What to do in Barcelona: how much can you see in a day?
In the first of a regular series of articles on cruise lines’ ports of call we visit Barcelona, a regular starting point for Western Mediterranean cruises
How to decide what to do in Barcelona
Barcelona is Spain’s second largest city, with a population of nearly one and half million people (nearly five million in the metropolitan area), and the capital and largest city of Catalonia. The city, located directly on the north eastern Mediterranean coast of Spain, has a rich history dating back at least 2,000 years.
This beautiful city is fantastic for walking with an extensive and reliable Metro system for more far-flung destinations. The core centre of town, focused around the Ciutat Vella provides days of enjoyment for those looking to experience the life of Barcelona while the beaches the city was built upon provide sun and relaxation during the long periods of agreeably warm weather.
August is probably the busiest time in Barcelona; at the same time, if your ship visits during this period do bear in mind that about 10% of shops and restaurants can be found closed from mid-August to early September, when the owners go on vacation, although in the centre you will find most shops and restaurants open. Although many of the Barcelonians (Barcelonés) may be away, there will still be plenty of tourists. Barcelona has decent enough beaches but the locals will really appreciate it if visitors do not consider it a beach resort and don’t wear beachwear when visiting churches, restaurants and the like.
The city’s port is one of the busiest on the Mediterranean. It supports both ferries and cruise ships. Large cruise ships dock about a mile to the southwest. Many offer bus-shuttles to points near the south end of Las Ramblas.
What to do in Barcelona: Getting Around
The Barcelona Tourist Bus links all of the Barcelona tourist sites you could possibly want to visit. It has three routes (map provided as you board), including a northbound and a southbound line that leave from opposite sides of the Plaça de Catalunya. Each takes 1-2 hours. The hop-on/hop-off format lets you get-off at any interesting stop, see what interests you, then get back on any later bus at that or any other stop. One approach is stay on for an entire route, then continue while getting off at locations that interested you earlier. Buses are double-decked, with the open-air upper deck offering much better views. Sunscreen is essential in summer months and jackets in winter/early spring. As you first get on, you are offered earphones. Outlets near every seat let you choose among many languages and playback volumes. As you approach each significant location, you receive audio describing it. You can buy tickets at the bus stops and elsewhere (e.g., better hotels) valid for one day (€23) or two consecutive days (€30). The Barcelona City Tour offers the same services.
The metro system is quite comprehensive and excellent value. Stations are marked <M> on most maps; every station has a detailed map of exits to the city. Trains are fast, often coming in two minute intervals. Announcements are made only in Catalan, though signs and ticketing machines are generally trilingual in Catalan, Spanish and English.
Tramvia Blau (Catalan for “blue tramway”) is one of Barcelona’s three tram systems. It is a heritage streetcar line serving a hilly area of the Sarrià-Sant Gervasi district between the terminus of FGC Barcelona Metro L7 and the Funicular del Tibidabo. This lovely old-fashioned tramway runs through a very picturesque area and ends at the foot of the Funicular Railway. It covers a route of 1,276m, reaching an altitude of 93m. This lovely old-fashioned tramway runs through a very picturesque area and ends at the foot of the Funicular Railway. It covers a route of 1,276m, reaching an altitude of 93m. The tram operates when the Tibidabo Amusement Park is open: during the summer, Easter, Christmas, weekends and on public holidays.
The Funicular del Tibidabo is located in the north of Barcelona and allows access to the top of the Tibidabo mountain (512 m) where there is a church, amusement park and other leisure facilities. The funicular was opened in 1901 and was modernized in 1922 and 1958. The lower station connects with the Blue Tram which in turn allows the link to the FGC station in Avenida Tibidabo.
The Harbour Cable Car is a 1450m long harbour aerial tramway with red cars which connects Montjuic and Barceloneta. It starts in Barceloneta on the top of the 78m tall Torre San Sebastian tower, which has also a restaurant at its top accessible by an elevator. It has an intermediate stop at Torre Jaume I tower (close to Columbus monument), which can be reached by elevator from ground–107m tall tower, the second tallest aerial tramway support tower in the world. The final point of the tramway is Montjuic. Overall, the tramway is quite old (built in 1929), and the car is packed with tourists during the daytime- an issue particularly for strollers or a wheelchairs. Plan your route wisely as the capacity is limited. It can be up to 1-1.5 hours from the moment you join the queue to the moment you get in the car. The Torre Jaume I tower in Barceloneta has been temporarily closed for renovation, while two other stops work as usual. The facility doesn’t accept credit cards, it’s cash only.
What to do in Barcelona: The Main Attractions
1. La Sagrada Familia. One of the most famous and breathtaking locations to visit in Barcelona is the most famous building in the entire city, La Sagrada Familia. From the outside, visitors are astonished by the sheer height and intricacy of the unique design of the church and although it is not completed yet, the progress that has been made is incredibly impressive. The project began nearly a century ago and was designed by one of Spain’s most well known and respected architects, Antoni Gaudi . Undoubtedly, this is his most famous work. The height of the church is exactly equal to the height of the largest mountain in the nearby hills, the reason being because Gaudi felt that no man-made creation should ever rise above God’s natural creations. The height of the church is overwhelming when standing at its base and the inside is even more impressive.
2. Stroll along the following famous streets in Ciutat Vella:
–Las Ramblas, a gorgeous tree-lined pedestrian walkway, running northwards from close to the sea, it’s the busiest and most lively street of the city. Mostly occupied by tourists, expect to pay higher prices for food and drink. Head off into some of the side streets for a cheaper, more local, and authentic experience of Barcelona.
– La Plaça Catalunya. Connecting all the major streets in the city, the Plaça is known for its fountains and statues, and the central location to everything in the city. A favourite meeting spot for locals.
–El Portal de l’Àngel. Large pedestrian walkway with many new and stylish shops to browse in.
3. The view of Barcelona from the top of Tibidabo. At 512 m it is the tallest mountain in the Serra de Collserola. Rising sharply to the north-west, it affords spectacular views over the city and the surrounding coastline. There is an amusement park, a telecommunications tower (Torre de Collserola), and a Catholic church, the Temple de Sagrat Cor, at the top, all of which are visible from most of the city. Designed by Enric Sagnier, the church took 60 years to construct and is topped by a sculpture of the Sacred Heart by Josep Miret Llopart. The Amusement park is the oldest in Barcelona and retains most of the original rides, some of which date to the turn of the 20th century. The park features in the Woody Allen film Vicky Cristina Barcelona.
4. Montserrat. 50km outside of Barcelona lies the beautiful Montserrat mountain range, home of the Benedictine abbey, Santa Maria de Montserrat, which hosts the Virgin of Montserrat sanctuary and which is identified by some as the location of the Holy Grail in Arthurian myth.
The monastery is Catalonia’s most important religious retreat. The Escolania, Montserrat’s Boys’ Choir is one of the oldest in Europe, and performs during religious ceremonies and communal prayers in the basilica. The Basilica houses a museum with works of art by many prominent painters and sculptors including works by El Greco, Dalí, Picasso and more. Montserrat’s highest point, Sant Jeroni, can be reached by a footpath from the top station of the funicular. From Sant Joan, almost all of Catalonia can be seen, and on a clear day the island of Mallorca is visible.
Part of the enjoyment of visiting Montserrat is the journey. It can be reached by either the The Aeri de Montserrat cable car which runs from the monastery to the railway station of Montserrat-Aeri or by the Montserrat Rack Railway runs from Monistrol de Montserrat station to the mountain-top monastery. The line opened in 1892 and is over3 miles long. The first 1km of the line, between Monistrol and the only intermediate station at Monistrol Vila, is operated by conventional adhesion. The remainder of the line is operated as a rack railway overcoming a height difference of 550m with a maximum gradient of 15.6%.
The beauty of Montserrat speaks for itself. It is a must see and will provide a full day of sightseeing.