Eager for a long weekend trip, two weeks ago Abby, Alisha, and I headed to the eastern coast of Spain to visit Spain’s economic powerhouse and second largest city: Barcelona. We arrived late Thursday afternoon, checked into our hostel, and immediately headed to Montjuïc, unwilling to waste any sunshine. Montjuïc is Barcelona’s largest public park with numerous scenic hiking trails and lookouts over the vast city.
There is an impressive 16th century castle at the peak of Montjuïc, and more famously the olympic stadium from the 1992 Summer Olympics lies in the confines of this expansive park. As it turns out, the Olympic Games held here completely redefined the city of Barcelona.
The 1992 Summer Games transformed this once industrial city into a tourist hotspot, revving up the economy and making it the richest region in Spain today. Egyptian sand was pumped onto the coastlines and palm trees were shipped from California to attract tourists and create some of the most famous beaches in Spain.
After all our walking, we made our way to an Italian restaurant for dinner where we treated ourselves to a bottle of wine and some of the best pizza I’ve ever eaten (please note: I haven’t been to Italy yet). Exhausted from our hiking and travel, we headed to bed.
To begin our sightseeing Friday, we booked another Sandeman free walking tour. In two and a half hours we made our way through the city and learned about the interesting figures that helped shape the city into what it is today. Of course, we learned about Barcelona’s persistent resistance during the Spanish Civil War and through the decades of Franquismo. During Franco’s dictatorship from 1939 to 1975, citizens of Barcelona, and all of Cataluña (the province Barcelona is located in), were prohibited to speak their regional language. Censorship was a part of daily life across all forms of media and women lost many of the rights they held previously. Despite such cultural and political repression nationwide, Barcelona has blossomed into a culturally rich destination.
After our tour, we headed straight for the beach. Although a beautifully sunny day, the Mediterranean breeze was chilly, so we opted out of sun bathing and decided a walk along the beach would be better. Emptying our shoes of sand, we then headed to Parc de la Ciutadella, another of the city’s famous parks, known for its beautiful fountain. On such a nice day the park was packed, so we saw the sights and next headed to see Barcelona’s Arc de Triomph and grab lunch.
After a relaxing lunch, we walked to Plaza de Cataluyna, one of the most famous squares in the city. We walked around and looked in the shops until it was time to head to the Barcelona Cathedral, which is free to enter after 5:45 pm.
We admired the Gothic architecture and saw the tomb of Saint Eulalia, a patron saint of the city and a martyr. It is said that when the Romans came to Barcelona centuries ago, they put Eulalia in a public square naked in order to punish her. Miraculously, snow fell despite the warm climate and covered her body. Angry that their first punishment failed, the Romans placed her in a barrel with knives in it and sent her rolling down a hill. They repeated this punishment over and over again, and each time she emerged unscratched.
After the cathedral, we headed to another beautiful church called Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar and stumbled upon the Born Cultural Center, which houses archeological remains of the first market that stood there during the 1700’s. Exhausted and getting hungry, we made our way back to our hostel to find a dinner place and hit the sack before another action-packed day in Barcelona.
We began our Saturday ready to get rowdy with Gaudí, considering we planned an entire day just to see this famous artist’s works around the city. We hopped on the Metro to begin our day at the infamous minor basilica, La Sagrada Familia. Designed by Antoni Gaudí in 1882, this massive and amazing edifice is still under construction today. Although not expected to be completed until 2026, La Sagrada Familia is nonetheless a breathtaking structure both inside and out. I can honestly say it is the most beautiful and peaceful place I have ever encountered.
Adorned with vibrant stained glass windows, the white stone is transformed into a rainbow. The architecture is nearly indescribable, the perfect combination of structure and fluidity (please note: I know practically nothing about architecture). The detail put into this single architectural masterpiece is astounding; every where I looked I was able to something new, something I hadn’t noticed before. Gaudí was no doubt a genius, and although we didn’t want to leave such a beautiful place, we knew we needed to get moving in order to see the rest of his works spread out across the city.
Continuing our day dedicated to Gaudí, we next walked to La Pedrera and Casa Battló, relatively close to La Sagrada Familia considering the massive size of Barcelona.
Unable to enter either building due to our strict time schedule, we headed to Parc Güell located on the outskirts of the city atop a huge hill (maybe even a mountain). Constructed between 1900 and 1914, Parc Güell is a massive garden complex which was once home to Gaudí. We climbed stairs upon stairs (thank goodness there were some outdoor escalators too) until finally we reached the summit. Admiring the views of the city, we explored the park until we finally found what we had come to see: the incredible stone columns, the colorful mosaic art, and the houses all constructed by Gaudí.
Unfortunately, we arrived about two and a half hours before we could enter to explore the section that contained the impressive lookout and mosaic art (tickets we sold out). So, we took cover from the rain wherever we could and impatiently walked around the park as we waited. We finally entered in a massive wave of sightseers. It was worth the wait! Stricken with hunger and exhaustion, we made our way back to our hostel to find dinner and call it a night, since we had to get up early Sunday morning to catch our flight back to Valladolid. Barcelona was truly a unique and beautiful city. With its impressive architecture, sunny beaches, and unique history and culture, I understand why so many venture to Barcelona each year: just to capture a glimpse of what living in Spain is all about.