I was excited to try tapas, go to a Flamenco show, and see some Gaudi architecture during my 10-day stay in Barcelona, Spain. However, when I arrived, I was surprised pleasantly (and unpleasantly) by what I discovered.
1. Book Your Tickets Now
One of the city sights everyone wants to see in Barcelona is Gaudi’s Basilica de la Sagrada Familia. The unfinished church started construction in 1892 and may not be complete until 2026 (or later), however, that doesn’t mean tourists can’t view the architecture as is.
On the second day of my arrival, I checked out La Sagrada Familia tickets online only to find that the next date available was after I left — more than a week later. As a last-minute traveler, I missed my opportunity to see the epic architecture, but I’ll be back!
Although initially dishearten at not seeing the interior of the famous structure, many of Gaudi’s building can be viewed for free just from walking around. In fact, it’s hard to miss any of the other 10 modernisme buildings he designed in the city due to their unique and distinct appearance:
- Casa Vicens
- Güell Pavilions
- Palau Güell
- Teresian College
- Casa Calvet
- Torre de Bellesguard
- Park Güell
- Casa Milà
- Casa Batlló
- Sagrada Família Schools
2. The Smell
The aroma of meats and spices that flavor traditional Spanish dishes pops up periodically as you walk around the old city. But almost as frequently is a whiff of a sewage and sulfur mixture.
Barcelona has a long history relating to its sewage problem including the main divider between the Gothic Quarter and El Raval known as La Rambla. Comprised of five streets, La Rambla used to serve as a sewage line until it was covered and converted into a tree-lined street, which is now home to open-air markets.
…and the plumbing. Unless staying in a four- or five-star hotel, do not be surprised to find plumbing problems at your accommodations. During my stay, for instance, I had about 90 seconds before the shower backed up and the kitchen sink leaked (I still don’t understand how that happened each time).
3. There are Cannabis Clubs
Similar to the legal discrepancy in the states, Spain has gray areas when it comes to marijuana. While it is commercial illegal, consumption is not – meaning, it is a criminal offense to sell it but completely legal to smoke in a private location. However, if you are caught with it in a public area including on your balcony, then you can receive a fine.
With more than 200 of the 500 Spanish cannabis clubs located in Barcelona alone, it is relatively easy to locate and procure the substance.
I was pointed in the direction of two different clubs during my stay there. The first time a man discreetly asked if my male travel companion was interested in marijuana while we were walking and speaking English loudly on the street. The second time I simply asked an employee at a legal CBD store if he knew where I could find a club.
4. Basic Wine Choices
Although the country has been making wine for more than 2,000 years, the options at most affordable restaurants and tapas bars are limited to “blanco o rojo.” It was only during a tour of the Oller del Mas winery that I was able to experience a variety of different Spanish wines.
However, if you’re not a wine connoisseur, the drink options are pretty vast and amazing:
- Sangria and tinto de verano (both are red wine-based) are two of the most popular drinks in the country, whether it’s summertime or not.
- The trendiest drink in the city right now is vermut with many vermouth-specific bars located throughout the city.
- If you’re not feeling too adventurous when it comes to alcohol, then you can always order a cerveza.
Additionally, if you have never tried to drink from a porron, then you truly have not experienced Spain. The wine pitcher is more of a social event than a liquid holder. The bottle, which replaced traditional wineskins, is meant for consumption from everyone at the table. Since my trip, I’ve found this fun utensil in a Charleston, SC hipster café and impressed my friends with my practiced pours.
5. Montserrat is Tiny but Beautiful
The view from the token street that leads to the monastery is breathtaking. While there are many ways to get to the top of the mountain, not all methods are available or practical depending on the time of year you go. While there are three souvenir shops, I highly recommend buying locally cultivated and homemade goods at the tiny marketplace as well as trying mató — Catalonia cheese served with honey.
Related Article: Vacation Dating in Barcelona