Another bucket list check box, ticked! Travelling, totally on my tod, to Barcelona was a wonderful experience. The city, bubbling with cultural fascinations and geographical beauty, was perfect for my first solo adventure.
Upon arrival to Barcelona, I took a short metro journey to the centre of Barcelona’s tourist area and Old Town, Las Ramblas. This large, tree lined street, which runs through the centre of Barcelona and down to the harbour was busy with travellers exploring the alfresco dining options.
I arrived on the 11th of September which was the Catalan National day. On a similar line to Scotland, many want independence from Spain as they had centuries ago. As evening crept in and I wormed my way through the small streets and alleyways to my Air BnB lodgings, the streets swarmed with proud Catalan people dressed in yellow and red, celebrating their history.
I was lucky enough to stay within the streets that typify Barcelona; old, high rising buildings, their decrepit metal balconies hanging over the street, plants spewing out from between the railings. Staying in an Air BnB abode was a great option for a lone traveller. It was much cheaper than hotels and even hostels, and I got so much more out of it. Tea was always available to me as well as my host’s wise words when she was around in the morning or evening. On days that I was feeling lazy (which was only one afternoon when I was knackered after a cycle), I was able to enjoy a roof top terrace all to myself. I also had the companionship of the flat’s very friendly Jack Russel, Tango. (Hola Tango!)
There was so much to enjoy in Barcelona. My first evening was spent exploring the old city, walking along the harbour and having gorgeous, enormous mussels beside the rocking boats. I was finally able to practice the little Spanish I’d learnt to ask for, Pan? Bread. Of course. Though I had promised myself, and friends and family, that I wouldn’t stay out late, I often found myself wandering back home in the dark. The streets were filled with fellow travellers and I never felt threatened. Watched, perhaps, but never threatened.
When exploring on the second day of my trip, I went to the east side of the city, moving out of the Old Town. The area was still beautiful, but far more open and spacious in comparison to the winding Old Town where everything is clustered together so tightly. Firstly, I stumbled upon Barcelona’s Arco de Triunfo. Then, just south of this, I found Ciutadella Park, whose twisting, intertwining walkways lead me to some interesting sculptures, water features and the most beautiful, ornate, water fountain I have ever seen…
In this park, there is also the Barcelona Zoo, which, yes, I also went to. It’s a little small perhaps, but from what I could tell their multitude of fascinating animals were kept stimulated. The hippos and the dolphins were a particularly entertaining feature.
That evening I went to explore further north of the Old Town and had tapas. That was one thing that was particularly daunting as a solo traveller; dining. It’s often nice to discuss menu options with your partner or friend. If you’re in a foreign country then it’s even more comforting to have that person to struggle through the language with you. Most menus were offered in a few translations, including English, but I often found that I flocked to an area of alfresco dining that looked nice, simple and had a few dishes already served that I liked the look of.
Once sat, I felt immensely powerful as the Lone Traveller. I had a book. I had a coffee. I had a tasty selection of tapas like tomato-bread, chorizo and manchego served with walnuts and raisins. It went down ever so well. And, if you always have a book, you always have company!
Following that simple, luscious meal I went to Aire de Barcelona Hamam Spa. It was possibly the best Friday night I have ever had. (A full review of the spa is below.) It was gorgeous. Dark, muggy yet fresh. Ultimate solo indulgence and relaxation. Only a ten minute walk from my home, I wandered back at midnight, feeling as though I were floating upon clouds.
La Sagrada de Familia. This was a sight of Barcelona the I was urged to visit by all who had been. Out of the centre of Barcelona, it was a bit of a trek to walk to, but an enjoyable one. Once out of the Old Town, the city turns into a very simple, easily navigated, grid system. Designed by famous Catalan architect, Antoni Gaudi, the cathedral is stunning and impressive. Queues were long and the entrance fee felt expensive for how long I actually spent in the space, but it was an astounding work of architecture and I’m glad I went. Inside, the beautiful stain glass designs transmit colour into the cavernous space. Tall sharp pillars reach dizzyingly high into the ceiling of the cathedral. It was stunningly unique.
On my journey back, I passed Casa Batllo, another feature of my Gaudi tour. Unfortunately, the entrance fee was around 20 euros, which felt very steep for a holiday on a budget. So, I gazed from the street at Gaudi’s iconic wavy lines, organic shapes and the colourful mosaic façade.
That iconic mosaic feature was seen again as I entered Barcelona’s Gothic Town. Now, I was staying in the Old Town, and it looks old, but the buildings and churches clustered in this section of Barcelona are magnificently old. Some look lovingly unkempt, others, like the churches, are intricately decorated and stand proudly in open courtyards.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of Barcelona’s configuration is that you can stumble upon a beautiful building (probably by Gaudi) that you had intended on finding but the labyrinthine streets had not yet allowed you there methodically. I had this experience when finding the gorgeous Palau de la Mucisa Catalana designed by, yep, Antoni Gaudi. I adored the detailed mosaic façade and individually decorated columns. At ground level, it has very romantic, sculptured figures curling away from the lower pillars of the buildings.
The final stop on my Gaudi tour was Palau Guell, a mansion Gaudi designed for the Guell family. (I had wanted to visit Park Guell, to the north of the city, but there was just too much to fit in. I think I would have enjoyed that more than all of the individual buildings! Oh well.) Palau Guell, on the west side of Las Ramblas, was free to visit on Sunday evenings, so I jumped at the chance for a free tour. I will add that I live with three architects, lazing on the beach was not an option when there were so many buildings to see. It was shattering, but great. Palau Guell was interesting; again mosaics played a great part and one of my favourite features was the obscure cone structures on the roof top, all built with a unique design from reclaimed ceramics. I also loved the cellar. Simple, classic, dark and musty with swirling columns and arches. I’d have that in my house if I could fit it!
With my Gaudi tour complete, I made sure that I enjoyed the culinary delights that Barcelona had to offer before leaving. Mainly, this consisted of enormous mounds of gelato. I know! It’s Italian! But it was everywhere, so I couldn’t resist. Continuing my tour of Barcelona by following my hunger, I also stopped by Mercat de Sant Josep de la Boqueria. Catching this bursting food market at the end of the day was great as fresh fruit smoothies were sold off incredibly cheaply. Again, just off Las Ramblas, it’s a great stop for some Spanish delicacies and tasty treats to take home.
Barcelona was a wonderful city to travel in alone. Biking is one of the best ways to see the city. On my ride, I managed to find one of the few hilly areas of Barcelona (which my legs were not pleased about) – the exotic cactus gardens to the west of the city, overlooking the harbour and its container ships. I enjoyed a vast range of foods and, actually, found that my favourite meal was a 4 euro pasta carbonara from a simple restaurant down a street I’d probably never find again. Barcelona is brimming with tourist hungry restaurants, so take some time to seek out the quieter places where you’re likely to get better, simple food, for better prices! September in Barcelona was very kind to me and I came home with a light tan, always a plus, and felt truly triumphant after a successful, solo adventure. The first of many, I hope.