A favorite Mediterranean cruise port for Philadelphia area voyagers is the cosmopolitan city of Barcelona. Cruise ships small and large begin and end exotic passages in this ancient port on the northeastern coast of Spain. It’s a city of contrasts, with one of Europe’s most modern transportation systems that whisks visitors to a cathedral that began life as a fourth-century Roman fort. There’s modern art, contemporary music, food that reflects the cultural diversity of this provincial capital and, of course, architectural magic. Most cruising visitors spend little more than a night or two in Barcelona before embarking on their voyage, but those who have been lured by the city’s magnetism prefer to lengthen the getaway and spend time when their ship returns.
So, what’s to see and do in Barcelona? Join me at a few of my favorite “must visit” stops. – Jay Lloyd
PLACES TO SEE
For a bird’s eye view of the harbor where your ship is docked and the entire city, the first stop on a Barcelona visit should be Montjuïc, or “Jewish Mountain.” I was told the name derives from the Jewish burial sites on the mountainside dating back to the Spanish Inquisition. The mountain itself occupies a prominent rise within the city, and getting to the fortified castle at the summit is half the fun. You can take aerial gondola cars from the port at Barceloneta, where we usually stay or ride the funicular tram that connects to the subway system. On Montjuïc, you’ll find gardens, fascinating sculptures by Joan Miró, the 1992 Olympic stadium, walking trails and spectacular panoramic views of the vast Mediterranean.
You may be warned that the colorful strolling boulevard called Las Ramblas is crowded and full of tourists, but there’s a reason for that. It offers wonderful street theater, mimes, intriguing vendors, fascinating shops, eateries and above all, one of the most stunning public markets in the world, La Boqueria. The vendors here represent a global array of merchandise with a Mediterranean tilt – the butcher and seafood stalls alone are enough to make to wish you had cooking facilities. A towering monument to Christopher Columbus near the waterfront anchors one end of the nearly mile-long walkway. It marks the spot where Columbus, returning from his 1492 voyage, chased Queen Isabella from Sevilla to Barcelona to present her with a report of his discoveries. Nearby, you’ll find the Maritime Museum and the cruise ship terminals along with a seemingly endless number of restaurants, many boasting waterfront views.
Breakfast at the beach and then a stroll on a long esplanade that passes marinas, housing some of the world’s most interesting yachts and a parade of restaurants, makes Barceloneta a neighborhood where a visitor feels like a resident. You can swim in the sea and then enjoy street musicians on the esplanade or sip Spanish wine at clusters of waterfront cafes. A bustling public market here is a smaller version of La Boqueria, and the Museum of Catalonia History reminds you that you’re in a place which is part of Spain but cradles a different culture, even a separate language. Barcelona is the capitol of Catalonia, a semi-autonomous Spanish state.
Other “must-see” places include the dramatic La Sagrada Familia cathedral designed by the brilliant architect Antoni Gaudí, along with the gracefully sculpted Gaudi houses and buildings in central Barcelona. You can spend an entire morning at Parque Güell, which took Gaudí 14 years to infuse with colorfully-tiled structures and sculpture.
WHERE TO STAY
We stay at the Marina Folch Hotel in Barceloneta. But a warning: The rooms are very small. The price, however, is also very reasonable, and most rooms have an outdoor patio overlooking the esplanade and the harbor. There’s good public transportation near the door, and it’s a short walk to the beach.
Friends who prefer full service upscale hotels have stayed at and enjoyed Hotel Eurostars Grand Marina. It’s conveniently located on the waterfront near the cruise ship terminals, Las Ramblas and Monjuic.
Your cruise line will also be able to recommend pre and post-voyage accommodations with packages that bundle a hotel stay with your cruise.
WHERE TO DINE
Barcelona is a city of restaurants. Many change with the trends, but there are some that have withstood the decades of culinary shifts. A few of my favorites include:
Los Caracoles (The Snails)
This restaurant has been around since the early 19th century. It’s handily located within a few blocks of Las Ramblas. I never saw a snail here except in the creative and flavorful rolls shaped like the slug-like critters, but do try the mussels. And you can’t go wrong with the roast chicken. Take a “selfie” with some of the restaurant’s artwork depicting a history of the kitchen.
Origens del Born
Passeig del Born 4
Step into the unique cuisine of Catalonia. While having a drink at Origens and before ordering dinner, call for a plate of bread rubbed with garlic and tomato. As for main courses, remember that Catalonia has a rich fisheries history as well as farming in the countryside and mountains to the north. Try the rabbit stew if it’s on the menu, or the more traditional chicken stew, which is slow-cooked in a rustic style. From the sea, if you’ve never tried octopus, here’s an opportunity.
Calle del Mar 10
I’m partial to Restaurant Peru because it occupies the ground floor of our hotel and is run by an extended family that sprang from a generation of Catalan fishermen. The cozy indoor dining room or the open patio across the street from the waterfront esplanade is where we parked ourselves when looking for traditional seafood paella. But don’t pass on bowls of mussels in a rich tomato-based sauce with a fine bottle of Spanish wine.
During the season, U.S. Airways has non-stop service to Barcelona. British Airways has a one-stop service. Your cruise line will offer a package that includes air travel.