After departing from Pisa, we traveled roughly three hours by bus to Civitavecchia, Italy to catch a ferry ride to Barcelona. First and foremost, I need to mention ferry ride was by far the worst part of our trip! Everyone was under the impression that it was simply an “overnight” ferry, which was very misleading. I am in no way exaggerating when I say that we spent nearly 24 hours on a rocky ship with no WiFi, disgusting and overpriced food, and creepy men.
We tried our best to pass the time by playing card games in the lounge area but that only lasted for so long before the boredom set in once more. Before going to bed, I had to take Melatonin to help me sleep because the rough waters made me extremely nauseous. Overall, the ship was by no means great, and we wasted an entire day of our trip that should have been spent sightseeing! I understand that the fairy was needed to travel from Italy to Spain but it was not an enjoyable time in the slightest. I would have much rather paid extra money for a flight to Spain versus taking the ferry.
When we finally arrived in Barcelona it was approaching evening and I cannot tell you how happy I was to see land again. I was ready to kiss the ground beneath my feet. Although it was late, Barcelona’s beauty was not overshadowed in the slightest! Barcelona is a one-of-a-kind destination; it does not look or feel like any other European city–and the list of new and exciting things to discover is endless! A lover’s dream city and the place where well-known artists flourished centuries ago, Barcelona has so much history and virtue. As the slogan campaign of the 1960s attested: Spain is different.
SIGHTS TO SEE
1. PLAZA DE CATALUNYA
The following day, we visited Plaza de Catalunya and Plaza de España on our expertly guided tour of Barcelona. Plaza de Catalunya is a lively square and the precise geographical site that splits the districts of Ciutat Vella and Eixample. Until the middle of the nineteenth century, Plaza de Catalunya was a rural area just outside the city walls. The plaza has a large central square (that is round in shape) and displays gorgeous fountains, sculptures, and grass edges! There are six sculptures strategically placed around the area, representing wisdom, labor, and the four Catalan capital cities. One of the corners exhibits Josep Maria Subirachs’ monument honoring the former president, Francesc Macià. Plaza de Catalunya is also famous for its large shopping centers with various department stores, making it a favorite place among the locals and tourists. Known for its history and prime location, Plaza de Catalunya is the heart and soul of Barcelona.
2. PLAZA DE ESPAÑA
Plaza de España is a charming square located just outside the center of the city, where many of the main roads in Barcelona cross paths. The plaza’s most celebrated feature is the city’s old bull-fighting ring which has been transformed into the Las Arenas de Barcelona commercial center. One of the main attractions in Plaza de España is the Palau Nacional Art de Catalunya, also known as the Museum of Catalan art. The building itself is stunning and is a magnificent sight to behold when it is lit up at night with the Magic Fountain in front.
The Magic Fountain is a music and light show that everyone must take the time to admire when in Barcelona because it is free! Yes, you read that right. The terrific display of water, light, and music brings Montjuïc (an illustrious hill overlooking Barcelona’s harbor) alive at night. Hundreds of people adore the fountain performances and I guarantee if you choose to go, it will be one of the highlights of your trip to Spain! Although, the Magic Fountain only has performances on certain nights which is why it is important to check the dates beforehand.
3. LAS RAMBLAS
Only a ten-minute walk away, the bustling of Las Ramblas makes it one of the city’s biggest appeals for sightseers! So much so that if you are traveling to Barcelona, it is only a matter of time before you find yourself walking its very street. Here is a fun fact for you: Las Ramblas meets Plaza de Catalunya at its southwest end. The street is a pedestrian-friendly pathway situated in the middle of the city, hence why it is busy at all hours of the day and night.
During the day, you can peruse souvenir stands, watch street performers, admire beautiful flower arraignments, shop artwork from local artists, or take pleasure in a snack from one of the many alfresco cafes. Despite Las Ramblas establishing itself as a tourist-friendly stop, it did not always cater to visitors in this way! Not long after the nearly mile-long walkway was created in 1766, it became a popular hangout spot for locals. Today, the likeliness of finding locals congregating here is growing slimmer and slimmer, especially during the daytime.
4. LA SAGRADA FAMÍLIA
While in Barcelona, I had the opportunity to visit one of the most magnificent churches in the world, La Sagrada Família. Beginning in 1882 and lasting until his death in 1926, Catalan Art Nouveau master Antoni Gaudí dedicated himself to the construction of La Sagrada Família, or Church of the Sacred Family. When Gaudi died, the church was less than a quarter of the way finished, and ever since its construction has remained a slow process. Although La Sagrada Família is funded by private donations–mainly from the fee paid by the thousands of visitors that walk through its giant doors–the church is said to be completed by 2026, marking a century since Gaudi’s death.
La Sagrada Família is not only considered to be Gaudí’s most recognized work, but also his greatest achievement! After the tour guide informed us of the church’s history, I discovered that it did not always belong to Gaudí. The architect that was first commissioned to build the church, Francesc del Paula Villar, was replaced after his visions conflicted with the church’s advocates. When Gaudí took over, he changed its design entirely, leaving no room to question his genius. Instead of the original neo-Gothic style, he imagined something more innovative and eye-catching. While the church does feature Gothic elements, there are a plethora of unconventional details that stray from “the norm,” resulting in a brilliant structure that is truly one of a kind! Towering over neighboring buildings, La Sagrada Familia is epic in scale. For reference, even from across the street I had to tilt my head backward to see the very top of its spires!
5. PARK GÜELL
Barcelona is home to some of the most inspiring architecture in the world, so perusing the city’s parks, museums, and churches is an absolute must! If you were wondering, Antoni Gaudí’s Park Güell is as unique as parks can get. I was most excited to visit Park Güell because before this trip, my Spanish I class studied Antoni Gaudí and the park’s notorious design elements. Having the opportunity to see such a peculiar yet glorious creation in person is an experience that transformed me in the best way possible!
Eusebi Güell commissioned Gaudí to work for him; the park was originally designed to be a housing community for the rich. After Gaudí was hired, the project eventually collapsed because of the land’s unsuitable building conditions. Nevertheless, Gaudí continued with the project, modeling the park after gardens he had seen in England. He emphasized building around the natural elements of the land instead of destroying them.
Today, the park covers nearly 42 acres and displays everyday park components with Gaudí’s signature twist! Instead of benches spread throughout, I was greeted with one long, wavy stone bench adorned with vibrant mosaics. Similarly, there are no lackluster buildings to be seen; the welcome centers at Park Güell truly exemplify buildings you can only see in a Dr. Seuss book. I found several picturesque pathways that traveled alongside lush greenery, down cascading mosaic staircases, and through jagged stone columns.
Yes, Barcelona can be considered a tourist trap because it is more expensive than most places in Spain. However, there is a reason it is one of the top-visited cities in the world! Barcelona is an astounding place, and if you can venture beyond Las Ramblas or La Sagrada Familia, and truly immerse yourself in the city, it becomes so much more than a vacation destination. Although Barcelona is in Spain, many do not realize that it is the capital of Catalonia and in Catalonia, the first language is Catalan, not Spanish. You must be willing to give yourself time to discover every nook and cranny of the old, winding streets; take advantage of every opportunity and you will experience what sets a true Catalan identity apart from the rest.