A city tour of Spain: Barcelona, Valencia and Madrid

In the midst of summer, we decided to visit Spain. Somewhere I have always meant to go, but never quite got around to. Phil was already going to be in Barcelona for the Sonar music festival, so it made sense for me to fly over and join him. And so began our ten day Spanish city tour…..word of warning- you will put on a stone in ten days from all the food and alcohol!

Barcelona

Barcelona is everything everyone says it is and more – it is a city that does not disappoint. It has everything – Amazing architecture, history, tasty food, beaches, a seaside breeze and infinite amounts of charm. With four days to spend here we tried to squeeze in as much as we could, along with some poolside relaxing! We stayed in the K+K Hotel Picasso – very easy to get to by bus from the airport and well situated next to the Parc de la Ciutadella, Barceloneta and the gothic quarter. The best thing about it was the rooftop pool – trust me, in June/July you need to have a pool to jump into!

Day 1: After checking into our hotel we took a stroll around the Parc next to the hotel and the Arc to Triomf before heading to Gaudi’s Park Guell by metro. The metro is really easy to use and we bought a Targeta T-10 ticket which allowed us to take ten separate journies and you can share one ticket between two people if you aren’t staying in the city long. Park Guell is a bizarre place where Gaudi turned his hand to landscape gardening. We spent an enjoyable couple of hours strolling around it, however the central area of the park now charges an entrance fee. We did not pay to go in here, but it is advisable to book this online in advance if you want to go inside as there were some lengthy queues. We returned to our hotel late afternoon for a cool off in the pool before heading to La Barcelonata for an evening stroll, sangria and dinner.


Day 2: We had booked our ticket online for La Sagrada Familia at 10am in an attempt to go at a slightly quieter time of day and it did pay off. This unfinished building, (apparently technically not a cathedral), designed by Gaudi is absolutely magnificent and if you do nothing else in Barcelona you must see this! From the outside, the cathedral is bizarre and almost looks like it has melted, but from the inside, it is even more phenomenal – with a completely different airy feel to it. I was very surprised how much I enjoyed my visit and the audio guide kept us entertained. We had booked to go up the nativity tower too to get a view over Barcelona. The rest of the day was spent strolling the city with ice creams in hand and enjoying the Latin culture.

Tip: For La Sagrada Familia buy tickets online in advance to beat the queues and make sure you get the audio guide included. If you are an early riser I would book the earliest time slot available to ensure fewer visitors are there at the same time.


Day 3: We did a free walking tour of the Barri Gotic, (tours for tips). A really informative and great way to learn about the history of the area and gain tips on places to eat and drink. The gothic quarter and la Rambla is a brilliant place to wander aimlessly down cobblestone streets and cafe hop. We had a really enjoyable time and later on in the evening we went to the Ziryab Fusion Tapas Bar – a fantastic middle eastern Spanish fusion restaurant.

Day 4: We decided to walk along the coastline and up to Montjuic, passing the Castell de Montjuic along the way. We stopped off at some gardens en route and shade hopped from the burning sun. I had unfortunately decided to wear new sandals that day – an error when we ended up walking for about 5hours. Wear comfortable shoes and take plasters! We then walked down the other side of the hill, passing the phenomenal Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya before winding our way to las Arenas. Las Arenas is an old bullring that has been converted into a shopping centre. You can pay to go on top of the building and sit admiring the views whilst having a drink or some food in the many restaurants. At around 9pm we headed to the nearby Font Magica – a huge water fountain that between thursday and Saturday from May-September turns into a water and light show timed to various contemporary and classical soundtracks. A great way to finish our time in Barcelona.

Valencia

We used trains to travel between the cities – it was easy to buy tickets, however they can be quite expensive, particularly our train from Valencia to Madrid.

Tip: Download the Renfe train app onto your smartphone for travel information.

Valencia felt like a traditionally Spanish city, the centre smaller and more characterful than Madrid and Barcelona. We stayed in an apartment here, in the heart of old town and just off the main square. The mix of Roman and Muslim architecture has left the city with some imposing and beautiful buildings. Valencia has a laid back vibe and you can while away an afternoon in one of the many plazas, people watching with a beer in hand.


Day 1: We arrived arrived in Valencia early afternoon, and after settling into our apartment, we took a walk around the old town before enjoying sangria while the sun set and tasted the famous Valencian rabbit, chicken and bean paella.

Day 2: We went on a free walking tour of the old Valencia – again very informative and a great way to get to know your way around town. Valencia diverted its flood prone river further out of town, and converted the dry riverbed into a lovely green park surrounding the city. We walked the length of the park, but it would probably be a good idea to hire bikes and explore it this way. 

Day 3: We got on the tram and headed to the coast for a day at the beach. The beaches here are sandy and very wide. It is quite windy, so unless you want a sand sandwich it is best to eat at one of the many restaurants along the beach front.

Madrid

Our final stop of the trip was Madrid, which of the three cities was my least favourite, although I can’t quite pinpoint why – perhaps it was the oppressive heat in Madrid and lack of sea air. We stayed in an apartment next to the La Latina district – narrow medieval streets renowned for tapas restaurants and bars. The area was lively and fun and definitely worth staying near to. We had a great meal at Casa Lucas and would recommend trying here, although it isn’t a fine dining experience – you sit on wooden stools in a plainly decorated room.

In Madrid we again did a free walking tour of the old town quarter and learnt a lot about not only the history of the city, but the current political situation in Spain and all from a locals perspective. We spent a lot of time walking around Madrid and exploring the various parks. Madrid apparently has brilliant fine art museums, but in the height of summer this was the last thing we felt like doing.  


We also decided to take a day trip from Madrid to Toledo by train- a medieval town home to former mosques, synagogues and churches, all on top of a hill. We walked from the train station to Toledo which I would recommend to get the impressive views of this provincial capital from afar. I had the “Spain” Lonely Planet guide which included a city walk that we followed. Armed with a packed lunch, we walked all day, exploring this pretty little town. By the end of the day we were completely exhausted! Sadly we did not come away with the seemingly obligatory Toledo sword souvenir, but instead with a few additional blisters.


Our trip to Spain was brilliant. We came back infinitely heavier then we left because of all the delicious pan con tomate, churros, paella and sangria. The “golden triangle” of Spain is worth a trip!

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