Learn from our mistakes: 10 tips for visiting Barcelona

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Barcelona is a beautiful city, but due to poor planning and unforeseeable circumstances, we were unable to truly enjoy the beauty of Barcelona and take advantage of the city to the fullest. Don’t get me wrong; we still had an amazing time. However, as our visit went on, our mounting list of “should haves” continued to expand. Before you plan a trip to Barcelona (or to anywhere, pretty much), make sure you learn from our mistakes.

1. Reserve at least two full days for a trip to Barcelona

My family and I were a little ambitious when we thought we would be able to take a paella class, see the inside of the Sagrada Familia, stroll Park Guell, enter Camp Nao, go to a flamenco show, watch the magic fountains of Montjuic, shop on Las Ramblas and take a day trip to Monserrat with only one full day. We were pressed for time and were only able to hit a couple of must-sees, wishing we had an extra day to enjoy the city. There is just too much to do and see in Barcelona (and way too many tourists who slow things down) to possibly hit everything in a simple day trip and it’s impossible to truly appreciate the city without seeing those sites.

2. Travel days do not count as full days

This is what went wrong with our plans: we counted our travel day–a 6 and a half hour drive from Madrid to Barcelona–as our day 1 for Barcelona. We expected to arrive in the early afternoon, check into the hotel, rest for a little bit and maybe visit some major monuments on the way to our 5:45 meeting time for the paella cooking experience. Of course, because the drive was pretty lengthy and because we decided to make a quick pit stop at Zaragoza (and got horribly, horribly lost in process), that 6 and a half hours became nine hours and we even had to postpone our paella plans, cancel our Monserrat plans, and drop the flamenco dinner from the itinerary. Never, ever, ever plan anything important on travel days because you never know what could go wrong in transit.

3. Check the dates and hours for all attractions/restaurants in advance

So, after we postponed our paella dinner experience for our first night in Barcelona, we decided to take the metro up to Montjuic and see the magic fountain show. To my dismay, the fountain was dried and, when we asked a local when the show was going to start, he looked at us like we were insane and explained that the show only occurred on weekends. It was a Monday. The magic fountain show was on the top of my Barcelona bucket list and I wish we had done the appropriate research in advance to plan accordingly. Don’t be me. Fully research the hours of operation for all attractions, restaurants, shows, etc. before putting them on your itinerary.

4. Buy entrance/skip the line tickets in advance

I knew that the line for the Sagrada Familia is always crazy long, so when we got off the Sagrada Familia stop and saw a line that was easily hours long to enter the building, we were not surprised and settled on admiring the architecture from the outside. However, I was surprised to see long lines for Casa Battlo and Park Guell. In retrospect, I wish we would have purchased skip the line tickets so that we could have actually been able to see Barcelona’s main attractions.

5. Do not use a hop on/hop off bus

Hop-on/hop-off busses are really convenient because you get to see all of the city’s biggest tourist attractions without ever having to get off the bus. We assumed that this would be the simplest, most time efficient way to tour the city. However, there are disadvantages. I personally really like taking pictures and it’s impossible to take really nice pictures on a moving vehicle, particularly when there are tourists’ heads and fingers blocking my lens from its desired shot. Plus, one of the greatest things about traveling is experiencing another culture. It’s very difficult to truly get to know a city when you spend a majority of the day around tourists and at tourist stops. Instead, take the metro, which is only 10 euros for 10 trips. It’s a clean, simple, safe and inexpensive way to get around town. Granted, some buses do have an automated audio tour, but, if you are interested in this, I recommend taking a walking tour conducted by a local instead, like the Gothic Quarter tour by Travel Bar (I did the Paella Cooking Experience with them and the staff is amazing–I wish I went on the Gothic Quarter Tour because I heard great things about it).

6. Map out destinations before leaving the hotel

There’s nothing more frustrating than wandering around aimlessly when you’re a) starving and trying to find the desired restaurant, b) trying to hit everything in your agenda full of activities or c) running late for an appointment or reservation. Save yourself the hassle by asking your concierge to map out the best path for you or, if you have access to the internet, finding the best path using Google maps. It also helps to look up the addresses of all of the locations you intend to visit all day and create an agenda based on their distance from each other and from the hotel.

7. If you see something in a tourist shop you like, do not wait until the next one.

It’s tempting to wait before buying a souvenir in hopes of finding the same thing for cheaper elsewhere, but trust me, you won’t have that much time to sift through souvenir shops, nor should you do so. Instead of spending all day stressing about finding the desired item, buy it the first time you see it and get souvenir shopping over with. The worst possible thing that could happen is that you do find the same item elsewhere for maybe one or two euros less, but the amount of time and stress you save is so much more valuable.

8. ALWAYS find a restaurant online before searching for dinner or at least check the rating of the location before eating at that location

There are way too many tapas bar and restaurant options in Barcelona that it can be kind of overwhelming. It’s tempting to look at the cute little hole in the wall and assume that they are probably a hidden gem–great source for the best authentic local cuisine in town. Always be wary of every restaurant before entering. Ask your concierge for recommendations. Check for online ratings and reviews. Try to come up with a list of a few interesting restaurants online in advance. If you don’t have time to accomplish any of these things, look through the window and observe the clientele. If there are a lot of locals in the restaurant, that’s usually a good sign. Recommendations: check out Tapas Tapas for the best croquetas and stay far away from Wapas.

9. Give yourself enough time to explore Camp Nao

My family and I assumed that we could simply walk into the Camp Nao stadium or at least pay a small fee the enter the stadium alone without having to enter the museum. Unfortunately, it costs 23 euros per person to enter the museum and you cannot enter the stadium unless you go through the museum. If we had a whole day to explore the facility, the price might have been worth it (the museum looks pretty cool), but we only had about half an hour to spare. If you plan on going to Camp Nao, make sure you plan to stay for a couple of hours to truly enjoy the experience.

10. Take the time to go to La Boqueria

When I was planning out the schedule for Barcelona, I definitely overlooked La Boqueria. I just assumed that it would just be another market and I didn’t think it would be worth squeezing into our tight schedule. I was wrong. La Boqueria is an incredible facility filled with interesting, fresh, delicious, inexpensive food and so much Spanish culture. We toured it briefly as part of the Paella cooking experience, but we really wanted more time to explore the facility and sample more Spanish treats. Do yourself a favor and check out La Boqueria. Grab a juice. Try some candy. Browse through all of the meat and seafood. Enjoy.

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