Contents : Barcelona Estacio de Franca Rail Station | Barcelona Sants Rail Station | Metro System & Travel Tips | The Barcelona Card | Bed & Breakfasts | Chic and Basic Barcelona Ramblas | Club BLVD | Cuines Santa Caterina | Frank Gehry’s Flying Fish Sculpture | Hotel Arts Barcelona & Bites Restaurant | Mercer Hotel | Sagrada Familia | Mercat de Santa Caterina | Torre Agbar
Barcelona, the capital of Spain’s Catalonia principality, is served by a number of train stations with the two largest and most widely used being Barcelona Estacio de Franca and Barcelona Sants. Built in 1929, Barcelona Estacio de Franca, i.e., Barcelona Franca Train Station, is a beautiful combination of marble and bronze. A noteworthy architectural achievement which justifiably makes the city’s residents proud, the station provides the following transportation options :
― the R10 provides regular service to Barcelona International Airport;
― The CA1, CA3, CA4, and CA6 lines travel to locations outside the city; and
― international service to France, Italy and Switzerland.
Much larger than Estacio de Franca and located northwest of Barcelona’s city center is Sants Rail Station, the main transportation hub of the entire Catalan region. Situated between Plaça dels Països Catalans and Plaça Joan Peiró, the large and modern complex has access to the city metro system which is composed of 13 different lines; offers regional services to areas just outside Barcelona; features the Spanish high-speed rail system, AVE, allowing you to travel to Madrid in about 2 1/2 hours; and connects to France’s TGV network.
The Metro System. There are vending machines in Sants to purchase T10 tickets for use on the city’s public transportation system, Metro de Barcelona. The tickets are valid for 10 rides and can be used on the metro, FGC lines to the city’s center, buses, trams and RENFE (“Red Nacional de los Ferrocarriles Españoles.”) It’s extensive and when one first glances at its map, it could almost intimidate. You will find the signage throughout the system, however, is clear and the trains clean and efficient. It takes no time to master it and traveling throughout the city becomes almost intuitive.
Travel Tip. The T10 can be shared with your traveling companions but its important to note each transaction counts as 1 against its 10-use life. You can buy tickets for single or multiple zones in the city although if your traveling mainly throughout the city center, a ticket for Zone 1 will be more than sufficient. Also bear in mind, as safe as the city is, Barcelona’s stations suffer from the same problems plaguing other metropolitan centers around the world, i.e., pickpockets. To ensure you’re not a victim, follow these simple but effective suggestions :
― Do not wear fanny packs as they’re a dead giveaway you’re a tourist.
― Women should carry their purses in a large tote over their shoulders. Or, place the purse so it’s on your front and not swinging from your side. You’ll greatly reduce the risk of a pickpocket slicing the strap with a box cutter which they can do with surgical-like precision.
― Men should not carry wallets in their back pockets. Keep your credit cards in a separate folio in a messenger bag and your cash in your front pocket. Ensure the messenger bag is carried on the front of your person rather than the side.
Getting around the city couldn’t be any simpler or more affordable than with The Barcelona Card, a pre-paid card which allows you unlimited use of the metro and urban buses, trams, trains, Montjuïc Funicular and FGC in Zone 1.
You may also use the No. 46 bus for free from the airport to the city center and back. Unlike the T10 ticket, you can use the Barcelona Card for more than 10 trips. The card in fact is available for 2, 3, 4 or 5 consecutive days and includes a guide-book featuring a city map, metro plan and brief descriptions of the institutions, such as museums, where you can obtain further discounts. It’s also written in Catalan, English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish. You can order the card and have it shipped to you via mail, or you can pick it up from the airport upon your arrival. To make it even easier, skip the lines altogether and order it online from the Barcelona Turisme web site. Upon purchase, you will receive an e-mailed voucher allowing you to pick up your cards at a number of locations :
― Airport Barcelona “El Prat de Llobregat” in Terminals T1 and T2
― Plaça de Catalunya in the basement opposite the El Cortes Inglés
― Plaça de Sant Jaume/Ciutat, 2
― Estacióon del Nord (the buses from Girona airport stop at this bus station)
― Sants Estacion
It’s not a bad idea to verify the hours these locations are in operation prior to your arrival, too.
Barcelona is a city full of hotels, ranging from small Bed & Breakfasts (B & Bs) to larger and more expensive chains. To experience the genuine flavor of the city, I recommend staying in a smaller place since in many instances, they’re family owned and / or feature great, authentic meals prepared by locals. They’re also inexpensive. A great source is AirBnB, the international directory of B & Bs. When searching for a property, you can specify neighborhoods, your price range and the number of guests. The site does an admirable job of verifying information as indicated by the “Airbnb.com Verified Photo” logo which appears on pictures of the accommodations. It also has clear and strict policies regarding those choosing to list their properties. For specific information on Barcelona, click here.
You may also want to try Chic and Basic’s very hip and very affordable Barcelona Ramblas property. The parent company, Chic and Basic, offers a collection of hostels, hotels and apartments throughout Amsterdam, Barcelona and Madrid. Located in the heart of the Barcelona’s city center and featuring great rates, their Ramblas hotel is ideal for those who want something unique and offering great value.
As the capital of Catalonia, Barcelona is a city which doesn’t sleep―ever. In order to enjoy it to the fullest, adapt quickly to its schedule, where afternoon siestas are the norm, dinner is rarely eaten before 09.00pm, and clubs don’t have patrons before midnight. Once you do, you’ll wonder how you’ve lived any other way. Club Boulevard (BLVD) should be at the top of your list. Located at Las Ramblas, 27, Boulevard is near the Drassanes station on the city’s metro green line. Featuring an impressive range of music styles and three floors, the club’s guests range from locals, to Euro travelers to Central and South Americans. Ensure you’ve enjoyed a siesta first as leaving the club at sunrise is the norm.
Located in the sprawling Mercat De Santa Caterine you will find Cuines Santa Caterina, a great informal restaurant specializing in local ingredients, tapas and farm-to-table dining. The menu is extensive and features items from an impressive list of cuisines. The place becomes packed so start your day early there with coffee and freshly made pastries. Plan on spending a few hours in the Mercat (described further below) and then head back for lunch.
Of all the adjectives that come to mind when describing world-renowned architect Frank Gehry, whimsical is probably last on the list. But that is the word which best suits his gift to the city, the Flying Fish Sculpture, at Port Olímpic, a marina constructed for the 1992 Summer Games. In the hands of a lesser artist, the sculpture might be ridiculous, but Gehry brings his genius and artistry of bending metal in unexpected ways to the piece and creates something which is both striking and crowd-pleasing. See it at sunset when it glows and ultimately becomes the most eye-popping structure at the marina―not entirely a coincidence.
For fantastic and quick meals on a whim, stop by Bites at the Hotel Arts Barcelona at Calle Marina, 19-21 (you don’t need to be a guest of the hotel in order to dine here.) The establishment could easily stand on its own as a separate restaurant without the brand name of the hotel behind it, i.e., The Ritz Carlton. The food is that good. Order the beef tartar at lunch, for example, or the Club Sandwich with avocado mayonnaise and you might not even need dinner later on. Simple tapas at happy hour will suffice. I have never been a fan of the foam trend but the vanilla foam with fresh fruit they offer for dessert is like an orgasm for your taste buds. You’ll keep coming back for more.
The Mercer name has a well-earned reputation as no expense is spared or detail overlooked when it comes to architecture of their public spaces, bar and restaurant design, and of course, their hotel rooms. Located at Carrer dels Lledó 7, the Mercer Hotel in Barcelona is no exception and in fact has been the recipient of a number of hotel awards. It has fewer than 30 rooms―which are not cheap. If your budget allows it, then don’t hesitate to stay there as their service, as you would expect from the brand behind it, is impeccable and easily on par with the Four Seasons or the Ritz. If nothing else, make it a point to visit the rooftop terrace where the views of the city’s Gothic and historic neighborhoods are incredible and the pool side tapas menu and bar service will easily win you over.
People have one of two visceral reactions to Antoni Gaudi’s work―love or hatred. No where is the divide more evident than in the artist’s unfinished masterpiece, Sagrada Familia, or more formally, Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família.
The Gothic church features eighteen spires and not one, but three facades―the Nativity, the Passion, and the Glory. It’s still years from completion and mere mention of it brings out impassioned arguments by Catalans, both for and against it as an integral part of Barcelona’s culture and history.
Within the past few years, Barcelona’s streets were widened in the district of Ribera in Ciutat Vellato to accommodate the newly renovated Mercat De Santa Caterina, or Market of Holy Catherine, a food market with nearly 70 stalls nears the Francesc Cambó-Gral Alvarez de Castro Metro station. It’s also a charming stroll from the previously mentioned Barcelona Estacio de Franca Rail Station. Designed by the late Enric Miralles and Benedetta Tagliabue, the market’s exterior is characterized by a series of undulating roofs composed of mosaic tiles. To fully appreciate their vibrant colors and patchwork design, visit one of the many rooftops in the neighboring buildings. Inside, you will find vendors selling cheeses, fish, fresh flowers, fruits, jamon, olives and pastries. For nominal amounts, you can enjoy entire meals and bring back, pending any import restrictions, a number of items for home. One of the market’s many charms is that it is frequented by locals who, as one would expect, demand nothing less than the best from their local merchants. And Santa Caterina is far less noisy and crowded than the more tourist-prone Mercado de la Boquería on La Rambla.
Nothing can announce a city’s arrival on the global stage faster or with more aplomb than a world-class building from a world-class architect. Barcelona took a tremendous risk but ultimately hit a home run with Jean Nouvel. The Pritzker Prize-winning, French architect created a beautiful gem of a building when he designed Torre Agbar for the city. Located in the tech neighborhood between Avinguda Diagonal and Carrer Badajoz, the tower’s concrete-and-glass exterior resembles ripples of water. At night, an LED design illuminates the structure with myriad, subtle displays. It’s a building whose entirely modern design might seem out-of-place in such a city as old as Barcelona. Nothing, however, can be further from the truth. Torre Agbar gives the city a modern skyline while simultaneously paying homage to the city’s favorite if not controversial son, Gaudi.