Our traveller Vijay Ram has set his sights on Spain. Here’s what he discovered on his Barcelona and Madrid vacation.
Spain always takes a special corner in everyone’s heart – especially when it comes to exploring Europe. Mine was one such dream trip, too. Visiting Barcelona and Madrid fulfilled my bucketlist. Best part of Spain? Its weather, of course. Between November and March, while the most of Europe is freezing, Spain basks in its pleasant weather.
Why I Spain:
Vibrant: From beaches to food to festivals and nightlife, Spain is a pretty happening place. A cocktail of experiences await at every region – nightlife at Barcelona, tapas at Madrid and history at Sagrada Familia.
Easy on the wallet: It is quite an affordable European country – inexpensive hotels and flights are a reality here!
Travel Easy: Most places in and around the city are accessible via metro and buses.
Festivals: It is also famous for festivals like Tomatina, Bull run, Flamenco.
Schedule your visit to the festival you’d like to attend.
Language is a barrier you may counter while here, as some people do not speak English. All said, it’s now time to pack your bags and start planning Spain trip.
Some handy tips for your Spain trip:
Avoid travelling during months June to August as temperature soars up and it’s hot. It hits 40 degrees, even.
If you are planning to attend festivals like Tomatina or Bull run, make sure you book flights and hotels well in advance and as rates will be steeper.
Learn basic Spanish before going as most people don’t know English and you may find it difficult in local and remote areas of Spain.
The Spaniards have their dinners very late, hence most restaurants won’t open till 8pm.
Pickpockets are quite common in Spain. Hence be cautious while in crowd, avoid speaking to unknown strangers and avoid wearing expensive jewellery, watches etc.Carry required sunscreens, coolers and appropriate clothing if you are there for the summer.
Find out more about public transport such as buses/metros to take, as they are very cheap and you’ll spend less compared to taking taxis.
Barcelona is known for its beautiful, but eccentric, architecture and being home to many UNESCO Heritage sites. Here’s what to not miss while there:
It was one of the best places I’ve visited in Barcelona. Awestruck by its architecture, no wonder it’s the largest Roman Catholic church. Hats off to Gaudi who had designed it so beautifully and you will be overwhelmed by its art. It’s modern but historical too. Everything about it is unique – the system of construction, and sculptures, windows. A must see if you are in Barcelona. It is still under construction and expected to be completed by 2025. And be advised, you should buy ticket online to go to tower as well as explore the basilica (18€ per person) otherwise you must wait at least a half a day to get in.
Yet another one of Gaudi’s work, I loved Park Guell for its stunning views. I enjoyed strolling through the park and the art and architecture was simply amazing. It also has the aerial views of Barcelona city which is another spot for photographers. Take a guided tour with a professional to understand significant designs and theories. You need to book in advance to get to the areas of real beauty of this park, as the free entry doesn’t allow to all the areas. Gaudi’s use of recycled glass and ceramics added to my appreciation of the sculptures and decorations. A must visit place in Barcelona for all tourists.
Las Ramblas Street and Casa Batllo
Most popular street in Barcelona, I took the walking tour with a localite to enjoy its charm. There are plenty of things to do around here. You can find a lot of human statues, who look almost like a real statue. Though they can be tourists traps, throwing a euro into one of their boxes won’t hurt anyone.
You can try out local food, visit art galleries and relax your day out. Casa Batllo has quite artistic building and shows more of Gaudi’s masterpiece. Worth a visit.
Placa Espanya and Montjuic
Yet another highlight of Barcelona are their Plazas and fountains which are so beautiful under lights. I loved the evening stroll and relaxing all night at this place with some tapas and drinks. Magic fountain is best to see at nights, with vivid lights and music around. The plaza is at the base of Montjuic and the view uphill is amazing. Then I spent some time exploring Palau national museum of Catalan art. There were a lot of restaurants around this area where you can taste your buds with local food.
Placa de Catalunya and Barri Gothic
Central of Barcelona, this plaza has lots to offer. Especially after a long day of roaming I reached here to chill off the evening with some shopping and nice food. Its got Barri Gothic at walking distance, which is the centre of old Barca. There are quite a number of ancient medieval buildings of 19th century here. Then I visited the Catalunya square where you can see some of gorgeous statues and a galore of pigeons. You can relax a while feeding the pigeons and enjoy your evening.
Camp Nou Barcelona Stadium
Being an ardent fan of Messi and Barcelona club, Camp Nou was on my list of places to see in Spain. Largest stadium in Spain and Europe, took a guided tour and witnessed history and trophies which were incredible. It’s a must see and do for the football/soccer fanatic. Seeing the pitch, the media area and the dressing room was good. The best part is getting out on the field, both at various seat levels and on the actual sidelines at field level. Recommend this experience if you are into sports else you can give it a miss.
Anello Olympico & Port Vell
Next few good places to visit would be the Olympic stadium of Barcelona which is quite closeby Montjuic. Its best to take a hop on hop off bus which would cover all these places. You can visit the stadium if you wish or take few photos from outside itself which has beautiful locations. After visiting the Olympic park I hopped onto to my next stop Port Vell. It’s a happening place with lot of cruises, boats and yatchs. The area looks magnificient with the Christopher Columbus statue in centre and artistic trees all around giving its vibrant touch.
One of European Union’s biggest cities, Madrid is only sparsely dotted with medieval architecture. It is, although, home to abstract works of sculpture ranging from the Fountain of Neptune to the Statue of Bear and the Strawberry Tree. Madrid is also known for its very happening nightlife with tapas bars to flamenco theatres and cocktail lounges. Get started with:
Museums of Madrid
Well with around one and half days in Madrid, I ve decided to see some of the museums Madrid is famous for. Stopped first in Prado National museum which had the largest art collection and if you’re really interested in history, you can spend close to half day in this museum. Sorella museum is another stop where you can see amazing paintings and its best preserved. Arquelogico National museum has prehistorical remains from various cultures. There are few other museums which you can prioritize and visit as per your interest.
Royal Palace of Madrid
It was the most luxurious palace I’ve ever visited. It takes you through the rich history of Spanish dynasty. The royal armoury and painting gallery has lots of treasures to see. There is change of guards which happens every Wednesday. Try visiting early morning or late evening as there will be lot of crowd at other times and you must wait in queue.
Retiro Park and Plaza de Cibeles
Well maintained and doused in greenery, it is one of Madrid’s hugest parks. There is a beautiful lake inside the park and you can take boating if you wish. Go to the cafes at the end of park, relax with some tapas and beer. Plaza de Cibeles is another iconic fountain which is beautiful under lights. It’s the traditional spot where Real Madrid football players catch up after winning. There is huge traffic at other times around this plaza.
Foods to try in Spain
Local Spanish meal to try when you’re visiting Spain. It’s the best in the world.
I loved the streetside tortillas rich with various fillings. Must try!
Traditional rice with lots of vegetables, seafood, chicken and other spices.
My most favorite dessert. Custard with vanilla, lemon, cinnamon toppings
Spaniards are specialists when it comes to prawn dishes. So delicious!
Spanish wines are most unique and goes well with the tapas.
Most famous drink of Spain and it quenches the summer days well.
Planning the ideal Spain trip
A one week itinerary. With 3 days for Barcelona + 2 days for Madrid.
Travel between March to May or September to November. (You may even club it with Portugal!)Go for Pickyourtrail.
And that’s the end of my 5 days trip to Spain, which had been more of a historical trip. With lots of wonderful memories gained, one trip is not enough for Spain. I’m planning my next Spain trip which would cover along Ibiza, Majorca, Tenerife, Gran Canaria covering lots of beaches and islands.
Vijay is a techie, globetrotter, a bookworm with an endless bucket list. Began with a trip to Asia with his friends, he has travelled across Africa, Middle East, United Kingdom and Europe. 39 countries and counting.