Day 1. First day in Barcelona

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Las Ramblas, Barcelona
After an overnight stay in London, we took the Terravision coach from Liverpool Street out to Stansted Airport.  It only takes about an hour as the airport is located just off  the M11 motorway.  We’d booked an early morning Ryanair flight and this departed promptly, resulting us being in the centre of Barcelona by 11.00 am.

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The Market, Las Ramblas
It was too early to check in to our hotel so we started exploring from the Placa de Catalunya at the head of Las Ramblas, the famous pedestrianised road that leads to the sea.  Las Ramblas was crowded with tourists, street entertainers,  artists and more.  On our right we came to ‘La Boqueria Market’, it’s a huge glass structure filled with all kinds of fresh produce, pyramids of colourful fruit and vegetables beautifully displayed and crowds of locals buying their groceries alongside tourists, like me taking photos.

A short walk away is the Placa Reial (Royal Square), this is the historic square located between Las Ramblas and Barrio Gotico (Gothic District).  The square is lined with palm trees, restaurants and bars beneath the stone arched walkways around the edges.

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Placa Reial, Barcelona
Not far away we found ourselves in front of the cathedral, here large stands and barriers had been erected as the square was hosting the start of Stage 49 of the Rally de Espanya.  Just as we arrived, the rally cars were taking part in a pre race parade so we joined the crowds and watched awhile.    This is just one of the reasons why I love travelling, discovering the unexpected .

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The marina, Barcelona
It was then time for a cool drink along the Ramblas de Mer (seafront) we enjoyed basking in the warm autumn sun.  The sea was emerald green with shoals of fish clearly visible below the surface.   We admired the yachts moored in the marina and strolled along the beach watching games of beach volleyball and windsurfers riding the waves.
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Barcelona

We checked into our accommodation late afternoon,  it was a new build studio block oddly named ‘Melon District‘.  Our studio was compact to say the least, but it contained everything we needed, was clean and safe, and we didn’t plan to be spending much time in it anyway.  After a meal in the Melon cafe we headed back out to see Barcelona at night.  We took the metro to Placa Espanya for the light and music performance  ‘Font Magica‘ which is held twice nightly at weekends. It’s an amazing spectacle with illuminated fountains cascading down terraces from the Palais Nacional down to the Placa d’ Espayna.

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Font Magica, Barcelona
We climbed the steps to view the fountains from both the top and the base and found the views to be spectacular from all viewpoints.  We returned to our hotel after a fun filled first day in Barcelona.

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Day 2. A visit to Girona

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Bridge across the Onyar river
After breakfast we took the Metro to Passeig de Gracia and boarded a Renfe MD (Media Distance) train to Girona.  These trains are very comfortable and it took just 75 minutes to reach Girona’s station in the new town.  We picked up a map as we were leaving the station and wandered towards the old town.  In one of the squares there was a wall building competition taking place which seemed to be attracting much interest.

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The old town Girona
We watched awhile and then continued on our way, crossing one of the bridges over the River Onyar to the delightful old town Barri Vell.   The view from the bridge was picture perfect, rows of brightly coloured houses line the river which reflected the light beautifully.  Crossing the bridge, we found ourselves in the old town  with its polished cobblestone lanes, the main thoroughfare ((Rambla de La Libertat) was festooned with flags and was home to the usual mix of small shops, cafes and bars.

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Autumn colours from the fortified walls, Girona
We passed a couple of hours strolling around the maze of narrow lanes, stopping off for drinks in the Independence Square (Placa Indepencia) which was hosting a Saturday, local produce market.  The square had ample seating which was shaded from the sun by large trees.  A sign informed us that the square had been dedicated to troops who fought in the Spanish War in 1808-09.

After our short rest, we continued on, up steep, winding lanes to the cathedral and climbed the long stone staircase to its grand entrance.  From here, we followed the path (Passeig de la Muralla) along the Roman city walls.  

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Along the narrow walls in Girona
These fortified walls are well maintained, narrow and feature watchtowers at regular intervals which are now used as viewpoints.  Walking along the walls, it was very quiet with few other people around.  Far reaching views of the surrounding countryside and hills were gorgeous, especially with the autumnal tints from the trees.   It’s free to walk along the walls, the entire circuit taking approximately one hour.

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Girona
Our walk passed the University of Girona, the Jardins de La Francesca and the Esglesia de San Feliu.  Returning down to the old town we enjoyed a delicious meal sitting out on the terrace of one of the restaurants on Rambla de La Libertat.   We then returned to Barcelona by train having really enjoyed our day in Girona and would definitely be happy to return in the future.

Later in the evening we took the tram to Port Vell (The Marina) and walked along the seafront,  along Rambla de Mar which connects Port Vell to La Rambla.   Along here is the huge Maremagnum Mall,  housing a cinema, IMAX, shops and restaurants.  We had supper at one of the cafes in this complex, sitting out on the terrace by the marina.

Day 3. Taking in the sights of Barcelona

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Placa d’Espana, Barcelona
After breakfast we returned to Placa d’Espanya where we had seen the Font Magica light and sound show.  It all looked very different during the day but nonetheless beautiful.   Our next stop this morning was along to the seafront and a walk from Port Vell, home of the large marina to Plaza Portal de La Pau to take a look at the old Customs House building which was constructed between 1896-1902 in the neo-classical style.

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Old Customs House, Barcelona
At the bottom of the Ramblas stands the large statue of Christopher Columbus and in the far corner the National Maritime Museum which is housed in the medieval former dockyard.  We bought admission tickets and wandered through the vast halls admiring the Spanish galleons and other sailing ships on display.  Included in the admission price is the three mast schooner Santa Eulolia which is moored approximately 500 metres from the museum building, touring both the museum and the ship were very enjoyable and we spent quite sometime viewing the museum artefacts.  After returning to our hotel for a short rest we enjoyed an evening stroll all night the seafront and to end the day we had a delicious meal in one of the restaurants in the old town.

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Schooner in Port Vell that is part of the Maritime Museum

Day 4. Montjuic Castle and La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

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Montjuic Cable Car, Barcelona
Our first stop this morning was to the Montjuic Castle ‘Castell de Montjuic’, set atop Barcelona’s highest point at 173 metres.  To get there we took the Green Line metro to Parallel and then transferred to the Montjuic funicular tram.  It’s then either a steep, 15 minute climb through the gardens to the castle or a leisurely ride on the Montjuic cable car.  We opted to walk, and found it to be an easy path to the top through the Jardins de Massein Cento Verdageur.    Crossing the drawbridge, the moat converted garden is a delight but there’s not a lot to see inside the castle, just a few exhibits of costumes, armoury and weapons.

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The castle entrance, Barcelona
Outside there is a small cafe and walking along the ramparts there were spectacular views across to Barcelona’s port and city.  Next, we followed the ‘Carni del Mar’ footpath down from the south side of the castle.  This path was reasonably well signposted and led to the Botanical Gardens and the Montjuic cemetery ‘Cementin de Montjuic’ both worthy of a short visit.  The Gardens contain many local Mediterranean species and document the natural heritage of Catalonia.

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View from castle, Barcelona
Not far from here the 1992 Olympic Park can be visited,  easily spotted by the Calatrava’s Communication Tower, gleaming white in the autumn sunshine. Most of the site offers free access including the Olympic Stadium which was originally built in 1929 but was enlarged and refurbished for the Barcelona 1992 Olympic Games.  Continuing downhill through yet more gardens, we finally arrived in Placa d’Espanya after an enjoyable morning self guided walking tour.
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Olympic Park, Barcelona

We still hadn’t visited Barcelona’s top tourist attraction, so after three and a half days in the city, we thought it was time to go.  Situated in the Calle de Mallorca, Antonio Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia Basillica (church of the Holy Family) is still unfinished, construction began in 1892 and the predicted completion date is now 2026, the centenary of Gaudi’s death, but whether this new deadline will be met remains to be seen.

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Passeig de Gracia, Barcelona
The iconic basilica is surrounded by huge cranes, and we found it impossible to take photographs without the cranes featuring in the picture.   It’s very crowded around the church, entrànce queues snake round the building with average waiting times being two hours unless pre booked tickets have been purchased.  

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Barcelona beachfront
Tour buses are parked wherever space permits and street vendors try to sell cheap church souvenirs, umbrellas and sunglasses to the vast number of tourists visiting the Sagrada Familia. We found the best place to take photographs was around the side, in a small park.

We examined our map and set off on foot for the Passeig de Gracia, this is Barcelona’s exclusive shopping boulevard, a beautifully wide, tree lined avenue with high end retailers housed in the most wonderful old buildings.  Along here stands ‘Casa Batiko’ a modernist building by Antonio Gaudi.  We enjoyed coffee and cakes in one of the attractive pavement cafes before continuing to Placa de Catalunya for a final walk along the sandy beach and a meal before returning to the hotel to collect our luggage and then to board our flight back to the UK.

If you have enjoyed reading this series of posts on Barcelona you may also be interested in the following Spanish posts:

Andalusia

Fuerteventura 

Madrid

Palma, Mallorca

Weekend in Mallorca