We spent 6 days in lovely Barcelona just after Easter, staying near the Barri Gotic and exploring this great city by the sea.
by Joy S on April 17, 2012
Barcelona is a great destination for a short break. It is the capital of Catalonia, a region with its own language, character and history. It is on the Mediterranean Sea and is quirky, cosmopolitan and a very cool place. The city is full of life.Barcelona is actually set on a plain which rises gently from the sea up to the wooded hills behind the city. It is one of the busiest ports in the Mediterranean and is Spain's most cosmopolitan city. The restaurants and bars are busy all year round and the seaside is packed in summer.We just loved all the buildings in the city and the architecture is varied and fascinating. The old centre of Barcelona has one of the greatest concentrations of Gothic architecture in Europe. As well as this though, there are also some of the more bizarre buildings in the world - surreal and unusual, especially the Sagrada Familia church.The architect Gaudi is everywhere in Barcelona - his houses and architectural creations, tiled mosaics in the shape of dragons and chimneys with faces are marvellous.As well as these incredible buildings, there are lots of world class museums in the centre. There is also cutting edge contemporary architecture in the newer part of the city. Barcelona also has sophisticated shops, lots of trendy restaurants and many sleek hotels.The setting is wonderful - the wooded hills at the back, combined with lots of parks and sandy beaches which extend north from the port area. It is really an unusual city where you can combine wonderful architecture with a gorgeous seaside setting.The city is also loud, vibrant, beautiful and bustling. We travelled there with our 8 year old son and found it to be a great place for a family holiday. There is a playful atmosphere in the city and our son soaked it all up from the moment we arrived. The climate is also good for children - mild and sunny, but also there are good beaches, lovely parks, a big amusement park and wonderful food to try.When we explored Barcelona, we found that you really did have to pause and discover its charm in small details - the hidden courtyards of Barri Gotic are particularly special and the first glimpse of the Sagrada Familia.There are 3 million inhabitants in this city. The climate in summer can be humid and the streets are extremely congested, busy and have lots of rush hour traffic jams. Despite all this however, it is easy to see why Barcelona is one of Europe's most popular tourist destinations. The architecture, museums and wealth of culture, combined with the ease of exploring and fun things to do, make it a wonderful city to visit. We loved drinking wine and sangria in the lively tapas bars, eating the seafood and wonderful fish in Barceloneta and just soaking up the atmosphere of this vibrant and cosmopolitan city. We had a wonderful time!
* There is no shortage of flights to Barcelona, including low cost flights from lots of airports, both main and regional. We flew on a scheduled Monarch flight from the UK and found it to be perfect. On the flight, we sat on the left hand side of the cabin and got the most incredible views of the snow capped Pyrenees on the way to Barcelona.* El Prat airport is 12km southwest of the city and has options for fast, easy travel to the centre. There are express buses, trains and taxis. Some budget airlines fly to Girona Airport 80km away with connecting buses to Barcelona. We flew to El Prat airport. We took a taxi when we arrived - the driver was a a bit of a crazy driver, we held our breath a couple of times, but got safely there in the end. It cost 36 Euros from the airport to our hotel in the old town. On the way back, we took the metro and train. This was fast and efficient and good value for money. The trains to the airport are regular and convenient.* The metro or underground system in the city is excellent. It is clean and efficient and trains come about every 3 minutes. The lines are well marked and it is very easy to use. In the station, you can buy day tickets (for 1, 2, 3 or 4 days) that allow unlimited trips on the metro, buses, city trains, trams and funicular to Montjuic. The transport system generally is very good, with buses, the metro and the trams. The cost of travel is quite low. Much of Barcelona though is pedestrianised and very walkable.* The Hop on Hop off bus is a good way to get your bearings, particularly if you are in the city for a short period of time. We did not use it on this trip, but have done in the past and it is very good. This bus actually makes it easy to get to the Parc Guell, Sagrada Familia, Gaudi houses and the waterfront. There are 3 different routes, 44 stops, audio commentary in different languages and you can board the bus anywhere on the route.* Consider buying the Barcelona card. We did this and found it to be good value, especially if you are planning to visit a number of attractions and use the metro system. It combines unlimited rides on the metro, buses and trams, a free boat ride around the harbour and discounts on a lot of places including the Sagrada Familia and the Gaudi houses. You can buy 2, 3, 4 or 5 day passes.
* The Mediterranean climate means that Barcelona is rarely uncomfortably cold, even in winter. It can though be very hot and humid in the summertime. Early summer and autumn are the ideal times to visit, especially May to June and September to October. In winter, days are crisp but often sunny and snow is rare. Most rainfall is in April. We found this to be true during our visit. It rained a couple of days, but actually did not feel unpleasant as the temperatures were still warm. July and August are very hot and humid - even at night. We visited in the past in July and had rainfall then too, so you never know. It does work though year around as a family break destination. If you do schedule your trip for the summer you can take advantage of the city's 4 golden sandy beaches. We did manage to spend one afternoon on the beach in April too!* Buy reminders of all the Gaudi artwork you see everywhere in Barcelona. There are mosaics, tiles and miniature mosaic houses and Gaudi dragons - they all make good souvenirs.* Look out for the Gaudi pavements all over the city. The pavements have Gaudi designs on them that he used on the floors in his houses. On the Passeig de Gracia, look out for hexagonal shapes with sea motifs. In other parts of the city, keep your eyes peeled for square pavement tiles with flower designs. On the Ramblas there are wavy patterns everywhere.* Barcelona is very child friendly and every establishment we went to was pleased to see children. They do not tend to serve their evening meals until 9pm or sometimes even later, so it is actually good to be like locals and have a siesta after lunch. Most of the touristy restaurants though, do serve food all day.* Apparently Barcelona is one of Europe's pick pocketing capitals. We had no problems, but you do need to be alert in crowded places like the train stations and the Ramblas. The subway is said to be a hotbed for pick pocketing activity and they have films showing down there warning you to beware. Apparently it can range from simple opportunistic thefts to co-ordinated attacks. The platform at Sants train station and the one at Sagrada Familia are places where you are warned to be especially careful. Hold on to your bag at all times and never leave anything unattended while you are in a cafe. We had a drink in one place off the Ramblas, the lady working there warned us to keep our camera close, apparently 2 bags had been stolen earlier that day! Beware of anone trying to touch you and only carry the cash you need, never your passport. Keep a close eye on your camera and never put it on the table in front of you in a cafe. Violent crime is uncommon, and we had no problems whatsoever, but you just need to be alert and careful.
There is all sorts of food to try in Barcelona - the choice is wonderful.Anyone with a taste for chocolate will be in seventh heaven. The chocolate shops which you will find absolutely everywhere, are filled with chocolate in imaginative shapes. We saw everything from ships, houses, ferris wheels, trains, Barcelona football things and even Spongebob Squarepants. Be sure to try the hot chocolate and churros. Apparently the best shops for hot chocolate are Granja Viader and Chocolateria Valor (Calle Tapineria 10). However, if you just try the hot chocolate in your neighbourhood, it will be good - that was what we found anyway!The pastries are also delightful in Barcelona. In every bakery there are tempting and wonderful pastries to try - madalenas, ensaimadas, bunelas and estrellas.The Barri Gotic or old town is full of tapas bars, cava bars and lovely little restaurants. There are also some very touristy places too, but even these are pretty reasonable. The tourist places tend to do a set menu, with salad followed by paella or tapas and a glass of beer or sangria for around 15-20 Euros per person. We ate in one of these places on our first evening and did enjoy the food and the experience.The Placa Reial in the old town though is the place to go for very nice restaurants and good food. Some places had long queues and you do pay a mark up for a beer in this square, but the people watching opportunities are second to none.There are also lots of cafes, bars and restaurants along the Ramblas offering tapas and paella. Many of these places have terraces on the Ramblas itself, again we dined out at one of these and enjoyed the food and the experience very much.La Boqueria is the main food market on the Ramblas. It is a wonderful place to visit just for the sake of visiting, but you get great snacks, fruit salads and lovely fruit juice drinks. Our son was mesmorised by the man there who made pancakes - we visited his stall twice - the pancakes cost 4.50 euros, but the spectacle of him making them and the taste, made them worth it.Port Vell has a number of very nice and slightly more expensive restaurants. We ate in one of these on our last night and had a delicious meal with wine. It cost 80 euros, but the quality of the food was excellent. In these restaurants, you also get a lovely view of the harbour and the yachts and we saw an amazing sunset over the city.Also try and eat in one of the fish restaurants in Barceloneta - the old fishermen's quarter. The fresh fish they serve is absolutely delicious, the restaurant we ate in looked like it had been once an old warehouse, so that added to the atmosphere.
by Joy S on April 18, 2012
We found this hotel on the internet and booked a couple of months in advance through a discount hotel booking website. It worked very well for us, we got a good discount on the quoted price and were really pleased with the accommodation.The hotel is avant garde and is a1920's office conversion. It is located between Santa Caterina Market and the cathedral and they say it is one of the latest fashionable places to hit Barcelona. The rooms are spacious and were designed by a prestigious local design team.Our room was 406. We arrived before midday and it wasn't ready, but they stored our luggage and we were able to check in when we got back just after 2pm.We were very pleased with the room. It was extremely spacious, airy and very bright. The decor was contemporary and minimalist, but still felt warm and comfortable. The floors were wooden and everything was in shades of brown and cream. The bed was absolutely enormous and so comfortable. The temperature in the room was also just right. We had an extremely large bathroom with a big bath and power shower. There were lots of fluffy towels and complimentary toiletries.We had 2 huge picture windows in the room which looked out over the old city walls. This was a wonderful view, particularly at night time when the walls were floodlit in the dark. I didn't close the curtains, it was so nice.Every day the minibar was replaced with water and soft drinks - these were complimentary and a nice touch.Buffet breakfast is served in the mornings in the restaurant. The restaurant - Aalon is presided over by a top Spanish chef for evening dining - we didn't try it, but it did look very nice and was reasonably priced. Breakfast cost 20 euros per person per day, or they offered us a special rate if we booked for each morning of our stay at the check-in, we could have a discounted rate of 12 euros per person per day. We decided not to go for this - a fussy 8 year old meant we didn't think we would get value for money. Instead, each morning we walked to the nearby Santa Caterina market and bought fresh fruit, fresh bread, ham and cheese and lovely fresh juice drinks plus coffee (from the Starbucks next door to the hotel). That way we had our own tailor-made mini feast, for a fraction of the hotel breakfast price.There is a nice library area in the hotel, with areas where you can work. WiFi costs 5 euros per day.On the rooftop of the hotel is probably its finest feature - an infinity swimming pool. It offers spectacular views of the city. The water was freezing, so we didn't swim in the pool, but we did have drinks in the lovely rooftop terrace bar, just by the pool. There are comfortable seats and a bird's eye view over Barcelona. It is wonderful up there in the daytime, but at night it is even more beautiful as the lights twinkle over the city.The hotel's location is another excellent advantage - it is in a prime location for sightseeing. Barcelona Cathedral and the Barri Gotic or old town are right on its doorstep. The port area and Barceloneta are about a 5-10 minute easy walk and the Ramblas is also very close by, well within walking distance. There is a metro stop just steps from the front door, if you do want to go further afield. Close by, are lots of restaurants, bars and shops. There is a supermarket a couple of doors down if you need any provisions as well.We thoroughly enjoyed our stay in the Grand Hotel Central. The location was just perfect for us, the accommodation was first class and the rooftop pool and terrace bar were the icing on a very nice cake.
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