My Top Must-Dos in Barcelona

barcelona beach

Barca, barca, barca. After two visits to this captivating city, it’s abundantly clear to me that this classic destination is in a league of it’s own. My first trip to Barcelona was a weekend stint during my semester abroad in Florence back in 2013. This summer, I had the chance to revisit what is better known to locals as the capital of Catalonia. Of course, I revisited the classics like Barceloneta beach and the famous La Rambla, but I also got the chance to see some sights I missed out on previously. If you’re traveling to this vibrant region of Spain for the first time, you can’t go wrong with hitting up these spots.

1. Check out the street art

As soon as you step onto the streets of Barcelona, you can’t help but notice it’s bold personality– particularly, the quirky street art. From this funky lobster statue near La Rambla, to the many abstract Picasso works, you’ll be thoroughly entertained as you walk around the city.

Barcelona street

2. Wander down La Rambla

Also known as the street that never sleeps, La Rambla may look like a place for a casual stroll in the photo below, but don’t be fooled– it is constantly busy! Countless street performers, artists, and various vendors line the street while hundreds of tourists and locals alike weave their way down the street. This is the perfect place to pick up an inexpensive souvenir!

la rambla

3. Stop by the Barcelona Cathedral

This iconic church is also named the Cathedral of the Holy Cross and Saint Eulalia. As the story goes, the cathedral was dedicated to Eulalia of Barcelona, a young girl who was tortured and eventually executed by the Romans for being Catholic and refusing to declare otherwise. Aside from the fascinating story, the church itself is insanely beautiful with its gothic architecture.

Barcelona Cathedral

4. View the Arc de Triomf

Believe it or not, but the Eiffel Tower was actually supposed to go in its place, but the townspeople said there was no way something that ugly was going up in their city. Needless to say, they probably made the wrong choice. But then again, the Eiffel Tower wouldn’t have the same kind of charm in a city like Barcelona. The beautiful red-toned Arc de triomf fits in perfectly, marking the entrance to the city’s beloved Parc de la Ciutadella. We went here on our Fat Tire Bike Tour, which I highly recommend if you want to knock a ton of items off this list in a short amount of time while learning a lot about the history of Barcelona, Catalonia.

barcelona arc de triomf

5. Ride bikes around Parc de la Ciutadella

If you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, look no further than this lush and expansive park. Once a fortress designed for soldiers to keep a watch over Barcelona and later a political prison, this huge area was demolished in 1869 and rebuilt to be what it is today. The Cascada (waterfall shown below) was built by Josep Fontsere with the help of his intern, Gaudi (yep, even he had to pay his dues). Within the park, you can also find a zoo, the Catalan Parliament building, museums, a small lake, and statues including a massive mammoth. I told you, Barcelona has no shortage of quirky art!

Parc de la Ciutadella

6. Get some culture shock at La Monumental

While you’re out and about, make a point to stop by Barcelona’s old bullfighting arena. Believe it or not, but bull fights took place as recently as 2011 when it was banned. I can’t even imagine what PETA would do if something like that took place just four years ago in the states! The building now serves as a bullfighting museum.

La Plaza Monumental

7. Indulge the senses at La Boqueria market

This is hands down my favorite spot in all of Barcelona, which is why it deserves so many photos! Seriously, this place can satisfy any craving. From sweets, to sandwiches, to the very popular smoothies and every type of fresh fish you can imagine,  this is the ultimate market. It gets insanely crowded, so I recommend going early to grab breakfast and some snacks for the beach. It’s located right off of La Rambla, by the way!

la boqueriala boqueria barcelonabarcelona la boqueriaMercat la Boqueria

8. Take a stroll near the docks

One of my favorite places to walk in Barcelona is near hundreds of the boats on the way to the beach. It’s absolutely gorgeous, and the perfect place to people watch.

barcelona boats

9. Chill out at Barceloneta beach

I bet you were probably wondering when I was going to throw this one in! Barcelona owes much of its notoriety to this widely adored beach. It truly embodies the personality and flair of Barcelona. First of all, it’s a topless beach. So if you’re looking to get rid of those tan lines and don’t mind the extra attention, make yourself at home. It’s also always busy. It can be pretty tough to find a spot, but it’s well worth the search. The water is crystal clear, and the ultra soft, dust-like sand is imported from the Sahara desert. Did I mention it’s a completely man-made beach?! It’s pretty hard to believe something this beautiful is artificial. The palm trees were also imported from Hawaii. Be prepared to be solicited by people selling everything from drinks, to tapestries, to massages. Definitely buy with caution! I tried a drink because it seemed like a good deal and I swear it had no alcohol in it. The tapestries are actually really pretty, especially if you don’t have a towel. Just keep in mind that you can easily talk them down to 5 euros if you haggle hard enough! Drinks at the beach bars are extremely pricey, so BYOB if you can.

Barceloneta beach

10. Take in the views at Montjuïc

For the best view of Barcelona, take the chairlift up to the top of Montjuïc. This is one of the attractions I missed on my first go around. I only suggest doing this if you have extra time, as the line can be pretty long. However, the views can’t be beat!

Montjuïcbarcelonabarca

11. Marvel at the Sagrada Familia

Full (and very embarrassing) disclosure here. I didn’t see the Sagrada Familia on my first visit to Barcelona. If you know anything about how significant this church is, you know why that was such a tragic fail. Gaudi’s plans for this baby are so insane, that it’s been under construction since 1882 and won’t be finished until 2026! I can’t even begin to understand how it’s going to work, but it’s going to be twice as tall when it’s finished! If you have the chance, head up one of the towers for an epic view. (View from the nativity tower pictured in second photo). The interior of the structure resembles elements in nature. For example, the columns look like trees. Every inch of the Sagrada Familia is intricate and beautiful. There is truly no other church in the world that compares!

sagrada familia
sagrada familia towersagrada familia inside

12. Check out mosaics at Parc Guell

When I first visited Parc Guell, it was free to enter all areas of the park. On my most recent visit, I was bummed to find out that it now costs money to enter the main area with the impressive mosaic tiles and beautiful overlook (pictured in the below photos). Even though it’s kind of ridiculous that they now charge a fee to view all of Parc Guell, I still highly recommend you visit. It’s one of the best places in the city for a colorful photo op, and the views are spectacular. Keep in mind that you’ll need to book tickets in advance, as you’re given a time slot for when you can enter the restricted area.

Parc guell barcelonaparc guell gaudiParc guellgaudi

Within Parc Guell, you can also find Gaudi’s former home turned museum, where he lived for nearly 20 years.

gaudi house museum

13. See a Flamenco show at the Palau de la Musica

I truly can’t say enough good things about this building. From the stunning, colorfully detailed exterior to the mind blowing stained glass ceiling and stage, the Palau de la Musica has earned its title as one of the most beautiful concert halls in the world. Even Franco (dictator who hated Catalonia and is now deceased) agreed, as he didn’t tear it down even though it was a Catalan building. I saw a flamenco show here, and it was the highlight of my Barcelona trip!

Palau de la Musicapalau de la musica barcelonapalau de la musica ceilingflamenco show barcelona

14. Stand in awe at the architecture of Casa Batllo

I can’t believe I don’t have a photo of this building, but it’s one of the most iconic structures in Barcelona because of it’s classic Gaudi architecture and mosaic tiles. Definitely a must-see!

15. Enjoy traditional spanish cuisine

Barcelona is well-known for its fresh seafood, fruits, and vegetables. Paella and various tapas like patatas bravas and croquetas are favorites among tourists and locals alike. Shy away from eating near the beach, as the restaurants are often overpriced and less authentic. Here are a couple of my favorite spots:

7 Portes
This is an extremely popular restaurant! We went right when it opened for lunch, and there was already a line outside the door. If you’re going for dinner, definitely make a reservation. The canelloni is not to be missed, and the sangria is really tasty!

Los Caracoles
Located right off of La Rambla is this very famous and authentic Spanish restaurant. You have to walk through the kitchen to get to the dining area, and it smells amazing. The restaurant is famous for their caracoles (snails). This was my first time trying snails, and they were actually pretty good! If you like live music, you’ll love the three men who play guitar and serenade you while you eat.

los caracoles

16. Live it up at Barcelona’s hottest nightlife spots

Of course I have to address one of the main reasons why people visit Barcelona: the nightlife. My favorite spots are the bars versus the clubs, but obviously the clubs are more iconic.

Chupitos Shot Bar
Chupitos shot bar is the perfect little place to start your night. Beware, it’s called a shot bar for a reason! AKA you’re probably going to take four or five before you leave. There are a million to choose from, and they’re all extremely creative and fun. My favorites are the Willy Wonka, which is topped with a piece of chocolate; the Boy Scout, which has skewers and a flame to roast a marshmellow over (seriously too cute!); and the Harry Potter, which has magical sparks flying all around it.

Dow Jones
This stock market themed bar is seriously a blast! It works exactly like the stock market: when a drink is in high demand, the price goes up. When a drink is in low demand, the price goes down. And of course, the stock market crashes throughout the night, meaning all of the drinks are extremely cheap!

dow jones barcelona

Opium
If you’re looking for a true Barcelona clubbing experience, look no further than Opium. This place is absolutely massive and full of professional dancers and DJs. That being said, the guys are pretty aggressive, so be sure to look out for one another! Also keep in mind that everyone tries to stay out until sunrise, so if you want to make it, you need to pace yourself!

opium barcelona

What are your top must-dos in Barcelona?

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The Top Things to Do in Barcelona, Spain | Travel Guide

Falling in Love with Córdoba

Cordoba patios

I’ll be honest– I had no intention of traveling to Córdoba on my recent Europe trip. But after researching day trips from Madrid, I knew I had to explore this charming city in southern Spain. Córdoba was once the capital of Islamic Spain, and is one of the most important cultural heritage sights in the world. From the mesmerizing Mezquita to the city’s colorful patios, my visit to Córdoba was pretty much love at first sight.

Patios of Córdoba

First off, I highly suggest visiting in May! We just missed The Contest of the Patios of Córdoba (also known as the Battle of the Flowers) which is an annual two week event where families open their homes up to the public to enjoy the sights and smells of the alluring courtyards, free of charge.

The tradition of filling central patios with plants began as a way for locals to aerate their homes. Over time, people began to put more emphasis on creativity and decoration of the patios rather than their functionality. The hobby flourished as homeowners began planting vibrant flowers with irresistible scents in brightly colored pots. Of course, it was tough to keep such beautiful sights a secret from the public. Thus, the competition was born.

La Mezquita: Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba

An absolute must-see on any trip to Córdoba is the awe-inspiring Mosque turned Cathedral, better known as La Mezquita. Not only is it easily the most beautiful structure in Córdoba, but it has also gained recognition as one of the most astounding attractions in the world!

Upon entering, you can’t help but notice the grand courtyard, named the Court of Oranges. It almost made me feel like I was on the set of Game of Thrones in Dorne, which isn’t surprising because Seville (where the show is filmed) is just a two hour train ride away. The large fountain located in the center spouts safe drinking water from each corner, so definitely bring an empty water bottle!

Cordoba bell tower

After you’re finished enjoying the courtyard, get your entrance tickets for the Mosque and the bell tower, which has a scheduled entrance time. I recommend heading up the tower first for a nice introductory view of the city. The panorama views are breathtaking!

cordoba spain

View of Córdoba from the bell tower

bell tower cordoba

Dome at the entrance of the bell tower

Once I was back on ground level, I made my way over to the Mosque entrance. Suddenly, I was greeted by row after row of massive red and white striped arches. Pictures really don’t do it justice! Even though this structure stands in Spain, I almost felt like I’d been teleported to the Middle East when I was inside.

mosque cordoba

Iconic Mezquita arches

The islamic architecture and detailing blew me away. Can you imagine if this was all torn down once it was converted back into a Roman Catholic church?!

cordoba spain mosque

Mihrab in the mosque

After the Mosque was conquered by the Catholics, the impressive prayer hall was built. The stark contrast of the two religious design styles somehow compliment each other perfectly.

cordoba mosque cathedral

Catholic cathedral in the center

cordoba mezquita

cordoba mosque

With the most important item crossed off of the itinerary, it’s time to hit the streets. The best way to explore Córdoba is by foot or segway. My brother had been here before and made friends with a local, Rafael, who works at a shop called Córdoba by Segway. We opted for a private walking tour so we could take our time and stop for photos as we pleased– which I did quite a bit! Definitely make a point to take a tour with Rafael. He’s extremely passionate about his city, and can answer any questions you might have.

cordoba streets

cordoba street

As you can see, the flower pots aren’t just confined to courtyards. Córdoba takes pride in the history of the patios, and views gardening as something that brings their community together. This can be seen in statues like the one pictured below, which represents one generation helping the next to preserve the charm of the city.

cordoba culture

cordoba flower pots

Be sure to wander beyond the gift shops and tourist traps to discover the quaint, colorful streets of the town. The Jewish Quarter is a nice place to explore.

cordoba jewish quarter

Calleja de las Flores

Another iconic spot is the Calleja de las Flores in the Jewish Quarter. Though the flowers weren’t in their prime during my July visit, tourists flock to this spot to see the potted plants that lead up to a view of the bell tower in the distance.

cordoba calleja de las flores

calleja de las flores

I can’t remember exactly where this courtyard is located, but it’s open all year long and makes for some pretty epic photos. If you take Rafael’s tour, he’ll definitely take you here!

cordoba courtyard

cordoba flowers

cordoba travel

I somehow sniffed my way to this tea shop. The smells were all too enticing! I also stopped to sample some candied nuts at another little street shop in the city center. It’s all a bit too charming for words.

cordoba tea

Something that might not look as appealing is this strange sight I stumbled upon in a small market. I asked what it was, and the butcher informed me that it was goat’s leg– a regional specialty– and cut me off a small piece. Although it didn’t look particularly appetizing, I tried it and was pleasantly surprised to find that it had a similar flavor to prosciutto. I probably wouldn’t eat an entire dish of it, but as they say… When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

goat leg

Speaking of food, be sure to try Salmorejo, which is Córdoba’s signature dish. It’s basically a cold tomato and bread based soup with serrano ham and hard-boiled eggs. It’s the perfect lunch dish for a hot summer day!

Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos

I highly recommend making your way to this beautiful structure. The inside houses Roman ruins including baths, but the real treat is the outdoor garden. This was my JAM! But really, there were more flowers than in Mary Poppins. I was in heaven.

cordoba alcazar

ordoba Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos

cordoba alcazar

alcazar courtyard

cordoba pink

alcazar cordoba

A unique and historic craft of Cordoba is leatherwork. Believe it or not, but the work pictured below was made completely by hand with metals tools on a piece of leather. This ancient technique takes an unbelievable amount of precision, which is why the works are so rare. You can view this piece along with many others for free at the Leather Museum in the city center. If you take Rafael’s tour, ask him to bring you here at the end!

cordoba leather museum

Another custom is horseback riding. I found this caballero riding around town before a show outside of the Alcazar. Rafael took us to the Caballerizas Reales de Córdoba to watch as caballeros practiced riding techniques with their beautiful Andalusian horses. If you have time to see a show, he said they’re incredible!

cordoba caballero

Roman Bridge

The Roman Bridge is another adored spot in the city. It was built in the 1st Century A.D., although it has been restored many times. It’s situated above the Guadalquivir River (try to pronounce that!) and is right by the Mosque. I highly recommend ending the day here to watch the sun set as birds dance above the water.

cordoba roman bridge

mezquita cordoba

Exterior of the Mezquita

cordoba architecture

roman bridge cordoba

cordoba bridge

Would you visit Córdoba? Have you been there before? Let’s chat!

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Top Things To Do in Madrid

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Upon entering Spain’s capital, I was immediately immersed in a world of unfamiliar sights and sounds. Colorful tarps strung high above the streets greeted me by shielding the hot July sun from my face while flamenco style street music filled the air. With my luggage in tow, I was ready to take on all that Madrid had to offer. Here are, in my opinion, the top things to do in this wonderful city. Disclaimer: Although this was my first visit, my brother studied abroad here, so I had an advantage over other first time visitors.

Stock up on energy at the Mercado de San Miguel

Start your day with a café con leche at Madrid’s largest and most famous market. If you’ve ever been to Barcelona, it’s basically a miniature version of the Mercado de La Boqueria. Fruit lovers should make a point to try the cherries or peaches. They look and taste worlds better than they do in America! Of course, the tapas are to die for as well.

Mercado de San Miguel image

madrid mercado image

Spend the day at Parque del Retiro

This is without a doubt my favorite place in all of Madrid. It’s basically the Central Park of Spain, full of beautiful gardens, marble monuments, and even a huge lake where you can take a row boat out for a spin. There are so many must-sees within the park, that you could easily make a day or two out of visiting.

Parque del Retiro

Retiro park

retiro park madrid

Parque del Retiro madrid

Check out the Palacio de Cristal

An absolute must-see in the Parque del Retiro is the Palacio de Cristal. I’m so in love with it, that I decided it deserved its own paragraph. This stunningly beautiful structure is made entirely out of metal and glass and houses temporary art exhibitions. I was lucky enough to visit while this tent made of bold tapestries was up. It was pretty magical to say the least.

Palacio de Cristal

Palacio de Cristal madrid

Peruse through the Royal Palace

Also known as Palacio Real, this enormous structure is drenched with frescoes, gold moldings, crystal chandeliers and tapestries, which cover every square inch of its 2,000+ rooms. Photography is prohibited inside, but if you google it, you’ll see what I’m talking about. Each room has a distinct look and color scheme. The dining room, complete with a table fit for 144 guests, is easily my favorite of them all! Come back at night to see the exterior completely lit up. If you’re lucky, you’ll hear the same phenomenal harp player that was there during my visit.

Royal Palace Madrid image

Royal Palace

Stop by the Catedral de la Almudena

Right next door to the Royal Palace is this gorgeous baroque-style cathedral. It took more than a hundred years to complete due to a little thing called the Spanish Civil War. The interior is full of pops of color like the beautiful square cupola and chapel pictured below.

Catedral de la Almudena

Marvel at the Prado Museum

So, I’m really not a fan of too many museums, but this one blew me away! I mean, those Spaniards truly have the whole ‘art’ thing down. With that being said, this place is freaking huge! I took a break in the coffee shop downstairs (which has free wifi) half way through my four hour visit. Be sure to check out Las Meninas by Velázquez and of course, the Picasso and Goya works.

Pop over to the San Jerónimo el Real

Right beside the Museo del Prado is this adorable 16th century church. Even if you don’t go inside, it’s worth checking out and snapping a picture in front of!

San Jerónimo el Real

Watch street performers at Plaza Mayor

This large meeting place (which once held bull fights) is basically a huge rectangle full of people surrounded by beautiful red-toned buildings. In the evening, it’s full of costumed characters from Hello Kitty to Spiderman. One of the most iconic characters is the tinsel goat, who makes a clacking noise while whipping its body from side to side. It sounds strange, but you’ll recognize it when you see it! There are tons of places to grab dinner around the square. One of my favorites is Los Galayos.

Plaza Mayor image

Plaza Mayor

People watch at the famous Puerta del Sol

This is one of the most iconic spots in all of Madrid. Similar to Plaza Mayor, Puerta del Sol is the perfect place for people watching. There is a lot of hustle and bustle, but if you grab a seat beside one of the large fountains, you’ll find yourself feeling right at home. A highlight of my trip was watching a team of rollerbladers amp up the crowd as they jumped over stacked boxes and a row of six girls.

Puerta del Sol

Stroll through Gran Via Street

Some would say Puerta del Sol is the Times Square of Madrid, but I think the area near the Schweppe’s advertisement is. The bright lights and billboards draw you in, and the surrounding shops make you want to stay. Just try not to get lost in the sea of people!

Gran Via Street

Have drinks on top of the Palacio de Cibeles

Adding this to this list is almost like giving away a well-kept secret. Believe it or not, this building is actually a post office. At night, it turns into a kaleidoscope of colors that you can’t help but stare at. When my brother took a closer look, he saw people near the top. So obviously, we had to be up there too! Just enter the building and take the elevator to the top. Grab a seat by the railing to watch as cars circle the roundabout.

Palacio de Cibeles

Wander around and see what you find!

My last piece of advice is to wander around and see what you stumble upon. Below are a couple of pictures pictures I snapped while meandering through the beautiful streets of Madrid.

madrid streets

Madrid image

What would you add to this list of top things to do in Madrid? Connect with me in the comments!

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10 Most Colorful Places in Europe

burano italy image

We’ve all been there– Sitting on the couch scrolling rapidly through our Instagram newsfeed at the same dull pictures when suddenly one captures every ounce of our attention. Typically for me, these are photos are of vibrant streets and with pops of colorful architecture. I don’t know about you, but there’s just something about color that instantly puts a smile on my face. If you’re in need of some travel inspiration (or just want to daydream a little), here are just a few of the most colorful places in Europe to add to your must-see list:

1. Burano, Italy

burano italy image

Burano, Italy (source)

Step aside Venice. This island town in the Venetian lagoon is famous for its intricate lace and vibrant homes, which were painted years ago so families could distinguish them from one another during fog season. It doesn’t get much more photogenic than this.

2. Paris, France

Rue Crémieux image

Rue Crémieux in Paris, France (source)

Aside from colorful macaroons and flower stands, I really wasn’t convinced that colorful spots could be found in the posh city of Paris until I stumbled upon a photo of Rue Crémieux. The quaint street is pedestrian only and full of charming homes to stroll by. Talk about a hidden gem!

3. Águeda, Portugal

Águeda Portugal image

Águeda, Portugal (source)

The locals probably don’t have an issue with rain or too much sun. Just kidding– but you have to admit, the umbrella covered streets of Águeda are pretty epic.

4. Cinque Terre, Italy

cinque terre image

Cinque Terre, Italy

Maybe I’m a little biased since this is one of my favorite spots in Italy, but the pastel colored towns of Cinque Terre are some of the most captivating I’ve ever seen. Each of the five islands have their own unique flair, and the hiking views are incredible.

5. Copenhagen, Denmark

copenhagen image

Copenhagen, Denmark (source)

Come for the vibrantly colored architecture that lines the water, and stay for the rich history and famous bicycle culture (the city has more bicycles than people!). This cheerful city is too photogenic not to visit.

6. Santorini, Greece

santorini greece image

Santorini, Greece (source)

The white architecture doesn’t exactly resemble a rainbow, but I have to argue that this popular little island off Greece’s southeastern coast is just as colorful as the rest of the spots on this list. The pops of color in the blue roofs, pristine waters, and cotton candy sunsets look even more radiant against the stark contrast of the simplistic, white-colored city.

7. Barcelona, Spain

Barcelona spain image

Barcelona, Spain (source)

From the beautifully colored tiling throughout Park Güell to the bright produce, sweets, and smoothies at the La Boqueria market, Barcelona is truly a treat for the eyes.

8. Colmar, France

Colmar France image

Colmar, France (source)

Colmar resembles a real-life storybook setting with its colorful half-timbered houses, charming canals, and cobblestone streets. The medieval town (also known as “Little Venice”) is famous for its pastries and wine– so let your taste-buds do just as much indulging as your eyes!

9. Positano, Italy

Positano italy image

Positano, Italy

I know, I know. Yet another Italian city on the list. But trust me, there’s a reason why the Almafi Coast is one of the most visited destinations in Europe. I mean, just look at the photo!

10. Wroclaw, Poland

Wroclaw Poland image

Wroclaw, Poland (source)

This lively town is known for its jaw-dropping architecture (with more than 100 bridges!) and up-for-anything culture. I’m sold.

Which one of these colorful European towns are you dying to visit?