You’ve seen the football, you’ve heard about the crazy architecture and you know at least three people who have been on a stag or a hen do there, but you really do have to discover Barcelona for yourself. Barce is one of those places that you simply have to chalk off. No euro traveller worth his or her salt can seriously talk the talk unless they have taken a walk down the bustling thoroughfare that is (or are) Las Ramblas. Give yourself three days to really get the taste.
The good news is that Spain’s second city, and the capital of Catalonia, is brim full of fun. The advent of cheap flights has brought the old port to life in a way that would have been unheard of in our parents’ day. There really is something for everyone now in a city that bustles with activity by day and parties hard right through the night. Incidentally, other modes of transport are also available.
On the back of those flights there is also an abundance of cheap accommodation within easy reach of the city centre. One of the good things about Barcelona is that, for all it sprawls over a huge area, the city centre is fairly compact.
Camp Nou is a must
For fans of Messi, Iniesta, Xavi and co. the good news is that access to the Camp Nou is inexpensive and usually just a matter of turning up on match-day. Things are different if el Clasico coincides with your visit, but ordinarily a league game will cost you no more than 50 euros. Paying direct, rather than going through on online booking firm will help you limit the cost.
Don’t be fooled by the outside view of the stadium – you wouldn’t be the first to think you’d turned up at the wrong venue – the pitch is sunk below street level so those towering stands that you see on TV really do loom high above the playing surface. It can make for an unusual vantage point for those accustomed to British venues, but it is none the worse for that. The way that you can buy beer as you sit in your seat whilst the match takes shape below you is similarly the sort of football experience we could all get used to.
Also on a sporting note, there’s the Olympic park at the top of the hill that overlooks the city. You can take the cable car if you’re feeling flash, but it’s not the longest walk in the world. The Olympic swimming pool with that famous diving board is worth a look on its own (and again it’s free to see).
For culture vultures
You can see the famous Gaudi architecture from the outside for nothing, or you can take the tours. They cost, and again, doing it yourself rather than going through one of the package tour sites can save you a few euros. Depending on when you go the queues keep moving and if you’ve a decent head for heights the views are pretty awesome. Alternatively, you could just keep your feet on the ground and spend the ticket price on a San Miguel and a couple of postcards (or even a couple of San Miguels and a single postcard!).
If architecture and city scapes aren’t your thing, the beach is just around the corner. Those in and around the city are cheap and cheerful but it is well worth taking the train to Sitges just along the coach. It’s got all the quirky charm of Barce and a beach to die for.
The night time is Barce time
But it is after dark that Barcelona really comes into its own. There are literally hundreds of buzzing venues that will keep you jumping all night; there are tapas bars where you can just hang out and hoover up the vibe and there are all sorts of events that take place throughout the year. For example, this August the Casino Barcelona will stage the Estrellas Tour. Whether you fancy yourself as a high rolling grinder or you just like to see how the pros go about the business of winning big, you will be guaranteed a night of glitz, glamour and excitement. This year’s tour dates are August 19-30.
If you’re a less complicated kind of a tourist, the simple delights of music and lights are never far away. It’s worth doing a bit of homework on this because in a city this big there is no guarantee that a club will be offering what you’re looking for. There are some very niche venues out there, and it is possible to blow a load of cash on something that is just never going to make you happy. Just like planning your travelling in general there is plenty of help online. Check out barcelonayellow.com to make sure you get the night that you’re looking for – and yes there is a very lively gay scene.
A word to the wise
And the one big thing that Brits always get wrong is to go out too early. Things don’t even start to get going until well into the early hours – use that time on the beach wisely! If you head out early you will guarantee to miss out on the best of what the city has to offer – no matter how much fun you might have along the way. Whisper it quietly, but if you time your naps right you can significantly limit the cost of your outing.
If all you want to do is make a mockery of those warnings about the dangers of alcohol, you can save a whole boatload of cash by doing it at home – you’ll struggle to get a decent curry on Las Ramblas to boot!
But if you’re after an experience that is a little more sedate then the spectacular dancing fountains of Montjuic will leave you speechless. Enormous, brilliantly illuminated and syncopated to uplifting classical music ,they are one of the marvels of the city. If you get the timing right you might get to experience Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballe celebrating something special. The whole pathway up the Mont is bedecked with fountains and it makes for a wonderfully romantic promenade. No one has ever calculated just how many marriage proposals have been made by the light of those fountains, but it’s a fair bet that not many of them have been turned down. And it’s free as well – what more could you possibly ask for?
Whatever your taste, whatever your budget and whenever you decide to make the trip, Barcelona is guaranteed to impress. You’ll understand once you’ve spent a couple of days there. It’s one of those places that you simply have to experience for yourself.