It’s that time of the year again for me, after a long year of working my regular 9 to 5 job in the payroll office and spending a good portion of my free time to plan my next trip of a lifetime, I’m off again and this time I’m heading back to Europe for a six week adventure that will begin by landing in the Spanish city of Barcelona.
Once I have landed I will get to experience places I have seen before that I am keen to head back to again and experience more of, but also this trip will incorporate a lot of new and exciting places to see. It will also give me the opportunity to experience some of the world’ s best known annual festivals from La Tomatina in the small town of Buñol to the very festive Oktoberfest in the Bavarian city of Munich.
But first things first, I’ll be flying from my home town of Melbourne to Barcelona and travel around Europe mostly with travel company Busabout using the Hop-On Hop-Off coach network. I will also be doing the Busabout Iberian Adventure Tour that will last for seven days taking in Spain, Portugal and a night in Morocco. There will be more on that later down the track but for now we begin this six week journey from the Catalan capital of Barcelona.
Melbourne to Barcelona – 19 – 20 August, 2015
Today is the beginning of the next big journey. Tonight I’ll be flying out of Melbourne Airport on Emirates Airlines to Barcelona via Dubai on the Airbus A380. With a 21:35 departure time on a Wednesday night I’m hoping I’ll be able to get some sleep on the plane despite the excitement of heading off to Europe.
When we arrive in Barcelona at the scheduled time of 13:40 it’s a good time to arrive as by the time we get to our accomodation it is already time to check in and it gives you enough time to try and stay awake for a little longer, have some dinner and go to sleep to acclimatise to the new time zone a lot quicker.
Barcelona El Prat Airport has a very convenient airport shuttle bus service. If you are from Melbourne it is very similar to the Skybus. The Areobus can be caught from both Terminal 1 & 2 with most international flights outside Europe arriving at Terminal 2. You can catch the bus to the city centre or Plaça d’Espanya where I got off and switched over to the Metro from here.
If you’re flying into Barcelona, pre book your Aerobus ticket online before you arrive. There is no need to line up at the ticket machine to purchase your ticket, especially if you are not carrying any Euros with you once you arrive. All you need to do is walk up to the bus outside the terminal, hand over your ticket which is changed for another ticket and the friendly staff will give you a tourist map of Barcelona. Book your Aerobus ticket by clicking here.
From Plaza Espanya the green metro line three took us to the bottom of La Rambla and from here a short walk to our accommodation for the next three nights which was the Be Ramblas Hostel which you can read all about in an earlier blog post here.
After checking into our hostel for the next three nights we went out for a walk to check out the surrounding area. The idea was not to go too far away as the jet lag was really kicking in. Due to our location it didn’t take us long to hit the craziness that is La Rambla and the mass of tourists (including ourselves) that were checking out the many market stalls and street performers gracing the street.
Once we finished checking out the port, an early dinner and night was in order to get ready for a full day of sightseeing tomorrow. For tomorrow we have some pre-purchased tickets to check out the Sagrada Família and Park Güell, two of the biggest tourist attractions in Barcelona.
Pre-purchase your Barcelona metro ticket online before you leave home. Make sure to book it a couple of weeks in advance as it takes some time to arrive in the mail. You can purchase the Hola Barcelona ticket for unlimited travel for 2, 3, 4, or 5 days and if you buy online you get 10% off the regular ticket price. More info can be found on the website by clicking here.
Barcelona – 21 August, 2015
Today is our first full day in Europe and Barcelona. It is a pretty structured day today as we have pre-booked some tickets to see some of the busiest attractions in Barcelona. The two main attractions we will be checking out today will be the Sagrada Familia which I have previously written about when I first went to Europe in 2012 and also to Park Güell which I did not get to see on my last visit to Barcelona. Further below I will also show you how to beat the queues and not miss out on seeing these two busy attractions.
This morning despite thinking we would sleep in we were up nice and early, so rather than sitting around doing nothing we got ourselves ready and decided to head off for the day to check out the sights of Barcelona. The Be Ramblas Hostel does not include breakfast so next door was a really nice bakery which was also really cheap, given its location.
We started walking down La Rambla which is virtually unrecognisable this time of the morning with no people, no stalls and no street performers. We slowly made our way down towards the Sagrada Familia, our pre-booked ticket had a timed entry of 11:00 so we had plenty of time to kill this morning as we thought we would sleep in and catch the metro there. On arrival at the church it gives us plenty of time to look around the outside and some of the surrounding streets and parks to get some good photos. There is also a gift shop there to browse around in and because we were relatively early the crowds were not massive but starting to build.
Pre-purchase your Sagrada Familia tickets online before leaving home. You need to pick a time to enter and they are pretty strict with you needing to stick to this time. Additionally if you wish to go up the towers you need to pick if you want to go up the Nativity Facade (older side) or the Passion Facade (newer side) and elect a time to go up. Pick a time for the towers relatively close to your entry time as you can also look around after coming back down from the tower. For example my entry time was 11:00 and my entry to the Nativity Facade was 11:15. Time slots book out fast so book a few weeks in advance especially if travelling in July and August. Book tickets by clicking here.
On arriving at your designated time chosen on your ticket it’s a seamless entry into the church. I have previously written how I wasn’t a big fan of the Sagrada Familia and it was a shockingly ugly building. However last time I didn’t manage to get to go inside the building and once you do that, your opinion certainly changes for the better.
Upon entering the building you are greeted with what you could argue is one of the most spectacular interiors of a building you have ever seen. The sheer enormity of the building is appreciated more so from the inside than outside with the soaring support columns reaching for the sky to support the high ceiling in what can only be described as following the architectural style of Gaudi to a tee.
When inside you can explore the main chapel and despite being pretty crowded inside there is plenty of room for you to stand around and take in the amazing stain glassed windows that light up the main chapel in a mixture of colours from the glass and that all inspiring ceiling soaring above you.
When it was time to head up the Nativity Facade we needed to line up for the small lift that takes you to the top. Before entering the line for the lift you are no allowed to take you bag up with you, lockers are provided and you need to put a €1 to retrieve the key so make sure you have some coins with you when you visit. You get the €1 back when you return the key to the locker.
Once at the summit of the tower you navigate a series of narrow spiral staircases making your way down and taking in the views of Barcelona. You can also go down some passageways half way down the stairs of each tower that will link up to another tower, you then have the choice to go up or down depending on the flow of the crowd already inside the towers. At times it feels like you’re getting lost in a labyrinth of spiral staircases, but as long as you head in a downward direction you’ll always find your way out.
Upon exiting the towers you then have all the time you like to explore the church further if you wish. Heading outside towards the gift shop you will find that underneath the Sagrada Familia is a museum devoted to the history, construction process and Gaudi. Probably the most interesting part of this for me was all the plaster models that are being created for the construction of the building. Most of the original models were destroyed in a fire and the Spanish civil war.
After checking out the intriguing Sagrada Familia it was now time to head off to another Gaudi masterpiece and popular tourist destination, Park Güell. The park itself is quite large and most of it can be explored for free, the only part that needs to be paid for is what is called the Monumental Zone where you will find most of Gaudi’s work.
The park can be visited via the metro by getting off at either Vallacrca or Lesseps Stations on the green L3 line. From both stations it’s a bit of a walk so factor that into your timing and as it is all up hill from here you will even find that some of the streets will have escalators to help you get up the steep hills.
Up here you’ll gain impressive views of Barcelona looking down towards the beach with the Sagrada Familia easily spottable along with the old port and Mount Montjuic with Montjuic Castle at the summit. It’s easy to get lost in the park as we did trying to find the Monumental Zone, but once we did we had plenty of time to grab some lunch at a restaurant close by. I can recommend taking a bottle of water with you especially on a hot day as there are a number of hills to hike to the summit of the park.
Pre-purchase your Park Güell tickets online before you leave home. Entry to the Monumental Zone is via timed entry so you will need to plan ahead as it is imperative to book your ticket before arriving as they sell out fast especially in the summer months. As I was at the Sagrada Familia at 11:00am I booked Park Güell for 2:00pm giving us time to catch the metro there and get some lunch beforehand. To book your tickets head over to the official website by clicking here.
When entering Park Güell there are several entrances to the Monumental Zone, if you enter just to the side of the main entrance (the main entrance is actually an exit) you walk down towards the main entrance where what can only be described as two gingerbread style looking houses are. These are the Porter’s Lodge with the tips of these buildings being at the forefront of some of the most iconic photos you will see of Barcelona.
From the main entrance square you will then get impressive views looking up the Monumental Flight of Steps towards what is called the Hypostyle Room which is an outdoor area with eighty-six columns holding the Nature Square up above where you gain those iconic shots of Barcelona. In comparison to the rest of the park the Monumental Zone is quite small, but it is the most impressive part and there is no point coming here really if you’re not going to pay the entrance fee and go inside to check it all out.
After a long morning and afternoon of sightseeing, walking, more walking and still a bit of jet lag, it was time for a short afternoon siesta before heading out for dinner and checking out the Plaça d’Espanya which is one of my favourite areas of Barcelona, especially with the old bullring that has been converted into a shopping centre. Here you will get some of the best views but more about that tomorrow, tonight it’s about joining the other thousands of tourists for the nightly Magic Fountain show.
Once day turns to night the fountain comes alive full of colour and music. Every hour you can see the fountain put on a show that is well worth venturing out for with the National Art Museum of Catalonia at the base of Montjuïc in the background.
Once the Magic Fountain show was finished we then battled the crowds to make our way back to the metro and back to our hotel for the evening to get some sleep and do it all again tomorrow, for our final day in Barcelona before getting our first taste of Busabout.
Barcelona – 22 August, 2015
This morning we begin our second full day in the city of Barcelona. Yesterday was a pretty full on day and even though we only really checked out three major attractions, we covered a lot of ground. You especially know when you’re doing a lot of walking when most normal days you struggle to hit 10,000 steps on your Fitbit, but when you’re travelling by early morning you have already smashed the 10,000 step goal.
Today will be no different and after grabbing some breakfast from our new local bakery we headed off on the short walk to Drassanes metro station and got off only at the next stop Parallel on the green metro line L3 to catch the funicular up to Montjuïc.
One of my fascinations travelling around Europe is catching or even just checking out funiculars wherever I can. How often can you say you see a funicular or even say the word “funicular”. After all it has the word FUN at the beginning so it must be good! This funicular is quite modern and you could mistake it for being a modern tram, but all the same it was quite cool catching this automated funicular halfway up the hill from inside the metro station.
When exiting the funicular station you are at the base of the cable car that takes you to the summit of Montjuïc where Montjuïc Castle is located. As we were too early the cable car wasn’t open yet so we had to hike up the hill the rest of the way, it was fair to say that after just having a shower I was needing another one again.
At the top of the hill you can get some nice views of the city, the port and airport also if you walk around the castle. On this particular morning it was a bit hazy and overcast so the views weren’t so great and once again we were a bit early so we sat around at the summit waiting for the castle to open.
Entry is reasonably priced at only €5.00 so it is worth going inside and having a look around giving you a higher lookout point of the city and while inside check out the small exhibition explaining the many incarnations of the castle throughout the years from being a lighthouse, a fort and then a fortress. The castle was demolished and rebuilt many times over and expanded on to eventually look the way it looks today. While we were inside the heavens decided to open up and we got a bit drenched, however it felt very humid so I didn’t mind too much getting wet and once it stopped you dried off pretty quickly once the sun came out.
Heading down Montjuic you can go in many directions depending on what you want to see and do. We opted to head down towards the Olympic Stadium from the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games where you can go inside for free to check it out. Not the most exciting thing to see but given it’s free and you’re walking past it anyway you might as well spend a few minutes having a look.
Around the other side of the stadium is a large open space with a large water fountain that’s worth checking out along with a lot of what can only be described as large funnel towers that look like those wafer coffee sticks you can eat. From here the road and walking trails continue onto the back of the National Art Museum of Catalonia and from the top here is where you gain impressive views looking down towards Plaça d’Espanya past the Magic Fountain where we were last night.
Another nice part of the city is where the Arc de Triomf is located. Easily located by catching the metro red line L1 to the station called Arc de Triomf (how convenient). Similar looking in shape to its more famous cousin in Paris but a bit smaller, this Arc de Triomf was built for the 1888 World Fair and stands out in all red brick and is flanked by a large avenue full of tourists and locals walking, riding and even rollerblading. You will also find many street performers along here and by following the avenue you will end up at Ciutadella Park.
Ciutadella Park is quite a large park close to the beach and is also home to the Barcelona Zoo and the Parliament of Catalonia. I wanted to come here to check out the fountain, last time I was here it was fenced off for the pond to be cleaned out. Three years later and it is still fenced off for cleaning. I’m not sure if it has been that way for three years or if I’m just unlucky and have arrived on both occasions for scheduled cleaning.
Despite seeing a lot of things today and covering a lot of ground there was still plenty of time in the day. I really wanted to go on the old Port Cable Car to check out the views from above, however when we arrived it was a 45 minute wait in line which we weren’t keen to do in the hot sun. If you really want to catch the Port Cable Car the best thing is to do is to attempt it first thing in the morning when hopefully no one is queuing up to wait.
The beach is next to the tower where the cable car starts so we had a bit of a rest here. The beach was packed full of people given it was quite a hot day. We headed back to our hostel from here for a bit of a rest and later on went out again to come across the Barcelona Cathedral before heading out for dinner and getting our stuff together for an early departure tomorrow morning.
Tomorrow morning we are heading off to Valencia which is an optional stop on the Busabout Hop-On Hop-Off network with the bus going all the way to Madrid. While in Valencia we will also get to experience the craziness that is the La Tomatina Festival, but more on that later.
As Barcelona is the starting point for me on the Busabout network I didn’t get the option to choose to do the below optional extras. However below is what is on offer from Busabout, these can be booked with the tour leader on board the coach before arriving at the destination. One of the optional activities is a Fat Tire Bike Tour of Barcelona which I have done before and can highly recommend. You can read about that here.
PICK UP/DROP OFF POINT
Be Sound Hostel
Carrer Nou de la Rambla, 91, 08001 Barcelona, Spain
+34 931 850 800
Spanish Cooking Experience
Busabout Price: €25.00 Normal Price: €28.00
Kayaking and Snorkling in Costa Brava
Busabout Price: €60.00 Normal Price: €65.00
Fat Tire Bike Tours
Busabout Price: €22.00 Normal Price: €24.00
Check out some other travel blogs about Barcelona…
A Dangerous Business – How I Fell in Love with Barcelona
Nomadic Matt – How to Spend 5 Days in Barcelona
The Blonde Abroad – Barcelona Travel Tips
Camille Tries To Blog – Barcelona: La Sagrada Familia, Barri Gòtic and More