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Three-Day Weekend: Barcelona

By Kaeli Conforti
January 20, 2016
WhereToGo_2015_Spain_ParkGuell_View
Valeriya Potapova/Dreamstime
First-timers say visiting the Catalan city is like living in a dream, with its unique architecture, new flavors, and a rock-and-roll-all-night approach to life.

Sunlight pours through stained-glass windows, illuminating the interior of La Sagrada Família’s columns and pillars, evoking a forest. Wow, I think. That’s just the inside of the cathedral. The building’s magnificent, still-under-construction facade, which depicts famous Bible scenes and is expected to be completed by 2026 (more than 90 years after architect Antoni Gaudí’s death), is what most people come to Barcelona to see. 

The first time I visited the city, I made a tragic rookie mistake: I didn’t plan my visit to La Sagrada Família ahead of time. If I had, I would’ve learned that a special event was taking place on the one day I was able to visit, and only those who had previously purchased tickets could go in. I was out of luck. 

In May 2015, I returned to this beautiful basilica, ticket in hand, and got the experience I’d been waiting for. The price was well worth the view ($16, sagradafamilia.org).

That day, at the basilica, Barcelona became my new favorite place on earth. The same might happen to you, too. Whether you’re an art lover or a foodie, or you simply love strolling along European boulevards admiring beautiful buildings, here’s how to make the most of a quick visit. 

Get your Gaudí fix

Another Gaudí masterpiece, Parc Güell (pronounced “gway”), offers the best panoramic views of the city, but the number of daily visitors is limited. Be sure to get a timed-entry ticket early—up to three months ahead of time online—in order to avoid missing out ($8, parkguell.cat). For a solid primer on the artist’s life, visit Gaudí’s former residence, Casa Milà, with the striking rooftop piece La Pedrera ($22, lapedrera.com). Casa Batlló is another colorful modernist masterpiece based on nature, and the last that Gaudí designed, between 1906 and 1910 ($23, casabatllo.es). 

Feast on tons of tasty tapas 

The best way to enjoy Barcelona’s creative food scene is by ordering plenty of tapas (small plates) and washing them down with a cool, refreshing glass of cava, Spain’s delicious answer to champagne. Sample staples like fried hot green padrón peppers and grilled artichokes topped with Iberian ham at Bar Lobo, located in the trendy El Raval neighborhood (padrón peppers tapas from $6, artichokes tapas from $9, grupotragaluz.com). Or toast the start of a great trip with a glass of the bubbly stuff in the fairy-tale atmosphere at El Bosc de les Fades Café, hidden away in Passatge de la Banca, just a few steps from La Rambla, a beautiful pedestrian-only boulevard that stretches from Plaça de Catalunya to Port Vell. Its montaditos—mini-sandwiches with ham, sausage, and cheese—and olive tapas pair nicely with your cava (from about $4 per glass, montaditos and olive tapas from about $2 each, museocerabcn.com). 

Visit La Boqueria market 

Don’t miss this brightly colored market, located just off La Rambla, where vendors sell locally sourced fruits, vegetables, meats, and cheeses. Stock up on candies and nuts and sip delicious fresh-squeezed juice drinks for a refreshing afternoon treat (prices vary, Rambla, 91 Mercat de la Boqueria, boqueria.info).

Stroll beautiful boulevards and experience local Catalan culture

Strolling La Rambla will be one of your favorite parts of your weekend, but pay close attention to your belongings at all times, as this area is, unfortunately, as popular with pickpockets as any other European hotspot. As you walk along ancient streets, look up and admire the buildings of Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter. On Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. or Sundays at noon, stop by the Catedral de Barcelona to see locals perform the solemn Sardana dance, a proud Catalan custom that was banned under the Franco regime. If you visit in summer, don’t miss the tradition of castellers building tall human towers by standing on one another’s shoulders on Saturday nights at 7:30 p.m.

Stay in the center of town—for less

Experience Barcelona like a local (and save cash) by renting your own private apartment in the city center (from $54, airbnb.com). Generator Barcelona, a new “poshtel” designed to resemble a boutique hotel more than a hostel, offers private rooms and a ton of fun activities like tapas nights, game nights, movie nights, and Barcelona bar crawls designed to help you connect with your fellow travelers (private rooms for two start at $60 per night per couple depending on room style, single bunks from $12 per person per night, generatorhostels.com).

WANNA TAKE A DAY TRIP? TRY SITGES, MONTSERRAT, OR THE DALÍ TRIANGLE

Hop on a 30-minute commuter train on the RD Sud Southbound line from Barcelona-Sants to soak up rays on the beach in Sitges, known for its epic nightlife scene and LGBTQ-friendly atmosphere (round-trip train ticket from about $8, free beach access). Visit Montserrat Monastery for gorgeous mountaintop views and a chance to see where Benedictine monks defied Franco by continuing to hold Catholic mass in the traditional Catalan language. Viator offers half-day trips from Barcelona ($57, viator.com).

Mix some surrealism into the natural beauty and venture to the Dalí Triangle: the Salvador Dalí House in Portlligat, the Gala Dalí Castle in Púbol, and the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres (house from about $12 per person, castle from about $9, museum from about $13; tickets must be reserved online ahead of time, salvador-dali.org). Bus and train service from Barcelona is available but time-consuming, so consider driving (from $97 for a one-day car rental, hotwire.com).

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Inspiration

5 Underrated European Countries You Should Visit Now

By Meagen Collins for Yahoo Travel It’s 2016 and many of you will most likely be making those two big New Year’s resolutions: 1. Lose weight and 2. Travel more!  Well, we are here to help you with the second one.  Not only are we going to inspire you to travel more, but we want to inspire you to outdo your friends this year and discover some of the best off-the-beaten-path European destinations. And guess what? They all are stunningly beautiful — and they’re super affordable too! Score! These unexpected European destinations will give you a serious case of wanderlust, and will have you packing your bags, booking a flight, and discovering the great unknown this year.   1. Kosovo Kosovo, in particular the city of Prizren, is our new favorite spot in Europe. When we were there in November, winter was approaching and the days were becoming colder. But even so, the people were still out enjoying the limited hours of sunshine they had every single day. We discovered locals drinking coffee in the numerous coffee shops around town, restaurants full every night, and bars offering cheap drinks and a chilled atmosphere. A must-see is the view from the Kalaja Fortress.  If it’s a nice day bring a picnic and hang out with the locals, many of whom are happy to chat with foreigners. What to eat: Try pljeskavica, grilled meat stuffed with cheese. We had this dish at Te Syla restaurant and it is seriously the best in town — so good we went back the next day and had it again! The prices is less than five dollars, and many restaurants serve it with salad and fries. Fun fact: Kosovo is the youngest country of the 21st century. It officially declared independence from Serbia on February 17, 2008. Related: The Best Value European Destination You’ve Never Heard Of 2. Albania We visited Tirana and Shkodra, but the coastal towns of the ‘Albanian Riviera’ are a popular place to visit during the warmer months. This country is jam-packed with so much natural beauty it would be a shame to leave it off any European trip. The people are all welcoming, and go above and beyond to help any foreigners in need of assistance. What to eat: Veal appears to be the specialty of Albania — or 'the baby cow’ as it is usually described. We recommend giving the Albanian pilaf a try, rice cooked in seasoned broth. It usually costs around $1 for a small serving. Fun fact: Albania, Armenia, Macedonia, and Vatican City are the only European countries without a McDonald’s branch. 3. Republic of Macedonia The first thing to realize is that there are two Macedonias in Europe. In fact they are side by side. One is the the Republic of Macedonia (sometimes called the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia or FYROM), and the other is a region of Greece. It’s best not to get these mixed up — otherwise you might encounter some rather upset locals.  We visited the capital of the Republic of Macedonia, Skopje, and though it is a city under construction, it’s still beautiful to visit. It’s going to be incredible once it’s finished. You can wander the streets admiring the architecture and art bridges, or head into the Old Bazaar or Bit Pazar area to get a taste of the local market scene. What to eat: Make sure you try pastrmajlija — this is a fried dough pie that is covered with salted and cubed meat pieces and sometimes cheese or egg. Often you’ll get a couple so chili peppers on top as well. The dish is so tasty there’s even a festival for it every fall. A small serving cost around $3 and fed both of us! Fun fact: Of all the Yugoslav territories, Macedonia is the only one that gained independence peacefully. Related: The Cheapest Places in Europe for Just About Anything 4. Montenegro One of the fastest growing tourist destinations in the Balkans, Montenegro offers beautiful coastlines, stunning mountains, and historic old towns to explore. Whilst not as cheap as some other Balkan destinations, you can certainly still get some bang for your buck if you go about it the right way. In the summer months prices go through the roof, but come during the off season and prices of accommodation can sometimes be negotiated. What to eat: Seafood, especially squid known as lignje, is popular in Montenegro. Due to its positioning there is also a lot of Italian influence in local cooking, with Turkish coming in a close second place. The cuisine also revolves around fresh produce including olive oil, olives, and cheese — all of which are divine. Fun fact: Montenegro features in the James Bond movie Casino Royale — but in name only. Bond supposedly bullet trains to the small European country and then joins a high-stakes poker tournament at a hotel there. But the filming was actually done in the Czech Republic. Related: The World is Not Enough: How to Travel Like James Bond 5. Romania We spent close to four months living in Bucharest in 2015, and we fell in love. The people are friendly, the countryside is captivating, and it doesn’t hurt that the cost of living is quite reasonable. Plus, being able to say you’ve visited Dracula’s castle will make you instantly cool with your friends — trust us. What to eat: When heading out for a meal in Romania know this: You will never leave the restaurant hungry. Romanian food is incredible, and the portion sizes are insane.  Make sure you try the grilled minced-meat rolls called mititei (meaning “small ones”). We also liked sarmale, which is minced meat with rice wrapped in either pickled cabbage leaves or vine leaves; it’s served with a few slices of ham or bacon and a nice big helping of polenta. For dessert, order papanasi, a boiled/fried donut of sorts that’s been smothered in jam and cream — heavenly. Fun fact: In 1889 the Romanian city of Timisoara became the first in Europe to have electric street lighting. So there you have it, Europe’s best off-the-beaten-path destinations to visit in 2016. I recommend adding these countries to your itinerary straight away, and as soon as possible too — they won’t be quite so 'unvisited’ in the coming years. 

Inspiration

Have You Taken Our "Where Should You Go in 2016" Quiz?

We knew that our Where Should You Go in 2016 Quiz would be a hit with Budget Travel readers, but we were also psyched that the quiz (which determines your "travel personality" then matches you to one of our top 2016 destinations) is such a hit with our own staff: We’ve all been having a blast taking the quiz, comparing the revealing results (I was pleasantly surprised by my result!), and sharing with our friends and colleagues on social media. Here, a quick look at where our Where Should You Go in 2016 Quiz says we should be going in 2016. How about you? ICELAND, our No. 1 “Where to Go in 2016” destination pick, was recommended to BT’s Photo Editor Whitney Tressel (“My best friend is getting married and I want to plan her bachelorette party in Iceland!”), Media Relations Representative Amy Mironov (“It’s on my bucket list!”) and Digital Project Manager Ruthie Kaposi (“I’ve always wanted to visit its otherworldly landscapes.”). By the way, don’t forget to enter for a chance to win a trip to Iceland! CUBA was my personal quiz result, and, as Editor in Chief (not to mention a Cold War baby), I have to admit that just being able to wholeheartedly recommend this gorgeous, once-forbidden island as a potential travel destination for Americans is a dream come true. Plus, I’ve been repeatedly watching our brand-new exclusive Cuba video and counting the days till I can get there in person. PORTUGAL resonated with a bunch of BT staffers, including President, Publisher Elaine Alimonti (“It’s the choice for foodies like me!”), Advertising Manager Maureen Kelley Stewart (“My husband and I were in Lisbon for 48 hours in 2014 and can’t wait to get back there!”), and Marketing Manager Rosalie Tinelli (“It’s a part of Europe I’ve always wanted to see, and I’m ready for some new and exciting food and wine!”). MARTINIQUE is where the quiz says Senior Editor Jamie Beckman should be headed (“Perfect because not only do I enjoy Caribbean beaches, I also enjoy French wine and cheese. Total win-win!”). GREECE was a nice match for Creative Director Chalkley Calderwood (“I have wanted to go for years and this is a sign that it has to move to No. 1 on my bucket list.”). ISLA HOLBOX, a Mexican dream trip, is apparently perfect for photo director Amy Lundeen (“It’s been on my travel list for years!”) and Lead Developer Chad Harter (“I’m pretty much always looking for a beach vacation.”). SAN ANTONIO is a good fit for Director, Business Development Michelle Craig (“I am a huge fan of culture and history. I hear the River Walk is awesome for a fun-filled evening.”).

Inspiration

Wanna Fly to Havana?

We're still pinching ourselves that travel to Cuba is getting easier and easier, and many of us have rewritten our bucket list with a dream trip to Havana, with its vibrant music scene, great cuisine, and iconic Spanish Colonial architecture and vintage cars, near the top. In fact, Cuba is no. 3 on Budget Travel’s Where to Go in 2016 list. So we were pleased to learn that JetBlue, partnering with Cuba Travel Services, is now offering two charter flights connecting New York and Havana with nonstop service each week. The second weekly flight, departing each Tuesday, was added in response to the U.S. government further easing restrictions so that approved travelers can now travel to Cuba with close relatives. Travelers can now choose between Tuesday flights and Friday flights from JFK to Havana’s Jose Marti International Airport (HAV), bringing the once-off-limits Caribbean island even closer to many more Americans. We’ve been reporting for months about what the future of travel to Cuba may look like, including expanded people-to-people tours and even ferry service from the Florida Keys, but JetBlue is actually serving Americans who want to be among the first to get there. When you’re ready to fly to Cuba from JFK (after meeting the current U.S. guidelines and getting approval), you can book your flight at CubaTravelServices.com (Cuba Travel Services selected JetBlue to operate its charter flights). JetBlue also partners with charter airlines out of Ft. Lauderdale and Tampa, operating on 150-seat Airbus A320s, offering free Wi-Fi, inflight entertainment, free snacks and soft drinks, and the comfy legroom JetBlue passengers have come to expect. "More people are exploring the possibility of travel to Cuba with government restrictions easing this year, and we are happy to accommodate that growing demand," said Scott Laurence, senior vice president airline planning at JetBlue. "We thank Cuba Travel Services for trusting us to serve Cuba-bound customers with the JetBlue's award-winning experience on their way to Havana." "Cuba Travel Services is excited for all the positive changes allowing more Americans to visit Cuba. We are offering more flexibility to our travelers and introducing our new online booking engine at CubaTravelServices.com, which will allow passengers to reserve and purchase their tickets in real time," said Michael Zuccato, General Manager at Cuba Travel Services. "Our partnership with JetBlue will facilitate the high quality travel experience our clients have grown accustomed to."

Inspiration

#BTReads: Our Favorite Travel Books

A Room with a View (E.M. Forster) manages to be a romantic comedy, travelogue, and deeply moving rumination on art and mortality at the same time. No small feat, but Forster (author of Howard’s End and A Passage to India) is no small writer. When Lucy Honeychurch arrives in Florence from the U.K. with her uptight spinster cousin, Charlotte, she has no idea that accepting a “room with a view” from a quirky neighbor at their pensione will, over the ensuing months, open up a more figurative “view” that will change her life. Spoiler alert: best literary kiss ever. —Robert Firpo-Cappiello, Editor in Chief Bill Bryson’s love letter to Australia, In a Sunburned Country, has quickly become my all-time favorite travel book. I’ve always dreamed of doing what he did—driving from city to city, meeting locals along the way, and writing about it. Bryson’s style of storytelling keeps you captivated and following along with his adventures like you’re hearing about the travels of a close friend, and all the while he’s delivering historical context in a hilariously entertaining way. As Bryson says at the end, “You see, Australia is an interesting place. It truly is. And that really is all I’m saying.” —Kaeli Conforti, Digital Editor  My favorite kind of novel is one in which I can relate to the characters—or at least get the urge to venture alongside them. Bernadette Fox, the protagonist in Where’d You Go, Bernadette, by Maria Semple,isn’t someone you’d readily admit to seeing yourself in, but she’s so real, so fierce, so flawed, so…infamous. She’s a non-conforming Seattle mom, an esteemed architect, a humorist, and a best friend to her daughter. As you might infer, one day Bernadette disappears. What I love most is it’s not so much a mystery novel as it is a psychological exploration of an endearing character through travel-related occurrences. —Whitney Tressel, Photo Editor The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, set in New York City, makes me see the city with fresh eyes. There is so much history hidden in plain sight in New York, and the author, Michael Chabon, brings out the city’s romance, energy, and mystery. I’ve lived here all my life, but when I read this book, it makes me want to get a map and a bike and explore. In Kavalier & Clay, the cousins work in the Flatiron District, and many old buildings that are referenced are still standing. It feels like the characters could be there now. —Amy Lundeen, Photo Director A Moveable Feast, by Ernest Hemingway, might seem like an obvious choice, but when you dive into the stories about Hemingway’s time in 1920s Paris, hanging out with the likes of Gertrude Stein, you’ll see why the book remains a classic. Hemingway’s tales of arguing with wannabe literary critics in cafés, nursing a drunken F. Scott Fitzgerald (whom he was clearly jealous of), and drinking Châteauneuf du Pape with steak frites at lunch make Paris vibrate as a freewheeling, energetic, creative place where writers are welcome to linger at bistros perfecting their masterpieces. When I’m lucky enough to go to Paris, I always visit one of Hemingway’s old haunts. —Jamie Beckman, Senior Editor

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