Barcelona is a world-renown city for good reason. We spent a fantastic 48 hours there soaking up the Catalan culture, Gaudi architecture, and Mediterranean sun. Barcelona with a chronic illness requires some planning, so I’ve given you my best tips and advice for a great weekend.
Hotel Eco Boutique Hostal Grau
When we go back, we will stay at our hotel again: Hotel Eco Boutique Hostal Grau. It was fantastic. Cheap, great location, eco-friendly, friendly staff, free coffee and tea, free wine at 7:00 each night, a huge room, and a super comfy bed. We stayed in the Off Room with features to lower radiation which gives you a better night’s sleep. This is very important in Barcelona when you have a chronic illness because Spain is a late night culture.
The only thing to know is to bring your own shampoo and conditioner. The soap dispenser in the shower is a shampoo/body wash combo. Book directly with them on their website and you may get a discount.
Train from Valencia to Barcelona
We hopped on a train from Valencia on Friday night. It took just over 3 hours to get there on a high speed Renfe train. I recommend buying tickets online and selecting your seats. Then you simply scan your phone at the ticket booth just like at an airport boarding gate.
The train ride was quiet, fast, and comfortable. There is a dining car, but it just had overpriced snacks and was standing room only. Eat before you get on a train or bring food with you. Download a movie or bring a book and you’ll be set. The three hours go by quickly.
Hop On, Hop Off Tour Bus
Once you’re ready to set out for your first day, hop on the Bus Turistic. Yes, it’s the epitome of being a tourist instead of a traveler, but this is the best transportation deal in town. The metro is well connected, but you don’t get to see the city when you’re underground. Barcelona is big, and everywhere we went was a 20 – 30 minute walk which ate up a lot of our time on such a short trip.
It’s 40 euro for a two-day ticket. That’s much less than you’d spend on taxis, and it helps you conserve energy on your weekend in Barcelona with a chronic illness. I know that even on my healthiest days, my stamina is nothing like my husband’s who doesn’t have a chronic illness. Save your strength, ride the tourist bus, and see more of the city than you ever could on foot.
Bonus: the top level is a convertible so you can enjoy the perfect Mediterranean weather.
Gaudi’s famed unfinished cathedral cannot be put into words. It gets incredibly crowded, so book tickets online. We got tickets for 9:00am so we’d be there with the fewest people possible. The only catch to the earliest ticket is that there won’t be much open for breakfast…not even grocery stores. The night before, make sure you have something. You may find a bakery or two for some croissants that early in the morning, but I don’t know about vegan or other alternative options.
Take your time and drink it all in. There’s nothing quite like it anywhere else, so don’t rush. This is the greatest sight in Barcelona when you have a chronic illness because you can see a ton while seated in the pews. We spent an hour and a half and that felt about right for us. The website recommended 3, but I think being there first thing and in January meant a much smaller crowd, so we didn’t need to wait our turn to see anything.
If we go again, we’d change two things. We will take a guided tour. While the audio guides were full of information and we could self-pace our time, Keenan pointed out that it didn’t feel like we were at the Sagrada together. The other change is going on Sunday. So much is closed on Sunday in Spain, so using that time to do something that is open will maximize your weekend.
Bonus: Arrive at the Sagrada 10 – 15 minutes early and get a fantastic photo op across the street from the nativity side of the church. There is a park, and you can get a great angle from the other side of the pond. Taking the pictures before you go in will give you both good light and a good chance of not having other tourists in your picture with you.
To avoid lines and not waste time, book tickets for anything else Gaudi you want to see:
- Park Guell
- Free to get into the park, but they are renovating as of early 2019 and you need tickets to see the famed blue mosaic benches.
- Check the website to see what the status will be for your trip
- Passeig de Gràcia (Street of Discord)
- Casa Mila
Stroll the Promenade
By the monument to Columbus, there is a boardwalk to a mall. It looked like a wonderful place to get some tapas by the water. The restaurants were all pretty generic, but that’s usually what happens at touristy waterfront areas unfortunately. For me, the proximity to the water is worth it. The mall and restaurants are a good restroom opportunity if needed. Then just kick back and enjoy some time people watching In the sun next to the Mediterranean.
Next to the mall, you’ll see docks. As we approached them, an eco boat tour of the harbor was about to leave for a trip. For 7.50 euros each, we boarded the boat and simply rode out to sea and back. It was a relaxing way to see the city from the water and sip on a little bit of Cava. The turquoise water was mesmerizing, making it a highlight of the weekend.
As we wound around the tangled streets of the Gothic Quarter, we saw all kinds of beautiful buildings and cute cafes. Hours spent here wandering with no particular plan will leave you richly rewarded. It’s a great place to go because you can duck into any number of cafes, bars, or restaurants if you get tired, hungry, thirsty, or need a restroom. I’m looking forward to spending more time here on future visits. Two things to look for in particular:
- Basilica Santa Maria Del Mar
- Cathedral of Barcelona
We went on a date to an upscale vegetarian restaurant, Teresa Carles. A mere 96 feet from our hotel door, it was such a treat to go somewhere that felt special to enjoy Catalan food veggie style.
The house-brewed kombucha and tapas we had were fantastic. I recommend the bomba de la barceloneta in particular because it had a sauce on it that was typical of Catalunya which makes it even more special. I highly recommend a visit for a memorable dinner.
Flax & Kale
Sunday we started our day slowly at Teresa Carles’s sister restaurant, the more casual Flax & Kale. This joint is recommended all over the place and it’s easy to see why. The experience from the décor to the presentation of the food is infinitely ‘grammable. Everything is beautiful, and the attention to detail extends to the menu where you’ll find creative, healthy offerings. We had plant-based bacon cheddar bagel sandwiches that were outstanding, and Keenan got an acai bowl that was packed with flavor and nutrition. The acai was the best we’ve had in a while, not overly sweet and brimming with fresh fruit.
The Green Spot
The Green Spot was one of the best meals I’ve had. Ever. We got a vegan pizza and sweet potato noodles with a macadamia nut sauce and black truffles. The house-made cashew cheese on the pizza was out of this world! And the sweet potato noodles? Let me say this, I’ve never liked veggie noodles before, but The Green Spot has converted me. They were outstanding and so flavorful. This place is a little on the spendy side, but I promise you the flavors are completely worth it. We liked:
- Décor was nature inspired, cozy, and chic
- Staff was kind
- Menu was unique with flavors from all over the world
Reflection / What I’ll Do Differently Next Time
I’m already looking forward to my next weekend in Barcelona, even with a chronic illness. I’ll do a few things differently:
- spend more time in the Gothic Quarter
- get a Bus Turistic ticket
- follow the Rick Steves walking tour
- Download the Rick Steves Audio Europe app, download the Barcelona City Walk, and you’re off! He gives historical and cultural context to the major cities in Europe which always enhances a visit.
Barcelona is a magical city that definitely lives up to the hype. When are you going? Have you been? Leave any tips you have in the comments or share this post with someone dreaming of tapas, sun, and the sea. Your tip may be the one to create a lifelong memory for someone!
Still dreaming of far away places? Check out my post on London with Chronic Illness.