Barcelona with family

I’m sitting here drinking a Mahou (Spanish beer) and thinking…what better time to write about my trip to Barcelona. Barcelona, the most visited city in Spain by tourists. The capital of Cataluña, the birthplace of cava, the home of Gaudí, a meeting place of gothic architecture and modernism. And so many people ask, which city is better, Madrid or Barcelona?

Even though I’ve visited both cities, I don’t think I’ll ever be a good person to ask that question. I lived in Madrid, I struggled in Madrid, I made countless memories in Madrid, I fell in love with Madrid. There’s a hole in my heart from leaving Madrid.

That being said, the two cities are so different, and each has unique things to offer. Both are amazing and worth visiting. So, let’s talk about Barcelona! Because I absolutely loved my few days there.

My cousin Caitlin told me that her, her sister, brother in law, and parents would be visiting Barcelona in early August. I had always wanted to visit Barcelona, and seeing the city with them I knew would be extra fun, so I planned to meet them there. I took the fast train from Madrid to Barcelona (just a 3 hour trip) and stayed in an airbnb.

Large, comfy seats in the fast train

I got to Barcelona before my family, so I took a few hours to explore around. To get around, I decided to rent a bike. It was a great decision–good exercise, cheap, and the weather was perfect. Also, Barcelona is a very bike friendly city. There are dedicated bike lanes, some separated from car lanes with a barrier.

A roundabout with a dedicated bike lane. It was a little confusing!

My first stop was down to the beach. I knew that Barcelona was a coastal city, but I never imagined that it had a nice sandy beach. It was packed with people!

Biking through the port


The crowded beach


More bike lanes along the beach

My poor cousin was struggling with her ride from the airport and finding her airbnb, so I went to get something to eat while I waited for her to arrive. I ended up in a bar called La Bombeta, famous for their “bombas” which are basically mashed potato balls stuffed with meat, fried, and served with brava and aioli sauces on top.

The server warned me that the red sauce is spicy. It wasn’t that spicy! I should have asked for more.

Later on, I met up with the family–it was so great to see them! I hadn’t seen them since August of 2015. We went out for dinner and drinks. We tried a few different pinchos, which I told them were one of my favorite types of tapas.

In the morning we went out for breakfast and it was delicious! I got french toast. Caitlin is really good at scoping out good places to eat, and this one did not disappoint.


Then we decided to take a walk around the Gothic Quarter.

Wandering through the gothic quarter

After wandering around and taking in the sights for a while, we settled down in a plaza with a beautiful cathedral and some outdoor seating to try cava for the first time.

Basílica de Santa Maria del Mar
Trying some cava with delicious Spanish olives (I grew fond of them in Spain)

Cava is a champagne-like wine made primarily in the Catalonian region of Spain. I really liked it! But honestly, the joy of being with fun family members in a new city, surrounded by centuries-old buildings and a lively atmosphere…well, who isn’t going to enjoy that?

We toasted to passed loved ones who we wished could have been with us, but were definitely with us in spirit. Then we took a look inside the cathedral.

To the average American, every single cathedral in Europe is amazing


Next, we continued our walk through more of Barcelona, and eventually ended up at La Rambla, a famous street in Barcelona lined with markets, restaurants, and shops. We happened to be there just a week before a terrorist attack took place on the same street and killed 15 people. It’s heartbreaking and weird at the same time to think that it could have been us.


My dad’s cousin, her husband, and one of their daughters (aka my second cousins!)
Plaça Reial – Royal Plaza
Walking along La Rambla
A pub called Obama!

In true Spanish style, we ate dinner late. We got so much sightseeing done, and were exhausted by the end of the day, so finishing it off with a good dinner was really rewarding.

I believe these were pastries filled with ox tail. They were delicious

After dinner, we checked out the outside of Casa Batlló, a famous house that Gaudí redesigned. We also made it a mission to find some ice cream, which wasn’t easy at 11 pm!

Casa Batlló, designed by Gaudí
Flower ice cream! 

The next day was rainy in the morning, so we went to the famous market in Barcelona called La Boqueria. It’s a tourist attraction, but it’s also a large market where locals buy fresh products including fruits, vegetables, seafood, meat, and cheese.

Seafood done differently than the US. Lots of selection and you can buy whole fish


Fancy fruits

After the market, we decided to check out Parc Güell, which features art and architecture by Gaudí. To get there, we went by metro. I love going on the metro in new cities. It’s an inexpensive way to get around and see the locals.


They showed what stop you were at with lights. I thought it was a cool design. 
Parc Güell has a good view of Barcelona. Be prepared for a long, uphill hike if you go walking from the city. 

We didn’t plan our visit to the park very well, and learned the hard way that buying tickets in advance is really necessary! There are parts that you can see without a ticket, but to see the most famous parts of the park, including the beautiful tile work, you have to have a ticket. They were sold out for the day when we got there. Anyway, we looked around the open public areas.


Gaudí built a series of viaducts throughout the park




We did have tickets to see the Sagrada Familia, thankfully, later that day. What an impressive cathedral. It was unlike any I had ever seen before. We got audioguides, which to me were lacking a lot of detail. We also got tickets to go up in one of the towers, which was worth it!

The newer side of the church (Passion)
The older side (Nativity)

The Sagrada Familia has been under construction for 136 years, and is estimated to be completed in 2026. It’s a massive project, designed by Gaudí. His designs are very much influenced by nature, including the interior columns that were designed to look like trees, giving the main hall the look of a forest.

Some of the designs you can see up close from the towers
View from one of the towers
Each “divet” in the tower is a little window
Going down the tower staircase
Lots of detail everywhere you look


Inside the Sagrada Familia. It was very colorful, with lots of light
My cell phone photos don’t do it justice!
The stained glass colors went from warm to cool
Looking down a hall with varying colors of light shining in
On the newer side, these pillars represent the ribs of Christ and his suffering
Homes that still remain from previous construction workers. 
Looking up on the Passion side
Looking up inside the cathedral

Of course, there are so many details in the building that I am not familiar with, and architectural styles that I couldn’t begin to talk about. But it was a great tour that gave me an appreciation of how much work has gone into its construction, and how much more is still left to do.

On our way to dinner, we found my store!


My family really wanted to eat paella for dinner, so we went to a recommended restaurant to try some “authentic” paella–and they did have the original style, which is made with rabbit and green beans! PSA: no paella should be made with chorizo, ever. Diego told me that if you put chorizo in paella, it’s no longer paella–it’s “rice with stuff”.

On another note, we tried Sangria made with cava, yum!!


And the desserts were really fancy (the top one had a dropper to inject berry sauce…what in the world?!).


Crema catalana, which I wanted to try since it’s a typical dessert of the region dating back to the 14th century. It is very similar to crème brûlée.


The next day, my family headed out to start the Camino de Santiago, and I headed back home to Madrid on the train. We only had a couple of days in Barcelona, but we saw so much and really got the most out of our time there. It was so much fun to travel with my family, and I’m so grateful that they included me as if I were there daughter!

So, which city is better, Madrid or Barcelona? It depends on what you’re looking for and what your expectations are. Barcelona has a different vibe to it. It’s a coastal city with beaches, but still has lots of history and interesting architecture. The people are nice, but seem to be less accepting of tourists. Madrid is the capital and a more traditional Spanish city. There is a ton of history and so many different neighborhoods to check out. The people are very friendly and most are very willing to talk to you if you’re making an effort to speak Spanish.

If you’re able, visit both cities. each has so much to offer, and you will have a truly unique experience in each place. And like I’ve said before, I’ve never met a Spanish city or tiny town that I didn’t like or at least appreciate on some level. It’s a small country, but each region is very different!

Next up, I’ll be posting about my first trip after moving back to the US–Guadalajara, Mexico, for a zookeeping conference!

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Laura Ambrose says:

    I had to save your post on Barcelona for when I had time to savor all of your detail and photos. As you know, we fell in love with this beautiful city just before seeing you in Madrid. We had no idea how incredible the modernisme movement was, and how it moved us. It was wonderful to see your photos of all the same places that we went — the Barri Gotic, the marketplace, Las Ramblas, the port, and of course all of Gaudi’s masterpieces. As you said, Madrid and Barcelona are very different, and I would say you don’t truly experience Spain without seeing both, along with the many other beautiful and charming cities around this amazing country. Thanks for your vivid details and photos!


    1. Heidi says:

      Thank you so much for your kind words. I’m so glad I got to enjoy so many Spanish cities and towns with you and Jeff!

      On Wed, Jun 20, 2018, 9:41 PM The Traveling Zookeeper wrote:



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