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Chloe’s Ultimate Travel Guide to Barcelona and Valencia

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Ah, the quintessential darling cities of Spain. Though one sibling, Barcelona, might be a bit more famous than its sister cities of Valencia or Madrid, all Spanish cities have personality and charm. Barcelon and Valencia offer wonderful architectural sights and gastronomic fair. Barcelona with its Gaudi and Gothic charm is easily the most enchanting; entrenched in history and art. There’s a reason why so many travellers find Barcelona enthralling. But don’t underestimate Valencia where medieval architecture meets the super modern City of Sciences. Valencia is also the birthplace of paella which must be on any gourmand’s list of dishes to try. 

Read Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s the Shadow of the Wind series for a taste of Barcelona before heading there. 

This post contains affiliate links. I may earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you) if you make a purchase after clicking on one of the affiliate links. I only recommend products I’ve personally used and liked. All opinions are my own. 

Essentials

Some essential information to know before you go.

Main language spoken: Spanish (or Castilian Spanish) in addition to languages spoken in autonomous regions (such as Catalan in Catalonia, a region largely associated with Barcelona). 

Currency: the Euro

Voltage and plug adapter: Spain runs on 230V and uses the round pin plugs. Stock up on some adapters handling voltage range between 220 – 240V. See my post on Essential Items to Pack in your Carry-on for tips on what plug adapters to buy.

Major Train Station: 

Barcelona: Barcelona Sants 

Valencia: Estación Joaquin Sorolla and Estacio del Nord (Both serve high-speed trains but they go to different cities, so make sure to confirm exactly which train station you should be heading to.)

Major Airports: 

Barcelona: Barcelona-El Prat Airport (BCN) 

Valencia: Valencia Airport (VLC) aka known as Manises since it’s in the Manises area. 

Getting There 

The best time to visit is April or October where usually the cities are blistering hot. Those are also the best times for catching festivals. There are more direct flights going into Barcelona, but you might have to catch a train from Barcelona to Valencia if you’re heading there on the day of. 

Where to Stay 

Valencia

Zalamera BnB

A charming bed and breakfast with cute and functional rooms. You can book a private room with a personal washroom at a great rate. It’s in a great location just steps outside of downtown Valencia but close enough to get to the city centre and to the train stations. Take your breakfast and coffee on the balcony and enjoy the early morning bliss. 

Barcelona

Chic & Basic: Zoo 

A boutique hotel company with several locations across Barcelona. They’ve all got creative nickanes and the one I stayed in was called Zoo because it was near the park with the Barcelona zoo. Don’t worry! There weren’t any freaky animal sounds at night. The hotel is quiet, clean, comfy, and, like the name says, chic and basic and in a great location. I’m all about a good sleep after a day of exploring, so this place is out of the way but only a few minutes to walk to Las Ramblas. It’s also close to Barceloneta beach if you’re looking for a beach in the city. 

What to See and Do 

Barcelona

Palau de la Musica 

Music is something I always try to incorporate into my trips. See what the Palau is playing by spontaneously walking in and seeing what shows they have the days you’re visiting. I caught a flamenco show with guitarists and dancers. It was absolutely mesmerizing to be in this concert hall; it looks like King Triton’s kingdom rose out of the ocean. There are stained glass windows, sculpted angels, and ornaments as if they’ve been molded from sand and baked until solid. It’s a wondrous sight and definitely a highlight of the trip. 

Inside the Palau de la Música.

St. Josephs Market (La Boqueria)

This is like an amazement park, but for fish. Don’t fret if you’re not a huge fish fan as there are no fishy, rotting smells here because the market is fresh, fresh, fresh! Giant squids and swordfish are displayed like expensive Persian rugs. The octopus are glistening orange; the  oily anchovies and shining dover soles are curated like relics in a display case. Oh, and watch your belongings! It’s an easy place to get pickpocketed while you’re savouring that fried calamari.

Look for some restaurants with bar seating and order some fish dishes. I had lychee foie gras and pan con tomate for appetizers, then I savoured a beautiful, whole pan seared flounder. It was heaven. Check out La Boqueria official site for a map of the market and take a chance at Quiosc Modern if you’re a seafood fan. It’s where I got to try all the dishes listed above. 

A delicious fresh flounder from St. Joseph’s Market.

La Sagrada Familia 

Of course visiting the jewel of Barcelona is a must. The cathedral is designed with multi-coloured stained glass which let in a kaleidoscope of light into the cavernous space. The forest of columns ressemble lungs breathing in the sanctity of the sanctuary. La Sagrada Familia is like a giant sand castle rising from the ground. Notice the brutalist designs of the lizards and other creatures on the exterior parts of the church. Gaudi apparently didn’t work from blueprints, but from his imagination. It’s one of the reasons it’s taking such a long time to complete. Make sure to buy tickets in advance to skip the line up. 

Outside of the Sagrada Familia.

Parc Guell 

Another famous place by Gaudi. It has a famous lizard under the park surrounded by columns. Mosaics adorn the walls and everything is wavy and water-like; fluid. Buy tickets in advance!  Parc Guell is located in the suburbs and getting to the park will require a tough-ish hike up some huge hills and stairs, so wear the right shoes. 

On the top balcony of Parc Guell with beautiful tiles on the wavy benches.

Las Ramblas 

The most famous road in Barcelona. It’s great for shopping and it’s lined with bars, but I wouldn’t recommend eating at any of the restaurants there as they have gouging tourist prices. The street itself is vibrant, full of shops, and boutiques, St. Joseph’s market is located here. Be cautious if staying out after midnight. Las Ramblas has a whole different identity after midnight, so be extra vigilant if you decide to party late.

El Raval 

An artsy neighbourhood when I went in 2017. It didn’t have the best reputation, especially at night. But it’s an artist neighbourhood full of bars, galleries, and fantastic food. It’s a great spot to get away from the hustle and bustle of Las Ramblas. 

Valencia 

City of Sciences 

A sci-fi city dedicated to the arts and sciences. The place looks like a cross between Harry Potter and Star Trek. Checkout the giant eye-like venue which is a music hall rising out of the artificial pool. There’s also a beautiful greenhouse, like Professor Sprout’s botanic garden, but galactic-style. Climb up the hillside and see the whole City of Sciences from above. There are pathways leading all around the city with cafes. Great for when you need a break from all the walking. 

Downtown Valencia (festival of the lady of the Forsaken) 

I was lucky to walk into a large festival of the Lady of the Forsaken, where a dozen men carry an enormous altar on their backs, and parade it around the city. It’s an amazing sight to see the tall altar come out of the church doors, down the steps, and onto the streets. Spectators wait along the path where the statue will pass and toss flower petals onto the statue. It’s an emotional sight. I highly recommend finding out if there are festivals taking place when you’re visiting. 

Where to Eat 

Paella! 

Valencia’s dish of the region is paella and I wish I could get the name of the restaurant where I ate. Unfortunately, the restaurant has either closed down or changed its name. Either way, I highly recommend trying a paella dish in highly-rated restaurants where the rice is perfectly flavoured and where the bottom is perfectly crispy. There will be lots of tourist paella around.  Where usually the paella will be overly salty, with overcooked or underdone rice, and prepared with sub-par ingredients. Find a joint located a bit away from tourist areas inside a space with tiled mosaics and it’s surer sign you’ll get some juicy paella dishes.

This place served tasty paella. Unfortunately, I think the place has either closed or changed its name.

Most restaurants in Spain close their kitchens for a siesta around 2 or 3 PM, and don’t reopen again until 5, or even later. Most restaurants will keep their bars open so you can always sit down and have a beer, but there might not be food. You might find some restaurants with the sign la cucina non-stop meaning the kitchens run all through the afternoon. These are most likely located in tourist areas. 

Valencia and Barcelona are special cities to visit. And like all special places, you could spend months, or even a year at a time in one place and still not see all that you could. But that’s the gift of travel: enjoying the moment while you can. 
Read my other Spain travel guides forplanning your dream trips or bucket-list journeys to Spain! Check out my other travel guides too for more tips and tricks on planning your ultimate dream getaways.

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