Barcelona is highly walkable and worth the time to truly soak in the atmosphere. From the Hotel Condes to the Maritime Museum at the end of Las Ramblas takes approximately 35-40 minutes of strolling on flat, slightly sloping ground. That’s it. On a beautiful day, it’s something you shouldn’t miss out on enjoying during your Holland America Cruise. Here are a few of the sights that draw visitors back again and again, which are best seen on foot.
Much of Old Barcelona, including the city’s Gothic Quarter, looks like something Dr. Seuss might have designed if he had been channeling Edgar Allan Poe. At once whimsical and brooding, Old Barcelona is all about contrasts. And yet, Old Barcelona – set within the city’s Gothic Quarter – has this odd beauty to it. Street performers are everywhere, doing everything from blowing large bubbles for the kiddies to singing full-blown operas. The old town is linked by Sant Jaume Square, which was where the Roman Forum presided over the city some 2,000 years ago. Its use today is still political: the headquarters of the Catalonian government occupy these buildings. Then, there’s King’s Square – now a cozy little placa housing outdoor cafes, but once Barcelona’s preferred spot for executing members of the populace that wouldn’t fall in line. Ah, the good old days…
Of course, the once place you hear about a lot in Barcelona is Las Ramblas. Running for just about 1.2 kilometers, it is an attractive pedestrian zone bordered by two lanes of traffic on either side. It’s also a tourist (and, accordingly, pickpocket) haven, with stalls of vendors selling their hand-crafted wares and restaurateurs beckoning you to try their Tapas – which, they assure you, are the best the city has to offer.
It’s called Sant Jordi’s Day, and it happens every April 23. Those of you from the UK might know it better as Saint George’s Day, which commemorates the death of Saint George in 303AD. But the Catalonians in Barcelona celebrate this day through books and roses. Booksellers sweating it out under makeshift stalls line nearly every major thoroughfare in the city, from the busy shopping mecca of De Gracia street outside the Hotel Condes all the way south to Las Ramblas and beyond. In between every bookseller: a rose shop, selling roses real and fake. The rose symbolizes the ultimate gift among people who love each other, and – according to legend – symbolizes the story of Montblanc. You know the one: the knight saves the princess from the clutches of a fearsome dragon.
You also shouldn’t miss out on Barcelona’s fantastic Maritime Museum, located conveniently across the street from the first cruise ship berths at the Barcelona World Trade Center. The Maritime Museum is noteworthy for existing in the space that was occupied by the city’s former shipyard, which dates back to medieval times. The entrance fee is normally €7 per person, but if you arrive on a Sunday after 15:00 (3:00 p.m.), your admission is free. It’s one of the best deals in the city. Save the €14 per couple and buy a pitcher of Sangria instead. Just beyond the port, adventurers shouldn’t miss the chance to stroll around the Els Encants Vells market on Ave. Meridina 73. Built in 2007, it’s the funkiest-looking flea market you’ve ever seen, and vendors are selling everything from old VHS copies of Total Recall to faucets and Black & Decker power tools. One entire table was devoted to cassette tapes. Another, nothing but dolls’ heads. It’s an architecturally-impressive yet decidedly greasy experience.
Of course, you can’t go to Barcelona without seeing the breathtaking works of Antoni Gaudi. Intrinsically linked with Barcelona, the famous son of Catalonia has left his mark on the city, with Parc Guell, Casa Batllo and the unfinished Sagrada Familia drawing the biggest crowds. A tip for Casa Batllo and Sagrada Familia: you should pre-book tickets on-line in advance of your visit. You won’t save yourself any money (both attractions clock in at nearly €30 per person to visit), but you will save yourself time: lines to purchase tickets at both attractions can be overwhelmingly long. What fascinates me most about these structures (aside from their gorgeous construction) is that they weren’t fully appreciated when Gaudi was alive. Parc Guell was a financial failure, and never managed to attract the business Gaudi had wanted. Of the projected 60 plots of land in the park, only two were ever sold – and one of the buyers was Gaudi himself. Then, there’s the always-unfinished Sagrada Familia, which has spawned a small cottage industry of workers and artisans who have been trying since 1882 to finish the thing. One completion estimate lists 2026 – the centenary of Gaudi’s death – as a potential completion date. Of course, locals will tell you the timeline for completion has been ratcheting up for generations. Other estimates list 2028, 2030, or 2032 as possible dates to finally finish Gaudi’s greatest masterpiece. Don’t just look at the exterior – you have to go inside Sagrada Familia to fully appreciate its grandeur and majesty. If it doesn’t take your breath away – I feel sorry for you.