Stephen Bellingham on 24 March 2011
Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia and the second largest city in Spain, is quoted as being the 16th most visited city in the world and 4th in Europe. We were amongst those visitors along with a couple of friends for a few nights in March 2011. My wife and I had been before, but to be honest one never tires of the city. It has so much to offer that you get a different perspective each time you visit.

Our two bedroom apartment was on the first floor next to the Placa Catalunya and was both cost effective and convenient. It was well appointed with modern furnishings with a fully equipped kitchen. We were prepared for it to be noisy, however we didn’t hear a sound as the bedrooms faced into the interior courtyard, so slept better than at home!

Maps in hand we started out by visiting one of the many restaurants with excellent reviews and weren’t disappointed. We found the small restaurant tucked down one of Barcelona’s side streets and once through the door were pleasantly surprised. The unusual dishes and brilliant service started our trip with four very satisfied customers.

We purchased 2-day passes on the “Hop-On Hop-Off Tourist Bus” as they are colloquially known. You are provided with headsets so you can tune in to an informative review of the city with stops at all the major attractions. The cost was EUR30 per person and well worth it to get a good overview, however next time we will use public transport, as it will be more economical for what we will want to revisit.

The diversity of Barcelona means that there is something to suit almost everyone. We met tourists who stay within the Gothic Quarter and had booked to see several concerts; others who liked the fact that they can sit on the beach and go shopping one day and take in Antoni Gaudi’s unique buildings and quirky architecture another.

The Sagrada Familia had lengthy queues, so we returned really early the next morning! There was still a bit of a queue, however it was well worth the wait. It’s been under construction since 1882 and expected to be completed within the next 30 to 80 years!

Our tour stopped at Poble Espanyol in Monjuic, an outdoor museum to represent the architecture in each region of Spain, created as a ‘mock’ village in 1929 for the International Exhibition. The research was immense with four architects and artists spending two years beforehand driving around Spain, visiting 1600 towns and villages. Every building is a copy of a real building. It was meant to be demolished after the event, however still stands today due to popular public demand.

Artists and craftsmen show their crafts and sell their wares in the variety of shops. Activities include glass blowing, leatherwork, sampling Sangria and maybe stopping at one of the many restaurants and cafes for lunch or dinner. Whilst purchasing our tickets late one afternoon, we were concerned that it was only open until 4pm. To our amazement it’s 4am on a Friday and 5am on a Saturday!

We found excellent local Tapas bars in the most unexpected places. A good sign is when no-one speaks English, the customers are all Spanish and pointing is the only way that you are going to get your dishes.

Prompted by excellent reviews, we made reservations at a small, fairly expensive restaurant for the Saturday night as a treat. The ‘Surprise Menu’ of 7 dishes accompanied by their selection of appropriate wines was second to none. The dishes were out of this world and the service exemplarily. It was well worth a visit for a very special evening.

We pre-booked a car and drove up to the mountain top monastery of Montserrat on the Sunday. It was about an hour away, so easy to get to, although do set out armed with a good map as it can be confusing getting in and out of Barcelona. You can also get a train, but we wanted to take our luggage and drive straight back to the airport. Situated on top of an unusual rock mountain, Montserrat receives thousands of visitors every year – many of them Catalan or Catholic pilgrims going to see the Black Madonna. There is a funicular at the Monastery which will take you to the highest point and several suggested area walks, even hiking overnight to watch the sunrise.

Viva La Barcelona - we will return!