We recently visit Barcelona for two nights, then two nights in Madrid and another two nights in Barcelona. Barcelona is a major cruise destination. Thinking of going? Here are some observations:
- Getting there. We flew American Airlines nonstop from Philadelphia. The flight is about eight hours. We traveled in coach with carryon luggage. Everything went smoothly.
- Arrival. Barcelona’s airport arrivals process takes some time. We arrived about 8:00 AM, getting onto an impossibly long line for Immigration. Out of about 20 booths, only about 4 were staffed. Now it’s about 9:00 AM! Why they don’t put on more staff is a mystery. As US citizens, there was no form to fill out. We handed over passports, they scanned and stamped them. FYI: Departure had the same long line.
- Airport to Hotel. There’s a train, but we couldn’t find it. However, there’s an airport bus service, making 3 or 4 stops in the city. This ran about 6 Euro. It was very fast and efficient. The bus terminates at Plaza de Cataluña, the major pedestrian square at the top of Las Ramblas, in the heart of the city.
- Barcelona Overall. The city is one large wine bar with streets! Las Ramblas is a very long tree lined pedestrian thoroughfare with parallel service roads. It’s like Times Square. It starts at the port (good for cruise passengers) and terminates in Plaza de Cataluña. Lots of sidewalk cafes. Gaudi is their most famous citizen. There are many buildings, some now museums and parks he designed. The most famous landmark is the unfinished Church, La Sangrada Familia. All this is in the center of the city or close by.
- Getting from the ship into town. Let’s assume you arrived by ship or flew into town and want to get to your ship. Barcelona’s cruise terminal is located in the port area, which is a short walk from the bottom of Las Ramblas. Here’s a map. (1) The cruise ships have berths at the far end of the port. Since you have luggage, you would logically take a taxi from the airport (or the Sants train station) to your ship, unless the cruise line provides transfers.
- Transportation around town. They have an excellent tram, bus and subway system. You can buy a 10 trip pass for about 11 Euros. There are ticket machines at tram stops and inside metro (subway) stations. Taxis are plentiful and pretty reasonable.
- Travel to other cities. Because we were staying several days we took the RENFE high speed train from Barcelona to Madrid. The trip is about three hours. It cost about $75.00. We bought tickets online from the US on the RailEurope website. (2)
- What’s best? We stayed at the Sheraton Four Points Hotel, located on the Diagonal, a very long, tree lined commercial street cutting across the city. It’s outside the touristy center of town, but there’s subway/metro transportation nearby. It’s a ten block walk to the beach. You walk down a local version of Las Ramblas, tree lined with lots of sidewalk cafes. It feels much less touristy. It’s about two blocks away from the Glories shopping center, which has plenty of restaurants. There’s a modern tram running along the Diagonal. The metro stop takes you to Plaza de Cataluña, so you can see the tourist sights.
- What’s worst? People talk about Barcelona’s pickpockets. It’s a big city with tourist sights and business districts. Take precautions and be aware of your surroundings. If you are comfortable in New York or New Orleans, you will probably be fine in Barcelona.
- What makes it special? Barcelona is a city for eating and drinking. They are big on tapas, or small plates along with glasses of wine. Food is reasonable. Wine is pretty good and inexpensive. I think wines we ordered ranged from 2 Euros to 4.5 Euros a glass. FYI: Apparently you don’t tip in restaurants. This tapas culture means you cruise from place to place, eating a little bit here and there. Seafood paella is very popular, as is Iberian ham. It’s similar to Prosciutto, but it costs more.
- The Spanish work on a different time schedule. They actually sit down to dinner at 9:00 or 10:00 PM! When we walked past restaurants in the Glories shopping center, we learned some don’t even open their doors until 9:00 PM! This has an upside. You can sit down for lunch at 4:00 PM in some restaurants.
- Unique experience. La Boqueria is the famous open air food market located on Las Ramblas. Although there are locals pulling shopping carts behind them, it’s geared for tourists. Looking at the seafood counters is amazing. It has counters where you can pull up a stool, have a glass of wine and order food, but the perimeter is ringed with restaurants too. There’s street food too. This includes cured meats in cones or on sticks and paper cones filled with fried seafood. The expensive spice saffron, comes from Spain. You can but it from the spice vendors in small boxes, prices clearly marked.
Would we return? Yes. This is our third trip to Barcelona. It’s fun and lively. It’s a great dining experience. It’s good value for money.
Story and photo courtesy of Bryce Sanders.