BARCELONA AND VALENCIA
Each time I return to Spain I find myself falling more and more in love with this sun soaked country. Spain is the land of sietas, where everything moves slow and the night runs late. Bubbling to the brim with culture, friendly locals and some of the best food and wine you will taste in your life, it is easy to get swept up in the blur of it all. Since I started travelling in 2016 I have visited Spain every year, however this blog post will mainly focusing on my 2017 and 2019 trips. In 2017 I travelled to Barcelona and Valencia with my (ex) boyfriend, while in 2019 I spent a few days in Barcelona with some friends for a 21st Birthday trip.
This country is captivating, and I find every time I return I want more. It is the perfect country to visit for those on a tighter budget because everything is so cheap! The Spanish live a simple life of tapas, local wine and beer, plus all the attractions are well within a backpacker's finances.
7 - 9 DAYS
COSTA BRAVA (1 - 2 NIGHTS)
Beaches, sangria and adventure, Costa Brava is a coastal region which stretches from the French Border to Barcelona. Spend a day or relax for a week, you'll love what the Spanish coast has to offer
BARCELONA (4 NIGHTS)
As Catalonia's capital, Barcelona holds the title as one of the best cities in Europe. History, culture, food and nightlife, you will have no problem falling in love with the city
VALENCIA (3 NIGHTS)
Spain's third largest city and scattered with glistening blue tiled roofs and soft pink houses, Valencia has a unique mix of historic architecture and modern technology
The Spanish lifestyle is simple, meaning you can travel through Spain very cheaply! If you stick to local tapas, beer, sangria, public transport, hostels and so on, you could easily get by on €30 - €50 a day. For those who like eating out a little more, maybe a slightly nicer Airbnb split between you and a friend, you would be looking at €40 - €70 a day, depending on how much you want to splurge! Getting out of the main cities will also help you lower the costs significantly as Barcelona, Madrid and Valencia are known for being a bit more pricey on the backpacker budget!
Spain is known for having a lot of pickpockets, especially in the larger cities like Barcelona. I would keep an eye on your belongings, especially in crowded areas, tourist attractions, beaches and the metro as these are often the places people will get scammed and pickpocketed. Walking around the city as a solo female traveller never had me feeling unsettled or unsafe, even walking alone at night, however just be cautious at the beach clubs during the night as there are some questionable men who linger around the entrances and on the beach front.
In 2017 my ex and I (we were dating at the time) decided to spend our first day in Spain snorkelling and kayaking with Excursions Barcelona. We had prebooked the experience and paid €70 each which included pick up and drop off in Barcelona. From Barcelona it's around an hour drive to Costa Brava (where Gerona Airport is located), the first part of the tour is kayaking along the coastline while stopping periodically to learn about the history of the area. Once you reach a little further out into the ocean all the kayaks tether up and you can swim or opt to jump off some 8m high rocks... don't be like me and drop your GoPro to the bottom of the ocean though. Thankfully I did get it back when a nice Spanish diver retrieved it for me!
The company provides sandwiches for lunch once you arrive back to shore and you are also given some time to sunbathe at the beach or look around the shops. Although the tour is a little pricey I really enjoyed the experience and would definitely recommend if you are looking for a great day trip from Barcelona!
While I loved my day trip to the Costa Brava region I wish I had spent a night or two to explore more. If you had some extra time with your trip I would definitely recommend staying to get some variety!
Often referred to as one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, Barcelona celebrates its role as Catalonia's capital. This city holds so much charm and character, with the perfect mix of city and beach, urban and edgy, clubs and cafes, there is no way you cannot love this city. I found myself staying out late in the warm summer nights and up early to explore.
HOW TO GET FROM THE AIPORT
There is one main airport in Barcelona which is El Prat, however there is also two airports both an hour outside of the city, Girona and Reus. It is important you don't get them mixed up with one another! The majority of cheap airlines like Ryanair fly to both Girona and El Prat, however for the really cheap deals you'd probably have to fly into Girona which is located in the Costa Brava region.
If you fly into Girona it is super easy to get a bus into Barcelona which run every 30 minutes or so. The journey takes an hour and 10 minutes and costs €16 one way or €25 return (which you should buy if you have to return to Girona Airport). Tickets are non reservable but there are always plenty of buses waiting so no need to worry!
El Prat is just outside of the city and is a lot easier to get to and from. Once you are outside the airport, find the bus station and either catch the A1 or A2, either will take you into the centre of Barcelona. The tickets are around €10 each. Once you're in the city centre I would recommend either walking or catching the metro to wherever your accomodation is. Barcelona's metro system is very clean, easy to navigate and efficient.
WHERE TO STAY
Each time I've been to Barcelona I have stayed in a different hostel - Black Swan, Mediterranean Youth Hostel, Amistat Beach Hostel and Kabul Party Hostel. Each accomodation came with a different feel and experience and I thought each was good for a different reason. My absolute favourite would have to be Black Swan, which was where I stayed on my first visit to Barcelona in 2016. There was a great mix of socialising, which included family dinners every night, free sangria and a free pub crawl, as well as a quiet place to go chill and sleep!
If you're a big party animal I would recommend Kabul Party Hostel, the cheapest room is 20 beds and only costs around €8 a night. The room got very hot with so many bodies in there but each bed has its own curtain and storage area so it doesn't feel as confronting being in a room with so many people. The hostel is right in the centre of town and has its own bar as well as drinking games and a pub crawl!
The Mediterranean Youth Hostel was where my friend booked for her 21st birthday so I didn't have much say in the accomodation. If I had been staying there by myself I definitely don't think I would have enjoyed it because while it was clean, there really wasn't much atmosphere happening in the hostel common areas. It was in a great location and only a 15 minute walk away from La Sagrada Familia.
Probably my least favourite hostel was Amistat Beach Hostel. It is very close to the beach, so if you're looking at spending your days lounging in the sun then it's a great option, however it was incredibly far away from everything else in the city. They also run pub crawls and drinking games every night, Amistat has a kitchen which was clean and there are a few common areas you can socialise in!
WHAT TO DO IN BARCELONA
Antoni Guadí is one of Barcelona's most notable figures of history. Guadí was a Catalan architect known for the greatest exponent of Catalan Modernism and his works can be found throughout the city. Park Güell is a public park built in 1900 till 1914 before finally opening to the public in 1926. You can easily spend half a day here walking around the different routes and taking photos. The main portion of the park is free for anyone to enter, however there is select sections that you have to pay entry which are definitely worth the money. A general admission ticket will cost €10 and you'll have access to, in my opinion, the most beautiful part of the park. There is stunning city views, intricate mosaics and amazing photo opportunities
I would recommend purchasing your tickets online beforehand as each time slot has a limit on the amount of people and they fill out very fast, I've missed out a few times because I didn't preplan! Ideally book a few days in advance at least to ensure you get a ticket.
Casa Vicens was Guadí's first house he built in Barcelona and is a beautiful piece of architecture. It is a lot less touristy than his more famous pieces of work throughout the city and when I visited there was only one or two other groups of people around. Tickets are €19.50 so is a little pricey but definitely worth it!
Another one of Guadí's buildings and right in the heart of Barcelona, this creation is known as the House of Bones. It is located right on the Passeig de Gràcia and is another option to explore for those who love architecture. Casa Batllo is the most popular of Guadí's Casas, costing €25 to enter with an included headset to listen to the history as you walk around.
LA SAGRADA FAMILIA
Arguably the most well known of Guadí's work is La Sagrada Familia. Standing at 90m tall, it is a masterpiece of innovation. Construction on the Basilica began in 1882 and is still being completed to this day, they say it's about 70% finished! The exterior is breathtaking in itself, however you can also do a tour and see the interior as well it will cost €20. I would highly recommend booking those tickets a few days in advance like Park Güell because each time slot sells out very quickly and you'll have a slim chance of getting a ticket on the day!
If you're looking for a great photo opportunity I would highly recommend walking through the park till you find the lake, there is a little ledge that has a perfect view of the Basilica!
MERCADO DE LA BOQUERIA
La Boqueria is a large market in the Ciudad Vieja district of Barcelona and is an amazing stop off to wander through, especially on a budget. There is an endless array of fresh food stalls, I ended up getting a big tub of the most amazing green olives and some artichokes for around €3 which was amazing to snack on while wandering through the city!
VISIT THE BEACH
While Barcelona doesn't have the nicest beach I've ever experienced (hundreds of tonnes of sand was imported from Egypt), it is definitely a great option to cool down and relax after walking endlessly though the large city. There are a few main beaches you can choose from including La Barceloneta, Mar Bella and Nova Icaria and are all within walking distance of each other. So pack your swimmers and borrow a hostel towel, then head down to the beach for a swim and a siesta. Try not to walk onto the nudest beach like me because you will get a fright!
VISIT SOME OF THE INCREDIBLE BARS AND CLUB/JOIN A PUBCRAWL
Barcelona is a city that never sleeps, and no matter the day you will always find a crowd of people hitting up the bars and club, so why not join them? Every hostel I've stayed at in Barcelona run pub crawls where they take you to the best bars before heading to the clubs (the best ones are located on the beach front), it's the perfect way to meet people, have a great time and spend your nights boogying to some incredible DJ's.
Some of the best places I visited was The George Payne Irish Pub (this is A LOT of fun), The Mint Bar (underground bar known for its mojitos) and Opium which is a massive beach club!
VISIT THE GOTHIC CATHEDRAL AND EXPLORE THE GOTHIC QUARTER
The whole of Barcelona is a maze of interesting history and culture, but why not go into the heart of it all? The Gothic Quarter is home of all things fascinating from the Barcelona Cathedral to a heap of wonderful museums (Barcelona History Museum, Museu Frederic Marès and Museu Eròtic de Barcelona (if that's what you're into))
For the vegans and vegetarians out there, you will have an absolute blast in Spain when it comes to indulging on good food. I was genuinely surprised by the array of different eating options and I was adamant about trying out as many as possible. From burgers to cakes to everything in between, you couldn't walk 10 minutes without bumping into a scrumptious looking food place.
WHERE TO EAT IN BARCELONA
Ethiopian food in Spain had never been a forefront thought in my mind, however when walking back from Park Güell to the metro I discovered this little restaurant and was curious. The interior layout was very traditional with little wooden stools and woven baskets which the food is placed into. They have a few set menu options for both meat eaters and vegan/vegetarian to choose from. The food arrives on a large dish with injera as a base, which is like a spongey flat bread, before a different assortment of curries and toppings are added depending on what you ordered. Much like the Ethiopians you eat the food with your hands as you tear off part of the injera and eat the curry that is on top of that piece! I honestly loved this and would go back as soon as possible.
I had heard continuous hype around Cat Bar over and over again, so I wanted to see for myself whether the hype was worth it. Their whole aura was fun, with little cat napkin drawings plastered on the walls that customers had drawn, the backstory to the restaurant in the menu, and an overall very homely feeling. The burgers were hearty and delicious, with a few staple options to choose from! All in all Cat Bar is at the top of my list for places to eat and even if you just go to one of my recommendations, it should be this.
GOCCI DI LATTE
I always get excited when there is a yummy vegan gelato option, but when you take it one step further, to a whole shop full of vegan gelato? Now we are talking. From the classics like strawberry, chocolate, mango, to the more unusual (but just as yum) flavours like fig, peanut butter and banana, as well as the most indulgent dark chocolate ever created. There is also a non vegan gelato shop under the same name literally 20 metres down the road. Either way, if you have a sweet tooth, make a pitstop (we went every day we were in Barcelona, definitely worth it).
Situated in the Gothic Quarter of Barcelona, Vegetalia is a vegetarian restaurant offering a variety of different delicious meals for anyone to be happy with. James and I both decided to go with the Thai curry which was absolutely out of this world and I couldn't recommend this place more if you're looking for something which is pretty healthy. It's in the heart of a lot of interesting Spanish buildings, so it's undeniably the perfect pit stop for lunch.
Spain's third largest city after Barcelona and Madrid, Valencia has a unique mix of historic charm and modern architecture. While I find Barcelona holds true to the very 'stereotypical' Spanish feel, Valencia definitely had a more predominant high end almost Parisian feel. The streets where chic, with designer shops and elaborate architecture. I felt it had a very different vibe to the big city feel of Barcelona and was a nice place to relax.
HOW TO GET FROM BARCELONA TO VALENCIA
Getting from Barcelona to Valencia is very straight forward and you can either opt for the train or bus. I chose the train, which takes around 2 and a half hours. Tickets usually range from £30 - £40 return, and you're paying for quality! The trains were clean, with reclining seats and USB ports to charge phones, plus there are breath taking views of the coastline as you glide between the two cities.
The alternative option is getting the bus which would take around 4 hours instead of the 2 and a half on the train, however from looking online the prices are a lot cheaper than the latter. Just from a quick google I found bus tickets from as cheap as £5 one way!
WHERE TO STAY IN VALENCIA
While in Valencia my ex and I stayed at Red Nest Hostel. Red Nest was relatively small, with an upstairs bar which included places to socialise and some drinking games. The rooms were clean and modern but nothing special. The hostel also offered a daily walking tour and a nightly pub crawl which was a great way to meet people.
Torres de Serranos is one of the twelve gates that formed the ancient city walls built in the 14th century. lt is one of the best preserved monuments in Valencia and also provides some beautiful look out spots across the city. When I visited you could climb up the stairs all the way to the top without paying, however I think they do have hours where you will have to pay an admission fee to explore.
Like most historic cities the heart of Valencia is made for wandering. The centre of the city is small and most monuments are a short distance away from each other so you can easily see everything in a day. Valencia's blue tiled roofs glisten in the light and a lot of the buildings seemed to be painted orange or pink.
BASÍLICA VIRGEN DE LOS DESAMPARADOS
Built upon the Roman Forum and dedicated to the Patron of the city, Basilica of our Lady of the Forsaken is a beautiful stop off when you are exploring the city. Painted in pink with a vibrant blue tiled dome and Renaissance style paintings on the interior, it is perfect for photos and to learn a little more history of the city.
Even if you're just sightseeing, visiting the Central Market is a great stop for doing some shopping and stocking up on some local Spanish food! The building’s 20th century art nouveau metal and glass design fits in perfectly with the historic architecture of the city and it's one of the largest markets in Europe, covering more than 8000 square metres.
Malvarrosa Beach is a little further out of the city than Barcelona and will take you around 40-50 minutes on the bus (catch the 32 bus) or around an hour walk. Valencia's beach has fine, golden sand and you'll find men walking around selling fresh coconut/watermelon which you can buy for a few euros. There is also lots of restaurants, clubs and bars along the beach front so you can stay out till the early hours if you want!
TRY SOME TRADITIONAL PAELLA
Paella was born and raised in the city of Valencia, so it's only fair to the delicious dish that you tribute it in it's mother city, and I promise you won't be disappointed. Nearly every corner has a restaurant ready to serve you the best paella of your life, but if you're still unsure, ask a local! They are better than any TripAdvisor review. A lot of the traditional paella will contain meat or fish so make sure you make it very clear if you are vegan/vegetarian!
WHERE TO EAT IN VALENCIA
If you're a vegan and you miss the simple pleasures of a yummy takeaway burger then you need to check out The Vurger. A menu that coincides with a traditional fast-food joint, except it's all completely vegan, will mean gorging in all types of soy based Heaven. 'Chicken' nuggets, soy based burgers with different toppings, chips, brownies, everything you could want, and for cheap. It was by far my favourite vegan place we ate in Valencia and if you're on the hunt for a classic 'cheeseburger' style meal, you need to visit.
ALMALIBRE ACAI BAR
The one thing I truly miss about Australian culture is undoubtably the incredible plethora of Acai bowls that you can essentially get around every corner. As true staple in any vegan diet I rushed James and I to Almalibre at the chance of getting my hands on some purple goodness, and I was not disappointed. Their food selection arrayed from a choice of delicious looking Acai bowls, hummus and pita bread (a close second favourite), to burgers, juices and everything else unbelievably yum.