HOTEL: We stayed in the K+K Hotel Picasso 4* Superior, Passeig de Picasso, 26-30 Ciutat Vella 08003 Barcelona. 3 nights ran @ $492 which was a great deal.
Pluses: It's in the Borne District (quieter than Gotic with charm and convenience), easy to get to from the airport (it's right between Estacio de Franca train station and Arc de Triomf Line 1 metro stop), close to one of Barcelona’s best bars El Bar de l’Antic Teatre. It has a fantastic buffet breakfast ( important if you're an early riser and want more than coffee and a pastry. Why? Breakfasts aren't a big deal in Spain, and most cafes open after 10 am). The hotel is right across from the Parc de la Ciutadella, and easy walk to everything. The public rooms at the hotel are lovely, even a guitar for your use.
Minuses: Don't expect big rooms, but great staff and public spaces make up for it.
WHAT'S the WHAT: Restaurants: Lunch is between 1 and 4 pm. Dinner is between 8 pm and midnight.
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Day 1 ( For us this was a partial day, starting in the afternoon)
Take the funicular to the fountains of Montjuïc, where you'll see Barcelona spread out at your feet. The illuminated fountain display, Fuentes Luminosas, is one of the highlights of a trip to Barcelona. You can hang out here and make an evening of it, visiting the Poble Espanyol in Parc de Montjuïc, a re-created Spanish village constructed in 1929 for the World's Fair. You can also have dinner in the faux village. Montjuic Fountains - Check the dates and times the fountains run. Explore the gardens at Montjuïc.
FREE walking tour : Runnerbean Tours has a wide selection of tours run by charming and informative tours that run day or night. Or hire them to be a personal guide.
From Parc de la Ciutadella, walk along Moll de la Fusta for its views of Barcelona port life, coming to a halt at where you can sit on a park bench and rest your feet. Immediately south of the park is the waterfront and old fishermen's quarter of Barceloneta, ideal for a seafood lunch. Continue on to Las Ramblas. This is the most famous street in Barcelona, alive at all hours day and night. Stretching from Plaça Catalunya in the north to Plaça Portal de la Pau along the waterfront, this is a boulevard of flower vendors, booksellers, palaces, shops, and cafes -- a perfect introduction to life as uniquely lived in Barcelona. At the end of the tree-lined boulevard, opening onto the waterfront, is a monument to Columbus. Visit La Boqueria Market off Las Ramblas.
Walk the narrow cobblestone streets of the Barri Gòtic, the Gothic Quarter. The highlight of your morning tour here will be the Catedral de Barcelona, dating from the 1200s and the greatest example of Catalonian Gothic architecture. If you're lucky you'll catch an opera singer in the alley where the acoustics are fantastic. Visit Museu Picasso in the Gothic Quarter, if you have time or interest. Stroll through the surrounding district, Barri de la Ribera, which is filled with Renaissance mansions and an intriguing collection of art galleries that surround Picasso's trove of treasures.
After lunch, continue north to La Sagrada Família, Europe's most unconventional church. Make reservations in advance - or expect to spend all afternoon in line. This still uncompleted work by Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926), the leading exponent of Catalan modernisme, is a must visit.
Then to Gaudí's mosaic masterpiece, Parc Güell. Designated a World Heritage site by UNESCO, this colorful creation of bizarre architectural monuments dates from 1922 and includes such Gaudí fantasies as the "Room of a Hundred Columns," with its 84 crooked pillars. On-site is a gingerbread-style house where Gaudí lived from 1906 to 1926. (It's been turned into a museum.) You can spend 2 hours wandering around this uncompleted park.
Visit Palau Reial (Royal Palace), the former palace of the counts of Barcelona. Be sure to check out the Saló Del Tinell, where Isabel and Ferdinand received Columbus after his triumphant return from America.
Barcelona in early evening is fun - visit the Eixample district. Armed with a good map, take in Plaça de Catalunya, the geographic heart of the city, along with Passeig de Gracia, the boulevard of fashionable shops, and Gaudí's masterpiece, the apartment building of Centre Cultural Caixa Catalunya (commonly called La Pedrera or Casa Milà).
Visit more Gaudi - Casa Mila or Pedregal or you can visit Montserrat in a half day if you are quick, just visiting the main sites. For those who want to walk some of the trails or even journey out to Sant Jeroni, a full day is necessary.
We DID the Side Trip to Montserrat
Frequent trains leave from Plaça d'Espanya to the historic monastery of Montserrat 56km (35 miles) northwest of Barcelona. The approach to the lofty mountaintop citadel is by aerial cableway. And I mean aerial. We made a day out of this visit, including time spent getting there and back; a one-way trip takes an hour. It was spectacular.
There is a chapel to tour and see the Black Madonna, and some fabulous hiking to hermitages. Time your visit so you can listen to the 50-member Escolanía at 1pm or 6:45pm daily. It's one of Europe's oldest and most renowned boys' choirs. Return to Barcelona in the evening for a stroll along Las Ramblas.
Day 4 - Off to BILBAO
We rented a car from Hertz - Compact 4/5-Door Car Manual. Pickup Calle Viriat 45, Barcelona, $167 + $88 in full comprehensive insurance.
We drove from Barcelona to Pamplona (5 hr @1 PM) where you should plan time for lunch and walkabout. Pamplona to BILBAO (2 hr @ 5PM)
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I have circumnavigated the globe a few times. I don't do backpacks. And I don't like tour groups.
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