Pre and Post Cruise Stop
In this article I cover:
The history of Barcelona.
Places to see
Transportation to and from the airport
Transportation to and from the port
Getting around the city
Barcelona City Tours
Day trips from Barcelona
On early visits to Barcelona, I discovered that the human occupation of the city area dates to the Neolithic and early Chalcolithic periods. Ancient building structures have been discovered in the El Raval neighbourhood but as one lady, an arqueóloga I met at a museum event told me, it is believed that there may be ancient artifacts just waiting to be uncovered under the many other areas of the city.
Barcelona is a major cruise port that served as both a destination stop and a departure/arrival point. Located on the east coast of Spain, Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia and the country’s second largest city.
My first visit to Barcelona was in 1989 with my second visit following in 1991. Each trip lasted over a week to allow me to explore the city and surrounding area. I did not discover Barcelona as a cruise port until later, when my love affair with cruising began. There is a lot to see and do in the city, so I will begin with a little history.
On those early visits, I discovered that the human occupation of Barcelona dates to the Neolithic and early Chalcolithic periods. Ancient building structures have been discovered in the El Raval neighbourhood but as one lady, an arqueóloga I met at a museum event told me, it is believed that there may be ancient artifacts just waiting to be uncovered under the many other areas of the city.
The Romans were everywhere in Europe, and Spain was no exception. They showed up around the 1st century and by the end of the century had set up a town called Barcino. With over a thousand occupants, a brand-new sewer system and defensive fortifications, Barcelona was on the way to growth and prosperity. As with the case of London, England, remains of the Roman fortification wall can still be seen today.
When the Romans left, the Laietani moved in. The Greeks are reported to have made an appearance at some point but that apparently is still up for debate. I consulted different historical books and some say the Greeks were never in Barcelona, others stated the Greeks settled there in 1200 BC and finally a few books indicated that the Greeks settled in Barcelona between the Laietani and Visigoths. We do know for sure that by the 5th Century, the Visigoths settled in the region and Barcelona became their capital. The Visigoths are widely considered to the be the successors to Roman occupation in parts of Europe and about the time they were settling in Spain, they were also setting up in southern France. Intermarriages were common so Latin as the main language was replaced by an eastern Germanic language as the Visigoths intermarried with the Hispano-Roman population.
The Moors also settled here around the 5th century, but unlike certain parts of Spain where the architecture was heavily influenced by the Moors, Barcelona’s architecture was not. The only building I found in Barcelona that looked like it was built in the Moorish style, is the Edificio Alhambra and that was not built until 1875.
Next up on the conquest roll call are the Franks who enter the Barcelona historical picture in 801. At that time Barcino became known by its current name of Barcelona, and the name of the city has remained Barcelona ever since. The Moors were still occupying parts of southern Spain, so the Franks, once in possession of Barcelona, chose to heavily defend the city against possible invasion. Those old Roman walls came back into play in some of the areas of the city and there is one section of the wall that is a historical blend of Roman/Medieval architecture. Wilfred the Hairy (real name: Guifré el Pelós), set up the House of Barcelona as the dominating ruling house during this time but despite the name, the city was firmly under French rule. That lasted until 988 when Borell II declared the county of Barcelona independent of France’s kingdom.
During the 13th to the 15th centuries, Barcelona enjoyed a period of building and prosperity. The Gothic period of architecture flourished, and you can see and visit buildings from this period of time in the city’s Gothic Quarter (more on that in the next blog entry entitled Barcelona, Places to See). The Catalonian culture, ship building, international trade and art all flourished.
From 1478 to around 1834, the Judicial Institution (known as the Spanish Inquisition) was established and flourished with a goal to combat heresy in Spain. Horribly brutal, it was widely feared and at times, extremely unjust. There is a walking tour that I will cover in the Places to See section, which covers this topic well. I mention the inquisition as it seemed to usher in a period of decline for Barcelona.
By the 16th to 18th centuries, the city was in a decline and the inquisition was flourishing. This seems like a good point to mention that contrary to the belief held by some, the 1588 Spanish Armanda did not set sail from Barcelona, it sailed from Lisbon.
In 1700, King Charles II of Spain died without an heir and a dispute arose as to who would succeed him. Although he named Philip, the Duke of Anjou (of the House of Bourbon), as his successor, the Austrian Habsburgs laid claim to the crown which set off the War of Spanish Succession. In 1714, the city fell to the Bourbons, who believing that the Catalonians were against them, suppressed the Catalonian culture until the early 20th century.
In 1931, King Alfonso XIII approved elections to decide the government of Spain, and voters overwhelmingly chose to abolish the monarchy in favor of a liberal republic. For the briefest of times, the citizens enjoyed a certain level political freedom but the civil war in 1936, followed by the restrictive dictatorship of General Francisco Franco, resulted in oppression and economic decline. Barcelona was the Republican capital of Spain during both those periods but being the capital did not mean that prosperity was present.
It was not until democracy was restored in 1978 that Barcelona began to flourish again and the Catalan language and culture returned to prominence.
In 1992, the city hosted the Olympic Games and cruise ships started frequenting the city, becoming a major departure and arrivals port.
Visitors arriving for a cruise, be it a quick day stop or a longer pre or post cruise stay, will marvel at the stunning beauty of the Barcelona Cathedral (real name the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia), or enjoy the dynamic, awe inspiring Basílica de la Sagrada Família. In Barcelona you will find something for everyone.
Places to See
For me, the first stop I make after I check into my hotel, is Las Ramblas (which is also known as La Rambla). A pedestrian street that is famous in Barcelona and a popular stop for those visiting the city. I always book my hotel to be near Las Ramblas, so for me it’s an easy walk to get to the street and have a wander about. I also tend to have breakfast at one of the many little restaurants/outdoor cafes located along the street. The cost of a great breakfast is cheaper than in a hotel and usually far more entertaining for people watching. The street has been described as a tourist trap or a tourist must-see, depending on your point of view. I suggest you visit and decide for yourself. I stand firmly in the must-see camp as it is one of those interesting experiences. You can people watch, soak in the ambiance of the area, or engage in a little shopping. Yes, there are the touristy little things evident in areas frequented by tourists. The usual “living statues” on the street or shops selling the typical visitor offerings such as Barcelona or Spain fridge magnets, t-shirts and hats. But look past the trinkets and you will see that there is so much more to see and do. As with all popular tourist destinations, watch your purses and pocketbooks. I have never had a problem in this location, but I have read reports of thefts (money, cameras, phones and parcels).
If you are not staying in the area, take the metro to the Liceu, Cataunya or Drassanes stop. Located just off Las Ramblas, the Drassanes metro stop is located underneath Portal de la Santa Madrona, just off Las Ramblas in the Ciutat Vella district of Barcelona. I mention that stop specifically as when you exit the metro you will get a view of the ship-yards, before turning left and walking north which will allow you to traverse the entire length of Las Ramblas. If you have mobility issues, get off at the metro at the Liceu stop as it is closer to the middle of Las Ramblas, and then walk north. I found there were more shops as you walk north and as such, if walking is a challenge, starting your journey in the middle will save you steps and put you into the heart of the street. The Cataunya metro is the northernmost stop and services both the red and green lines so you may find it an easier option if your time is limited or your mobility is restricted.
For those who follow my blog entries, you already know that cathedrals, palaces and art museums are three of my go-to places in any city, and Barcelona has plenty on offer. There are far too many to cover so I will highlight a few for this blog entry and cover some additional recommendations in my subsequent blogs about the Hop-on and Hop-off bus tours and getting around the city. I have chosen these ones as being top attractions so that those of you who are reading this blog, and who are going to be in Barcelona for only a day or two, can see what I consider to be the best on offer.
I will start with the Gothic Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia, which is also known as Barcelona Cathedral. Large, impressive, and the seat of the Archbishop of Barcelona, this is an excellent historical cathedral to visit. Visually beautiful with an opulent interior, it showcases the art and architecture of the past 800 years.
Construction of the cathedral began on 1 May 1298, on the site of a Romanesque temple. Built between the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries, the work was carried out in three stages with the bulk of the construction taking place during the fourteenth century. The massive organ was built between 1537 and 1539 and following a nine-year repair and restoration project which finished in 1994, the cathedral started to hold monthly organ concerts. I tout this as a must-see place when visiting Barcelona. Take the metro yellow line to station Jaume l, which will also take you within walking distance of the Basilica Santa Maria del Mar which I will cover in my Hop On Hop Off bus tour blog.
Next up is the Antoni Gaudi's Basilica Sagrada Familia. Conceived and designed over 150 years ago, construction began in 1882. This quirky cathedral is still under construction and reported to be headed for completion sometime around 2026 under the guidance of the current architect, Jordi Fauli. I am not a fan of Gaudi’s work, but this basilica is the exception, as it is an impressive piece of art. I find the exterior of the cathedral to be extraordinary and incredibly different. I could spend hours circling the building to look at all the oddities that adorn it. The interior I find to be less remarkable and not as inspiring, however, each visit results in the discovery of newly added areas to explore so I may eventually change my mind about the interior. The last time I was in the Basilica, I sat on one of the benches along the walls and just stared for an hour at the ceiling, the walls and the people.
The lineups to buy entry tickets can be long, and I suggest you buy tickets online before you go or risk standing in a long lineup waiting to buy tickets and then waiting to get in. I have included several pictures in the gallery as it is hard to describe that cathedral in words. It is unique, one of a kind and extraordinary in appearance. If you are taking the metro, exit at the València – Lepant stop and follow the signs directing you to the cathedral. It is about a 3-minute walk from the metro station.
In keeping with my usual habits of haunting museums, palaces and cathedrals, I move on to museums and recommend a visit to the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya or as it is commonly called, the MNAC. Occupying one of Barcelona’s national palaces, you can access the museum by either a grand staircase or an outdoor escalator. The view of the grounds from the entrance way is picture worthy. We bought our entrance tickets online before we flew to Barcelona and that saved us time and money. The museum is divided into four zones, two of which are modern art and then my two favourites, the Gothic and the Romanesque zones. You will be able to enjoy the works of Picasso, Gaudi, El Greco, Goya and Velasque to name just a few. There are frescos saved from older buildings that are beautiful and remarkable. The gift shop is well worth a stop as there is plenty on offer and you do not have to pay the museum entry fee to access the gift shop.
FC Barcelona Museum is popular for those who like soccer. We bought the stadium and museum tickets online and the stadium was a stop on the hop on hop off bus tour so an easy destination for us to get to. I confess to not being a soccer fan, but the stadium is impressive, and the history of the team is very interesting. While on the stadium tour we encountered some teenage soccer fans who were excited and enthusiastic about the tour. When they found out we were Canadians with little knowledge of the game, they decided to take us under their wings and turn us into fans. Their bubbly excitement was infectious, and we were all soon enthralled in the history of the game and the team. Started in 1899, the team is one of the most famous in the world having enjoyed tremendous success from 2008 to 2016 and clearly their young fans were thoroughly excited to be visiting the stadium and educating a couple of Canadian hockey fans on the finer points of proper “football”. For those who are wondering, yes I bought a jersey.
The Picasso Museum is another art museum I recommend. Normally I will visit art museums over and over again, but this museum is not a particular favourite because I am not a fan of Picasso’s work and one visit was sufficient for me. I like Picasso’s early works and the portraits of his mother and his father are very good. Both are on display at this museum as is a wonderful self-portrait. However, there are thousands of his works onsite, many of which are paintings done later in his life. If you enjoy his works, this is a great stop for you. If you plan on taking the metro, the yellow line (4), or red lines will get you there. It is also within walking distance of the Museum of History. Exit the Jaume I metro station and walk approximately two blocks east to get to the museum.
The Museum of History is located near the Barcelona Cathedral so the two sites can be visited in the same day. As mentioned in my brief history of Barcelona, the Romans once occupied the area and built the first city called Barcino. Consequently, there is a section in the museum on the city’s Roman roots. Frescos, coins, evidence of early Roman life abound. The museum takes the visitor through the history of the city with particularly interesting sections focused on early Christianity, medieval times and the Spanish Civil War. Various exhibits at the museum certainly help to explain the history of architecture and cultural influences found in the buildings around Barcelona. The museum also pays homage to its architectural leaders, which means for Antoni Gaudi enthusiasts, buildings he designed are covered as are some of his projects such as the cemetery gate. The museum is not just one building as there are also some archaeological sites around the city that can be visited with your museum ticket. I did not visit all of them so I cannot speak with any authority as to what is on offer, but I did visit a few such as the pillars of the Temple of Augustus. You cannot get to all of the sites easily by walking so with each repeat visit to Barcelona we will stop and see a few more locations.
If you are in the area of Las Ramblas, stop in and see the Museu Maritim (Maritime Museum). Located almost beside the Drassanes metro, it is at the end of Las Ramblas and I first discovered it when I went to photograph the statue of Christopher Columbus which is nearby. As the name suggests, the museum is dedicated to all things marine-oriented, and I found it an interesting stop. I particularly liked the painted carved figure heads, ship building tools and the replica of an old-style rowing galley. An interesting side note that ties to a comment I made in the History of Barcelona article I wrote, I had been told that there were all kinds of ruins to be found beneath the City of Barcelona and the museum was no exception. When building it they came across Roman ruins and a graveyard which now form part of the museum.
Getting around the city
Transportation to and from the airport & Transportation to and from the port
Barcelona’s principal airport is Josep Tarradellas Barcelona–El Prat Airport, which is located about 12 km (7.5 miles), southwest of the centre of Barcelona. As with all major city airports, there are a number of options to choose from in order to make your way into the city centre. I have tried most of the transportation choices and found the associated costs, comfort, and benefits are varied. In the following paragraphs I will point out the positives and negatives of the choices on offer.
The first few times I flew to Barcelona, I opted to take a taxi from the airport directly to the cruise terminal or to my hotel if arriving a few days in advance of my cruise. To many, this is an easy and familiar means of transportation as most people have taken taxis at some point in their lives. I simply collected my luggage and exited the terminal building (either T1 or T2 depending on whether I was arriving from North America or Europe). I then followed the signage to the taxi stands. This is an easy process, and it is not difficult to find the taxis nor are there problems securing the services of a legitimate taxi at any time of the day or night. Do not accept rides from “taxis” that are not at the official taxi queue. I was chatting with a couple in the hotel lobby and they asked me what I had paid for a taxi from the airport. When I informed them that I had paid €35 with a 15% tip, they were livid. They had been charged €125 euros by a taxi driver who had intercepted them in the terminal building before they got to the taxi queue. If you decide to take a taxi, please be aware the cost, depending on which terminal you are departing from, should (in 2021), be between €30 and €35. You should also be aware that holidays will see an increase in the fare rates so an elevated charge is normal. There are different sizes of taxis and on our last visit, we passed on three taxis until a small van came up that would accommodate four adults, four large pieces of luggage and five carry-on bags. They were trying to convince us to separate and take two taxis but we held off, preferring to travel in one vehicle. The travel time from the airport into the city centre takes about 20 minutes. At this port, the taxis can drop you off at the check-in point which is not always the case at other ports.
One quick side note about taxis. I once was taking a cruise that was departing from Barcelona. I was arriving on a separate flight from the others in the group and unlike them, I had opted to book my own transportation from the airport to the port. At that time, a taxi was the equivalent of $15US dollars. I had a great taxi driver who agreed, for a modest side payment, to drive me to the Sagrada Familia and stop for photos followed by a driving tour of some of Barcelona’s highlights. It was a lot of fun and far cheaper than paying for a city tour. The others in my group had booked a transfer through the ship and consequently were taken from the airport to the ship on the fastest, most direct route. Their base cost was more than my base cost and they missed out seeing a bit of Barcelona.
This is a great segue into talking about ship transfers from the airport to the cruise port. All ships offer transfers and although I am not keen on taking these transfers, I am willing to tout the value of them to others. If you are not comfortable arranging transportation on your own, ship transfers are an excellent way to get dropped off at the check-in point of your cruise ship. There are pros and cons to these transfers as you might find yourself waiting at the airport while passengers on other flights, who also booked a ship transfer, are making their way through customs and immigration or are delayed dealing with baggage issues. These transfers can be a little more expensive depending on the circumstances. For example, when looking at a ship arranged transfer for four of us, the ship transfer cost was set in US dollars at $25 per person which seemed reasonable. When looked at as a total cost of $100 dollars (€82), for the group of four, against €50 ($60USD) with tip for the hire of a private taxi van, it was not such a great deal.
Hiring a Car and Driver Service
Private car hires are a little more expensive but I consider them to be a bit of a treat. It is nice to come out of the baggage area (or at the meeting point), to see a well-dressed individual holding a sign with your name waiting to take you and your luggage to a private vehicle. You can book the type of vehicle and the costs will vary depending on whether you choose a luxury vehicle or not. These transfers must be booked in advance and I have found that they are cheaper if you book a return transfer. The last one I booked was €80 return, with door-to-door pick-up and drop-off service. The driver had water and a copy of an English language paper waiting for us along with some information pamphlets he picked up from the local tourist board. He dropped me off at the ship and when the ship returned to port at the end of the cruise, there he was, waiting with his immaculate vehicle and a big “Welcome Back Gail” sign.
If you want to take local transportation that is quicker than a private car or taxi service, I recommend taking the RENFE train. The cost of a single one-way ticket is just under €5. This service runs every 30 minutes and will take you to the city centre in roughly 25 minutes. Getting to the train is fairly easy as it is well marked in the terminal two building as you exit the baggage area. However, you should note that if you are arriving at terminal one, you will have to take a shuttle bus to get to the RENFE train. There are three stops in Barcelona that marry up with the Metro lines (Barcelona Sants, Clot or Passeig de Gràcia), which are the three serviced stops that intersect with the metro. If you are going to the cruise terminal, I suggest you exit the RENFE train and take the metro green line to the Drassanes metro station. If you are going to take the metro once you arrive in downtown Barcelona, I recommend you buy a card that will allow you to transfer onto the metro (T casual card or Barcelona card). Otherwise, you will have to buy a Metro ticket once you exit the RENFE train. If you do that, the cost is higher because you are making separate purchases (the cost of the RENFE ticket at the airport and then the cost of a Metro ticket at the Metro station).
I have been asked if you can take the Metro directly from the airport and yes, the Barcelona Metro does have stops at both terminals. It is a busier option and can be difficult at certain times of the day (crowded and hard to maneuver with luggage). If you are taking the Metro, with luggage, during a peak travel times, be prepared for crowds and the added threat of pickpockets. A benefit of taking the Metro from the airport is that unlike the RENFE, you may not have to make a connection once you are in central Barcelona and if you do, it will be metro line to metro line. The cost of the metro is €5.15.
Taking a bus from the airport is also an option but for the purpose of full disclosure, I have never used this method of transportation from the airport. Therefore, the information I am providing is anecdotal in nature. I have been told that there are two bus options, the first being the Aerobus service which is an express service. It leaves every 10 minutes from both terminals and takes riders into the city center for a cost just under €6 euros. The second option is the local bus #46, which runs during the day, or the N17 (“Nitbus” which operates at night starting at midnight). The cost is just under €3 euros and both the day and night buses can be caught at both terminals. Travellers who have chosen to use this option, report it to be the most cost-effective way to get from the airport to the city centre. They also describe it as slow due to the numerous stops along the way and the fact that it is subject to delays when the traffic is heavy.
Transportation to and from the Port
As seen in the preceding section, you have the options of taking a taxi, ship transfer, or private car hire directly to the port.
If you take the Metro, take the green line to the Drassanes Metro station and walk from there to the cruise port. It is a combination of paved sidewalk and road but you will need to cross a minimum of four lanes of busy roadway on that walk. Depending on which cruise ship terminal your ship is departing from, you will be walking 2km or more.
Walking from a hotel near just off Las Ramblas to the cruise port is fairly easy as you simply walk to the south/ west end of Las Ramblas and turn right (west), where you will be able to see the cruise ships at their berths. My cousin Linda and I walked south from our hotel to determine whether we could walk to the ship or whether we needed to take a taxi to the ship with our luggage. The walk was not difficult, and the ship was easy to spot but we soon determined that doing that walk with luggage, although doable at 4 1/2km, would not be worth the money we would save. We reported back to our husbands that a taxi was the best option.
Getting Around the City
As mentioned in my previous blog about places to visit, most of the city’s best tourist sites are serviced by the Metro which makes that an excellent and most efficient method of moving from point to point. With 8 different lines, all of which are air conditioned, you can pretty much move around the city without worry about traffic delays. You can buy single trip tickets, day passes, three-day, week or monthly passes. The cost will depend on the type of pass you purchase, and I cannot cover them all in this blog. Suffice to say, if you are planning on being in Barcelona for more than a day, I recommend buying some type of multi day pass to save money.
There is surface bus service throughout the city I personally like the ability to take a metro in combination with a bus. If you buy a Metro ticket, you will be able to transfer to a day-time bus within 1 ½ hours without incurring an additional cost. You can download Metro line maps or bus routes from the transportation website but I have found the easiest method of using the buses is to go to the transportation website and type in you location and destination and it will tell where and when to catch the bus at the time closest to when you want to leave. It is a good interactive process.
Just a quick word of warning, it is best to take a taxi from a taxi stand. If a taxi stand is not available, ensure you can see the taxi license and driver information on the back of the front seat of the vehicle. Make sure the meter is turned on when the taxi starts to move. If the driver tells you the meter is broken, take another taxi of negotiate a price in advance.
Private Car Hire
I don’t recommend taking a private car hire unless you have pre-booked the service 24 hours in advance.
Rent a Vehicle
Traffic can be horrendous and parking a nightmare but it you are comfortable driving in the city, it is the most comfortable option and allows absolute discretion as to where you go and how long you stay.
Those who follow my blog or social media entries, know that when travelling, I like to visit markets of all types. Whether the offerings involve food, clothing, artisan goods, flowers or local and regional merchandise, it is all of interest to me. I am not a shopper by nature but a lively market with the associated social interactions is a whole different level of shopping and markets are often the heart of a location. Whether I am simply soaking in the ambiance, hunting for treasures, bargaining for the best price or negotiating over the goods included in the deal, it all contributes to an experience that is beyond the usual retail experience. With over 40 different markets, Barcelona offers up a plethora of choices and all of them seem to involve food of some type.
As mentioned in my blog on places to see in Barcelona, there is a market at the top end of Las Ramblas. Referred to at La Boqueria. At that location you will find a number of stalls selling different items, most of which are food related. This is a busy, but easy to navigate market and it offers an array of delights. On previous trips, we have picked up snacks and purchased food to take back to our hotel for an evening supper al fresco on the balcony. I also bought a hand crafted, unique necklace there along with other assorted items (scarves, purses, shoes etc.). If you are staying in the area of Las Ramblas, this is an easy market option to walk to but take note, due to its location in a popular tourist area, the prices are higher, and you can encounter large crowds. Large crowds attract pick pockets so exercise caution.
On the opposite end of Las Ramblas (southern end), behind the Maritime Museum, there is a flea market on Sundays. Visiting this market is fun and visitors should take note that the odd vendor is willing to make trades. I bought an item from one seller and when negotiating with another, managed to trade up the item I had bought earlier. The trade was augmented with a little cash but overall, I came away happy with my trade and feeling that the deal was a fair one. This is not a particularly large market and there is a lot of junk but spending a little time looking at the items set up on the small tables or blankets can be an entertaining diversion.
Encants Flea Market
If you want to visit a market that has been around since the 14th century, this is it. Touted as one of the oldest markets in Europe, the Encants Market has just about everything including the kitchen sink. Located in the Poblenou area of Barcelona, it can be reached by taking the metro to the Glòries stop. From there you can easily walk to the market. There is also bus service to the area and the #7 bus will get you the closest to the market. The V23 bus will also get you within a couple of blocks.
This is one of the markets that did not have a lot of food for sale, rather it specializes in an assortment of items that range from seemingly useless junk to quirky pieces and on to fine antiques. If I had more money and the means to get a lot of items back to my home, I could have bought some great antiques. Great atmosphere.
The market at Hostafrancs reminds me of a jumble or boot sale that takes place in and around a central building. It really does sell everything from cheap household goods to bargain clothing and food. Lots of food. There are different vendors appearing on different days so if you see something you want to buy, and it is not being sold from a permanent stall, you are better to buy it as a return visit to the market may not result in you being able to find the item or vendor again. This market is just down the road from the market at Sants so it is possible to visit both markets on the same day.
Located in the neighbourhood of Sants (and not too far from the market at Hostafrancs), the “Mercat de Sants” is housed in a large brick building. Interesting architectural details were retained following a 2015 renovation which breathed new life into the building and boosted the market in visibility. The building has a high vaulted ceiling which is great to photograph and makes the market feel light and airy. As with most of the Barcelona markets, it sells and an assortment of other items. I bought some leather goods here for very reasonable prices following spirited negotiations.
This market is located in the Sant Antoni neighbourhood and can be reached by taking the metro to the Sant Antoni Metro stop. The 1882 steel-frame building reopened in May 2018 after undergoing a 10-year renovation initiative. I find the prices in this market to be less expensive than many others and the market feels less crowded. With over 225 stalls selling items ranging from food to all types of goods (clothing, household items etc.), it has a lot on offer. On Sundays, independent sellers set up around the building with various items on offer. At first glance it appears to be a lot of junk but if you look carefully, you can find some treasures. My favourite was a vendor selling old coins he had made into pin broaches which were both unique and great discussion pieces.
Sporting a multi coloured roof and located in the district of Ribera in Ciutat Vella, this is the very definition of a market offering a unique ambiance. While visiting this market, we saw a number of walking tours. Some were “foodies” there for the food experience while others were talking about the roof which was designed by Catalan architect Enric Miralles. While eavesdropping on one of the groups, I made a mental note to take an architectural walking tour the next time I am in Barcelona.
I found this market to be mostly vegetable and fruit stalls but as with all the markets in Barcelona, there was a little something for everyone. I brought a wooden, hand carved toy as a gift for a child and I was enticed to try a number of home-made food samples.
All I can say about this small market is that the chocolatiers are my favourite vendors and the chocolate items we bought were of a high quality, delicious and added 10 pounds each to our weight. We could not hold off until we got back to our hotel room before launching into a frenzy of gluttonous chocolate binging. Take the metro to the Sant Andreu stop and walk south to Carrer de Sant Adria where you will turn right. You will be able to see the market across the street on your left.
As mentioned, there are a large number of markets to choose from and I could easily list many more. This blog article is not designed to cover all the markets available and I offer no opinion as to which ones are the best.
Decide which market you want to visit and enjoy the experience.
Barcelona City Tours
Every major city in Europe offers up some type of city bus touring option and many of those consist of the hop-on, hop-off type of bus service. Affectionately referred to as hoho buses, this means of transportation allows sightseers to either remain on the bus for an entire loop tour of the city or gives them the option to get on and off the buses at various stops along the route. There are different companies in Barcelona that offer hop-on, hop-off bus tours and they are all priced similarly. Usually, the vehicles are some type of double decker style buses with the tops open to allow for a broader range of viewing. In inclement weather there can be some form of covering that the operator will pull over the top upper deck if there is a type of ribbing in place but on two of our trips to Barcelona, the tour operator basically gave us disposable rain ponchos and the upper deck was open to the elements. For this blog article, I will simply refer to the different company offerings by the generic term of hoho buses.
In Barcelona, the hoho companies usually offer two or three colour coded routes that tourists can choose from (red, green, yellow, and blue). There, is a choice to either purchase the right to take just one route or buy a package deal to take all three (in the cases of a company that offers three routes). Although the routes do overlap in the city centre, we found that they veered off to cover different aspects of the city, so I usually recommend that tourists take all available routes to enjoy a more comprehensive overview of the city. However, for those arriving by cruise ship for a one day stop, it may be best to purchase a ticket to take just one route as you will want to get off and tour some of the sites along the route. Take the route that has the most places that you want to see.
The buses all provide ear buds that will allow you to plug into the sound system and hear information in the language of your choice as the bus moves around the city. I find this especially useful and informative. However, in high tourist season, there are times when the sets malfunction so sound quality can be hit and miss. On our last visit to Barcelona, the English-speaking channel on the sound system at our seat was not working and the bus was full which meant the ability to move to another seat was not an option. We ended up listening to the tour in French and feeding the pertinent information to an Australian couple sitting in front of us whose sound system at their seat was also malfunctioning.
If you are in Barcelona for a pre or post cruise stop, I recommend buying a two-day ticket. The cost averages around €36,00 for a two-day pass while a one-day ticket will run you approximately €27,00. As already mentioned, there are different companies that offer the hoho tours, but as indicated, I have found that they are all similarly priced.
The advantage of taking a hoho bus is that you are able to get a tour around the city and that such a tour, will always include many of the most popular tourist spots. If you are interested in getting off the bus to visit any specific site, you can do so and when you are ready to move on, you simply take the next hoho bus that comes along. Another advantage is that often there are coupons attached to your hoho tickets for discounts on entries to various sites or at certain restaurants.
People often disagree on how to make the most efficient use of their Hoho tickets. There are those that advocate in favour of taking the full route tour once and then on the second go around, getting off at different locations you earmarked on your first trip. Other people recommend getting off and on as you arrive at each point of interest. I have done both. On one trip to Barcelona, we bought two-day tickets for all routes. We spent most of the first day (a little over 6 hours), taking all three route tours and noting the areas where we wanted to spend more time. The second day we got onto the red route hoho and spent the first five hours getting off and touring specific sites of interest. In the afternoon, we moved on to the Blue route hoho where we did much the same. For those of you who read my blog on things to do in Barcelona, we got off at the Gaudi designed Sagrada Familia and the home of FC Barcelona. By the time we visited both those sites, we did not have a whole lot of time to see much else so the other areas of interest on the blue route were missed. Therefore, budget your time and prioritize the places you really want to see.
The disadvantages of taking a hoho are that you are on a bus that sticks to a specific route and if you are only in port for the day, you may not have the luxury of time to spare. Spending time on a bus that is slow to get you from the points on your “must see list” may not be the most efficient way to move from point to point. Additionally, hoho buses are on set routes and time schedules. So, if you get off a bus at a popular spot, by the time you are finished touring that site and go back to the hoho pick-up/drop-off stop, you may find that there is a line up and you must wait for a couple of buses before you can board.
All in all, if you want to tour a specific site or two, and you are only in Barcelona for the day, take a taxi and avoid the hoho buses. But if you want to get an overview of the city and enjoy a broad spectrum of sights and points of interest, I fully recommend taking a hoho.
Day trips from Barcelona
Ruins of Empúries
If you have been to Barcelona and want to see places in the surrounding area, I have a few suggestions for you. Although I have taken day trips with organized tour groups, I prefer private tours that I have organized myself. There are benefits to both so take the trip that best suits your comfort level. An organized trip with a tour group is usually all inclusive and generally has less stress while a self organized tour means you are free of group travel and able to determine your route and how long you want to spend at any given place. I enjoy the freedom to self determine where and when I visit a site of interest and to simply stop along the way if something interests me. In Spain, I have taken local transportation (with mixed results), and rented a car and driven myself (with great success), but once again, your choice of transportation will depend on your comfort level. So, without further delay, here are my suggestions.
I will start with the Ruins of Empúries which are located 141km (1 ½ hour drive), north of Barcelona. I had not really heard of the ruins and so my interest in the area had more to do with wine and the beaches at L’Escala than Greco/Roman ruins. This ancient town was originally founded by the Greeks in the 6th century BC and was an important trading center. The Romans, who subsequently occupied the area, built up the town and are responsible for the majority of the buildings that have been uncovered but there are still some Greek structures to be seen. Some of the information I read on my way to the ruins, indicated that it is actually two towns (one Greek and one Roman), but upon arrival at Empúries, it appeared to me to be one large town. Now a designated UNESCO site, Empúries was abandoned in the 3rd century and eventually covered by sand until excavation efforts resulted in sections being uncovered and opened to the public. Empúries is located directly along the shore of the Mediterranean Sea and occupies a scenic position that is fronted by a sandy beach.
The ruins are quite interesting, and the site is the oldest cultural monument in Catalonia. I visited on a sunny, hot day and the lack of shade made a hat and sunblock a must. It also made the beach and water within sight, an attractive post ruin option. It took me a little over an hour to walk through the site although most people I spoke with spent 30 - 40 minutes there while one fellow told me he spent four hours just walking around. To be fair, he also told me his ambition was to tour all archaeological digs in the Mediterranean so I suspect he has a background in archaeology and that four hours might be a stretch for the average tourist. There is a museum on site, the MAC-Empúries which is a branch of the Archaeology Museum of Catalonia. I spent some time touring and looking at the exhibits and I found the staff to be friendly and interested in sharing information about the origins of the site and explaining differences between Greek and Roman architecture.
The cost of general admission is € 6 with a reduced admission of € 4 for seniors and students. There are also discounts for other groups so I suggest you visit the official website for further information.
Santa Maria de Montserrat
Next up is a suggested visit to the sanctuary of Santa Maria de Montserrat. This is an abbey located about 60km north west of Barcelona. I travelled there by rental car but one can easily take an organized tour, taxi, bus or a train. I encountered some road works and heavy traffic, so it took me almost two hours to get from Barcelona to Santa Maria de Montserrat. I was told that this amount of time is not uncommon, and I suggest if you are arriving in port on a one day stop, and you are planning to rent a car and visit this site, that you ensure you plan on 2.5 hours for the return portion of your journey just to be on the safe side.
I had planned to combine my tour of the abbey with a stop at a winery (Premium Cava winery established in 1385), but traffic delays and a lot of time spent exploring my first stop, ate up my time and my plans of an active day trip seeing more than one site fell to the wayside, a victim to poor planning and traffic jams.
Santa Maria de Montserrat is actually an abbey dedicated to the Order of Saint Benedict. Saint Benedict lived in Italy in the late 400s and early 500s. Known as the father of Western monasticism he is the patron saint of all Europe. He lived in a cave for three years in Italy until his fame spread and he was invited to be the head of one of the local monasteries. Unfortunately, members of the monastery did not like the strict rules he imposed so some of the monks decided to poison him. He returned to his cave until various disciples convinced him to form his own monasteries. He built and headed 12 monasteries where he imposed strict rules regarding behaviour and prayer.
Built in the 11th century, Santa Maria de Montserrat is located on the mountain of Montserrat in Monistrol de Montserrat in Catalonia. Over the years it was expanded and destroyed with the current structure built between the 19th and 20th centuries. There are currently around 70 monks in residence. Be sure to check out the museum which has items from the earliest structures.
One must see is the Lady of Montserrat which is a statue of the Virgin Mary believed to have been carved by St. Luke around 50 AD. Referred to as the “Moreneta”, or “the Black Virgin of Montserrat” it is noted for the dark colouring of the statue’s face and hands. This colouring is as a result of the varnish used on the wood which darkened over time. The statue was brought to Spain to hide if from invading Moors and legend has it that it was hidden in a cave. It was rediscovered in 880 and is now located in the Holy Grotto which ends at the cave where the statue was found. It is a ten-minute walk from the main square. The statue of the Virgin Mary has a spherical orb in her right hand which is symbolic of the cosmos and creation while the infant on her lap, which is representative of the baby Jesus, holds a pineapple which is a sign of fertility and perennial life.
Before visiting this location, I suggest you visit the website for current entrance fees and hours of operation.
Tossa de Mar
Approximately 105km north, east of Barcelona lies the beautiful town of Tossa de Mar. Located on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, is a lovely, cobbled street town that centuries ago, started life as a fishermen's village. Known for some prehistoric remains, a “Castillo”, and sandy beaches, it is well worth a visit if you decide to head north. Getting there from Barcelona was fairly easy as I had rented a car and decided to drive myself. I opted to take the coastal route as I was meeting up with a friend in Mataro. The coastal route (#32), takes you through a number of towns and villages as you hug the shoreline. The drive, and passing through the villages, was interesting but it slowed the trip down considerably. When I was returning, I used the main highways (C-33 to E-15) and saved about 30 - 40 minutes on the return trip to Barcelona. If you are not driving, your best bet is to take an organized tour or the bus (which takes about two hours each way).
I found Tossa de Mar to be very much a tourist town but one that has more than just a great beach (Platja Gran), and tourist kiosks selling trashy souvenirs. There is the Castillo which was the draw that put this town on my radar. Dating back to the 12th century, this walled fortress and medieval structures were constructed over the period of the 12 – 14th centuries and consist of ancient buildings surrounded by a defensive wall. Complete with watchtowers, the Castillo is considered to be an excellent example of a fortified medieval town. The fortress photographs well from the beach with the Joanas tower (Torre d'en Joanàs), facing the water. The six other watch towers offer an impressive backdrop and be sure to take a photograph of the south side of the wall where you can take in the wall and three of the watch posts from several vantage points. There is also a clock tower, arched stone entrances and impressive cobbled streets. Please note that the cobbles can make for uneven walking at times and can be a challenge for those with mobility issues. There was no cost to enter into the old town and it is possible to walk along portions of the old wall.
Although the draw for me was the old medieval town within the walls, as with most locations, the growth of the town was such that by the 15th century, people were soon building outside of the walls. I recommend you have a look at the buildings outside the perimeter walls as there are some historical gems to be found.
There is enough to see in this town to warrant spending the day or you can combine it with a trip to one of the other sites located north of Barcelona (such as the Ruins of Empúries). You can also tour the old town before the mid-day heat and then head to the beach for a little relaxation.
About 80 km to the south of Barcelona lies the port city of Tarragona. As with many towns and cities in Europe, the Romans occupied and left their mark on this city. There is a large Roman amphitheatre that was built in the 2nd century AD and offers a superb view of the Mediterranean Sea from the upper seating. With the ability to house up to 15,000 spectators, this is an amphitheatre of an impressive scale.
Located nearby is the Roman forum, but it is a ruin and not one of the better examples of a forum that you can find in Europe. I found it underwhelming but it is a UNESCO listed site so worth a look. It won’t take a long period of time as the site is limited. You can actually see bits and pieces of the Forum incorporated as part of the walled, medieval Old Town. In my opinion, Tarragona’s old town is a great place to explore. The old, narrow streets take you along walls and structures that have Roman and medieval origins. I began my exploration of the medieval quarter at the Cathedral Square and worked my way from there.
Speaking of the cathedral, the Catedal Basilica de Tarragona is a must see. Entrance is 5 euro for adults, 4 for children and seniors. Originally built on the site of a roman ruin dating from the first century AD, the first cathedral was believed to have been built around 475AD by the Visigoths. That structure was demolished by an invasion around 711. The current structure started life in the early 1300s with consecration taking place in 1331. Over the centuries, additions and improvements were made which offer the viewer glimpses of different architectural styles and most importantly, artistic embellishments that give testament to the money the church had that allowed it to employ artisans of great skill.
I recommend you plan to spend the day in Tarragona.
I inadvertently visited this city during the festival called “Temps de Flora” which is a huge attraction for the area. If you like crowds and flowers, I suggest you go in May and take in this festival. The floral displays and creations are quite impressive. If you are like me and not a fan of crowds, then perhaps a visit at another time might be more in order.
Girona is another city that offers up Roman ruins and medieval walls (which you can walk). But in my opinion, its charm is in the colourful buildings and picture-perfect setting along the Onyar River. This is a city that I visited by taking the train from Barcelona. A fairly easy 45-minute journey. There were plenty of regularly scheduled trains going to Girona, and an equal amount making the return journey to Barcelona so there were plenty of train options to choose from on the schedule. If you are driving, I recommend taking the A7 directly from Barcelona to Girona which I have been told is a 1 ½ hour journey. One of my colleagues visited Girona on a different trip and he and his wife took the bus. They reported that the trip was fairly relaxing, but he described their journey as a “meandering milk run” with frequent stops along the way. If they had not bought a return bus ticket, they would have opted to take the train back to Barcelona.
Upon arrival in Girona, I recommend that you visit the old town and walk around the remaining sections of the walls, parts of which were built in the first century BC. You will get a good sense of the old town and there are some fantastic views from the walls (great photo opportunities), not to mention gardens attached to the walls.
Next up, I suggest the Girona Cathedral which you can’t miss as it occupies the highest point of the old town. Named the Cathedral and the Basilica of San Felix, it boasts a very impressive nave. For the sake of full disclosure, my guidebook said it was the second largest nave in the world but in the cathedral, I was told it was the largest nave. I leave it up to you to decide. Purportedly a “15th-century” cathedral, it has an 11th century tower and incorporated portions of a Roman wall in its building so the age given is based on the period encompassing the bulk of the construction. Given my preference for gothic structures, this cathedral is not my favourite exterior and I found the style to be a mixed bag of designs. That being said, I think the cathedral is a must see and I could spend hours inside.
A few other points of interest are the Arab baths (one of the places Game of Thrones was filmed), the Jewish Quarter, and the Jewish Museum. Take a walk across one of the many bridges in the new parts of the city and you will find some picture postcard views to photograph.
For the purposes of full disclosure, I have NOT been to Port Aventura so the only information I have about it relates to things I have heard and guidebook information. Located 110km south of Barcelona, this theme park offers entertainment for the family and is touted as a great place to take your children. Here is the website link which will allow you to look up the information and make an informed decision on whether this is the day trip for you to take: https://www.portaventuraworld.com/en
France, Bagà and Andorra
If you have already spent time in Barcelona and visited the usual points of interest in the Catalonia region. Now your cruise has you back in Barcelona and you are ready to step further afield. Here are a few suggestions for your consideration. Take a quick trip to France, or engage in a little more Spanish exploration with visits to Bagà or Andorra. The three destinations can be combined in a day trip or you can select one location and spend the day in that area.
You have three basic transportation options. The first is to rent a vehicle and drive yourself. The second is to book a car and driver and the third is to take an organized excursion with a tour company. All three options have pros and cons. I usually prefer to drive myself but it really will depend on your comfort level with driving in unfamiliar territory. Having a car and driver is the more relaxing option but it is also the most expensive. Taking an organized tour is the least flexible but often the most economical choice. Evaluate what suits you best and make arrangements in advance to ensure your choice is available and plan your day.
You can take local public transportation but due to logistical considerations such as transfers and scheduling, it is not viable for a day trip. In my opinion, local transportation to some of the points furthest from the port of Barcelona is an option to only be used if you plan on staying overnight. For example, taking the train from Barcelona into France may involve transferring trains for a total one-way travel time of 5 ½ hours. Eleven hours of your day dedicated only to your transportation is clearly not a day trip friendly option. Even taking a direct train from Barcelona to Latour De Carol Enveitg (at a cost of around 50 euros), can involve a combined total of almost 7 hours spent on the train and that does not include platform waiting times or scheduling delays. That leaves little time for sightseeing.
France - Ax-les-Thermes and Lorat
Let us start with a quick entry into France. Most tours heading to France from Barcelona, go to the border town of Ax-les-Thermes. Known as a spa town, it boasts the hottest thermal water in the region. It is very much a tourist town offering up sodium sulphide water treatments and other assorted wellness therapies. A friend described her time there as the ultimate spa day. But a little pampering, attractive as it is, could not match my interest in castles and historical battle sites and about 5 miles away is the historic castle ruin of Lordat.
If you opt to skip Ax-les-Thermes and go directly to the Castle of Lordat, you will find the drive takes you about three hours from Barcelona. Built around the 9th century, it is one of the oldest and largest feudal castles in the county of Foix and for those castle buffs, a noteworthy point of interest in the region. In 1244 the castle was captured by the Cathars during the Crusade. The Cathars were a break away religion that did not embrace the sacraments of the Catholic church which earned them the animosity of the pope. They also rejected the old testament which in staunchly Catholic medieval Europe, meant they were considered heretics. The knights of the castle of Lordat were eventually charged with the crime of heresy and burnt at the stake.
At the end of the XIII century, the castle passed into the hands of the King of Aragon, who ordered it to be destroyed. The ruins command a great view of the valley bellow but as for an interesting "castle" to tour, the ruins have little to offer. The walls were stabilized, and some outline restoration work was done in 2016 so you can envision the shape and size of the castle.
There are some interesting and highly photographic buildings in the village just below the castle.
Spain - Andorra
I decided to visit Andorra, Spain because it is the smallest state in Europe, and I considered it to be easily included in my day trip from Barcelona when I was heading to France. Because of its unique designation, and its location on the border between Spain and France, this independent European co-principality was my choice for a quick photo stop at its capital; Andorra la Vella. I spent longer than intended as there are some interesting stone buildings and shops. The place is not that large, so I simply parked and walked around, stopping for an enjoyable coffee at one of the cafes. While there, I learned of a historic church nearby. Consequently, I was soon off to the village of Canillo to see Sant Joan de Caselles (Església de Sant Joan de Caselles). Dating from the 11th century, this stone and mortar church is built in the Romanesque style and has an interior decorated with frescoes. One of the devotional paintings, dates from 1525 and is titled St. John and the Apocalypse.
Spain - Bagà
I had not heard of Bagà until I came across a pamphlet for a day trip from Barcelona and this village was included as one of the stops on a tour. I believe one way to discover the most popular sites in an area is to research them and part of that research is having a look at what tour operators are offering. They generally have an excellent handle on places people like to tour.
Bagà is located in the northern half of the comarca and it is considered the capital of Alt Berguedà. Set within mountainous terrain, the trip to arrive at the village will offer up some great scenery and outstanding views. Spain has a plethora of roman and medieval era villages and the Spanish village of Bagà is one of them. Built in the 9th century, there are narrow alleys, plenty of little stone steps and stone buildings. The church is called St. Esteve de Bagà and is built in the early gothic style with a later addition of an offset corner, square bell tower. It was built in the 13th century.
I believe that the church is a must see stop in the village but due to the size and limited opening hours, you will not be spending a great deal of time there.
If you are a student of architecture, visiting both Bagà.and Canillo will allow you to enjoy touring two distinctly different architectural styles of churches that are the focal points of their respective villages.