TAKE ME TO: Barcelona, Spain
Since I was a young girl, my mom always instilled in me the importance of travel. “The gift of travel is an experience you’ll never forget”, is what she would say, which is why her and my dad would save up their money working sometimes 12-hour shifts just to take my brother and I to San Diego and then eventually the Philippines for my first time in 2006. I know that I’ll never be able to repay my parents for EVERYTHING they’ve done and continue to do but this trip to Spain couldn’t have been given to them at a better time. Here they are surprised below (but I’m the one who cried).
Here’s an EXTENSIVE guide to Barcelona, Spain in just 4 FULL days.
I decided to try this website called visitacity.com. It allowed me to plug in my destination, the length of my stay and where my hotel was. Then, it automatically created a day-by-day itinerary for me including times and links for certain tours. It was great because I could add and delete some attractions that were suggested by friends. It helped me personalize our trip and gave us some type of structure, whether or not we fully followed the itinerary hour-by-hour.
Pocket Wi-fi - I rented a handy pocket wi-fi through wifivox and the best part about it was that they sent it to my hotel and all I had to do was pick it up at check-in and drop it off by check-out. The instructions were very simple to connect to any device and included a charger and a case. The internet was strong even on-the-go so it was well worth the money and convenience. (Price: About $8/day)
Flamenco Show - Tablao Flamenco Cordobes is one of the most popular Flamenco shows in Barcelona, so I wanted to make sure my parents and I had reservations ahead of time. Each ticket came with a drink (sangria, beer, wine or soda). You could also purchase the dinner option but just note, you would be having dinner BEFORE the show, not DURING the show. (Price: $50/person)
Barcelona Card - I opted out of getting one of those Hop On Hop Off Bus Tours because I wanted us to have more freedom roaming the city, while traveling like a local more than a tourist. Getting a Barcelona Card is a 3-in-1 card for free public transportation (bus, metro and airport train), free entry to most museums and a discount card. They even provide you with a map and suggestions on where to go, which is why this is all you need to travel around the city. The Barcelona Card is valid for consecutive days so figure out how many days you’ll need to use it and it’ll activate on your first use. Pick it up at the information desk at the airport with a printed voucher. (Price: $59 for 4 days)
Monsterrat Monastery Tour from Barcelona Including Cogwheel Train Ride - This was the first tour I booked because since this was a day trip, I wanted to plan the other activities around it. The tour was about 4 hours and 30 minutes all together, while a charter bus picked us up from the meeting place, took us to Monsterrat and back. Each ticket came with liquor tasting — alcohol brewed from the monks at the monastery. (Price: $63.50/person)
Sagrada Familia Guided Tour w/ Tower Access - If there was any tour I was going to purchase ahead of time, it was going to be this one because no matter what time you visit the Sagrada Familia, it’s constantly overflowing with people coming in and out of every corner. This tour was 90 minutes in a small group with a very knowledgeable guide (who spoke English and Spanish). (Price: $57.91/person)
My packing process is not really out of the ordinary but I did however, keep a close eye on the weather forecast weeks in advance. I knew the weather would call for light layers with a chance of rain so I planned my outfits ahead of time so I wouldn’t overpack. I used a mix between CALPAK’s Packing Cubes in Leopard and Stüssy packing cubes my brother was having me field test for him. Then, I realized where my OCD kicks in when it comes to separating accessories, toiletries, odds and ends. I use a lot of mini pouches for various things and that’s how *I think* I stay organized.
From the airport, we took the blue Aerobus, which was €6.50 and it dropped us off at Plaza Catalunya, a large square in central Barcelona. We stayed at H10 Catayluna Plaza Boutique Hotel, which was so simple to find because it was right in the heart of Plaza Catalunya so we walked right over. Plenty of foot traffic and passersby in that area makes you feel safe and actually a part of the local atmosphere. This H10 hotel was literally right next to a Zara and was surrounded by shops and restaurants (Urban Outfitters, Sephora, Hard Rock Cafe and even a McDonald’s Cafe). H10 Catayluna Plaza was a clean and very lovely boutique hotel with friendly guest services. Each room has a Nespresso machine, mini fridge and of course, fluffy robes.
Like I said before, it’s so much better to personalize your trip according to your research but it’s also easier to work off of something. The itinerary I created had my parent’s pacing in mind, our particular interests and going with the flow.
Sagrada Familia - No photograph will ever be able to fully capture the beauty, history and detail of this temple. Our tour guide was very helpful in pointing out things that we would’ve missed if we were just scanning the attraction so I highly suggest a tour. I’m an art history nerd so every detail she had to say about the infamous Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, the religious symbols and conceptual masterpiece in general was BLOWING MY MIND — and my parents’ minds too. After the tour, we got in line to take an elevator up to the tower, where I got to see most of Barcelona from above through extremely narrow stairs and windows. Then, I took about 400 steps down on my own. If you’re afraid of heights, I highly suggest you opt out of this experience. If not, it’s well worth the trip.
Parc Guell - This outdoor monument is filled with intricate mosaic tiles, gardens and organic structural solutions that attribute to Antoni Gaudi’s style. With your Barcelona Card, you get 25% off tickets! We ate at the small café just outside of the park, where I had my first plate of Paella while in Spain!
Casa Vicens - Casa Vicens is another Gaudí landmark but this time, this was his first home. I have to say that this was my favorite stop in all of Barcelona, probably because I love HGTV and I love home décor. Every single corner of this home was intricately designed, which made you want to take a million photos of it but again, photos couldn’t do it justice. Entry is free with your Barcelona Card!
Casa Milà/La Padrera - This was the last public residence designed by Gaudi. We walked from Casa Vicens to Casa Mila so unfortunately we were too drained to go inside the building but ofcourse we took photographs outside. Using your Barcelona Card, this attraction is 20% off tickets! Also, the street corner that Casa Milà is built on is found on a street reminiscent of Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles, lined with high-end boutiques so it was fun to take a peak into some of them!
La Rambla/La Bouqueria - We took an easy stroll down La Rambla, a pedestrian street filled with souvenir kiosks and small cafés. It can get quite crowded, especially at night when everyone is out and about so beware of pickpockets. Right off of La Rambla was La Bouqueria, a large public market filled with fresh fruits, candy galore, cured meat and walk-up restaurants. This was also a crowded place but filled with high energy and plenty to see and buy.
Bananas Club & Restaurant - This was definitely an Instagram-worthy spot with neon rope lighting and funky furniture. The Tequeños and Butterfish are a must!!
Alsur Café (Lluria) - This was my favorite brunch spot! Everything from the cozy vibe, Spanish tile and brick ceiling made our experience that much better with the delicious food and fresh fruit juices.
Gothic Quarter - Walking through the Gothic Quarter makes you feel like you’re in a totally different world. Its narrow streets lend itself to a medieval history with the remains of Roman influence. Small bars, cafés, clothing boutiques and even shops owned by artisans line each corridor and makes for an adventurous walk.
Barcelona Cathedral - Within the Gothic Quarter is the Barcelona Cathedral, standing since the thirteenth century. Like Sagrada Familia, entering the cathedral gave me a sense of peace, awe and wonder. We attended a one-hour service that was completely spoken in the Catalan language but it’s a good thing we picked up on unifying Catholic Church cues to let us know what to do. We bought candles at the front desk to light in the cloister, where geese hung out. Yes, geese.
Museu Picasso - Museu Picasso is a short walk from the Barcelona Cathedral and is tucked in the Gothic Quarter. Most of Picasso’s studies and older studies prior to his well-known Cubism works were on display, as well as one of the most complete permanent collections of works. What I loved about this museum was how they showed Picasso’s progression through the curation of his paintings, drawings and ceramics from room to room. Museum Picasso is free with your Barcelona Card.
Demasié - DO YOU LOVE CINNAMON ROLLS? This is the place for you — for us. Aside from its luscious sweets, Demasie’s brand identity was undeniably cute and playful.
Pigeons (lol) - Growing up in the Philippines, my dad would watch American films that sometimes portrayed scenes in either New York or Europe that showed countless pigeons roaming around a town square. He told me, “I don’t feel like I’m in Europe unless I take photos with pigeons”. So, we woke up that morning and ran around Plaza Catalunya like we were little kids again. Something I’ll never forget.
Arc De Triomf - Just a few blocks away was the monumental, Arc de Triomf. If you’ve been to Paris before and visited Arc de Triomph, you’d feel just as small standing under this archway. If you haven’t, just imagine feeling like you’re walking through a giant’s doorway. It’s a photo-op nonetheless, yet a brisk walk around the promenade is always pleasant.
Monsterrat Monastery - From our hotel, we were just a short walk to a travel agency where a charter bus picked us up for our Monsterrat tour. The drive was comfortable and educational while our guide was talking us through various sites we were passing by. After about an hour of driving and finally getting through windy roads up the mountain, there we were looking at a breathtaking view at a breathtaking monastery filled with decades of history. I could never explain the sacredness and magic of this place but this is a MUST-see day trip. I wish we had more time to stay and walk around but that’s what happens when you’re on a tour — you have to leave when everyone leaves. So, we took the cogwheel train down the mountain (which was very pleasant with a beautiful view) and headed back to Plaza Catalunya.
Magic Fountain of Montjuïc - In the evening, we took a stroll in the Montjuïc neighborhood and saved some seats on the stairs of the Palau Nacional to wait for the fountain show. Street performers and glow-stick vendors entertained us until BOOM the Magic Fountain did its’ thing, lights and music included. Think World of Color at Disneyland meets the Fountains of Bellagio but slightly smaller. It made my inner-child very, very happy and very, very thankful to be there with my parents.
Casa Batlló - Again designed by Antoni Gaudí, this building lies in the center of Barcelona. In its’ authentic Modernisme/Art Nouveau essence, Casa Batlló is like candy for your eyes and a dream come true for your imagination. Each whimsical cascading window, gradient tile-work and constant flow of organic lines and curves gives you a sense of wonder and glory all at the same time. The audio tour comes with a virtual reality tour displayed on a device for you to walk around with and imagine the space while it was still a living quarter. The cashier at the front takes 3€ off your ticket price when presenting your Barcelona Card.
Creps al Born - Imagine sipping on a carefully crafted cocktail at the bar surrounded by the aroma of crepes and Nutella. That is exactly what Creps al Born is like, only with the friendliest staff and the house speakers blasting Michael Jackson, Earth, Wind and Fire and Billie Holiday. This is a must if you just want to wind down from all walking!
For the rest of the afternoon, we wandered the interesting streets in El Born province where we gathered most of our souvenirs to bring back home. Because it was a Saturday, a lot of people were out shopping and exploring so it just felt like such a rich time to enjoy the energy of the city.
Tablao Flamenco Cordobes - I almost cried because of how much REAL passion went into every step and musical note coming from the world-renowned Flamenco dancers. You could physically feel the stories they were telling through their steps, while each echo bounced off of this intimate “cave” we sat in together.
Ultramarinos Santa Mònica - This restaurant/bar made me imagine that I would come and eat there every time I visited the city and write my name on the walls every single time. It was also a couple doors down from the Flamenco show! The Rigatoni with pesto sauce melted in my mouth, literally. This was the perfect vibe for our last meal in Barcelona.
Don’t forget to take screenshots of your confirmation emails/tickets AND also have print-outs just in case.
Google Maps (in my opinion) is the most useful and trustworthy guide to use instead of the general Maps app on our smartphone. It’ll give you options for every type of transportation, including the metro routes, bus numbers, etc.
Yelp is available in Barcelona and is a great resource when you’re trying to figure where to eat with real reviews.
Since you’re a tourist in Spain, you are exempt from VAT (tax in Spain), which means you can get a tax refund at the end of your trip. Some stores offer this with a minimum purchase and they’re all different (some are €150). For example, if you purchased a bag from Balenciaga, you can receive a tax refund of around 12% if you ask the cashier to give you an invoice. Go to the Customs Office at the airport, get your invoices stamped and usually there’s a Global Tax Refund office next to it that you can go to that will give you a cash refund.