So you’ve rented your car for the week, unpacked your luggage at the hotel and it’s time to finalise your pre-trip planning. The first important issue to take into account is that you are now in Spain and, of course, most “business” tends to be dealt with on a café terrace – with a coffee, beer, or a glass of wine close at hand.
This 7 day trip begins in Barcelona city before moving on to other areas around Barcelona province (including Sitges), down to Tarragona province further south, inland into Lérida, north to Girona and the Costa Brava near the French border, and back to Barcelona city for the return home.
Be reassured by the fact that you are in excellent company. Mastercard’s annual Global Destination Cities Index ranked Barcelona the 17th most visited city in the world in 2018: fifth in Europe after London, Paris, Milan and Palma de Mallorca.
Although, that doesn’t mean you will have to blow the travel budget in the first couple of days or max out the credit card. Like other areas of Spain, Barcelona can be enjoyed relatively inexpensively – that is, by avoiding the common traps of any popular tourist destination.
Here are some ideas for a seven-day trip in the Spanish sun…
You can leave your rental car in the hotel car park for the next 48 hours, and enjoy Barcelona city on foot and by public transport. First stop, an enchanting look at the city’s iconic architecture, a mix of art nouveau and modernisme. The name, and reputation, of Antoni Gaudi has become synonymous with Barcelona. He is most closely associated with the unfinished Sagrada Familia basilica, but his portfolio of work also includes many other exceptional buildings such as Casa Battle and Casa Milá.
Dotted around the city are numerous public parks and refreshing water features, highlighted by the Parc de Collserola protected nature site and hillside Parc de Montjuïc and Botanical Garden; as well as a fascinating array of art galleries and museums – several with entrance fees under €10. Check out Visit Barcelona for more details.
For evening entertainment, Las Ramblas is the ideal starting point, bustling with street performers and colourful eating and drinking establishments (although beware those that charge “tourist prices”), and flanked by the Old Town. For a taste of the local ambience, the Gothic Quarter is full of pubs and clubs; while the chic El Born area is popular with the trendy crowd. The Barcelona Life site offers a comprehensive insight into Barcelona’s diverse nightlife options.
Today’s schedule is all about exploring Barcelona’s outdoor attractions. One of the most popular leisure areas is Barcelona’s Olympic Marina, offering water sports, beaches and seafood restaurants for an appetising al fresco lunch by the sea. It was built during a major redevelopment of the area in 1991, and was the venue for sailing competitions during the 1992 Olympic Games. With 740 berths for yachts, it is also a great setting for those who prefer to leave the active afternoon schedule to others and just relax boat watching.
After a good night’s sleep, it’s time to hit the road for Sitges, just over 45 kilometres away and passing through Casteldefels, famous for its five-kilometre beach and being the home of top football stars including Lionel Messi.
A “counter-culture” hub in the 1960s, Sitges has become variously known as the “Saint-Tropez of Spain” and “Ibiza in miniature”, attracting a cosmopolitan in-crowd in the subsequent decades and today recognised as one of the world’s premier destinations for LGBTI tourists.
If travelling during the first weekend of October, you will be able to savour the flavours and aromas of the Sitges Wine Fair. If not, there is plenty to do during the day, from strolling through the Place del Baluard square into the charming old town to chilling out on one of the town’s picturesque beaches, including several especially set up with facilities for families. Then treating yourself to a sumptuous dinner showcasing the area’s exceptional cuisine.
Continuing south is Tarragona province, the Costa Dorada coastline and the Tárraco archaeological ensemble, a UNESCO World Heritage site that is the oldest Roman settlement on the Iberian Peninsula. The city’s historic centre provides a rich tapestry of narrow alleyways, mediaeval remains and timeless monuments. It is also the ideal base from which to set out on the Penedés Wine and Cava Route – and go home with an excellent selection of Spain’s well-priced wines (certainly in comparison with many other countries).
Lérida (or Leida in Catalan) is a landlocked province also steeped in history and blessed with natural surroundings that draw adventure sports enthusiasts and bird-watchers from around the world. It is a paradise for snow sports, highlighted by the Baqueira-Beret ski resort, a favoured winter haunt for Spanish royals and the aristocracy. Perhaps not ideal for the budget-wary but well worth a quick visit and celebrity-ogle before returning to a more modest snow-capped playground.
And finally on to Girona (or Gerona)… popularly known as the “City of Four Rivers”, with its historic centre highlighted by mediaeval buildings and Roman, Arab and Jewish era relics and fortifications. The ancient cathedral was used by the Moors as a mosque before being completely rebuilt following their expulsion. More recently it was the set for a sixth season episode of Game of Thrones (as part of the fictional city of Braavos). Girona is about 80 kilometres from Perpignan in south-west France, for travellers wanting to make a quick trip over the border.
Time to return to Barcelona, about 100 kilometres along the Costa Brava, which was developed from the 1950s as one of Spain’s first destinations for European package holiday tourists. Today its appealing mix of moderate climate, natural surroundings and superb beaches has consolidated its reputation as a premier seaside resort.
For art lovers, a must-visit is the Salvador Dali Theatre and Museum in Figueres, dedicated to the Spanish surrealist painter who was born in the town and is buried in a crypt below the stage.
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