There’s a reason that Barcelona is the most popular tourist city of all the wonderful cities in Spain.
With its nightlife, architectural statements (such as the Gaudi landmarks Sagrada Familia and Park Güell), a beautiful beach, the tree-lined pedestrian mall Las Ramblas, and brilliant restaurants and bars, this city is one of the hippest in Europe.
We only had a short time in Barcelona and my daughter and I made the most of it. Kate had prepared a well-researched itinerary that meant not a minute was wasted.
First on her to-do list was a stroll up Las Ramblas, the street that stretches for more than a kilometre between the Christopher Columbus monument at Port Vell and the Plaça de Catalunya square. It’s best to head off early – by mid-morning, the place is teeming with tourists.
We were in search of La Boqueria food market, where you’ll find hundreds of stalls offering the best fruit, veges, fish, meat and tapas you’ll ever see under one roof.
Open from Monday to Saturday, from 8am until 8.30pm, it’s the best place in the city for breakfast.
Don’t be surprised if you’re offered cava (local sparkling wine) or a beer with your breakfast. The locals seem to consider alcohol a perfectly appropriate breakfast drink and it’s just the thing for washing down your potato omelette or rabbit ribs.
From La Boqueria, we walked up to Casa Batlló, considered one of Gaudi’s masterpieces and instantly recognisable for its surreal exterior.
Kate was determined to get to popular restaurant Cal Pep for lunch, so we wandered back towards the Gothic Quarter. The metal roller door is pulled up at 1pm daily, but given Cal Pep’s fame and the fact that it doesn’t take bookings, a queue starts forming from about 12.15pm.
Thanks to Kate keeping us on time, we were right at the front of the queue and the wait was well worth it. We sat up at the counter and let the waiters choose the dishes. The tapas were superb. The food is fantastic in Barcelona but you’ll despair if you’re a compulsive calorie counter. The meals are carb-heavy and full of fat, so put the diet on hold.
It’s not just fabulous food and restaurants – the Sagrada Familia and the Park Güell tick off the cultural components of a holiday and are must-sees. Buy your tickets to Park Güell before you leave New Zealand – they can be booked online several months in advance.
There are areas that are free but the really interesting sculptures are within the Monumental Zone and that’s where you’ll need a ticket.
Visitor numbers are restricted to 400 every half hour and you must select the time you wish to visit (you won’t be allowed into the zone outside your allocated session).
The Sagrada Familia, the magnificent Gaudi-designed cathedral, has been under construction since 1882 and is expected to be completed some time before 2040. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and deservedly so – check the opening times as they can change throughout the year.
After a day of cultural sightseeing, Kate and I felt we deserved a cocktail and the very best place in town to have one is on the 26th floor of the W Hotel. The 360º views of the city are well worth the price of the cocktails.
Barcelona is a remarkably easy city to get around, whether walking or on bikes that you can rent by the hour. It’s clean, safe and very laid-back – the perfect city to visit when you feel like you need a holiday.
Insider’s guide to... Barcelona
Best Tours... Hire a bike from any of the rental places along the waterfront. Either join an organised tour or, if you are adventurous, go for a pootle by yourself.
Local Flavour... Take an afternoon nap and head out to dinner at one of the excellent local restaurants at 9.30 or 10pm. Only nanas and families with small children eat before then.
Best Photo Op... The Monumental Zone – fabulous Gaudi sculptures. where to watch people The Barcelona waterfront where the beautiful people play.
Not To Be Missed... Park Güell’s Monumental Zone. Book tickets before you head off.
Fly With... Cathay Pacific for comfort, brilliant service and convenience.