Travel Diaries: A PRETTY GIRL's Guide to Barcelona

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This past March, I got to do something beyond cool: I traveled to Barcelona, Spain to meet up with my good friend for a spring break we won't soon forget! I had the ABSOLUTE time of my life spending a week in another country — trying different foods, getting lost in unfamiliar territory and simply breaking away from my normal day-to-day routine. All of it left me feeling like a whole new woman by the end of the trip.
 


 

That's why I firmly believe everyone should take the chance to experience "true travel euphoria." Yet, trust, I'm fully aware of how daunting planning a global getaway can be. At the end of the day, however, planning shouldn't be the only thing stopping you!

If you're down for the cause and ready to see the world starting with Barcelona, keep scrolling for my handy travel guide to cut out some of the anxiety-inducing legwork of getting out there — plus, spark some inspiration for what to do while in town!

Getting There:

I left for my trip during mid-March, which is considered the "off-season" for travel. Basically, traveling in the off-season means flights and accommodations typically aren't as expensive as they would be in the summertime or during popular holidays. Thus, I highly recommend searching for deals in the off-season if you want to save some major bucks. Think February to April and September to November. I found an American Airlines flight for $450 round trip, leaving and returning from JFK, with a layover in London coming back to the U.S. Not too shabby considering I booked only a month in advance! But as a rule of thumb, if you can, definitely try booking at least three months ahead or more to score lower flight prices. 

Another tip! Google Flights is my most-used tool when booking travel. It consolidates prices across all major airlines, so it's super easy to compare costs at once. But when you're ready to book, always head to the official airline's website to pay for your flight to lock in your deal.

Accommodations: 

My friend and I stayed in a private room at a boutique hostel named Casa Garcia. Yes, you read that correctly. A boutique hostel! Located in the Graça neighborhood, it's within walking distance from lots of popular tourist attractions. Our stay included a standard buffet breakfast, which we enjoyed often in the hostel's garden, and tons of group activities including tours. 

In general, hostels are starting to pop up all over Europe and are targeted towards younger travelers who crave a little bit of luxury but also need to stick to a budget. Spots like Casa Garcia offer a wide variety of rooms — ranging from traditional dorm-style suites (super budget friendly) with shared restrooms to well-equipped private suites (for those with more wiggle room in their wallets). Overall, I found this type of accommodation to be way less pricey compared to regular hotels and bed-and-breakfast spots — but of course, where you decide to stay depends on your preference. 

Regardless of your choice, I highly recommend staying someplace that's outside of the main city center and is located among residents, since those spots are oftentimes much more affordable and offer more of a genuine cultural experience.

Not sure where to start? Here are three great tools to consider using when you are searching for the perfect place:

1. Hostelworld: A collection of basic, mid-level and luxury hostel options found all around the world. Tip! Always book your stay on the host's official website or call to confirm.

2. booking.com: I use this site as a starting point to give me an idea of the general price range of accommodations. 

3. Airbnb: A great option in most cities, as it is generally cost-effective and provides a "home-y" feel that can be especially comforting when you're visiting unfamiliar territory. 
 

Out & About: 

Barcelona is walkable! Walking is the cheapest and easiest way to get around and sightsee, which is exactly what we did. The next best choice is to rent a bike and get lost. Bikes can be rented by the hour or day, with some rentals setting you back only €5! Here is a list of biking options in the city, if that's the route you wish to take given that Barcelona has tons of designated paths that connect to cute neighborhoods and more tourist attractions. 

Tip! Don't be afraid to bike in the street. From experience, vehicles are pretty tolerant of bikers — but, of course, still remain vigilant, safe and aware of your surroundings. 
 

via GIPHY

 

While Uber is popular in some European cities, keep in mind that it's banned in Barcelona. So, if you're heading to a spot that's not walkable and you don't feel like riding a bike, you'll need to catch a taxi. They're not the cheapest option, but they're super convenient.

To take us to and from the airport, I booked a private car using a safe and reliable company called Welcome Pickups. The drive was about €20 each way, though there are a ton of other options ranging in price (€2.50 - €35) that'll take you anywhere between the airport (El-Prat BCN) and the city center. It all just depends, again, on your preference and budget.
 

Also! Though we didn't experiment with public transportation, Barcelona does have a train and bus service that runs throughout the city — both are well-worth exploring to save additional funds!
 

What to see:

Barcelona is home to several popular tourist spots like the unfinished Roman Catholic church, La Sagrada Familia, and busy street strip, La Ramblas. As a personal preference, however, I'm not really one for visiting touristy landmarks when traveling abroad. See these sights if they're a MUST-GO on your list, but I encourage you to explore outside of what everyone else typically does. Believe me, it's SO WORTH getting on a bike or venturing into less popular neighborhoods or parks and discovering something you've never seen or heard of before. 

And matter of fact, whenever you do stumble upon something magical on an off-beaten path, if you're like me — you'll probably want to keep it a secret, which is part of what traveling abroad is all about!

One of my fondest and first memories of visiting Barcelona was hitting the streets early morning, and after walking for a good 90 minutes, discovering a sun-soaked beach at the city's edge. After a long seven-hour flight, it was the quiet, beautiful discovery I needed. 
 


 

Another alternative to getting caught in tourist traps is to book activities through Airbnb Experiences. The service offers a wide range of ventures led by local hosts to give travelers a culturally exclusive experience while also interacting with others from around the world. I try to book one of these at least once when visiting a new city, and I never regret it!   
 

Three things I recommend off the bat? 

A Spanish wine and tapas Gastro-tour.

Paella-making in a secret garden.

A sunset sail cruise.

 

Food, Food, Food: 

There's a ton of great restaurants and cafés to dine at in Barcelona. And! It's not too hard to find ones that are reasonably priced. After extensive research and testing, here's some of the best places I found.
 

Breakfast/Brunch: 

Billy Brunch // @billybrunch (€-€€): We ate here almost every day for breakfast! It's a cozy, open-daily cafe that offers healthy, vegan and vegetarian options for those who are health nuts (like myself) or follow strict dietary restrictions. Specialty coffee and tea, fresh-pressed juices and alcoholic beverages are all under €5 — completely unheard of for my New York City-folk. (A matcha latte is €2.60, y'all.) 
 

Aldi & Local Grocery Stores // (€): Yes, Aldi is in Barcelona! It, along with other affordable grocery stores are scattered throughout the city, making them great alternatives to eating out every morning. Grabbing fresh fruit, some whole grain bread or nuts from these stores is an easy way to save money and get your day started. If your accommodation has a kitchen, consider cooking!

 


 


 

Lunch/Dinner: 
 

Arume Restaurant // @arumebarcelona (€€): If you're looking for some of the city's best paella, then head to Arume. This down-home, but contemporary-styled eatery is an awesome place to go to with a friend or two, especially because paella, the national dish of Spain, is traditionally shared. But don't let that stop you if you're riding solo! All that means is all the more for you my friend! Make sure to try the peanut noodles too with a glass of sangria, the national drink.
 


 


Teòric:
// @teoric_taverna_gastronomica (€€): If you're looking to be treated like an absolute queen (or king), treat yourself to a gastronomic experience with the chefs at Teòric. Hands down, they serve some of the best experimental tapas, or small plates, sourced form environments nearby. Though the menu is seasonal, meaning they do not have a fixed menu year-round, you can always count on impeccable service, local wine plus bread to die for and an unforgettable experience. If you're with others, definitely order as much as you can — you'll be glad you did! The main thing to keep in mind, though, is that you need to make a reservation well in advance, as it's quite popular!
 


 


The Green Spot // @thespotbarcelona (€€): The Green Spot is a strictly vegetarian restaurant serving a veggie-forward take on classic dishes from around the globe. I decided to grab dinner here one night when I was in desperate need of some raw foods, and it didn't disappoint. Tip! Go for the four cheese pizza with squash blossoms and the jackfruit tacos! 
 


 

All-in-all, there was simply not enough time to try every famed eatery in Barcelona during my stay. This list of restaurants highlights a few I wanted to try, but just could not get to, featuring the best cheap eats around the city!

 

Final Thoughts:

Although extremely popular among tourists from around the world, Barcelona retains its charm — most often found in tiny alleyways, at sunrise and sunset and in its food. And although a major city, it still functions in a slow-paced manner, which is a refreshing change from the hustle and bustle for U.S urban-dwellers. Would I revisit? IN A HEARTBEAT!
 


 

 

Side Tips:

1. Spain is a country within the European Union (E.U), so they run on the euro(€). I cannot recommend enough that you purchase euro from your bank BEFORE you leave the U.S, as your bank will offer you the best exchange rate. Buying euro at the airport or foreign exchanges can be pretty pricey. Take out as much as you think you will need in cash, plus another $100 more. Remember you need to account for food and drink three times a day, transportation and incidentals if needed. Most places, including restaurants, accept American debit and credit cards with the occasional exception of American Express, in my experience. 

If you come back to the states with extra euro, sell the currency back to your bank.

2. Barcelona is infamously deemed the pick-pocketing capital of the world. Be vigilant about where you keep your personal belongings and cash when you pound the pavement. This is absolutely nothing to be afraid of, but rather something important to note. Only take the cash you think you will need for the day, and leave the rest in your luggage or room safe. Fanny packs are still having their moment, maybe think about investing in one!

Safe travels, PRETTY GIRLS. I love getting the opportunity to create useful and inspiring travel content for readership around the world, especially for girls like you! Help me continue to produce work like this here.

Is Barcelona on your travel destination list? What other countries are grabbing your attention? Comment below! 

 

Mecca Russell, is a graduate from The New School in New York City. Both her Journalism & Design coursework and internship experience reflect the intersections of reporting, photo, and documentary. She enjoys storytelling through mediums of film, writing, and photography and is inspired by journalism's power to tell untold stories. She's contributed to Teen Diaries & Pretty Girls Sweat as a weekly writer and reporter. When she is not editing or writing, Mecca is often found browsing through books at your local bookstore, sipping a matcha latte, or dripping in sweat after a HIIT and strength training workout in the early mornings. Mecca is also a singer-songwriter and can be found gigging around her city quite frequently. She looks forward to learning new ideas everyday and is always up for a challenge!