Updated: Aug 3, 2022
I can't remember exactly when my obsession with Spain began. Perhaps it was as a little girl, wandering around my grandmothers house, looking at the beautiful flamenco dancer figurines on her dresser, and the intricately painted wooden castanets. They were lookies, not touchies. She kept a delicate lace fan in her black patent leather clutch she took to church, and a lace head cover she wore for funerals. When Gwyneth Paltrow and Mario Battali's special, Spain on the Road was televised, I watched every episode, and have read every page of the accompanying cookbook. Gwyneth is great, but I believe my true connection to Spain came when I did my ancestry work and discovered my ancestors came from Cantabria, the Canary Islands, and Andalusia.
Mercat Santa Caterina
My first visit to the vibrant Spanish city of Barcelona was in January 2019. Although summer is peak season for the beautiful beaches of Barcelona, I loved our winter visit! The city was not crowded, we were able to visit all of the places on my itinerary, and we never stood in line for anything! After all, if you're flying all the way to Europe from North America, do you really want to spend the entire time standing in line, worrying about getting pick pocketed, and sweating with thousands of other tourists? Me neither. Winter is magical in Barcelona! Here is our 5 day itinerary.
Day 1 - Check in to Mandarin Oriental, visit La Boqueria
Our flight arrived in Barcelona early in the morning. We checked in to the beautiful Mandarin Oriental Barcelona and had breakfast. The staff was incredibly kind and accommodating-another advantage of traveling in the off season! Our room was lovely, with a balcony that overlooked the Mimosa Garden.
We took a quick power nap, then walked along Passeig de Gràcia which is lined with designer shops (Loewe, Burberry, Balenciaga, Chanel, Gucci, Dior) and restaurants. The Australian Open was under way and the concierge recommended we stop in CocoVail Beer Hall. This place is great! The walls are lined with license plates from all over the United States, the wings are great, lots of craft beers, and the best part- they always have American sports broadcasts (NFL, MLB, NBA) so you'll never miss a big game! We saw lots of American students studying abroad, we chatted with a lot of them, asked how they liked it, and many of them spoke beautiful Spanish. We have two kids in college and one will graduate high school this year. It was good to talk with the students and get an idea of what studying abroad looks like. If we ever send our kids to Barcelona, we will definitely recommend they pop in here to meet some fellow American friends.
After a good nights sleep, we were ready to start exploring! We had originally planned to visit Barcelona and Madrid but when we landed, we learned that the taxi cab drivers had gone on strike. After speaking to our concierge, they suggested skipping Madrid and staying in Barcelona, which is what we did. Our first stop was a walk down La Rambla to La Boqueria, Mercat St. Josep. These fresh food markets are absolutely incredible, they smell amazing, and we could've spent an entire day here, eating our way around the food stalls. These fresh food markets are such a special treat, we don't have anything like this in Arizona. Some of the best meals we had were at this market.
Day 2 - Walking tour, the Gothic Quarter, and Picasso Museum
I love art and history and I wanted to spend at least one day on a guided tour of the city. I always use Viator to set up our tours and we have had nothing but great experiences.
We chose the Barcelona Art and Tapas Small Group Walking Tour with Picasso Museum. We got lost in the Gothic quarter on our way to meet the tour guide (getting lost is not uncommon). We finally found her and we were the only two in the group, so we ended up with a private tour!
The Gothic Quarter is truly beautiful. The sunlight creeps in between the ancient buildings and cast the most beautiful golden light on the cobblestone paths. Our guide was a well of information and we learned so much about the history of the city. She also filled us in on the current political climate, which is rather messy. We had tapas, visited the Picasso Museum, Mercat Santa Catarina, and ended with the most delicious churros con chocolate.
Spain is a treasure chest of unique architecture. A visit to Barcelona is not complete without exploring the work of Antoni Gaudí, the most famous world renowned Spanish architect. The Sagrada Familia is an overwhelmingly detailed Catholic Basilica that Gaudí dedicated over forty years of his life to. I booked a visit online before we left for our trip, and we walked right up and followed the self guided audio tour of the inside and outside. As a self proclaimed minimalist, this is quite the opposite of what normally draws me, but I admire the dedication, detail, and sincere meaning behind every inch of this beautiful creation.
Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art
I‘ve never met a contemporary art museum I didn’t love, and MACBA was no exception. We took our time wandering the galleries and sat outside and watched the skateboarders. My husband grew up skating, so it was cool to see how universal the sport is. We spent the rest of the day wandering the streets on foot, popping into small stores and coffee shops. Grey Street Barcelona was one of my favorites.
For our last day in Barcelona, we hopped in an Uber and rode to Gaudí‘s Park Güell. It's incredibly beautiful and again shows how dedicated Gaudí was to his craft.
Tennis! Of course tennis! This trip was actually quite last minute and we would’ve loved to stay longer. Spain has a long history of successful professional tennis players, and it’s mild climate makes it an incredible home base for athletes like Rafa, Garbiñe Muguruza, Paula Badosa, and many more. The ATP and WTA tours have several stops in Spain throughout the year, so it would be easy to plan your trip around visiting one of these tournaments:
April - Barcelona Open ATP 500
May - Mutua Madrid Open ATP Masters 1000/WTA 1000
June - Mallorca Championships ATP 250
October - Tenerife Ladies Open WTA 250
Now is the perfect time to start planning for a trip to Spain! My complete city guide to Barcelona is coming soon, and will include places to eat, shop, play tennis, and some helpful hints on getting around, what to do before your trip, as well as great films, series, and books to inspire your trip!