Catalonian capital of Barcelona provides a vivid mix of ancient and modern but is probably best known for the bizarre Art Nouveau architecture of Antonio Gaudi, in particular the iconic Sagrada Familia, Europe’s most extraordinary – and still unfinished – cathedral.

Boosted by hosting the Olympic Games in 1992, Barcelona’s Old Port area has been transformed into a thriving area of cafés and restaurants. From there, it is an easy stroll up the famous Rambla to the old town. Las Ramblas is thronged with street entertainers, stalls and bars and is most lively at night and weekends. Not to be missed is the La Boqueria food market with its extraordinary displays of fish, meat, fruit and vegetables.

Some of the best food in Spain can be found in the city – paella is a speciality – and the restaurant Cal Pep was recently named as one of the top 50 places to eat in the world.

There is so much to see in the city; you need to decide what you want to see first. The great thing about Barcelona, a lot of Western Med cruises stop here, so if you are planning another Med Cruise, you can see more of the city the next time.

Warning – Barcelona have the most devious street criminals, they work in gangs – even use small children.

The ship berths a fair way from the main city. There are a few ways into town, if eligible there is the free ships shuttle, you can walk but it is about 2.5 miles, taxi, port taxis charge a €15 premium on top of the meter fare. There is now a service bus, T3 Port Bus on the front, from where the ship berths to St Columbus at bottom of Las Rambles. €2 single €3 return, it seems to run all day when ships are in, frequent service. The shuttle or bus will drop you off at the World Trade Centre which is at the bottom of Las Ramblas about 10 mins walk from the Christopher Columbus monument. Once at the monument stand with your back to the sea and Las Ramblas is across the square in front of you.

Now before you go any further did you know that you can go to the top of the Christopher Columbus column? It is approx. €6pp, the lift accommodates 4 pax and the lift attendant, and you can actually feel it moving at the top! Fabulous views all around the city and Las Ramblas. Close to the bottom of the Ramblas is Port Vell, which is a marina with bars and shops and a huge aquarium. There is also a cable car close by.

HOHO buses are well worth the few Euros it costs to use, three routes colour coded plus they include headphones to listen to on board commentary. The Red open top tour buses stops right by the drop off point of the shuttle buses. One thing to think about, Barcellona in the hight of summer is very very hot and the traffic is horrendous. So if up on top wear a hat and take plenty of water, you are going to feel the heat.

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Taxis are not too expensive if you wanted to use them to get from one place to another, however see above, and the Metro works really well too.

For the Metro: A very short walk up Las Ramblas you will see on the left the entrance to the Metro (a red M on a white background). Firstly you will need cash to get your tickets, there are no staff kiosks it is all automated but don’t worry there is an English option. You can purchase an all-day travel ticket which was €7.90pp (2013) same price for adults and children. When you first go through the barriers the ticket does take a while to register so don’t worry if you don’t get it back immediately after the first use though it is very quick.

Taxis are an affordable alternative to public transport. A 15 minutes journey will only cost about €15.00. Licensed Taxis have to charge you the amount displayed on the meter. However if you are carrying extra luggage there may be a small surcharge. Rates will be displayed inside the cab. Tipping is welcomed but not required. If you wish to give a tip give 5 to 10% of the Taxi fare. Official Barcelona Taxis are yellow and black and a green illuminated light on the top of the Taxi indicates that it’s available for hire.

The Rambles is the main street that everyone heads for. This is fascinating with its street entertainers, shops, bars and restaurants. When you get to the top of the Ramblas turn to your right, that leads to El Cortes Ingles and if you go to the top floor the views are stunning. Also a visit to the Boqueria Market (halfway up Las Ramblas on the left) is a definitely a must-see.

The La Sagrada Familia: gets very busy with long queues waiting to go inside. If you do want to enter there are different admission fees depending on what you want to do. However, it is just beautiful to walk around the outside to see the fascinating contrast between the original Gaudi part at the front and the more modern architecture at the back.

A visit to Park Guell is amazing; it does get very busy with tourist buses and school trips but it is still worth a visit. The park is split into two areas. The Monumental Park is small, but there is a larger park around it. Allow about 2 hours. The Monumental Park opens at 10am and costs €8pp (2015). The rule is you can enter at your given time only and can stay as long as you like, but when you leave you cannot re-enter, tickets are checked. After opening only 400 visitors can enter every 30 mins. There is some beautiful architecture and quirky areas in there and it shows how Gaudi thought and built, worth a visit. If you take the Metro or HOHO bus there is a 20 minute steepish uphill walk from the Metro to the park. If you are worried about getting back then there are normally loads of taxis outside the gates.

Visits to Nou Camp, the HOHO bus stops outside you can tour the stadium and then get back on the bus after your visit. These buses can be picked up at the bottom of Las Rambles. If all you want to do is go to the Stadium then the metro is quicker and much cheaper. Get on at Drassanes (over the road from the Columbus monument where the cruise ship shuttles drop off) get the S2 green line and get off at Les Corts. It’s a short 5 min walk from there.

There are plenty of beaches within a short walk of Christopher Columbus Column. Nova Icaria, Bogatell, Mar Bella and Barceloneta are all beaches in Barcelona which have restaurant and café lined promenades.

Further afield:
A trip to the spectacularly beautiful Benedictine monk mountain retreat of Montserrat Monastery is a must. The cable car ride up the mountain is simply spectacular.

You could go to Sitges, only 20mins on the train, €9 return from Barcelona Sants station.

By Peter Dagnall

See our holiday photos click here.

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