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Barcelona: 5 Things No One Told Me

Barcelona has delicious tapas, amazing Flamenco shows, and Gaudi architecture. But there are some other things in the city you might not expect.

During my 10-day stay in Barcelona, I was excited to try tapas, go to a Flamenco show, and see some Gaudi architecture. However, I had some surprises when I got to the old, gothic city that I wish I’d prepared for. 

1. Book Your Barcelona Tickets Now

One of the city sights everyone wants to see in Barcelona is Gaudi’s Basilica de la Sagrada Familia. The unfinished church started construction in 1892 and may not be complete until 2026 (or later), however, that doesn’t mean tourists can’t view the architecture as is.

On the second day of my arrival, I checked out La Sagrada Familia tickets online only to find that the next date available was after I left — more than a week later. As a last-minute traveler, I missed my opportunity to see the epic architecture, but I’ll be back!

However, you can view many of Gaudi’s buildings for free just from walking around. In fact, it’s hard to miss any of the other 10 modernismebuildings he designed in the city due to their unique and distinct appearance:

  1. Casa Vicens
  2.  Güell Pavilions
  3. Palau Güell
  4. Teresian College
  5. Casa Calvet
  6. Torre de Bellesguard
  7. Park Güell
  8. Casa Milà
  9. Casa Batlló
  10. Sagrada Família Schools

2. The Smell in Barcelona

The aroma of meats and spices that flavor traditional Spanish dishes pops up periodically as you walk around the old city. But almost as frequently is a whiff of a sewage and sulfur mixture.

Barcelona has a long history relating to its sewage problem including the main divider between the Gothic Quarter and El Raval known as La Rambla. The five streets that make up La Rambla once served as the sewage line for the area. Covered and converted into a tree-lined street, La Rambla is now home to open-air markets.

…and the plumbing. Unless staying in a four-or five-star hotel, prepare for plumbing problems at your accommodations. During my stay, for instance, I had about 90 seconds before the shower backed up and the kitchen sink leaked (I still don’t understand how that happened each time).

3. There are Cannabis Clubs

Similar to the legal discrepancy in the states, Spain has gray areas when it comes to marijuana. While it is commercially illegal, consumption is not.

Meaning, it is a criminal offense to sell it but not completely legal to some in a private location. However, you will receive a fine if caught with it in a public area, including on a balcony.

With more than 200 of the 500 Spanish cannabis clubs located in Barcelona alone, it is relatively easy to locate and procure the substance.

I was pointed in the direction of two different clubs during my stay there. The first time a man discreetly asked if my male travel companion was interested in marijuana while we were walking and speaking English loudly on the street. The second time I simply asked an employee at a legal CBD store if he knew where I could find a club.

4. Basic Wine Choices

The country has been making wine for more than 2,000 years, and Spanish wine is delicious.

It was during a tour of the Oller del Mas winery that I was able to experience a variety of different Spanish wines.

However, the options at most affordable restaurants and tapas bars are limited to “blanco o rojo.” If you’re not a wine connoisseur, the drink options are pretty vast and amazing:

  • Sangria and tinto de verano (both are red wine-based) are two of the most popular drinks in the country, whether it’s summertime or not.
  • The trendiest drink in the city right now is vermut with many vermouth-specific bars located throughout the city.
  • If you’re not feeling too adventurous when it comes to alcohol, then you can always order a cerveza.

Additionally, if you have never tried to drink from a porron, then you truly have not experienced Spain. The wine pitcher is more of a social event than a liquid holder. The bottle, which replaced traditional wineskins, is meant for consumption from everyone at the table. Since my trip, I’ve found this fun utensil in a Charleston, SC hipster café and impressed my friends with my practiced pours.

5. Montserrat is Tiny but Beautiful

The view from the token street that leads to the monastery is breathtaking. While there are many ways to get to the top of the mountain, not all methods are available or practical depending on the time of year you go.

There are three souvenir shops. But, I highly recommend buying locally cultivated and homemade goods at the tiny marketplace. You should also try mató — Catalonia cheese served with honey.

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