Taking a stroll along the beach in Barcelona
Europe,  Travel Journal

Christmas Markets in Barcelona

Barcelona’s Christmas markets are a completely different experience to their German counterparts. Read on to find out what we got up to and why you must visit the Catalan capital to see it for yourself.

Anniversary Surprises!

This year both of our parents celebrated their 30th wedding anniversaries. We decided we would treat them to a city break as their gift, giving them the opportunity to celebrate together and enjoy each other’s company.

We sent my parents for a long weekend in Prague which they thoroughly enjoyed. When we were looking for destinations for Alex’s parents, his mum suggested that we join them on the trip so we thought why not! We settled on Barcelona for December as a pre-Christmas break. Although Spain doesn’t get us closer to our 30 countries before 30, we’ve not been to Barcelona before and so were very excited about visiting!

View of Gaudi's Sagrada Familia Cathedral in Barcelona
The unfinished exterior of the Sagrada Familia designed by Gaudi just a few minutes walk from our Airbnb

We booked ourselves into an Airbnb so we’d have a bit more space for relaxing in the evening. It was Alex’s parents first time staying in one so a new experience for them. If you’ve not stayed in an Airbnb before, check out our top 5 reasons why we think it’s better than a hotel here.

The apartment we were staying in was located a few minutes walk from the Sagrada Familia, an absolutely epic location! We landed quite late on the first day so by the time we were back from the supermarket there wasn’t really any time to explore. Over a glass of Rioja we planned out what we wanted to do on Saturday and then off to bed we went.

Astounding Architecture

We started off our first full day by taking a walk along Passeig de Gràcia for a spot of window shopping in the designer shops as well as looking at Casa Milà and Casa Batlló. These are two houses designed by Antoni Gaudi who is also the architect behind the Sagrada Familia.

The beautiful architecture and colours of Casa Batlló designed by Gaudi
The beautiful architecture and colours of Casa Batlló designed by Gaudi

We stopped for a hot drink at Il Caffe de Francesco before continuing our walk to the old town. I’m not a big coffee drinker so I opted for a hot chocolate. I didn’t realise beforehand but they really know how to make a hot chocolate in Barcelona. It’s thick and creamy, almost the texture of custard and tastes rich and sweet like melted chocolate. An absolute must for when you’re in Barcelona!

View of Casa Milà designed by Gaudi
Another beautiful building, Casa Milà, also designed by Gaudi

Rambles through La Rambla

When we checked in to our Airbnb, the gentleman told us that, our next stop, La Rambla is your typical tourist trap and he wouldn’t recommend going there. The only reason we did go was because he proceeded to tell us about a food market located just off La Rambla which he highly recommended.

We decided to go to the Mercado de la Boqueria for lunch, indulging in some traditional Spanish fare of paella and iberico ham. The food was absolutely delicious and it was really fun walking around the market trying out my very broken Spanish with the stall holders.

Alex had found a rooftop bar on La Rambla called La Isabela which he was quite keen to check out but the location on the map wasn’t what we could see on the street. Turns out the bar is at the top of the Hotel 1898. It has loads of outdoor seating with epic views of Barcelona and even a rooftop swimming pool! We ordered some cocktails which we enjoyed whilst soaking up the sun. Such an amazing way to while away the hours, we almost forgot that we were on holiday in the middle of winter!

View from La Isabela rooftop bar
Stunning views of Barcelona from La Isabela rooftop bar

Having finished our cocktails and soaked up the sunshine, we continued our walk towards the marina. We enjoyed ogling the super yachts owned by various billionaires, imagining what they looked like on the inside and what we would do if we had enough money to buy something so extravagant and luxurious!

Crappy Christmas Traditions

Barcelona doesn’t do traditional ‘German style’ Christmas markets but there are a couple in the centre of the old town so we decided to go check one of them out – Fira de Santa Lucia.

Christmas market stall in Barcelona
Christmas market stalls

We’re used to the German Christmas markets selling good food and drinks, Christmas decorations and gifts. These Christmas markets were very different selling mostly nativity scenes, Christmas plants: poinsettias and Christmas trees, as well as Caga Tios and Caganer. These are both Catalan traditions based around pooing!

The Caga Tios is a pooping Christmas log with a smiley face and a red hat. The children look after the log between 8th December and Christmas Eve feeding it to make it nice and fat. On Christmas Eve the children hit the log with wooden sticks whilst singing a song, at which point the log poops out a present or sweet for them!

The Caganer is a part of the nativity scene – a man dressed in traditional attire squatted down with his trousers around his ankles taking a poo. It’s seen as good luck as the poo fertilises the soil for the next year and you can buy any number of characters making a number 2.

By this point we were feeling a little tired from all the walking so we stopped for a drink at the Bankers Bar in the Mandarin Oriental hotel before getting some dinner at Mayura. Not your traditional Spanish affair but rather an Indian restaurant which came really highly recommended. The food did not disappoint, sufficiently fed and watered we returned to our Airbnb to play card games until bed time.

Triumphant Travels

Sunday morning we went for a delicious brunch at Firebug. One thing we noticed about all the restaurants we ate in was how quick the service was. Within 5-10 minutes of placing the order you’re tucking into your food. The best thing is that the quality isn’t even compromised – all places we ate in served us fresh and delicious food.

Firebug is located close to the Arc de Triomf so we wandered towards it, enjoying the beautiful architecture and park before heading towards Barcelonetta. Barcelonetta is one of the four districts that makes up the original Barcelona. We enjoyed strolling through the narrow streets ending up on the beach.

View of Barcelona's Arc de Triomf
Walking around the Arc de Triomf on a glorious sunny day

The beach is absolutely beautiful with lovely sand and crystal clear water. You completely forget that you are right on the edge of a city when you’re topping up your tan whilst hearing the water splash against the shore. We stopped for some coffee and hot chocolate right by the beach watching the surfers do their thing in the sea.

The plan had been to head back to the gothic quarter after our drinks but we managed to stumble across the entrance to the cable car which takes you across to the Mirador del Poble Sec park on the other side of the marina.

I’ve never been on a cable car before so was quite keen to give it a go. The views from our lofty perch were absolutely epic and served as a reminder of how beautiful Barcelona is!

We did then continue over to the gothic quarter where we stopped for some ice cream at ARTiSA before walking around and exploring more of the area. I absolutely loved walking around the narrow winding streets looking up at the old towering buildings imagining what life would have been like for the people years ago. Our day was nearly over, last stop being dinner at Les Quinze Nits.

View from the top of Barcelona's cable car
The cable car pulling in to the first stop

Sagrada Familia

Monday was our final morning in Barcelona and as we were limited for time we decided to take the short walk to the Sagrada Familia so we could appreciate it in all its glory. Like Casa Milà and Casa Batlló, the Sagrada Familia was also designed by the architect Antoni Gaudi and is perhaps his most recognised work. The building is so intricate he isn’t alive to see it finished. In fact, despite work starting in 1882, it won’t be finished until 2026!

We were advised to book the tickets online because the queues to enter can get quite long. Unfortunately we weren’t organised enough to do this before arriving in Barcelona which actually worked out for the best as it was cheaper to buy the tickets at the ticket office. If you’re under 30 you can get discounted tickets for €16 to enter the basilica which wasn’t an option we found online.

The interior of the cathedral is light, open and colourful; a stark contrast to the gothic looking exterior. Walking in will absolutely knock your socks off. I’ve never seen anything like it and I really enjoyed walking around by myself looking at all the detail that’s gone in to building such an incredible work of art.

Interior view of Gaudi's Sagrada Familia in Barcelona
Photos can do no justice to this incredible building. The interior and the exterior are so different with the interior being full of colours

I love visiting places of worship, walking around in silence, taking in the beauty of the surroundings. I love having some time to reflect on life, on our trip and how fortunate we are, even with the inevitable ups and downs one may face.

Feeling fresh and uplifted, we left the cathedral and went into the most beautiful shop I’ve ever seen called Torrons Vicens. It was selling Spanish sweets of course, various different flavours of nougat, fruit enrobed in chocolate and many other Spanish delicacies.

Spanish sweet store
Delicious Spanish sweets. Yum!

I always find it quite difficult to get food at the airport because they don’t always accommodate for a gluten free diet. I wanted to make sure we got lunch beforehand and so we went to a restaurant I found which was suitable for coeliacs: Ristorante Pizzeria Il Piccolo Focone. The menu is amazing with them having everything available for coeliacs from fresh pasta to pizza. I was so spoilt for choice! Perfect end to a perfect trip.

Our three favourite things about Barcelona

1. The city itself as it has everything you could possibly want: an old town, a beach, a marina, beautiful architecture, amazing food – the list goes on

2. La Isabela rooftop bar. It was so nice being able to sit out in the sun enjoying a cocktail and the views of the city

3. The Sagrada Familia is absolutely breathtaking. We almost didn’t make it inside but I’m so glad we did. A must for your next trip to Barcelona

There were so many things we didn’t manage to get to see or do on our short visit to Barcelona. Have you been before? What would be your top recommendations?

The Rambling Travellers

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