Unfortunately my husband and I could not travel back to the States to be with family and friends for the holidays, so we opted to take a little holiday just the two of us. A couple of months ago, BBC Travel on Facebook posted my question about where the best European destinations are for the holidays. More than 70 individuals responded to this post, so I started reading and looking into the responses. While Germany and Poland were the popular choices for the holidays, I couldn’t find affordable flights. A few people had mentioned Spain. This intrigued me because I had never been to Spain and have wanted to go there. Plus, I am not a fan of cold weather, so Spain seemed to be the warmest suggestion. Turns out that I found an amazingly cheap roundtrip flight for my husband and I to Barcelona. This cheap airfare meant that it would have to be a short trip as the price got significantly higher if we stayed in Spain through the New Year. While I would have loved more time in Spain, our travel budget restricted us from a longer stay. I was truly happy just to be able to see Barcelona. We definitely made the most of the two full days we had in Barcelona.
Upon arrival at the BCN airport, it may be a little tricky to find where you need to go to catch the train into Barcelona’s city center. We had to take a bus on the lower level to the terminal where the train is. We would probably not have discovered this without the help of the gentleman at the information desk. Don’t be shy to ask them. They speak enough English to direct you where you need to go. It still takes about an hour to get into the city center.
We chose a hotel in the northern part of Barcelona that was near one of the main train stations so after our long commute from the airport, we wouldn’t have to then change trains once inside the city center. It is nice to make things as simple as possible after traveling. Once at the hotel, we asked the woman at the front desk for nearby restaurant recommendations. When using the dining recommendation from the hotel, we not only enjoyed a large amount of tapas but received a free after dinner drink at the restaurant, so never hesitate to ask hotel clerks for recommendations to restaurants or tourist sites. They often have discounted rates.
After a delicious dinner and a good night’s sleep, we were ready for a full day of sightseeing. We first walked to some nearby Antoni Gaudi buildings. Antoni Gaudi was an architect in Barcelona who is famous for his unique building designs. We stopped by his Casa Lleó Morera building. We like to call it the birthday cake building. After spending some time staring at that interesting building, we took the metro train to the Picasso Museum. I’m not really a huge Picasso fan. The style of painting that he is most known for is cubism, which I dislike. It makes the subject look disfigured and in many cases grotesque. However, the museum taught me so much more about Picasso and his work. He didn’t only paint in the cubism style and his other work was pretty amazing. From the Picasso Museum we walked down the street to Ciutadella Park. It was quite warm at this time and sunny, so a nice walk in the park made us forget that it was the end December. It felt more like May. The fountains in the park were amazing. We also stopped for a while to watch couples salsa dance in the gazebo. From there we decided to enjoy the weather further by walking along the waterfront. Once we came to the Monument to Columbus we decided to walk down La Rambla. La Rambla was packed full of people. It was probably not worth fighting the crowds to see. We should have headed to La Familia Sagrada (shown above) sooner. That was our last stop for the day. As it was the week after Christmas, tours ended earlier that week. While we got to enjoy the amazing architecture from the outside, we weren’t able to see the inside, though I have no doubt that would have been as interesting as the outside. All in all, we had a very full and wonderful first full day in Barcelona.
Our second day, we decided to visit the Montserrat Monastery just outside of Barcelona. This monastery is worth a visit for many reasons that include the beautiful views of the Pyrenees, the Black Madonna, and listening to the Boys’ Choir. Unfortunately, if you visit Montserrat the week between Christmas and New Years, the Boys’ Choir does not perform. Since we wanted to experience as much of the monastery as possible, we decided our best option was to go to an information booth at Placa Catalunya and buy Tot Montserrat tickets. These tickets include the following:
- Train ride within Barcelona
- Train ride outside Barcelona to Montserrat and back to Barcelona
- Aeri (Cable Car) from the train station to the monastery
- Funiculars to other parts of Montserrat
- A self-service lunch (look for signs that specify what this includes – it is a surprisingly large meal)
- Admission to the Montserrat Museum
- Admission to the Audiovisual presentation about Montserrat
This all-inclusive pass is the best deal. We took advantage of everything except for the additional funiculars. We would have liked to hike and explore other parts of Montserrat, but it was a bit too cold out, and we were not feeling our best. To get to Montserrat, you take the L1 or L3 metro train to Espanya. From there you catch the R5 train to Montserrat Aeri. Here you pick up the cable car to Montserrat. When we got up to the monastery, we started with the Audiovisual presentation. It was a short introduction to the history of the monastery. After the presentation there was a little display room that highlighted interesting facts about the monastery. You could even watch a day in the life of a monk that lives there and listen to music presented by the Boys’ Choir. From there we went to pay our respects to the Black Madonna. While the Madonna is in a glass case, you are allowed to touch the orb that she is holding. (See visual below.) If you don’t want to stand in a long line to walk passed the Madonna, you can view her from the cathedral, though she is hard to view from that distance. After lunch we went to the museum. The museum far exceeded our expectations. It holds hundreds of pieces of art. It was where I viewed my first El Greco. It also included works from Renoir, Monet, Picasso, Dali, and many more. It was a nice end to our adventures at Montserrat and am glad that we took the time to see everything there that we did. This completed our time in Barcelona. We headed back to Italy the next morning. I will definitely want to return to Barcelona if given an opportunity to do so. It was a beautiful way to spend the holiday season.