In July 2017, we had a quick break in Spain to see some friends and got to spend a day in the amazing city of Barcelona.
It was very much a whistle-stop tour, and not nearly long enough to see everything that this enormous city has to offer, but we did cram in a number of landmarks during the few hours we had.
We arrived by train early in the morning, before 8am, but the Spanish heat was already in full force! Having spent two weeks away from the UK, in Rome, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, we had acclimatised quite well to the 30 plus degree days, however, staying in a room without air condition made this a different challenge altogether.
Our first landmark on our whistle-stop tour of Barcelona was Casta Batllo. Built in the late 19th century, it’s an unorthodox and incredibly colourful and unusual piece of architecture. Pushed for time, and arriving when places were still set up, we weren’t able to go inside but it was great to see such a creative and extrovertive piece of design in the centre of a modern city.
We had a number of tickets booked for the day, so began making our way past the famous market, La Boqueria Las Rambla (sadly in the news some weeks later due to a terrorist attack taking place), bands playing music in the streets, and arriving at the Picasso museum. We spent a couple of hours here, seeing the extensive artworks on display. Although we were there on a weekday, it was extremely busy and tickets required a specific time slot so booking in advance is not only advised, but actually essential.
Taking advantage of visiting before the full influx on summer tourists, we decided to visit Barcelona Zoo, which was being renovated. The zoo itself is enormous, and we spent a good couple of hours there without retracing our steps. Whilst the zoo is well stocked, and entry was surprisingly cheap (admittedly discounted because of the work taking place at the time), it’s worth noting that food and drink prices are hiked up significantly inside. Also, whilst the animals are clearly well cared for and the variety ranges from crocodiles and penguins to brown bears and rhinos, the heat and humidity on the day we went meant the majority were sleeping and seeking out shade. Nonetheless, it was a great few hours and a massive recommendation if you have the time to spare.
A crocodile in an enclosure at Barcelona Zoo
Leaving the zoo, we set about finding the famous Sagrada Familia. This is an enormous, yet unfinished Catholic church designed by famous architect, Gaudi. Despite work beginning as far back as 1882, with delays, damage from war and nature and the scale of construction, it is not due to be fully completed until 2032. Split by its critics, George Orwell having described it as “one of the most hideous buildings in the world”, whilst Salvador Dali said it had, “terrifying and edible beauty”, there is no denying the iconic image of this building among the cityscape of Barcelona.
Despite having pre-booked tickets, Sagrada Familia is incredibly busy at all open hours, and being able to go inside and up to the observation decks which looks over the city, is incredible, but somewhat hampered by the hundreds of people in every direction. As well as the building itself, there’s a fascinating museum on the way out details the planning, construction and various attempts to hinder and destroy the building over the years.
Leaving the Sagrada Familia, and the extortionately priced Costa Coffee nearby – but then, how do you put a price on an iced latte when it’s 32 degrees – we made our way back towards the metro station. We passed by the surprising Arc di Triomf, not dissimilar to its French namesake, surrounded by buskers performing stunts and acts.
Without a doubt, one day isn’t enough to appreciate all that this city has to offer, but our short visit made us realise just how much there is to see here. In one day we walked at least 12 miles in the heat, including fully exploring the zoo, and with more time we may have split up the attractions to save the time spent walking from one location to another.
Musicians playing in the streets
Would we recommend Barcelona as a place to visit? Absolutely. It makes a wonderful city break, even just a weekend break, but due to the size and how busy it can be, planning how, where and when you visit each attraction is an absolute must.
by Tom McBeth and Natasha Bryan
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