Gotico) This is the city section east of La Rambla and north of Port Vell. You can find some really nice shops and fantastic restaurants strolling through the old and tight medieval streets here. Go see some of the old (roman) fortifications and Bascilias and the cathedrial in particular. It is quite crowed, in particular the basilicas will have queues. If you are short on time, skip going in. We had a couple of coffees there and went back to Rambla del Mar after dark to get a good night photo of the Bridge:
Dinner starts late in Spain, but we were hungry early and had picked El Xampanyet. The place is amazing for tapas and seafood. Make sure to order a bottle of their home-made Cava! Cost-benefit is very good. Even though it might look like a garage from the outside (it opens at 7pm) and is very small inside, people start crowding more than half an hour before. Do not expect to show at 7 and get a table, even on a weekday. Get there early, stand in line. It is worth it.
After dinner, which lasted quite long, we were so full, we decided to walk it off and see Casa Batlló and Casa Milà on the way back. They are both well-lit for for a good outside shot. However visitor access (for Batlló) closes at 9 or so, so too late for that. Walking through the streets in the city center is very nice at night (and no safety issue), so walk off your dinner instead of taking the metro.
We tried a different breakfast place for the morning. Actually just a small bakery / cafe around the corner, called Santa Gloria. It was full of policemen! This is actually a very good sign because:
- They know the whole area very well, so coffee must be excellent
- They come there often, so prices will be good
- You are very safe
Also – they were all super fit and none of them had a donut. 😉 Prices were really the best we had in all of Barcelona.
On this day we afterwards headed in the opposite direction, took a bus, and went to Park Güell. There is a public and open section, and a museum section which houses the popular Dragon statue and the Guard house. The entrance fee is not high, but it can be very crowded and there are time slots. Also – you can get better views of the city from the Turó de les Tres Creus at the hill in the park and if your camera is anything better than a cellphone, you can shoot the paid sights also from the public park. So entrance to this is [not recommended]. But the public park is great and you should really walk around the entire thing and see the different houses he built (was planned to be many more, just 3 are done, just 1 is used as a residence)
After this we jumped on the bus and drove all the way to Montjuïc. I forgot the bus line number, 55 or 150 I think. They are slower than a subway / bus combination, but you do not have to rush and change and can see a lot of the city.
Montjuïc Hill is very beautiful. It also offers the best view of the city, because you will have the sun in your back or to the right (depending on time of day) so lighting for a good picture of the harbor and city center is good. From the Mirador del Migdia you can see the container port, which is okay but less good than the other direction. The Castell de Montjuïc is just okay as well, there are far more impressive castles and sights. If you are short on time, both are [not recommended].
Better head straight for the Mirador de l’Alcalde (also called Mirador Montjuïc) that offers you the best views. You can also take a Telefèric up / down to the harbor if you are not good on your feet.
After this we headed for the Palau Nacional and the Font Màgica de Montjuïc. They have beautiful fountain shows at specific times during the day (mostly evening). We did not have the time and instead went during the day. Still both sights you should not skip.
If you have more time, the Olympic park, the Miró Foundation, and a nice botanical garden are also directly in the area. All easy walking distance. I had seen them before, so we did not go.
For us it was time anyway to head back to the airport and catch the late afternoon flight to get home.
- City Views: From Turó de les Tres Creus in Park Guell. But far too many people and not ideal direction. Better head for Montjuïc.
- For the best shot of La Sagrada Familia head to the other side of the little pond that is in front. You will get a full frame photo there.
- Font Màgica de Montjuïc when they have the fountain shows.
- A Rambla del Mar night shot is a must. Either expose very long at night or use the blue hour to get rid of the people in a 30-60 sec shot.
- Public transport is good in Barcelona. However tickets bought in the bus dont connect to subway and there are two types of subway lines for which the one way tickets also do not connect. Just get a day pass – they work for ALL lines, without exception.
- Hotels fill up fast, better reserve
- The key sights (La Sagrada Familia but others as well) have massive crowds. Reserve and go early.
- Top restaurants you should reserve as well, or show up half an hour early and wait
- A lof of pickpockets everywhere, but La Rambla in particular
- Otherwise Barcelona is really easy and safe. English is fine everywhere