Top 10 Things to do in Barcelona

Just south of France, and right on the edge of the Mediterranean is the Catalonian capital of Barcelona. Traveling in Barcelona, you’ll encounter heaps of history, fantastic food, awesome architecture and a few sunny beaches as you explore one of Spain’s most iconic cities. Needless to say there are plenty of sites to keep you busy and narrowing the list down can be a challenge. So here are our top 10 things to do in Barcelona.   

La Sagrada Familia

One hundred and thirty years in the making, La Sagrada Familia remains Antoni Gaudí’s unequivocal, and incomplete, masterpiece. Gaudí began work on the basilica in 1883 and continued to oversee the project until his death in 1926. However, by the time of his death, La Sagrada Familia was only a quarter of the way completed. In fact, it wasn’t until 2010 that the gargantuan structure passed the half-way point in construction. Though still unfinished, the iconic cathedral easily deserves its spot at the top of our list of Barcelona’s highlights. From its extraordinary façade to its intricate interior, La Sagrada Familia is sure to impress even the most casual architectural enthusiast.

Travel Tip: As you enter the basilica, be sure to look up. The ceiling of La Sagrada Familia offers some of the most impressive architectural gems of the entire structure.

Park Guell

Only two miles away, perched atop a hill overlooking the Catalonian capital is Gaudí’s much more playful, Park Guell. The site was initially intended to be a residential community, but the concept was unsuccessful. Now, the stylish gardens, ornate terraces and winding walkways of this UNESCO World Heritage Site blend themselves into the hillside, offering a vibrant juxtaposition between nature and art. Park Guell is a great spot to spend an afternoon strolling and unwinding just outside the heart of the city.

Travel Tip: Take your time enjoying the mosaics like “el drac” at the entrance of the gardens, but leave enough time to walk all the way to the top of the park’s hill. You’ll be treated to an excellent view of Barcelona.

La Rambla

Smack dab in the middle of downtown Barcelona is La Rambla, a pedestrian only, tree-lined boulevard filled with shops, cafes, street performers and a fantastic outdoor market. A perfect spot for people-watching, the city’s main thoroughfare is not only filled with walkers and wayfarers, but it’s also Europe’s mecca for human statues. You’ll see plenty as you make your way along the traffic-free mall, but some are better than others, so don’t spend too much time watching a mediocre mime.

Travel Tip: La Rambla can be crowded at peak hours. To get a nice impression of the setting without the crowds, you might visit earlier in the morning to enjoy the boulevard as the city wakes up.

La Boqueria

Among the numerous vendors on La Rambla you’ll see your share of touristy wares. However there are a few spots that are well-worth checking out.  At the top of that list is La Boqueria, a large outdoor market packed with fruits, vegetables and other local treats. Grab a few things to enjoy later, or to snack on while you explore

Travel Tip: There’s more than produce at La Boqueria. You’ll find fish, meat and local pastries there, too. If you’ve got the time, head to La Boqueria early, find some fresh ingredients and spend the day preparing a Catalonian feast.

Barri Gòtic

Just off of La Rambla, Barcelona’s Barri Gòtic, or Gothic Quarter, feels almost like an outdoor museum. The most famous attraction in the area is the Barcelona Cathedral, but wandering around the countless medieval buildings in the quarter can be just as impressive. If the mazes of narrow, cobblestoned streets don’t make you feel as though you’ve stepped back in time, you’ll at least feel like you’ve stumbled into another city.

Travel Tip: Cafes and restaurants in this quarter can be a bit more expensive than other spots in the city, but the amazing setting makes an afternoon coffee or evening tapas well-worth a couple extra Euros.

Picasso Museum

Pablo Picasso spent several years living in the Barri Gòtic before leaving for France. After being properly inspired by the quarter yourself, head to the Picasso Museum to see if you can spot any of the neighborhood’s influence on the famous artist’s work. The museum holds one of the largest Picasso collections in the world and focuses mainly on his earlier works, many of which he developed during his time in the city.

Travel Tip: The museum is open Tuesday – Sunday from 10 am to 8 pm and is closed on Mondays. Plan accordingly to visit Barcelona’s most popular museum.

Porto Olímpico

Now that you’ve become well acquainted with Old Barcelona, check out a bit of New Barcelona. The Port Olímpic section of the city was, at one time, rundown and largely abandoned. However, prior to the 1992 Barcelona Olympics the area was transformed into a sleek and modern, oceanfront neighborhood. Easily noticeable due to two large beachfront towers, the Porto Olímpico’s restaurants and nightclubs light up at night, but the promenade is also a nice spot to walk or bike along during the day.

Travel Tip: Port Olímpic is also where you’ll find Barcelona’s expansive beaches.   

La Pedrera

If you’re after a bit more Gaudí during your stay in Barcelona, then you’re in luck. The city is full of his architectural influence and there are two more of his crowning achievements you have to see while you’re there. La Pedrera is a particularly fascinating building with its asymmetrical open-air atrium and on its roof, ventilation towers that can only be described as otherworldly. But perhaps the most captivating feature of the building is its undulating façade, making the building look as though it’s moving at all times. La Pedrera was the architect’s last project before completely devoting himself to La Sagrada Familia. You’ll see for yourself that he clearly ended on a high note.

Travel Tip: La Pedrera is open for display to the public. You can tour the roof, an attic with models of other Gaudí works and you can even weave your way around a furnished apartment inside the building.

Casa Batllo

In Gaudí’s, Casa Batllo, the most prominent features of Park Guell have made their way into the heart of the city. From the vibrant mosaics dancing about the exterior to the scaly, dragon-like rooftop, all of the color and whimsy of Park Guell is well-represented in the downtown building. As you pass by the Casa Batllo you’ll almost certainly be drawn in by the structure’s mask-like balconies that appear to be looking down at you.

Travel Tip: For an added treat, tour the interior. Each room is designed with a different theme in mind.  

Montserrat

Balance your exploration of one of Spain’s liveliest urban hubs with a peaceful and awe-inspiring visit to Montserrat. Just 30 miles outside of the city, the mountain-top monastery is a half-day trip you won’t want to pass up while traveling in Catalonia. If you thought the view from Park Guell was something, then you’ll be thrilled by the vistas that Montserrat has to offer, especially on the cable car ascent to the pinnacle.

Travel Tip: Soaring at over 4,000 feet, Montserrat is one of the highest points in Catalonia, but don’t worry. You can spare your legs by getting there via a train from Barcelona and a cable car to the top.

Enjoy two nights in this excellent city, staying at 4-star Barcelona Hotel as an added extension to your Spain Tour with VBT.

Gregg and Caroline’s Poland Travel Journal

We arrived in Poland fresh off of a Holland and Belgium President’s tour and we were instantly taken aback at the dazzling sights and sounds of this wonderful, new land. Caroline and I made our way into The Hotel Grand Sal’s restaurant to meet, for the first time, our local Trip Leaders Asia and Bibi. We weren’t quite sure what to expect, but after a prompt shot of vodka and an encouraging hug from our new-found Polish friends, any uneasiness or uncertainty quickly evaporated—we knew from that moment on that we were in good hands.

As it turns out, our first impressions were dead-on. Asia and Bibi are so full of life and spirit, with an infectious energy; an energy that we felt it right away at our surprise welcome at the door of the restaurant. Over the next couple of days we could see that our guests were understandably smitten by these capable leaders! Asia and Bibi are perfect complements to each other and took great care of the group. From language lessons and slide shows, to being lively partners for the traditional Polish folk dance (the Taniec Ludowy, not the Polka which is actually Bohemian in origin), to fine-tuning the bikes, these ladies were great.

To our delight, this convivial Polish hospitality seemed to run-ramped throughout the country. Everyone we met at the hotels, restaurants and shops were very friendly and happy to talk about their country and its history. We had the pleasure of meeting a man in a small local craft shop in Krakow who is a writer and an artist. He didn’t speak English perfectly (as so many of the young people do because it is a mandatory language in school), but he had a worn Polish-English dictionary by his cash register that allowed us to have a lively conversation. He was absolutely charming, and we ended up finding some wonderful handmade wooden crafts, hand-dipped candles and painted cards to take home with us.

We also had some terrific tour guides at the absolutely incredible Salt Mines, in Krakow, who were very proud and knowledgeable people. Again, not quite knowing what to expect, we were amazed at the appearance of the rock salt. It was dark and smooth, almost like limestone. We learned that these amazing mines rested 450 feet below the surface and were made up of a 150-mile maze of tunnels. They also housed a fascinating subterranean cathedral whose centerpiece was a large, overhanging chandelier, carved all from rock salt.

We weren’t only struck by our time spent indoors and underground. Our daily rides took us through some absolutely stunning countryside. We were there just after peak foliage and the woodlands were golden and gorgeous – very much like Vermont in Autumn. But the small towns we rode through were quite different from those at home, with the contrasts of the new and the old.

Finally, we are beyond pleased that this tour makes its way from Warsaw to Krakow, two of Poland’s thriving cities. We would not have wanted to miss either of them as they were equally interesting and exciting.

Warsaw was fabulous. The rebuilt Old Town is a charming marvel. One would never know it was not original: Truly an astounding feat of hope, pride and determination. During our exploration, we stopped and spoke with a young woman who was working on a restoration project and marveled at the detailed work she was doing on an old church. She was trained as a lawyer but preferred repairing the stonework! We also had the opportunity to enjoy a delicious, traditional food, pierogi, in a local Warsaw restaurant.

Towards the end of our tour, Krakow was also extraordinary – the Main Market Square is full of Renaissance, Gothic and Baroque architecture, and the center was bustling with locals and tourists. There were lots of colorful flower stalls and pretzel stands. We had a fantastic tour of the town which ended with a carriage ride back to the hotel. Our guide, Anya imparted so much information which indeed helped our understanding of the culture and history – both ancient and recent – of Poland.

Having been home for a couple weeks now, we both have found that Poland has truly made a lasting impression upon us. It is a nation full of color, amazing history and great food! Most of all, we found that Poland is a beautiful land made up of warm, remarkable people who were seemingly always willing to chat and share as much as they could about their home with a couple of eager travelers.

We encourage you to join VBT on a Biking Vacation in Poland, and to fill us in on your own experiences in this outstanding European Destination!
-Gregg and Caroline Marston
Owners