We spent ten days in Barcelona during the hot European summer of 2019. We went with the whole family as my parents also flew in from the UK. We flew in from Munich after a week in Bavaria racing Challenge Roth (in the Race Blog). We stayed very close to Sagrada Familia, more on that later.
Highlights: Sagrada Familia; Castell de Montjuic; Museu Olimpic & Stadio Olimpico; Museu Picasso; our Harbour boat trip and the Guinness at Michael Collins Pub!
Lowlights: Las Ramblas; the hot weather; too many tourists and pickpockets!
The location where we stayed was great in theory, just a 4-5 minute walk to Sagrada Familia. I chose to stay here as I had fond memories from our 2016 trip to Rome when we stay just a stones-throw away from St Peter's Square and the Basilica. Although also very busy, we enjoyed many a cool evening stroll to the Square and the Basilica after the daytime crowds had dispersed. Unfortunately at Sagrada Familia, it's pretty much closed off and there is no question of popping in free of charge during the evenings. However, it was nice to stroll and sit in the adjacent park, then try and decipher the wide range of Gaudi's interesting designs on the Sagrada's facades.
We did make it inside on one occasion - lining up for the free morning service at 9:00am every Sunday. If ours was a typical Sunday, it included a small collection of the faithful; those who only go to Church at Easter & Christmas; those looking for the free experience and a few who had rolled in from a late night on the town. No photos were allowed, but this was universally ignored. The service was in English, French, Spanish, Catalan and Italian, so we understood around 15%. It was uncomfortably hot and stuffy inside, and the need to stand up for long periods saw a few leave early, and many to give up trying to follow, sit down and check their phones. I'm glad we went in, but I'm not sure this was what Gaudi had in mind.
It's definitely worth spending one day taking in Castell de Montjuic, the Olympic Museum & Stadium (if you like sports) and the Placa Nacional.
I didn't enjoy Las Ramblas, a lovely wide old street, but basically a tourist trap. Don't sit down and have a drink - you will be ripped off. Our order was 'mixed up' and after several failed attempts to rectify the bill, I lost my cool and demanded that they sort it out. Their reaction was to call the Police. Fortunately my patient family managed to explain the situation to the Manager and we left just as the Police turned up. I'm pretty sure this happens to most people and they don't bother to argue.
I loved the old town area around Museu Picasso. The museum itself was great, but too busy for me to enjoy. Museum of Modern Art was also good to visit.
My personal highlight was the day England won the Cricket World Cup. My Dad and I saw the start at the Michael Collins Pub, but were eventually evicted in favour of Gaelic Football. After a fruitless trek to find an alternative venue, we ended up back at the apartment watching a stream on the laptop - thank you Phoebe! An amazing match and the right result in the end.
Always heed the many warnings about pickpockets - they are prevalent. If you don't need it, don't take it with you, and if you do take it, keep it well hidden. One of our group had their wallet stolen - fortunately no major loss, but can be avoided. Looking back on the incident, I saw the pair in action. They selected us as we waited for the train, then one got on the train directly in front of the victim with one right behind. The one in front stops causing a crush and the wallet is gone. The wallet is passed on as they wait, and they leave the train just as the doors are closing and go their separate ways. All too easy.
All in all, I look back on a great trip to an interesting old city. In hindsight, probably a bit too long to stay in one place, but you can't put a price on 10 days spent with family.
The Lowdown... Where we stayed: Sagrada Familia Apartments What I said at the time: Most people will be drawn to these apartments for the location - just 2-3 minutes walk to Sagrada Familia. They are surrounded by all manner of cafes, restaurants, supermarkets etc., so very convenient. Metro station also close by, so easy to get around Barcelona from here. While you are reminded in advance that these apartments are 'local', one of the things to note is that they are definitely noisy, and here are no polite reminders to be respectful to other guests. The group below us arrived home at 3am and had no issues with keeping everyone awake with them. The walls were thin on the 4th floor too - I have no idea who I could hear, but it was quite loud. The bathroom shower drains (in two apartments) had a nasty screw poking out. The toilet in one apartment leaked a lot and flush did not function. Would we stay there again: No.