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In his travel photo essays, TPG Contributor (and professional photographer) Patrick T. Fallon includes tips on exploring destinations, redeeming miles, gaining elite status and improving your own photography while traveling. Between TPG posts, follow his photo work and travels on Instagram. (All photos by the author.)
With the need to earn a few more Elite Qualifying Miles (EQMs) to maintain my American Airlines AAdvantage Platinum status, I decided to take a run from Los Angeles to Barcelona via Miami — adding 14,078 EQMs round-trip — for a very welcome week of visiting friends and relaxing in Catalonia.
While I was lucky enough to have a friend in the La Barceloneta neighborhood who generously let me stay with him, the W Barcelona offers a prime waterfront location close to the city’s best beaches and nightlife — rates start at 208 euros (~$227) or 20,000 Starpoints per night in February. When I first arrived in town, it was raining and cloudy, but fortunately I was able to soak up a few days of sunshine. Relaxing on the beach is fantastic, but be aware of the relentless pickpockets that roam the area and take only the bare essentials with you.
If you do find yourself in Barcelona on a poor weather day, all is not lost. Buy your tickets for La Sagrada Família online ahead of time using a foreign transaction fee-free card like the Chase Sapphire Preferred and make your way to this stunning structure created by legendary Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. You will see many of his works around Barcelona, but this is truly the most stunning. Under construction since 1882, the Basilica features detailed depictions of well-known Biblical stories on the outside and plenty of colorful stained glass designs on the inside.
With an online ticket you can skip the lines and head straight into the church courtyard for a closer look at the exterior artwork, as well as the beautiful stained glass windows and architecture inside the building, all inspired by nature.
Park Güell, also designed by Gaudí, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While the monumental zone within the park requires the purchase of a 7 euro ($8) ticket, there are plenty of areas that are free and open to the public as well.
Take the metro or bus, walk to the top of the hill to Park Güell and work your way down to see more views of the city.
Barcelona is probably best known for its nightlife, pub crawls, festivals, night clubs and carnivals. I happened to run into a Correfoc (traditional Catalan fire run) in the plaza outside my friend’s apartment that was quite the sight — #Correfoc is also a fun hashtag to explore on Instagram and get a sense for what this was like.
For lunch one day we went to El Vaso de Oro for some delicious calamari tapas, croquettes and padrón peppers. After visiting the Picasso Museum — which unfortunately does not allow photos — I wandered through the alleyways of the Gothic Quarter pining for some sangria and found the cozy ambiance of Salterio to be perfect.
If you’re planning on going out for the evening, keep in mind that the metro runs until 2am on Friday night and does not close at all on Saturday night. The crafted gin & tonics and super-strong mojitos at The Lime House were a fabulous start to the evening — this hotspot was cash-only so I used my Capital One 360 debit card to avoid racking up foreign ATM withdrawal fees.
The Mercado de La Boqueria is a great place to explore local flavors and enjoy a bite while snapping some photos. Pick up some nuts, fruit or freshly sliced Iberian ham and see this lively, colorful market in action.
One of my favorite traditions is to send “old school” postcards to friends and family back home whenever I travel, but I find it harder to find stamps and a mailbox now that social media and email have taken over. After heading to the Barcelona–El Prat Airport (BCN) early, I learned that postcard stamps can be bought in the cigar and tobacco shop outside the arrivals area of Terminal 1 — just go upstairs to find the yellow post box near the VAT Refund Desk before security.
While this was my second visit to Barcelona, I’m sure I will return again soon in the summertime. Hopefully next time I’ll be able to catch an FC Barcelona football match — and of course, a few more sunny days at the beach.
What are you favorite things to do in Barcelona?
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