I woke up on my fifth day in Barcelona to the sound of screaming. It seemed one of the other women in the hostel dorm room was having a pretty serious nightmare…and after that, I just couldn’t get back to sleep…
I got up and organised for another day of sightseeing, heading first to Jardins del Palau de Pedralbes just off Avinguda Diagonal – a beautiful, quiet garden which is also home to the Palau Reial de Pedralbes.
The house isn’t open to the public anymore but you can still wander the grounds and gardens, taking in the beautiful sculptures, fountains, trees and plants.
Afterwards, I headed north on Avinguda de Pedrables to visit Monestir de Pedralbes – one of Barcelona’s lesser-known tourist attractions but an amazing example of 14th century Gothic architecture.
The highlights are the three-story cloister and the gardens at the centre of the monastery. It’s free to get into, making it even more worth the trip to see it.
Inside the monastery there is a church that houses the tomb of Queen Elisenda and a museum featuring some impressive religious art. It was a beautiful, sunny morning when I visited, so I didn’t spend too long inside but sat for a while in the peaceful gardens instead.
My next stop was Montjuïc (after a quick caffeine fix at a tacky-tourist spot just off the Metro at Universitat) – the majestic hill to the southwest of Barcelona.
Montjuïc is home to many of Barcelona’s best museums, including the Fundació Miró , the Museu d’Arqueologia, the Museu Etnològic and the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya-MNAC, as well as some of the city’s most beautiful gardens.
I jumped on the Montjuïc funicular railway that connects with the Metro at Paral·lel Station, which is also included in the T-10 Metro ticket. Once you get to the top, the views of the city and port are breathtaking.
I got a bit lost in the maze of gardens and paths that make up the Jardin de Teatre Grec (where you’ll find the Teatre Grec and possibly, like I did, a yoga class taking place to the sound of Spanish guitar) and the Botanical Gardens.
For those who don’t mind heights (or queueing) you can also get to and from the top of Montjuïc using the Port Vell Aerial Tramway, which I didn’t manage to do but apparently offers amazing views of the city and the old harbour.
I’d booked ticket to the Sagrada Familia with one of the other women staying in the hostel so after a few hours spent exploring Montjuïc, I made my way back to Gracia to freshen up.
After being smart enough to ask the lovely reception staff at the hostel to print my ticket for the Sagrada Familia, I then realised two Metro stops away that I’d forgotten to bring it with me. Luckily, I still had the PDF in my emails so they let me in no problem (that God for smart phones).
The Sagrada Familia – Barcelona’s top tourist attraction and finest example Gaudi’s work – started being built in 1882 and is still under construction today (from the looks of it, it’ll be under construction for the foreseeable future too).
It is, without a doubt, one of the most incredible, mind-blowing places I have ever been lucky enough to visit. When I was booking the ticket, I thought 20 euros seemed a bit steep but…it’s completely worth every penny.
The outside of the building is covered in amazingly intricate sculptures and religious figures, but the real magic happens when you step through the metal leaf-covered doors.
The scale is impossible to describe – the central nave vaults is a neck-cricking 150 feet high. If you look upward, the pillars that lead to the jaw-dropping ceiling are something that only Gaudi could have imagined.
But it’s not just the design that is incredible – the use of light is what makes the Sagrada Familia so spectacular. Inspired by the original windows of the Santa Maria de la Mar (see Barcelona – Day 7 for more about this other gothic masterpiece), the huge stained glass windows of the Sagrada Familia were designed so as to illuminate the interior with colours – reds, oranges and yellows in the morning and blues/greens later in the day. The impact of the splashes of colour on the otherwise white walls is something so awe-inspiring that even a non-believer like me could be convinced of something spiritual taking place here.
We managed to drag ourselves away from the main chamber to take up our time slot on the Passion Façade (you can add one of the two tower options to your ticket when you book online for an extra couple of euros).
Those with mild claustrophobia or vertigo be warned – you’re likely to suffer both if you venture up the towers, but the views are so incredible it truly is worth it. After waiting in line for the tiny lift (which you cram yourself into with about ten other people) you are whizzed to the near top of one of the towers. We were right next to the bell tower (interesting reaction from our entire group when that went off!) and the view over the city is honestly the best you will find in the entire city.
You can opt to get the lift back down but…the more scenic option is to walk down the very narrow, quite steep and usually very busy staircase…which winds all the way back to the main chamber. I’m not going to lie – there were points where my legs were a little shakey (I have a teeny, tiny problem with heights) but apart from the windows that have virtually no safety rails across them, I managed it okay. Every time you reach another level, you’re rewarding with a window view of more Gaudi masterpieces – from crazy, Darth Vader-like sculptures to the colourful fruit that sits atop of the towers, you’ll see something new at each window.
The entire visit was surreal, like being on a really beautiful alien planet, where your head cannot turn quick enough or your brain work fast enough to take in everything your eyes are seeing.
When I eventually managed to stop taking pictures and we left, an old guy outside the gates told us the crypt was now free to get into (if you go after 7.30pm, you might find this too). The crypt is something entirely different to the Gaudi-world that sits above it. Traditional, still beautiful but far more modest, it’s worth a quick visit too if you get a chance.
I was pretty exhausted after a busy day of sightseeing (and lack of sleep) so picked up some tapas-style food and wine on the way back and cooked in the hostel’s kitchen. I agreed to get up early the following morning to join one of my fellow hostellers on the terrace for yoga so after dinner and some writing, I headed for bed.
Read more in Barcelona – Day Six