Sunday, 11 September 2016

Solo travel tips for Barcelona

I recently decided to make a spontaneous trip to Barcelona, the city rich with culture, art, nightlife & so much to see and do. I have always wanted to go there, and with 2 hour flights to Spain from London, I'd be silly not to! Of course, like every major city, Barcelona is full of thieves and pick pockets. I would say that is the only real big problem there is, from my experience anyway.

If you decide to travel anywhere on your own for the first time, I would highly recommend Barcelona. I was there for 10 days and I had an absolutely amazing time. I was really sad that I had to leave. I would've stayed for longer but, my mind was telling me yes and my bank account was telling me no. 

Barcelona has something for everyone, whether you're into partying, architecture, museums, art, food. Barcelona has it ALL. I didn't quite get around do doing everything I wanted to do (blame the sangria) but I did fit in quite a few things. First of all, accommodation is very important as a solo traveler. If you prefer to be alone and like peace and quiet, of course you'd stay in a hotel or maybe an air bnb, but I prefer noise, social atmosphere and liveliness. I think the hostels I stayed at in Barcelona may be the best hostels I've ever stayed at, and I've stayed at a fair few. So if that is what you are looking for, keep on reading!

The first hostel I stayed at was called Sant Jordi Hostel Rock Palace. Located right around the corner from Casa Batllo (also referred to as the house of bones or house of yawns) and Passieg De Gracia metro station. As soon as I walked in I was pleasantly surprised at how lovely and modern the design was, and the staff greeted me straight away. The rooms were great, everything was secure and modern. My main focus though, is the social scene. Of course if you travel alone, you'll want to meet some new people. The downstairs area had a fully equipped kitchen, sofas, a huge TV screen & music playing. Every night there is a dinner & then a free bar crawl, different food every night and different bars every night! The staff that cook and lead the bar crawls are beyond amazing, they are so friendly & so full of energy, they want to get everyone involved and give them a good time, which is so important. Natalee and Laisa especially were great, they always made sure everyone was having a good time. After a couple of nights I felt like I'd known them for months!

I had originally booked 3 nights at the Rock Palace and wanted to extend but due to the popularity they were completely booked, but luckily for me there's 3 more Sant Jordi hostels in Barcelona! I checked on Hostelworld and it turned out there was some availability for the Sant Jordi Sagrada Familia hostel, which as you can tell by the name is located a 10 minute walk away from the beautiful Sagrada Familia! It's also a skate hostel, they have an indoor ramp and skateboards for rent, that's one thing I love about Sant Jordi, each hostel has its own theme. Again, amazing staff and social atmosphere. I highly recommend you stay at a Sant Jordi hostel if you're looking to meet new people and have a fun time.

If you're tired of the partying in Barcelona, why not take a bus ride to a nearby coastal town? I had partied too much and needed a break, so I did a little research online to find out about nearby towns and villages worth visiting. I came across Tossa De Mar, in the Costa Brava. It had pretty good ratings on Trip Advisor and looked beautiful, and I am a huge fan of picturesque places. A single coach journey there costs 12 euros. (£10.16) and it takes 2 hours, which is pretty cheap considering a train that takes an hour to get from my hometown to London costs more than double that. Its quite a nice drive too, pretty scenery on the way & you'll drive through the Costa Brava which is so different to Barcelona. There aren't many hostels in Tossa, but I stayed at Mana Mana, which is such a sweet little place. It was such a huge change from the atmosphere in Barcelona. It was almost like a guest house. It's only a 5 minute walk away from the bus station and the beach, so its in a great location.

There's a kitchen and an outdoor roof terrace, everyone was so chilled out & friendly. It was more of a place to relax and chat, which is what you need after 3 nights of solid partying. If you're more into cute little picturesque towns and crystal clear waters, maybe Tossa is more for you! The only issue I had with Tossa was that there were absolutely 0 vegetarian let alone vegan restaurants, of course, in a small town in Spain. However, there's a gelato vendor on every corner that has various sorbet and dairy free flavours! If you hunt around a bit you'll be able to find adaptable vegetarian & vegan options, for example, pasta, vegetable paella & of course vegetable pizza without the cheese, just say "sin queso" which means no cheese.

During my time in Barcelona, I visited Park Guell, which is a must. If you're into art and architecture, its something you should definitely consider, Park Guell was a project for Gaudi, he was supposed to build 60 houses but ended up only building 3, and they look like something out of a Dr Seuss movie. Speaking of Gaudi, another recommendation is the "Tour Me Out" tours. They are free walking tours that run every morning and evening, usually lead by expats that fell in love with the city enough to study it and show it off to tourists. Usually you have to pay for tours, and they are lead by people that don't have much enthusiasm and just want to get it over and done with, but with these tours they are so much more than that. The guides are so friendly, lively & full of enthusiasm about the city and getting to know the group. I went on a Gaudi tour guided by a girl named Heaven, she was a ball of energy, so enthusiastic about Gaudi and the city. She told some great stories and explained everything in great detail and asked questions so that we could remember things, what would be the point of a tour if you're not going to remember anything? I loved that.

Walking tours are a great way to meet new people as a solo traveler, especially these tours. Heaven got everyone to introduce themselves at the beginning and referred to our group as "the fabulous fourteen" - when someone accidentally got left behind on the metro she said "we're a family now, so we'll wait" which was really funny and nice, she wasn't even mad about it. I've witnessed guides get really annoyed and stressed over things like that, but not Heaven, she was super patient & friendly. I even had a few good conversations with some of the other people on the tour.

Another thing I enjoyed doing in Barcelona, was taking strolls around Barri Gotic (The Gothic Quarter) its nice to take strolls on your own sometimes. On my first day I got a gelato from Gelaaati Di Marco and wandered around taking in all the beauty. I stopped in the main square to do some people watching and figure out my next move. It's such a nice feeling to be able to do things like that without having to compromise with someone, its quite an empowering feeling being in a busy city with your own company. The Gothic Quarter is the kind of place you get lost, but its a great place to get lost. Don't freak out if you do, the locals are friendly enough to give directions. You may even stumble across a new favourite restaurant or boutique while you're there.

Now, back at the beginning I mentioned pick pockets. I've met many people that got mugged or had things taken sneakily from their bags or pockets. It didn't happen to me, luckily, but I'll just say its about common sense. The worst place for it is the metro, make sure you have everything in your bag and your bag is on your front and you have your hands or arm covering any access to your bag, always keep an eye on your belongings, never ever let your guard down. You are more likely to be robbed if you're in a big group, so when you're on a tour, busy taking photos of the Sagrada Familia, be so wary of your valuables, and definitely do not fall asleep on the metro leaving yourself vulnerable to all sorts of crime. Like I said, common sense, its good to have!

In general, Barcelona is a great place to visit as a solo traveler. Its absolutely bursting with fun things to do. I feel like I actually learned a lot there. I've discovered a new love for architecture. I'd always enjoyed buildings and structures visually but hearing about the stories behind them and their history is amazing. If you're into history, art or anything of the sort Barcelona will blow your mind. Even if you're not very artsy and you just want to party, Barcelona is the place to be! I had a few good nights at Opium and Pacha. Although they are kind of tourist traps, they're great fun if clubbing is what you're into. They're right on the beach too so straight after you can head down to the water, go for a swim, stay and watch the sunrise or bring a speaker and continue the good vibes.

If you're not into partying, you could spend the evening on the terrace of a restaurant eating a nice dinner, head up to one of the many gorgeous viewpoints & watch the sunset or spend a day at Badalona beach where it is less crowded. The opportunities are endless. Barcelona is incredibly versatile and I really think it should be high on your list of places to visit!

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