Barcelona is going through some turbulent times at the moment, being at the heart of the Catalunyan independence referendum. It is, however, still a fantastic place to visit, and the tourists show no sign of letting a little political rioting get in the way of a short break. It was also the destination chosen by my group of flying friends for a little meet up.
You can fly direct to Barcelona on many airlines, including BA from Heathrow and Gatwick. Vueling, Iberia’s low-cost cousin also offers flights, and it is possible to pick up services to the US on IAG’s new Level airline which is competing against Norwegian. However, for this trip, the routing was London – Madrid – Barcelona to take advantage of a decent fare, additional tier points and the opportunity to fly the long haul A340 on the London-Madrid legs – we are flying friends after all!
Buy a travel card: €8.40 got me a 24 hour ticket for the integrated transport area. This does not include the fast airport bus, but does include the 46 bus, which is almost as fast and takes you into the centre. You can also use the ticket for trams and the metro so it is well worth it. Longer ticket are also available and the ticket machines are in a range of languages if your Catalan is not up to asking for a 3 day travel card!
Where to stay
There are loads of places to stay, but on this occasion, the Hilton was chosen as a base as a number of the group have Diamond status, so it would provide an opportunity for upgraded rooms and entry to the Executive lounge as well as breakfast the following morning.
The hotel was fine – it delivered on all of its promises, but didn’t go above and beyond like some other places can.
What to do
There is so much going on in a city like Barcelona that you need to know what you are planning to do beforehand otherwise you might miss out. Park Guell is a perfect example; an urban haven of Gaudi-designed architecture, it is limited to 400 visitors at a time, so it is important to book.
I booked €7 ticket the morning of my visit and was fine, but on arrival the next admission time for walk-ups was 4 hours later. Same with the Sagrada Familia, although I was content with just walking around the outside.
Another hidden gem is the rooftop esplanade of the Arena in Placa d’Espanya. It costs €1 to go up in the lift but this is returned to you if you eat in one of the restaurants.
There are also a selection of bars, and you can enjoy a beer, some crisps and a great view for less €5. Beer is generally pretty cheap; in one bar around the corner from the Sagrada Familia I paid €1.80 for a bottle of Estrella.
Where to eat
We only really had time for dinner in town, as we had eaten lunch on the plane and breakfast was in the hotel, but La Flauta was a perfect suggestion. We arrived at around 2300 and it was still busy. A bottle of red wine, some large G&Ts, patatas bravas, beef, bread, octopus and other tapas dishes came to only £25 per person which was excellent value.
I only had a short time in the city, but I know that it is somewhere I would like to go back to and explore some more. The people were friendly, the price of food and drink was excellent, and there is much still to see. Hopefully the political situation of Catalunya and Spain will be resolved amicably so that the groups can proceed in a productive manner to everyone’s benefit.