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For today’s Destination of the Week, we asked Madrid-based expat and TPG contributor Lori Zaino to cover the majestic city of Barcelona. Although Barcelona is in Spain, first and foremost it is part of the Catalunya region. Therefore, the city is a mixture of the two cultures, Catalan and Spanish, which makes for its unique architecture, delicious food, beautiful beaches and above all, its special character and culture. Let’s head to Barcelona, Spain!
WHAT TO DO
When I think Barcelona, architect Antoni Gaudi is the first thing that comes to mind. The breathtaking Sagrada Familia Cathedral, is one of the most beautiful (and incomplete!) masterpieces in the world as Gaudi died before he could finish it. He started working on it in 1883, and since his death in 1926 many other architects have attempted to continue his work while maintaining his vision for the project. It definitely warrants a visit and tickets cost approximately $16 to enter. If you aren’t scared of heights, pay the extra $6 for a tower visit where you take an elevator up one of the spiral towers and stand on a teeny bridge suspended in the air connecting two towers for incredible views of the city and the sea. Try to go at off times, or you will wait in a long line.
Other Gaudi spots worth a visit are the Park Guell (featured in Woody Allen’s film, ‘Vicky and Christina Barcelona’), the Casa Batllo and the Casa Mila. Seeing these sites, you can really get a feel for Gaudi’s quirky and unique architectural inspiration.The Park Guell is a short metro ride away from the city center.
Besides the Sagrada Famila, there are two other cathedrals in Barcelona. If you meander around the Gothic neighborhood, you will find one of them, the Catedral de la Santa Cruz y Santa Eulalia, finished in 1338. This is the oldest neighborhood in Barcelona, and it will literally take you back to medieval times. It’s a great place to stroll through, have a drink, and just take it all in.
From here you can head towards the Plaza Catalunya and later stroll down La Rambla, which is probably Barcelona’s most famous street. However, this street is notorious for pickpockets, so hold on to your valuables.
Stop into La Boqueria, a renowned typical open-air market. La Boqueria, which dates back to 1836, is not just a tourist attraction as many native Catalans still return here to buy fresh fruit, fish, meat, flowers, and more.
Finally, take a walk through the Born District (also called La Ribera), one of my personal favorite areas of Barcelona. This is a trendier area that features tiny, winding streets, tons of tapas restaurants, tiny artisan galleries and shops, and the beautiful Santa Maria Cathedral of the Sea. This cathedral is a special spot because it was built in the mid 1300s, but by the people of the city, who contributed their time and money, rather than the aristocracy. Many men, called bastaixos, would take stones from the beach and carry them all the way to the site and these stones were used to build the church. The famous book, ‘Cathedral of the Sea,’ by Ildefonso Falcones was based on this church.
If museums are your thing, then don’t miss the Picasso Museum, which is also located in the Born area. The museum features many paintings and drawings created by Picasso, as well as a lot of history and information about his life.
Barcelona is the perfect city to bike in as it is mainly flat and covered with bike lanes. Barcelona Ciclo Tour offers a great 3 hour tour of the city, stopping at 17 points of interest along the way. Barcelona is a large city and often too big to walk, so biking is the perfect alternative if you want to see many sites in a short period of time.
Finally, you always have the lovely beach of Barcelona, which is called Barceloneta. You can stop there for some sunbathing, stroll along the sand, or enjoy a coffee or cocktail at one of the many terraces along the shoreline. Again, hang on to your personal belongings in this area as Barcelona is generally a safe city with virtually no violent crime, but is rife with pickpockets.
WHERE TO EAT
Eating in Barcelona is great because most restaurants offer a combination of the typical Spanish tapas, Mediterranean cuisine and some Catalan dishes as well.
For a typical “menu del día,” or day menu, try La Crema Canela. Offered between the hours of 1-4 pm, a day menu usually has the choice of an appetizer, main course, dessert or coffee and a drink (wine, beer, water or soda) for a fixed price, usually for around $10-15. This particular restaurant offers a great day menu, and of course can be visited for dinner as well. La Crema Canela is located off the busy Rambla street, in a beautiful plaza called Plaza Real. The plaza is large and covered with palm trees, which makes the Crema Canela terrace a great place to sit out and people watch as you eat your lunch, especially as it is open year around.
For a more formal setting, have lunch or dinner at Senyor Parellada. This restaurant is famous for their rice dishes, such as paella, and they offer many options for traditional Catalan food. It’s located right next to the Santa María Cathedral in the Born District, so you can stop in after you tour the church. Often times, as a special, they will serve the oxtail soup, which is delicious.
If you want a relaxed brunch, lunch, dinner, or cocktail, visit Carmelitas. All the food is extremely fresh and made from natural products, and they offer tapas as well if you want a light bite, along with a beautiful terrace to hang out and relax on. This place is also a nice spot to simply have a beer or coffee after a long day of sightseeing, as it’s located fairly close to the Plaza Catalunya. Try the buñuelos de bacalao, which are fried balls of dough stuffed with codfish.
You can also browse the website The Fork for discounts on many participating restaurants in Barcelona. Using The Fork, you can get discounts up to 50% off, make reservations, etc. This is great way to enjoy a nice meal in Barcelona even though the dollar isn’t strong at the moment.
Destination of the Week pieces are not meant to be comprehensive guides to destinations since we don’t have the time or funds to visit all these places in person and report back to you. Nor are they endorsements of all the hotels we mention. They are simply roundups of top destinations that we have specifically pinpointed for the opportunity they present to use your miles and points to get to and stay there. As always, we welcome your comments to help enrich the content here, provide opinions and first-hand experiences of these destinations.
El Prat airport is about 12 km or 7.5 miles southwest of Barcelona and has two terminals. Most flights from the US land in Terminal 1, and getting there is probably easiest with Oneworld. American flies non-stop to Barcelona from JFK and Miami (often flights are codeshares operated by Iberia, or British Airways). From other destinations in Spain, such as Madrid, Iberia flies to Barcelona in just under an hour. Airberlin runs a non-stop flight from Berlin, and British Airways flies non-stop from London.
With Star Alliance, United flies non-stop from Newark. US Airways flies non-stop from Philadelphia. Lufthansa flies non-stop from Frankfurt, Munich and other key destinations in Germany.
With SkyTeam, Delta flies non-stop from JFK. Air France flies non-stop from Paris and Alitalia non-stop from Rome and Milan. KLM flies non-stop from Amsterdam.
If you are already in Europe, the low-cost airlines may be the way to go, as they fly to Barcelona from a large variety of destinations. Ryanair flies from many destinations, such as Edinburgh, Dublin, Porto, Warsaw and Budapest. Vueling flies non-stop from many cities, like Athens or Dubrovnik, and easyJet flies non-stop to BCN from cities such as Geneva or Liverpool. Another option from Madrid is to take the AVE high speed train to Barcelona Sants Station, which takes about 2.5-3 hours.
Getting to the city center from El Prat is relatively easy and quick. You can take the R2 Nord train line, running every 30 minutes, in Barcelona Sants train station for about 2 EUR ($2.60). This option is a bit easier if you fly into Terminal 2, as if you come from Terminal 1 you will have to walk quite a bit.
An easy, popular option to get you into the city center is the bus. The A1 and A2 bus will take you to the city center for about 6 EUR ($8). You can purchase your ticket from the driver or from a machine at the airport. These buses run every 5-10 minutes almost all day long. There is another night bus, the N17 you can take if you arrive outside daytime hours. The bus takes about 30 minutes, and you can take it to Plaza Catalunya or Plaza Espana.
Taxis will also take about 30 minutes, and charge between 25-35 EUR ($30-$45), or possibly more if you arrive after 9 pm or have extra luggage.
Hilton Diagonal Mar Barcelona: This Hilton is located in the financial district. In addition to being walking distance from the beach, this 433-room hotel has an outdoor pool and fitness center. Guest rooms include a flatscreen TV, views of the city or sea, and a work desk with ergonomic chair. The Indigo Restaurant features both Mediterranean and Catalan food. There is a business center, but WiFi is available for an added cost. Parking doesn’t come cheap at approximately 32 EUR ($43) per day. Room rates start at 229 EUR ($300) per night in October. This hotel is a Category 7 hotel requiring 60,000 HHonors points for an award night.
Hilton Barcelona Hotel: Located close to the Barcelona Sants train station (about 5 minutes by car), this 289-room hotel seems to be geared towards business travelers as they offer special executive rooms with separate working areas, and WiFi is included. The hotel features the Vibe Bar and Terrace, for tapas and wine, and the Mosaic Restaurant with gourmet Catalan food. Room rates start at 281 EUR ($368) per night in October. This is a Category 7 hotel requiring 50,000 HHonors points for an award night.
There is also the Double Tree by Hilton and Conference Center La Mola that is slightly outside the city.
Hotel Indigo: This IHG property is just a quick walk to the city’s main plaza, Plaza Catalunya. The 76 guest rooms feature flatscreen TV’s, sound systems, and a coffee and tea maker. There is complimentary WiFi, a swimming pool, and a fitness room available for guests. There is a restaurant called DQC Barcelona which serves Mediterranean food. Room rates start at 164 EUR ($215) per night in October. This is a Category 5 hotel requiring 30,000 points for an award night.
There are many Holiday Inn Express locations in the outskirts of Barcelona as alternatives.
Ritz Carlton Barcelona Arts Hotel: This beautiful 483-room property overlooks the beach, with stunning outdoor gardens and a pool. Guest rooms feature a contemporary design with a flatscreen TV, large windows, control panels for the temperature, lights, and music, and marble bathrooms. There is a gym, spa and a 24 hour business center. Inside the hotel, there are several shopping boutiques. Despite the high price tag on this hotel, you still have to pay extra for WiFi and parking. There are 5 onsite restaurants, Franks, Enoteca, Marina, Café Veranda, Arola and also a small snack bar called Bites. Room rates start at 325 EUR ($432) per night in October. This is a Category 4 requiring 60,000 points for an award night. This property is also an Amex Fine hotels and Resorts property.
AC Hotel Irla: This is a small 36-room boutique hotel. WiFi is free in the common areas, but you will have to pay about $26 for parking. The only dining option available is the breakfast room. Room rates start at 120 EUR ($160) per night in October. This is a Category 6 hotel requiring 30,000 points for an award night.
W Barcelona: This Starwood hotel is an absolutely fabulous property, located on the beach, not exactly in the city center but close enough. It has 473 guest rooms that are stylishly decorated with oversized closet space, a 32-inch flatscreen TV, iPod docking station and a fully-automated functional and mood lighting system. The bathroom includes a rainforest shower and Bliss amenities. The property is super modern, with 26 floors, the signature Bliss Spa, and a pool. There is complimentary WiFi in the common areas, and for about $24 a day you can have WiFi in your room. There are several bars, Wet Bar and Eclipse rooftop lounge, and 3 restaurants – Wave, W Bar and Bravo 24. There is even the Salt Beach Club, located on the W’s portion of the beach, for a little nightlife. Room rates start at 325 EUR ($432) per night. The is a SPG Category 6 hotel requiring 20,000 points for an award night. However, there were several blackout dates in October where redeeming points was not an option.
Le Méridien Barcelona: The location of this hotel can’t be beat as it’s right on the famous La Rambla street. This 233-room hotel has also been known to host many celebrities, such as Bruce Springsteen, the Rolling Stones, and Madonna, so if you stay here, keep your eyes peeled. Guest rooms feature a flatscreen TV, soundproof windows and a TV in the bathroom, but WiFi will cost you about $28 per day. The hotel also has a fitness center, spa and business center. Make sure to try the Cent Onze French-Catalan restaurant for a more formal dinner, or Latitude Bar or Le Popbar for tapas. Room rates start at 329 EUR ($437) per night in October. This hotel is a SPG Category 5 hotel requiring 16,000 points for an award night.
Visa Signature Hotels
When cardholders use a Visa Signature credit card to book a room through the Visa Signature Hotels program, they are eligible to receive extra perks such as discounted room rates, room upgrades, free breakfast, early check-in and late check-out, dining and spa credits and more. Visa Signature cards include the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire, British Airways Visa Signature Card, the Hyatt Credit Card, the Marriott Rewards Premier Credit Card and Marriott Rewards cards, the Southwest Rapid Rewards Plus Credit Card, Bank of America’s Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines cards, Capital One Venture, Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature Card and Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve, US Bank FlexPerks, Citi AAdvantage Visa Signature, and many more, so chances are you’re carrying at least one of them in your wallet.
Mandarin Oriental Barcelona: One of the city’s signature luxury hotels, the Mandarin Oriental is located on the prestigious Passeig de Gracia street, right in the shopping district and near all of the main tourist attractions. The 98 modern rooms include floor-to-ceiling windows, WiFi, a flatscreen TV, iPod docking station and Corian bathrooms with Red Flower amenities. There is a spa and 5 restaurants in the hotel: Moments (Michelin starred Catalan Cuisine), Blanc Brasseire, Mimosa Garden, Banker’s Bar and Terrat. There is also a rooftop swimming pool. Room rates start at 420 EUR ($550) per night in October. This is also an Amex Fine Hotel and Resorts Property.
Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts
Update: The offer mentioned below for the Platinum Card from American Express has expired. View the current offer here.
Fine Hotels & Resorts is a loyalty program for Amex Platinum cardholders who receive special benefits at participating hotels such as early check-in and late check-out, complimentary breakfast, room upgrades, and other perks.
Gran Hotel La Florida: Perched atop a hill about 15 minutes from the city center, this hotel is actually a historic landmark, with a façade dating back to the 1920s. All 70 rooms come stocked L’Occitane bath products. You can have a more formal meal in the Restaurant L’ Orangerie, or drinks and Tapas in the Gastrobar Miramar. Café 1925 has amazing views of the city while dining. WiFi is complimentary in the common areas, and the hotel has a pool and a spa, and even a baby sitting service for children for an added cost. Room rates start at 360 EUR ($478) per night in October.
Both the Ritz Carlton Barcelona Arts Hotel and the Mandarin Oriental Barcelona are Amex Fine Hotel & Resort Properties. While this premium card has one of the highest annual fees on the market, it has several valuable perks that could make it worthwhile, depending on your travel patterns. These include a $200 annual airline rebate, lounge access, free Hilton Gold status and free Starwood Preferred Guest Gold status.
While this premium card has one of the highest annual fees on the market, it has several valuable perks that could make it worthwhile, depending on your travel patterns. These include a $200 annual airline rebate, lounge access, free Hilton Gold status and free Starwood Preferred Guest Gold status.