Few months ago my family had a chance to stop in Barcelona for five nights, before continuing the journey to my native Belarus. These are my stories.
I was taken aback by how large Barcelona actually is. I knew it was a major city, but I was still surprised by the scale of it all, including the sprawl of ghetto-like apartments on the outskirts. It was similar to Rome in this respect. In fact, if I had to describe Barcelona in one sentence, it would be “Rome Jr. with a hint of Arabia and passion for architecture.” So, if you loved Rome and Italy in general, you will probably love Barcelona as well.
But it is quite overwhelming when you first get to the center of the city. The crowds, the noise, the weird smell of pollution + meat… it’s a lot to take in. But Barcelona grows on you, and by the time we left, I fell in love with the city. It’s now one of my favorite places in Europe.
Apparently, many of my comrades from former Soviet Union republics agree. I’ve heard Russian language everywhere we went. When I landed, the girl in the tourist booth was originally from Belarus. Our apartment manager was from Russia. The demand is so strong, many shops have signs in Spanish, English and Russian.
After talking to some Barcelona residents, it’s very clear that they consider themselves to be Catalans first, Spanish second. Catalonia region has its own distinct culture, traditions and language. Apparently, there is currently a push to secede from Spain once and for all. I doubt it will actually happen, but who knows. Catalonia region is the wealthiest in the country, and the residents feel it’s unfair that they have to “carry” other poor regions like Andalusia.
Barcelona is a package deal
Based on my observations, Barcelona residents are crazy about soccer, sex, food and “man bun” hairstyle, in that order. Soccer is yuuuge! You will be seeing all kinds of souvenirs with pictures of their favorite team. The most photogenic player is, naturally, Gerard Piqué, known outside of Europe as singer Shakira’s boyfriend. Only here, the roles are reversed, and it’s Shakira who is known as Gerard Piqué’s girlfriend.
Risqué lingerie billboard ads are everywhere. This is generally the case all over Europe, but more so in Barcelona, I think. They clearly take their lingerie seriously, and it goes for males and females. I wasn’t crazy about it, especially since we had kids with us, but it is what it is. And no, I didn’t take any photos. To be fair, it’s way less offensive than Norway, where it’s not unusual to see postcards with nude people on them.
“Man bun” hairstyle is currently all the rage in Barcelona. Guys, did you know that you can buy a fake hair bun on Amazon instead of growing your own?
Isn’t he a stud? I just love the smoldering look!
We’ve seen this look all over Barcelona, and many hair salons even advertise putting your man’s hair in a bun for a fee. To be fair, most Spanish guys are quite attractive, so they can almost get away with this ridiculousness. Sorry to the “man bun” lovers out there, but I’m just not a fan. Especially of the type you can buy on Amazon.
I’ve mentioned earlier that Barcelona reminded me a lot of Rome. Cue their affinity for strikes. Seriously, get ready for a strike or two during your stay. When we got there, metro workers went on strike. The following day it was taxi drivers’ turn. So, have a transportation plan B and C in mind, and try to stay as centrally as possible. Barcelona is not the place where you want to skip on location. And don’t even think about renting a car. Traffic situation is similar to Rome. You have been warned.
I’ve written before about burning UR points on the apartment at 1.5 cents apiece via Chase Sapphire Reserve. I feel it was a great choice due to central location and amenities like kitchen and a washer. The name of the rental is Bas Apartment Barcelona (Catedral) and I highly recommend it if you can swing it financially. It was a short walk form Placa de Catalunya as well as Gothic Quarter. The location was truly ideal.
The cost was 20,000 UR points per night ($300), and I would pay it again in a heartbeat. Central apartments in Barcelona are expensive due to demand, especially during summer months. Don’t expect a lot of space for the money, either. It’s at a premium, similar to NYC. This was our home for five nights:
Living room (kitchen is to the right)
The view from living room balcony
Master bedroom with king bed, where my husband and I slept
View from our bedroom
A tiny second bedroom, the size of an average closet in US (we made my daughter sleep on the couch and put my sister-in-law here)
Modern bathroom with a toilet and bidet (my son thought the latter was a water fountain!)
We had access to a rooftop pool, a rarity in Barcelona
A nice patio to enjoy the evening while sipping Sangria wine
Playground in front of the apartment building
Bottom line: we got what we paid for. It was a terrific place that had everything we needed, including much appreciated A/C. The place was clean and kitchen was well stocked, which allowed us to save money on eating out. Getting along with my sister-in-law in such a tight space was a challenge, and that’s the only serious drawback I can think of.
Be aware, there is no dryer, just washing machine, but that’s the case with most apartments in Europe. There is a dryer rack you can set up in the living room, which is what we did. I liked the fact that there was an office downstairs opened during the day with a manager on duty.
If you are traveling in Europe with young children, McDonald’s is your friend. Seriously. My kids pretty much refused to eat local Spanish cuisine. Yes, we should have raised them to be more cosmopolitan, yada yada yada. But we didn’t. So, the sight of golden arches was like a manna from heaven.
And it wasn’t just the kids. My sister-in-law did not like Spanish food at all, so she ended up eating hamburgers for most of the trip. You can generally expect all of your favorite items, plus a local twist or two. I actually enjoyed Spanish breakfast sandwich with prosciutto in it. Not something you can order in our local McDonald’s. A huge plus is that the prices are quite reasonable compared to local restaurants. That’s a big deal when you have to feed five people.
Of course, I wanted to try some local cuisine too, so I asked my sister-in-law to watch the kids and let my husband and me have a nice, peaceful dinner. I didn’t do any research, we just walked a few minutes from the apartment and ended up in a restaurant with a rooftop terrace. I can’t remember the name, but the food was pretty good. The portions were tiny, though.
Some pork dish with potatoes (apologies to my Jewish friends)
Catalan dessert, similar to flan. Yum yum yum!
Wine in Spain costs a little bit more than water when you dine in a restaurant, so might as well, right? My Sangria had a kick to it, not “weak sauce” they sell in the States. We ordered an appetizer, two entrees, Coke, wine and a dessert. Our bill came to 60 euros, or approximately $70. Not cheap, but not horrible, about what you would pay in a big city in US.
We also ate out once as a family, and it was a total bust. We spent over $150, ugh. Nobody liked the food, including myself. I wanted to try a paella (Spanish dish), a seafood medley with rice and tomatoes, and thought it was kind of gross. Should have gone to McDonald’s. At least my daughter liked the display by the cash register:
Overall, the cost of dining out is lower than what you would find in Northern Europe and a bit higher than Eastern Europe. If you are on a tight budget but don’t want McDonald’s (and I don’t blame you), stick to small cafes in the back alleys rather than large squares filled with tourists.
1) Walking down La Rambla street towards waterfront, and coming back to the apartment via Gothic quarter.
This is something you must do if you are in Barcelona. Here is the map of our adventure, which took about three hours to complete, due to various detours:
La Rambla street is not my cup of tea, but if you are into shopping, you will probably enjoy it.
If you go, make sure you make a detour to a local market where you can find freshly made smoothies, plus all kinds of interesting produce and meat items.
What are you looking at?
My absolute favorite part of the walk was wondering through the Gothic quarter. There you can spot architectural remnants of the time when Barcelona was under Moorish occupation (hence my reference to Arabic culture).
It was fun to just get lost in the tiny alleys.
2) Casa Batllo
Probably the most famous house in Barcelona, designed in the beginning of the 20th century by architect Antoni Gaudi (see TripAdvisor reviews) It’s a whimsical work of art with unbelievable attention to detail.
We went in the evening and didn’t have to wait in line for more than 10 minutes. YMMV
3) History museum of Barcelona
This place is hugely underrated and difficult to find. But it’s totally worth a visit. See TripAdvisor page for more information. If you love Roman architecture, you’ll appreciate this museum. Here you will be basically touring ancient Barcelona that dates all the way back to 1st century BC.
Originally founded by Romans and named Barcino, the city has had a colorful history.
You go from ancient Roman period to Middle Ages in the span of 30 minutes.
4) Visiting Apple store in Placa de Catalunya square
This one was for my husband. Hmm, I wonder how he would look with a clip-on man bun…
We did not tour Basilica Sagrada Familia, but you can read about it here if you wish. We could see the building from our apartment, and it looked like an amazing feat of architecture.
Barcelona is a fascinating place to visit and I absolutely recommend it if you love history, architecture and Spanish food. I feel like we barely scratched the surface during our trip, so I hope that someday I’ll get a chance to return. I definitely think it’s a good pace to bring young children, especially if you are OK with dining at McDonald’s and seeing lingerie ads every few feet. You can also do some neat day trips from Barcelona, but that’s a story for another post.
Readers, if you’ve been to Barcelona, please chime in!
Leana is the founder of Miles For Family. She enjoys beach vacations and visiting her family in Europe. Originally from Belarus, Leana resides in central Florida with her husband and two children.