In November, my brother, David, flew from Seattle to Málaga to visit Jake and I. After spending three days showing him around our gorgeous city (all-encompassing Málaga travel guide to come), we hopped on a plane to embark on a ~Barça-Madrid Travel Weekend Extravaganza~ (oddly enough, the name didn’t stick).
Before I travel to any city, I do my research—travel blogs, foodie guides, TripAdvisor reviews, you name it. During my research, I stumbled upon an awesome blog that outlined a self-guided walking tour of Barcelona, complete with a Google map guide. We used this as a general outline for major sites to hit on our first day, as we walked and explored the city by foot.
Well, that was the goal, at least, until an unforeseen complication decided to insert itself into my very well-laid-out plan…
Just one day before we arrived, our Airbnb host messaged us to let us know that check-in was at 3PM. Everything seemed to be in place for us to arrive. Upon arrival, I messaged the host to ask if we could drop our bags early while we finished our walking tour.
Okay, whatever… We continued to lug our bags around the city, starting in the gothic quarter.
We began our exploration in one of my favorite areas of Barcelona – The Gothic Quarter. In addition to the mind-blowing gothic architecture of the Barcelona Cathedral (pictured below), there are trendy little artisan shops, restaurants, bars, clubs. etc. hidden away down long windy side streets that you’re bound to stumble upon if you go wandering.
For as close as it is to La Rambla (one long, main drag of tourist traps) the gothic quarter is surprisingly quaint and seemingly authentic. We stopped into a highly-recommended restaurant called Irati Taverna Basca for our first ever pintxo experience and I absolutely loved it.
La Boqueria Market
Next on our list: witness the madness of the famous La Boqueria Market. Rows and rows of vendor stalls packed this space, selling everything from fresh produce and fish to baked goods and sweets. We stopped by during a busy afternoon hour and there were so many people that I didn’t feel confident taking my camera out to take photos (which I typically LOVE to do at local markets).
Fast forward to a fun “firsts” experience for Jake. My brother spotted the very sizable fresh oysters pictured below and insisted that we get some. He had already paid for them before we could protest, so, in Barcelona, Jake had his first oyster. They were about the size of our face…and tasted like salty ocean. I’ll spare you the details about what the texture was like in my mouth and just let the video below do the rest of the talking.
When 3 o’clock came, we planned to just show up to our Airbnb and hope for the best. Nope, think again. I finally looked up the address and realized it just said “La Rambla, 31” which, in maps, sends you to the central landmark point for this major street. Fake address, awesome.
After a few more messages and one last-ditch-effort threat, we made the call to customer support that ended in a cancellation and hours spent—no, hours wasted—over the phone (in an Irish pub called My Bar) booking a new stay.
As frustrating as this experience was, and although, sometimes, you can’t avoid dirtbag scammers, THIS probably could have been avoided had I looked more carefully at the address beforehand. Let the learning of lessons the hard way continue and don’t make the same mistake I did.
Absinthe: 1 | Us: 0
I tell you the story of our Airbnb woes, because it provides important context for what happened next.
It was Thursday evening and we had planned to go to the Picasso Museum, as it was free on Thursdays after 6pm. (Important note: you still have to reserve tickets in advance!)
However, with a new host booked, and in a vain attempt to alleviate the stress of our brief homelessness, we first did what any smart, responsible adult might do: find the nearest liquor store, buy a fifth of absinthe and take turns taking pulls in the street.
I won’t name any Davids, but, here are the final stats for how the night ended:
Amount of people who got to see the museum: 0
Amount of people who fell asleep on the table at dinner: 1
La Sagrada Familia
We started our second day at the Sagrada Familia, which will always be the most incredible piece of art i will ever lay eyes on.
Designed by Antoni Gaudí, It will finally be completed in 2026, over 140 years after construction began.
Our tickets (that we booked in advance) came with an audio guide, allowing us to truly soak in the history and meaning behind every spectacular detail in every corner of this masterpiece. I think, overall, we spent 3-4 hours walking around, each of us by ourselves, at our own pace.
There aren’t words to describe the awe-inspiring beauty of this place, but i think my brother David said it well when he said: “there are colors here that don’t exist anywhere else in the world.” All I can say is, if it’s not on your bucket list, it needs to be.
Passeig de Gràcia
We then made our way to the Passeig de Gràcia, a major avenue in the heart of Barcelona that is lined with high-end shopping and beautiful architecture. It’s also where you will find two more famous building art pieces by the one-and-only, Gaudí—Casa Battló and Casa Miró.
Although I couldn’t convince Jake and David to get tickets to go inside either one of them, my mom, stepdad and I went into Casa Miró a few years back and the tour ends on a gorgeous rooftop with awesome views of the city. I highly recommend it.
Simply being a part of the hustle and bustle of this district, lined with clean, wide-open, pedestrian-friendly walkways is an experience all on its own.
We spent the afternoon strolling down the street, adorned with lights and butterflies for the holidays, until we found a rooftop hotel bar. We sipped an overpriced drink to enjoy the views of the city (complete with the Sagrada Familia in the distance!) and it was completely worth it.
The sun was shining, the leaves showed off their stunning fall colors and the autumn air was crisp. Now that I think about it, this day was the closest Jake and I got to experiencing Fall here in Spain.
Our beautiful, sunny day had turned into a cool, wet evening, but we had only one night left in Barcelona and still a few items left unchecked on our bucketlist.
If you’ve been to Barcelona, then you know that Park Güell is a major tourist site, complete with long lines, entry fees and way too many people. (I’ve done this whole experience and I have mixed reviews on whether or not it was worth it all.)
However, I read online that the park is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is open to the public after operating hours. So, despite the rain, we made the trek up steep hills, through random neighborhoods and—wow. It was so dark and so quiet; it was ominous and eerie like we weren’t supposed to be there, yet there was a calm peacefulness in getting to experience the art and the views overlooking the city in the still of night. (Shoutout to iPhone 11 night mode for being able to capture it.)
To me, one thing that makes Barcelona so special is that the city is composed of various “pockets” of districts and neighborhoods—each with it’s own unique character and charm.
The Vila de Gràcia is a beautiful, artistic district—a bit off the beaten tourist path—known for it’s good food, trendy bars and a lively, yet laid-back, alternative atmosphere. Almost every major city has their own hidden gem of a neighborhood, such as this one, and I always make it my mission to find it, as eating and drinking like a local is my favorite way to experience a city.
We arrived to the tapas bar I had previously selected, sat down and…realized we were kind of over Spanish food by this point. We slipped out before ordering and, just as we made our way across the main square, hoping to stumble upon a better alternative, it began to downpour. I mean like a hardcore you-can’t-see-five-feet-in-front-of-you, seek-shelter-RIGHT-NOW sort of downpour.
Naturally, we ducked into the nearest place we could find, which turned out to be a cozy little bar with a refreshingly varied menu. We ordered a beer bucket, sat around a barrel, ate good food and had a really nice time. I don’t remember what the bar was called, but, due to the spontaneous nature of the events leading up to it, the mystery of it seems suiting.
This memory, and the memory of the adorable cocktail bar we found next, are what makes traveling so attractive to me. It is infinitely more exciting to discover new places you love by happenstance than to hunt down a place you had previously vetted and, therefore, walk in with preconceived expectations for.
Don’t get me wrong, knowing this will never stop me from doing all this said vetting—because, well, I’m obnoxiously type-A about these things—but, no matter how much I plan, I’m constantly reminded that things are often out of my control while traveling. And you know what? Sometimes, it’s better that way.
There’s so much beauty and joy to be found on the other side of spontaneity and risk and it’s a high I will never stop chasing.
Next stop: Madrid.