We took a short vacation in Catalonia, Spain in early June of 2012 to celebrate Adrian’s birthday. We chose Spain because we really wanted a beach vacation after a long, cold winter in Berlin. We decided to go to Barcelona because we had never been there before, had always wanted to visit the city and it was on the beach. We ended up spending 3/4 of the trip in the beach town of Castelldefels and the the last portion in the city itself. Here are some of the details of the trip (all prices from 2012).
One huge factor for why we chose Spain over some other destinations is that the flight was really affordable. We were able to find round trip tickets on Kayak from the Spanish low cost carrier Vueling for 150€ each. Not the cheapest flight imaginable, but for traveling from somewhere cold to somewhere warm and right by the beach, a pretty good deal. Vueling was a pretty typical no frills low cost airline, comparable to EasyJet. This means of course that the flight is not something you are going to enjoy, but rather something you must tolerate.
The first stop on our trip was the beach town of Castelldefels, just to the south of Barcelona. We found out about it simply by doing a little bit of research and looking at hotel prices around the city of Barcelona. The good things about Castelldefels are that it has large, beautiful beaches, really nice weather and affordable, quality hotels. The trade off is that it is not close enough to Barcelona to take advantage of all that city has to offer. We would recommend Castelldefels if you are looking for a quiet place to relax and spend some time in the sun, but not as a base of operations for exploring Barcelona. Castelldefels is about 20 minutes from the Barcelona airport. We took a taxi there which cost us approximately 12€.
We stayed in a hotel in Castelldefels called the Ciudad de Castelldefels. We were able to book the hotel for 3 nights for 236€. We were quite happy with the hotel for its proximity to the beach and its nice pool area. In general, Dave prefers to swim in the ocean, while Adrian likes pools so a perfect beach vacation day for us is to relax on the beach all morning, and then hit the pool in the afternoon. We did a lot of that in our time in Casta :).
The beaches in Catalonia were quite similar to those in California, except without the massive surfing waves. This means that they are very big with nice comfortable sand and with a lot of activities going on. While we were in Casta., there was a rugby tournament going on which was kind of fun to watch. Additionally, this area of Spain is a very popular spot for Kite Surfing… also pretty fun to watch. There are also lots of bars and restaurants right on the beach and places to rent beach chairs and umbrellas. One of the highlights of our entire trip was renting a couple of beach chairs and splurging on some mojitos (it was Adrian’s birthday after all!). One other note about the beach: Spanish women usually are topless at the beach and are not at all bashful about it. Expect to see a lot of bare breasted women of all different shapes and sizes.
For food in Casta almost all the restaurants serve Tapas in some form or another… in fact the menus for most of the restaurants are exactly the same, with the only difference being price/quality. Most of the places that have an ocean view or that are right on the beach tend to be a little over-priced, especially for cocktails, but it can be worth it to enjoy the sunset. We stuck mostly to the budget spots, drank some beer and enjoyed some cheap Tapas (hamburgesas and tortillas). We did go out to dinner one night at Can Moyas on the recommendation of the hotel and a little bit of online research. Dinner was delicious. We split some amazing Paella and several Tapas plates, most featuring fresh seafood. The bill wasn’t cheap (~60€), but pretty comparable to nicer places in Berlin and definitely worth it as we had a great night!
One note on dining out: Spaniards are famous throughout Europe for eating very late in the evening and staying up even later, so unless you don’t mind being the only people in the restaurant, book a table after 10pm. We ate a 9:30pm and had the place to ourselves, but that kind of thing doesn’t really bother us.
After four awesome days in Castelldefels we hopped on the train to Barca to check out the big city. The commuter rain connecting Casta to Barcelona was cheap and extremely easy to use- less than 10€/person. We had no problem figuring it out (despite our limited Spanish) and it was a comfortable short ride into town. The Castelldefels tourism website has timetables and maps that may help you out. Once we were in Barcelona however, we had a bit more trouble. While Barcelona does have a large Metro system that is fairly easy to use, we found that most of the places we were looking to go also required a lot of walking. You’ll need to utilize public transportation to get to the vicinity of the spot you want to check out, but be prepared for some additional trekking when you get off the train or bus. Park Güell is a great example. It’s a must-see destination for any visitor, but requires a significant hike up a steep hill to reach. It’s not a problem if you’re fit, but if you’re traveling with anyone who has difficulty getting around or if you’re carrying a heavy load you might want to invest in a rental car or opt to take a cab. We ran into this more than once during our short time in the sprawling city.
ACCOMMODATION: We stayed at a cheap hostel called the Bcn Eixample Hostel which we chose for it’s price and location. It turned out exactly as we expected: no frills, just a place to stay. We arrive close to noon and the man who checked us in had still not woken up yet… typical Spanish. The BCN was looked fairly close to the metro (Tarragona, Rocafort) and the Commuter Rail (Barcelona-Sants) on the map:
However, from Sants it was actually a significant walk with our heavy backpacks. Barcelona is a spread out city, so (again) be prepared to do some walking!
TOURISTING: As for touristing around the city we did many of the typical things that you can find a in a guidebook including a tour of the old gothic quarter and a trip out to Park Güell featuring the architecture and sculpture of Barcelona’s favorite son, Anoni Gaudi. There is no shortage of things to do there, the only concern we had was having enough time. We left already looking forward to our next visit! We provided a quick rundown of some must see Barcelona sites:
– Park Güell
– Picasso Museum
– Parc de la Ciutadella
– Sagrada Familia
– Plaça del Rei
– Casa Battlo
– Gothic Quarter
– La Rambla
**A number of museums in Barcelona are free the first Sunday of the month. Free admission is a fabulous perk, but beware of incredibly long lines and crowded halls. We tried to get into the Picasso Museum and the wait time just to get in the door was over an hour. With limited time in Barcelona we opted out in favor of dedicating more time to Park Güell.
EATS: As for dining in Barca, we did have some difficulty finding good spots. Since we weren’t interested in staying up late and clubbing, we were left wandering the streets trying to find a decent restaurant that was open at 7pm. We ended up eating at a so-so student tapas place that was a little disappointing so we would recommend planning ahead where you want to go and making sure that it is conveniently located and the exact opening hours. We also walked all over the city to find churros and chocolate dipping sauce on the advice of some other travelers and were sorely disappointed when we finally located them. Maybe the buildup was too much and there was no way they were going to satisfy our expectations, but we’d definitely recommend passing on the Spanish treat in favor of some Spanish pastries, chocolates or ice cream.