Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been itching to see Barcelona. In songs, books and movies, it seemed like such a magical place. I’d planned five days in Ireland with friends and decided to tack on a flight to Spain to wander through the narrow streets solo. Over two and a half days, I ran and walked about 38 miles. I crammed in as many places as I could, and every moment felt rejuvenating.

Admission: 15–29 euros

Regardless of your religion — or lack thereof — the Sagrada Familia is worth your time. Famed architect Antoni Gaudí worked on the monumental project from 1883 to 1926, when he was hit by a tram and died three days later at 73. (The basilica is still under construction.)

If you’re jolted by the sheer size and detail of the Sagrada Familia’s exterior, know it’s nothing compared to the interior space, where every detail is symbolic. Go as the sun begins to retreat for the day to catch a spectacular natural light show. Warm and cooler tones work with sunlight to create stunning reflections throughout the space. Everything, including you, takes on a vibrant color.

(Photos courtesy of Ashley Nguyen)
(Photos courtesy of Ashley Nguyen)

Tips:

  • Buy tickets online ahead of time. Entrances are timed, so if you purchase them the day of, you’ll end up with time to kill.
  • Not into tour guides? At least get the audio guide. Even if you don’t follow the voice’s instructions of where to walk, it’s full of tidbits you’d end up Googling anyway.
  • If you’d like to pray, there are areas for worship.

Admission: 12 euros

Artist Joan Miró was born in Barcelona. The contents of this museum truly represent a timeline of the artist’s life. It also shows the breadth of his work: From cubist landscapes to “sobreteixim,” the Fundació houses 217 of Miró’s paintings and countless other sculptures, drawings, ceramics and prints.

Midway through the Fundació, you can escape to the rooftop to take in the sun before reaching exhibits dedicated to other artists.

Tips:

The Fundació Joan Miró is situated on the top of a hill in the Parc de Montjuïc. You can easily take public transportation, but if you’re not in a rush, walk. On the way up, you can grab coffee and a light snack at a stand and take in the Barcelona landscape.

You can choose to eat cheaply in Barcelona. Busy adventuring, I mostly snacked my way through the day by stopping at random bakeries on my path and finished my day by eating a late, filling dinner at a sit-down vegetarian joint.

Avinguda Francesc Cambó, 16

Start a day at the Mercat de Santa Caterina. If it’s an early morning, grab coffee and breakfast before exploring. Moving a little slow? Even better. Sit outside and enjoy some tapas, a glass of wine and the occasional street performer. Inside the market, you’ll find meat, cheese, vegetables and finer goods.

Calle Palau, 5

This vegan and vegetarian restaurant serves seasonal dishes using local ingredients, so I won’t offer any menu suggestions. If you’re going with a few people, make a reservation. Walk-ins sit together at a European-size table at the center of the restaurant, so it’s perfect for dining alone.

Bodega J. Cala

Carrer de Pere IV, 460

If you find yourself walking past mass autopart stores and a gas station, you’re heading in the right direction. Don’t be deterred by this charming bodega’s surroundings. The house vermouth is a dream, and so are the people who serve it: Johnny and Rosa.

The bodega has been open for 96 years. A black and white photo hanging on the well-covered walls pays homage to the original owners. A different family took over about 36 years ago. Locals hang out midday and chat over vermouth and anchovies, which the bodega boasts are “the best in the north.” Stop by on the earlier side. This place closes at 4 p.m., and isn’t open on Mondays.

Carrer de Sant Pere Més Baix, 41

After taking in some wine at the Santa Caterina Market, wander through side streets until you reach the Ana Yael Art Gallery. Artist Ana Yael’s illustrations are unique and affordable gifts for friends or your apartment’s walls.

Carrer del Comerç, 30

Heading on a walk through the Arc de Triomf or Parc de la Ciutadella? Stop by the Wild Spectrum on the way for jewelry and textiles with a geometrical spin.

There are three entrances.

You can pay to enter the “Monumental Zone” of the Parc Güell, but it’s not altogether worth it. The rest of the park is free. If you’re feeling bogged down by all the cheap wine and food, go on a quick run. Warning: You’ll probably encounter locals flaunting their cute dogs.

The Barcelona Zoo. Seriously.

Find your way to the Barcelona Zoo entrance, but don’t go in. Instead, walk along the Passeig de la Circumval·lació and check out the street art.

Spend

I spent the extra few euros to take the “top views” tour at La Sagrada Familia, which allows you to take an elevator up one of two towers. The upside? You’re greeted with a spectacular view of Barcelona. The downside? You’re confined to a very small, narrow space. You snap your photo, take in the view and start your descent down. Three hundred steps later, you’re back at street level. (If you’re claustrophobic, this is not for you. They don’t let kids younger than six go up the tower for good reason.)

Save

If you plan to visit other museums, buy an art passport for 30 euros to get into six spots, including the Fundació Joan Miró, Museu Picasso and Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona.

Aerobus

From the airport, take the Aerobus to major stops in Barcelona for 5.90 euros (about $6.50) one-way. You can also catch an Aerobus back to the airport.

How to find it: When you exit baggage claim at Terminal 1 or 2, follow signs for buses. Keep walking until you see an Aerobus kiosk. Expect a long line. You can buy a ticket online ahead of time, from a vending machine at the airport or pay in cash when you reach the front of the line. These buses run about every 10 minutes from approximately 5 a.m. to 12:30 a.m.

Barcelona Metro System (BMT)

The Barcelona Metro System is pretty easy to navigate, and there’s a station at the airport. For unlimited rides on the metro and bus, get a Barcelona travel card for 2–5 days. It’s aptly called the Hola BCN! You can snag one at any metro station.

A local illustrator’s vision

Rafa Goicoechea

(Photo courtesy of Rafa Goicoechea)
(Photo courtesy of Rafa Goicoechea)

Graphic designer and typographer

Ten years ago, Rafa Goicoechea left Madrid for Barcelona because it was the best place to dive into design culture without having to travel abroad. He made the right decision: “In Barcelona I’ve found everything I was looking for and who I wanted to become,” Goicoechea says.

When Lily art director Rachel Orr asked him to illustrate Barcelona using white type on a black background, he thought of the city’s architecture and mixed it with his geometric style. The finished product is a window into how he feels about the city and how it has changed him.

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