Posts in Solo Travels
how to avoid being hassled in morocco (especially if you're a woman)

Morocco is so easy to access from southern Spain, it would be almost silly not to go at least once. Which is why I've now been twice. The first time was a quick weekend trip to Tangier and Chefchaouen with a friend at the end of the auxiliar school year. The second, a two-week remote working vacation in Casablanca, with a side trip to Marrakech. On both trips, the Moroccan hustle was in full effect.

morocco-safety-how-to-avoid-hassle2
morocco-safety-how-to-avoid-hassle2

In truth, there's no way to avoid being hassled in Morocco. In fact, it should be considered a prominent feature, a defining characteristic of the locale. If you're in well-visited tourist areas like the ones I visited, you're most definitely going to get hassled. Shopkeepers shouting, hash peddlers whispering, little kids begging... it's simply a part of the scene in the streets and souks of Morocco's cities. The best thing for you to guard against, then, is being hustled. Shopkeepers, hash peddlers, little kids, taxi drivers, old women, law enforcement - all could potentially try to lighten your wallet as you walk the streets of Morocco - either by selling, stealing or conning you out of your coins.

Below are a few tips to help you make the Moroccan hassle more tolerable and hopefully help you avoid the Moroccan hustle altogether.  While these tips are from my point-of-view as a woman travelling in a Muslim country, almost all of them are applicable to both women and men.

Well except, maybe...

Tip #1 - Go With a Male

On my first trip to Morocco, I went with a male, and though we were hassled, I wondered if I would be more or less hassled if I'd gone on my own. I would get a second chance to test the theory on my second trip. I spent most of my two weeks travelling solo, but had a male expat accompany me for a few days. The difference in the two experiences was incredible. When I went unaccompanied to places (cafes, restaurants, etc.) that I'd previously been with my male friend, I was often approached more aggressively and even openly sexually harassed a couple of times. I also witnessed a couple of incidents of male-to-female violence that unnerved me and generally made me feel more exposed and more wary than any other place I've visited as a solo female traveler.  If you're a woman who's new to traveling solo, I'd suggest you get your feet wet in other destinations before diving into Morocco or invite a trusted male companion to go with you.

Tip #2 - Dress Modestly

This is another, somewhat obvious tip for ladies. As a tourist, a lot of your behavior or dress code will be overlooked by Moroccan locals, But there's a big benefit to be gained by dressing to blend in versus to stand out. I'd strongly recommend lightweight, cropped pants  instead of shorts, short-sleeved versus sleeveless shirts and dresses, and several lightweight scarves or sweaters to wear while in Morocco. You'll want to always carry your scarf or sweater with you, just in case you find yourself somewhere where covered arms are required.

But, don't think that this restricted dress code equates to an abandonment of fashion sense. On the contrary, Moroccan ladies are quite fashionable - skinny jeans, cute shoes and an endless array of hijab colors, patterns and styles are far  more prevalent than head-to-toe burqas. You might also consider investing in a reasonably priced djellaba or two to wear during your stay. It's the one article of clothing that both men and women in Morocco can agree on.

morocco-safety-how-to-avoid-hassle7
morocco-safety-how-to-avoid-hassle7
morocco-safety-how-to-avoid-hassle6
morocco-safety-how-to-avoid-hassle6

Tip #3 - Wear Sunglasses and Headphones

Especially good when travelling solo in Morocco, the sunglasses-and-headphones trick is like a semi-impenetrable force field against Moroccan hasslers. You can still hear and see enough to move about, but  your eyes and ears are protected from the full onslaught of everything going on around you.

Tip #4 - Know What You're In the Market For

You know how most people get hustled? By not having a clear and committed idea of what they do or do not want. Before you go browsing the stalls in the souks, have an idea of what you actually want to buy. If you have no idea, use part of your time to get a general idea of what's available in the market, then circle back to make purchases. If you know what you want ahead of time, you'll be less likely to end up buying something you didn't want to begin with. You should also ask a trusted local (someone at your hotel, perhaps) expected price ranges for certain items that you may be interested in (whether it's a taxi ride or a tagine), that way you'll know how much you should be paying.

morocco-safety-how-to-avoid-hassle
morocco-safety-how-to-avoid-hassle

Tip #5 - Always ask, How Much?

In Morocco, you should treat the phrase, 'how much,' almost like you'd treat the phrase, 'how ya doin?' in American parlance. This is mainly because, in Morocco, you may actually be in the middle of a transaction before you're even aware of it.  Ask it of every person who approaches you out of the blue on the street. They'll either:

  • be shocked that you asked them,
  • tell you that it costs nothing (you should remain skeptical), or
  • tell you how much (feel free to haggle or decline)

Either way, at least now you'll be aware of the nature of the interaction.

Tip #6 - Say, 'No Thank You' in Arabic and French

The two most widely spoken languages in Morocco are Arabic and French. I got away with Spanish on the northern coast of Morocco, but further in, it didn't serve me at all. After a few days on my own,  I'd mastered what has to be the most useful phrase while in Morocco in both French - 'No, merci,' and Arabic - 'La, chokran'.

Tip #7 - Keep it Moving

Someone yells at you to come buy something? Someone begging you for money? Someone telling you to follow the m so they can show you the way to...? Some guy making unwelcome advances? Put it all behind you. Literally. Don't make eye contact, don't slow down or stand still. Get up and keep walking. This tactic works especially well when coupled with...

morocco-safety-how-to-avoid-hassle5
morocco-safety-how-to-avoid-hassle5

Tip #8 - Just Play Mute

Of course, you don't have to ask, 'how much,' or say 'no, thanks,' if you don't want to. You don't have to say anything at all. In many cases, that's the best way to avoid being hassled in Morocco. So instead of replying, shake your head, put your hand up, or ignore the hassler completely.

Tip #9 - Don't Go Out After Dark

I don't want to imply that I think that Morocco is dangerous after dark, only that I noticed that there was a certain daytime veneer to each Moroccan city I visited that the populace seemed to shrug off after sunset. It was almost like, if you're a tourist who's bold enough to be out after dark, then you're a tourist who's ready for the behind-the-scenes look. Also, I suspect the hustler-to-hassler ratio dramatically increases after dark, so to avoid them, stay at home after sunset.

Have you traveled to Morocco? What was your experience with street hasslers? Do you have any tips you've used to avoid being hassled or hustled in Morocco? Share them in the comments!

6 Reasons Sitges Is The Perfect Destination For Just About Everyone
6-reasons-sitges-is-the-perfect-destination-for-almost-everyone-solo-in-spain.png

In case I haven't mentioned it already, Barcelona is one of my favorite cities on Earth. It’s cosmopolitan, chock full of culture, it has beaches, nightlife, great food and amazing history and architecture. It has so much to offer that it totally overshadows other neighboring cities and towns that are also worth exploring. One of those towns that I think definitely deserves to share in a little bit of Barna’s shine is Sitges. At just a 45 minute train away from Barcelona’s bustling Sants train station, Sitges is a jewel of a destination that has something to offer almost any type of traveler or pleasure seeker.

Don’t believe me? Here are 6 reasons why you (and just about everyone you know) should visit Sitges.

Sitges is for Lovers

Romantic passages, intimate restaurants, cozy boutique hotels, and sweeping Mediterranean views… even if you’re single and solo, you’re bound to feel a little more sexy here.

visit sitges travel lady-statue
visit sitges travel lady-statue
visit sitges travel spain
visit sitges travel spain
visit sitges-spain travel
visit sitges-spain travel
visit-sitges-travel
visit-sitges-travel

Sitges is for Families

Like the rest of Spain, families abound in restaurants, on the beaches  Lots of family-friendly restaurants and activities and plenty of vacation rentals to house a crowd at better-than-hotel rates.

visit sitges travel families
visit sitges travel families

Sitges is for 'the children'

No, not the little ones. I’m referring to the children of the LGBTQ family. Sitges isn’t just a gay-friendly vacation destination, it’s a gay vacationer’s paradise. It hosts the biggest and most popular gay pride festival in all of Spain every June. No shortage of bars, drag shows, and beeyoutiful boys to gaze at while walking in the streets, sitting in cafes, and lounging on the beaches!

visit-sitges-travel-spain2
visit-sitges-travel-spain2

Sitges is for wild women

Sprinkled all over the shoreline are these bold statues of nude women. And sprinkled along at least one of the beaches in Sitges are bold, nude humans.  Sitges is a definitely a safe place for ladies who like to let it all hang out.

visit sitges-travel lady statue
visit sitges-travel lady statue

Sitges is for the weary

The hustle and bustle of Barcelona is only a 40-minute ride away on the Rodalies commuter train. As much as I love visiting and partying in Barcelona, I have to admit that after a few days, I’m worn out. Sitges offers a close-by respite from the madness that is the big-city life of Barcelona.

visit sitges travel uni
visit sitges travel uni

Sitges is for the posh

High end shops, real estate, and world class restaurants make Sitges a favorite spot for the upper crust set, but you wouldn’t necessarily know it since everyone adopts a more casual, laid back vibe here.

sitges-travel-spain-bike
sitges-travel-spain-bike

How To Get There:

Trains from Barcelona to Sitges depart from França, Passeig de Gracia and Sants stations.

There's also a public bus that runs during the day, and a night bus that provides service between the Barcelona and Sitges until well after midnight.

More on bus and train travel from Barcelona to Sitges.

barcelona to sitges train
barcelona to sitges train

Where to Stay:

visit sitges travel hotel platjador
visit sitges travel hotel platjador

Hotel Platjador is a quirky, but comfy boutique beachfront hotel smack in the middle of Sitges. Spring for the balcony suite for all-day people watching without having to leave your room.

What  to Eat:

El Trull

visit sitges travel el trull
visit sitges travel el trull
visit sitges-travel el trull
visit sitges-travel el trull

Directly across the street from Hotel Platjador is the oldest chiringuito in Spain (allegedly). Aptly named, El Chiringuito, its food is about as nondescript as its name. If you weren't lucky enough to score a balcony room at Hotel Platjador, Go to El Chiringuito, have a beer and people watch from there.

visit sitges travel platjador chiringuito
visit sitges travel platjador chiringuito

Have you been to Sitges yet? What did you love about it?

Why i travel in spain mainly on the train
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You ever been on a train that’s just moments away from pulling into your destination, so you get up from your seat, start gathering your things and begin moving towards the nearest exit. Then, suddenly you realize that the train doesn’t seem to be slowing down enough to make a stop. Slowly it dawns on you that the train isn’t slowing down, because it’s not going to stop. And as the train ever so slowly rolls past your destination station, and you stand dumbstruck in the middle of the aisle – your rolling bag clutched in one hand, your jacket draped over your other arm – your eyes and mouth widen while you watch your intended place fade away in the distance and you wonder to yourself,

What the f*ck just happened?

And then,

Where the f*ck am I headed to now?

spain train travel
spain train travel

No? Never happened to you? Oh.

Well…

You ever been on a train seated next to an old Spanish man, who, after almost refusing to move out of your assigned seat when you boarded, later lets out the mother of all silent-but-deadly farts that wakes you and the other guy in the seat across from you out of your naps, prompts a coughing fit from the passenger seated 3 rows back, gives you a (literal) taste of what the old man had for lunch and what medications he’s currently taking, and makes you wonder exactly how to say ‘Sir! Do not move another inch. Clap your cheeks down on that foul stench immediately!’ in Spanish without being misunderstood?

spain train travel
spain train travel

Yeah. Happened to me once. Never happened to you?

Well, then…

You ever been on a train with a silent car? A silent car that you specifically booked a seat in because things like loud talking, small children, and cell phone usage are strictly prohibited? A silent car that you’ve been dying to park yourself in so you can rest your hot, hungover head against the cool, cool window and snooze a bit on the way back to your little town after a long weekend of the most turnt-up of turn-ups (aka, Carnaval in Cadiz)? A silent car whose silence is being disturbed by, of all things, a nun…talking…on a cell phone? At first, you feel a little bad at getting angry at a nun. Is that even allowed? But then all those Catholic school punishments come back to you and you think to yourself, “Oh, hell naw, Sister Mary. The rules apply to you too.” But instead of saying anything, you simply scowl in her direction and not-so-subtly snap a picture of her with your phone hoping that the power of shame will compel her.

spain train travel
spain train travel

Still no? Damn, you should get out more.

Or… maybe I should stay put more.

But, it’s hard to stay put when I have this amazingly efficient and wide-reaching network of sleek chariots on iron rails to take me almost anywhere I can think of going in this country. As an American, I am not used to this type of convenience. Our national rail system is more of a quaint remnant of history than a currently viable utility. And the price of using the rail system in Spain is more than favorable. I often make use of Renfe’s SpainPass, a volume discount-type train ticket that’s only available to non-Spaniards. SpainPass allows you to take 4 or more medium- or long-distance train trips in a month for 40 euro or less per trip. Once I realized that with the money I make off of just a handful of private English lessons (link), I can afford to travel to 2 new cities each month, I was hooked. I’ve heard that Renfe has some pretty good student discounts, too. But, sadly (or gladly?), I aged out of those a long time ago. Even without discounts, many of the regular-price Renfe tickets are still in the 40 euro or less range, depending on the day and route of travel.

Of course there are so many other benefits to Spain train travel besides price. Trains offer:

  • More comfort and speed than a bus, and much less hassle than a plane
  • Less of the security hassle than at airports
  • Larger seats / more room
spain train travel
spain train travel
  • No luggage restrictions
  • The chance to see the country and the geography up-close while on the move
spain train travel
spain train travel
  • Free onboard entertainment (in the form of smelly old men, chatty nuns or in-transit movies)

So, Dear Reader, I encourage you to get out there more. Find a destination, buy a ticket, hop a train, and have an adventure.

Just remember to:

  • Always have your phone ready to snap a pic of a naughty nun
  • Always bring nose plugs or air spray in case of an unexpected abuelo ass-ault
  • Always know exactly where your train will be stopping, so you won’t inadvertently end up in Madrid having to buy another train ticket to get back to your intended destination.
5 of my favorite cities for street art
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I am not one for museums when I travel. It’s not that I don’t like museums. It’s just that with limited time and lots of things to see and do on a trip, spending hours looking at old or odd things inside of a building doesn’t seem like the best time management strategy. Usually, I’ll save a museum visit for a second or third visit to a destination, or if I happen to stay in a single place for a long period of time.

Yet, even on a first trip or a short stay in a city, I like to get a feel for the culture and energy of the place – and viewing the work of local artists is a great way to do just that.

chasing street art while travelling
chasing street art while travelling

The Unexpected Value of Street Art

Street artists, in particular, often combine their art with a message that is highly relevant in their surroundings, their work can convey a sense of the politics of a particular area – what’s going on beneath the surface of the neighborhood or city you’re in. There’s also an ephemeral quality to street art that makes it more precious somehow. While a traditional work of art might show over and over again at a number of galleries, a piece of street art you see today may not be there tomorrow or next week.

Capturing street art – whether stumbling on works by accident or intentionally seeking them out – has led me down some of the most unexpected paths and into some of the best memories (and photos) during my travels.

Here are some of my favorite cities for capturing impressive works of street art:

London, England

best-street-art-london (4)
best-street-art-london (4)
best street art - londn
best street art - londn
best-street-art-london
best-street-art-london
best-street-art-london-eine
best-street-art-london-eine
best-street-art-london-roa
best-street-art-london-roa

Where to find street art in London:

About.com’s London street art walking tour (self-guided)

East London street art walk (self-guided)

 

Lisbon, Portugal

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best-street-art-lisbon4
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best-street-art-lisbon3
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best-street-art-lisbon2
best-street-art-lisbon
best-street-art-lisbon
best-street-art-barcelona
best-street-art-barcelona
best-street-art-barcelona (3)
best-street-art-barcelona (3)
best-street-art-barcelona (2)
best-street-art-barcelona (2)
best street art - malaga
best street art - malaga
best-street-art-malaga (3)
best-street-art-malaga (3)
best-street-art-malaga (2)
best-street-art-malaga (2)
best-street-art-malaga (5)
best-street-art-malaga (5)
best street art - berlin
best street art - berlin

Berlin, Germany

best street art - berlin
best street art - berlin
best street art-berlin
best street art-berlin
best street art - berlin
best street art - berlin

Where to find street art in Berlin:

Original Free Alternative Berlin Tour

Free Alternative Berlin Tour

Are you a fan of street art? Where have you seen some great works of graffiti or street art during your travels?

6 best things i ate: lisbon

I really can’t say enough good things about Lisbon. It’s a city I love for many reasons, not the least of which is the delicious and inexpensive food that I ate while I was there. Here’s a rundown of the best food I ate in Lisbon:

Dorado dinner and wine at Cerqueira

A plate of fresh fried dorado steaks with all the fixings and a bottle of wine for under 10? Restaurant Cerqueira is worth the short but steep walk outside of the main tourist area of central Lisbon.

where-to-eat-lisbon-pena-cerqueira
where-to-eat-lisbon-pena-cerqueira
where-to-eat-lisbon
where-to-eat-lisbon

Grilled sardines

The famed dish of Lisbon. I love fresh fish that’s simply prepared. These sardines were both fresh and simple, yet full of flavor.

how-to-do-lisbon-grilled-sardines
how-to-do-lisbon-grilled-sardines

Pastel de Belem

Seductively creamy, subtly sweet, surrounded by a light flaky pastry and topped with an angelic dusting of cinnamon. The pastel de Belem begs to be eaten with a strong cup of espresso. Who am I kidding? It begs to be eaten whenever, wherever and with whatever.

how-to-do-lisbon-pastel-belem
how-to-do-lisbon-pastel-belem

Salmon burger w/seaweed ‘slaw’ on choco ink bun

Once again, my love of fish was perfectly sated in Lisbon. At the Mercado da Ribeira this gourmet burger stand served up a grilled salmon patty on a bun tinted black with squid ink. Unbelievably good.

how-to-do-lisbon-mercado-ribeira (4)
how-to-do-lisbon-mercado-ribeira (4)

Bacalao w/garbanzo puree

There were so many gourmet and well-priced food options in the Mercado da Ribeira’s dining hall, that my travelmate and I decided to split one (the salmon burger), so we could both have two dishes. My second – this perfectly cooked cod filet over a warm garbanzo spread was as delightful to eat as it was to look at. I’m pretty sure I embarrassed myself slightly via my inappropriate moans while eating this dish.

how-to-do-lisbon-mercado-ribeira (3)
how-to-do-lisbon-mercado-ribeira (3)

 Bifana

Just before leaving Lisbon, I stopped by Café Beira Gare, which is rumored to serve the best bifana in Lisbon. This deceptively simple pork sandwich had my mouth watering for hours after. It’s best accompanied by a cold Portuguese beer.

how-to-do-lisbon-bifanas-sandwich
how-to-do-lisbon-bifanas-sandwich

Have you eaten your way through Lisbon yet? What are some your best food finds in Lisbon?

Traveling Solo: What to Do When Everything Goes Wrong
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Oh, f**k. I am literally stuck in Portugal. My heart rate quickened a few paces. I hadn’t really allowed myself to think that the worst possible scenario would happen, so now that it was in fact happening, I found myself momentarily bewildered. I’d made the foolish mistake of traveling to Portugal  without my passport, but since I’d gotten lucky on the flight out of Spain, I thought my luck might hold out for the return trip. It didn’t. After trying other alternatives (presenting a copy of my passport, then my Spanish resident ID) that were refused by the airline agent, it became clear that I was not getting on this flight.

My brain began slowly filling with a thousand thoughts:

Shit.

Um. Ok. What the hell are you going to do now?

This can’t be happening.

Ohmygodohmygodohmygod

What if I can’t get out of here? What if I’m stuck in this airport for months or years like that one movie with Tom Hanks?

How could I be so stupid!?

Shit!

This is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. Why do bad things always happen to me?

Jesus Christ, I’m sooo stupid!!

I just wanna go home.

*Eyes starting to well up with tears*

If you travel often enough, eventually it will happen. The worst possible scenario. You find yourself stuck in the middle of nowhere. You missed your flight. The hotel booking fell through. You’re lost in an unfamiliar place where you don’t speak the language. Or worse yet, you’ve been pickpocketed or injured.

While I haven’t had any serious travel emergencies yet (knock on wood), I’ve definitely found myself in a pickle more than once while travelling – most recently on a solo trip back to Spain from Portugal. What I’ve learned from these travel blunders is that the best and quickest way out of them is to… keep calm and carry on.

you could panic. but what  good would that do?

 

Don’t Panic (Ok, panic. But make it brief.)

After realizing that my pleading with the airline agent was useless, I found a bench to sit on, and let the reality of the situation settle in a bit. I tried to tame my wildly racing thoughts as best I could (repeating over and over to myself, ‘It’s going to be ok. It’s going to be ok.’). Suddenly, a calming piece of advice that a friend of mine once said to me popped up in my mind: ‘Every problem has at least 5 solutions’.

Slowly, I felt the panic begin to subside and a steely resolve take its place. After a few more moments, I went to the bathroom, washed my face, fixed my hair, and touched up my makeup. Then, I set to work.

escape-from-portugal-oporto-airport

 

Gather Your Tools

I knew I would need to rely heavily on my cell phone, so I checked the battery. It was about half full. I started scouting out the airport terminal for power outlets. Then, checked to see if there was free Wi-fi at the airport. No luck. Fortunately, my cell phone data plan worked, and the signal was strong.

Once you’ve calmed yourself down, take inventory of what you’ve got to help you get out of this situation - cell phone, map, GPS, snacks, the phone number of ‘a guy who knows a guy’. Use whatever you’ve got within reach to help you get yourself out of this predicament or weather the storm until you do.

Using travel tools proactively can also be a big help in case of a travel mishap. For example, take pics of your hotel, the hotel stationery, or the street you’re staying on in case you get lost and can’t communicate where you need to go. Save emergency contact info into a notes app on your phone. Save text versions of walking directions to/from your hotel on your phone to use in case you can’t access GPS. Download maps that are accessible offline. Download travel apps you can use to book last-minute flights and hotels and find bus and train schedules.

 

Brainstorm & Prioritize Your Options

What’s the thing that needs to happen first? What’s most important right now? What’s the fastest, most efficient way to get that thing done?

My 3 main options were: Getting on another flight, finding a place to stay, or finding another mode of transportation to get back to Spain.

After a quick search online for other flights, I ruled out that option. Even if I could get past security for another airline (sans passport), the cost of the flight would be ridiculous. Since I was already out of the money from the lost flight, I didn’t want to pay more than I needed to.

My next best bet was finding an alternative way out. Lastly, I’d look for a place to crash, if finding a way out took longer than I hoped.

 

Be Resourceful – Know Where to Go for Info or Help

Thankfully, I had apps for Renfe – Spain’s railway system, BlaBlaCar, and Skyscanner on my phone, and I’d bookmarked the site for Portugal’s railway system. I used Google to search for buses going between Portugal and Spain. In under an hour, I’d found info on the next trains, buses, and rideshares going to Madrid. But online bus information can often be out of date, so I ended up consulting with both an airport security guard and the airport tourist info office to make sure the info I’d found online was correct (turns out, it wasn’t). Since there was nothing leaving until the next day, I used my handy AirBnB and Booking.com apps to look for a cheap place to stay in the meantime.

Having the right info at hand during a travel emergency makes all the difference, and knowing where to go to find it is essential. In my case, I relied heavily on online travel tools. But the people around you can also be excellent sources of help and information. Information desks or tourist offices are available in most large cities. Bus drivers and taxi drivers are great for helping you find your way – they know the area well. Hotel concierges and desk staff, security guards and police officers, store workers in commercial areas – not only are all of these people good sources of ‘official’ info, they’re also more likely to speak English than a random person on the street.

 

Think Positively

Even if you do everything you should do in a travel emergency, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get out of the situation quickly. No matter what happens, though, keeping a positive mindset and being able to laugh at yourself will help you make the best of a bad situation.

In the end, it took a few hours of searching for and confirming transport and lodging, an overnight stay at a cheap but centrally located AirBnB room (15 euros), and a 5-hour BlaBlaCar ride (30 euros) the next day from Oporto to Madrid. During that time, I encountered some rude and unhelpful people, took a walk through what – at first glance – looked like a sketchy area, and suffered a late-night bout of gastrointestinal distress. I tried to view the whole ordeal as a comical adventure, which kept me from getting too riled up or freaked out, even though there were several times when I wanted to do both. In the end, I made it out of a sticky situation without too much incident, feeling like I earned a merit badge in the process.  And a ridiculously hilarious travel story to boot.

did i ever tell you about that one time when i smuggled myself into spain from portugal? fun times.

 

Have you ever experienced an embarrassing travel mishap or stressful travel emergency? How did you make it out alive? Share your experience in the comments!

 

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how to do lisbon: learn how to say thank you in portuguese
IMAG9186.jpg

I love the sound of Portuguese. As soon as I slid into my seat on the plane from Madrid to Lisbon, I couldn't help but smile. Portuguese swirled around me, sounding like a hybrid of Italian and Spanish spoken with lilting intonations that lulled me to calm.

Despite it being a big city, Lisbon's residents were never too busy to engage in a small bit of conversation, and always seemed quite friendly and willing to help - especially if you tried to speak even the smallest bit of Portuguese.

To show appreciation for their hospitality, the great food, perfect weather, and the affordability of it all - learning how to give a heartfelt thanks in Portugese was the least I could do.

Obrigada!

Learn More Useful Portuguese Phrases

This post is 1 part of Solo in Spain's How To Do Lisbon series... 

how to do lisbon: have a bifana
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While the bifana didn't originate in Lisbon (that credit goes to the town of Vendas Novas), the snack is strongly associated with Portugal's capital city. The bifana consists of a juicy stack of thinly sliced pork layered on fresh, soft yet crusty bread. Sounds simple, but the unseen effort and just-right ingredients are what make this sandwich sublime.The pork is slow-simmered in a seasoned marinade. The bread is pillowy inside and just crackly enough outside. When the sandwich comes together, the juices from the meat seep into the bread, staining it with flavor. Served along with a helping of mustard that you can add as you please, the bifana is a deliciously indulgent snack that you can only experience in Portugal.

Cafe Beira Gare on Google+

This post is part of a series on How To Do Lisbon.

 

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how to do lisbon: take a day trip to sintra or cascais
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Two of Lisbon's most popular options for day trips are Cascais - a beach resort town - and Sintra - a historic village known for its old castles. Both cities are only about an hour away using Lisbon suburban rail line, Comboios. I chose to visit the quaint and charming Sintra and its majestically quirky storybook castle. There's an admission fee to enter the castle grounds and the castle's terraces - but I think it's worth it to get an up close look at such a colorful spectacle perched high among the clouds. Of course, you'll have to share the view with lots of other visitors and photo-snappers.

Exploring the town center with its lush gardens, outdoor art installations, and tiny shops and bars is a must either before or after visiting the castle.

If a leisurely day at the beach followed by gazing and shopping at cute boutiques is more up your alley, Cascais is the better option. But, why choose? If you have the time, visit both.

Lisbon to Sintra - How to Get There, What to See

Lisbon to Cascais - How to Get There, Where to Eat, What to See

This post is part of a series on How To Do Lisbon.

how to do lisbon: see the monuments in belem
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Belem - located in the southwest corner of Lisbon - is a perfect place to spend a leisurely, sunny afternoon. Some of the most iconic monuments of Lisbon are found here, namely The Jeronimo Monastery, The Monumento do Descubrimento, and the Torre de Belem.My advice is to take your time strolling through the area. Stop to people watch in the park in front of the Jeronimo Monastery. Soak up some sun at the edge of the river next to the Monumento de Descubrimento. Have a gelato before walking over to Belem Park and stretching out in the shade of a tree for a while.

 

 

Perhaps the most famous 'monument' in Belem is the beloved Portugese pastry, pastel de Belem. This creamy, custardy tart can be found all over Lisbon and throughout the rest of Portugal (where it goes by the name, pastel de nata), but its birthplace is Belem. Its best enjoyed with a liberal sprinkling of cinnamon on top. So good.

 

This post is part of a series on How To Do Lisbon.

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how to do lisbon: sample portugese cuisine at mercado da ribeira
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I love myself a good market. And Lisbon has plenty to choose from. After reviewing a list of the best markets in Lisbon, I decided to try the Mercado da Ribeira - mainly because it offered both fresh foods and a selection of restaurants to eat in. I had no idea what I was in for when I arrived. The fresh food market was good, not great - even though I was able to score some okra (YAAY!!).

mercado da ribeira

fresh market

But the real draw at the Mercado da Ribeira is the jaw-dropping selection of gourmet restaurant and food stalls on the opposite side of the building. There were stalls offering asian noodles, gourmet burgers, whole roast pig, craft beer and cider, and several with updated takes on traditional Portugese cuisine. DO go here on an empty stomach. The quality and creativity of the offerings were top notch. The prices, however, were unbelievably reasonable.

roasted bacalao with garbanzo puree

salmon burger w/seaweed salad on squid ink bun

whole roast suckling pig

Diners sit at communal tables in the center of the market. Since the Mercado da Ribeira is a popular spot for locals and visitors, I found myself chatting - and even sharing a few bites - with diners from 3 different countries.

Mercado da Ribeira on Google+

This post is part of a series on How To Do Lisbon.

how to do lisbon: use the metro
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The Lisbon metro is modern, efficient, and pretty easy to use. The only hiccup I experienced was when I first arrived at the airport and couldn't figure which direction to head in.

waiting on the Comboios suburban train from Belem to the city center

The metro goes to all of the neighborhoods and points of interest in central Lisbon.  A reloadable, multi-trip card can be purchased and refilled at machines in every station. One of the best things about Lisbon's public transportation system is that you can use the same multi-trip card on the underground metro, above-ground trams, trolleys and buses, and the suburban trains that go all the way to Cascais and Sintra.

For long-distance destinations like Coimbra and Porto, you'll have to purchase a separate ticket for one of the regional or inter-regional trains that depart from Santa Apolonia Station.

regional train at Santa Apolonia Station in Lisbon

Official Lisbon Metro Site - Fares, Maps, and Trip Planner

Lisbon Comboios Site - for Medium to Long-Distance Trips Outside of Lisbon

This post is part of a series on How To Do Lisbon.

how to do lisbon: people watch at the port
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At the south end of Rua Augusta is the Port of Lisbon which overlooks the river Douro, and provides a spectacular view of the April 25 bridge. The large adjacent plaza and the riverside promenade produce an endless parade of locals, tourists, and street vendors. Grab a table on the terrace at one of the nearby cafes, or cop a squat on the wall ledge at the edge of the river to soak it all in.

port of lisbon

 

Once you've gotten your fill of gazing at the passersby, head up the Rua Augusta, browsing the shops and street performers, before heading over to have a look at the Santa Justa Elevator. Push on a little further, and you'll run into Rossio Square, with its picturesque fountains and always lively pedestrian scene. The nearby Rossio train station is worth a peek for its uniquely designed facade. A hint: It looks even better at night.

rua augusta

 

fountain - rossio square

 

santa justa elevator

 

 

rossio station

 

This post is part of a series on How To Do Lisbon.

 

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how to do lisbon: skip the #28 and explore alfama on foot
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When researching things to do in Lisbon, I saw tons of recommendations for riding the #28 tram. While seeing the city's oldest neighborhood in this manner makes for a memorable experience, the tram is often literally overflowing with other tourists who also want to have this experience. I waited for 3 go-rounds of the #28, and was never able to get on because there wasn't even room to breathe on board. The way I see it, even if you do get a coveted spot on the tram, you're going to be packed in there like... well, like sardines. Not my idea of fun.

how to do lisbon - explore alfama
se de lisboa - lisbon cathedral

Though it's an uphill climb, making the trek from the Lisbon Cathedral (Se de Lisboa) up through the Alfama neighborhood is a treat for the senses. Cute shops, tiny traditional bars, crumbling buildings, winding staircases, and some fine street art will give you plenty of opportunities to stop for a look-see or a quick photo. It's the perfect place to get lost for a few hours. The best part is, you can take the #28 on your way back down - it's usually much less crowded going the opposite direction.

how to do lisbon - explore alfama
seeing the sights in alfama
how to do lisbon - explore alfama
overlooking lisbon from alfama
how to do lisbon - explore alfama
alfama street art
how to do lisbon - explore alfama
alfama street art
how to do lisbon - explore alfama
colorful alfama

This post is part of a series on How To Do Lisbon.

 

how to do lisbon
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Lisbon is one of those places where it’s hard to capture the beauty with a camera. You have to stop often, pause, and soak it all in. Let the breeze sweep over you, turn your face up to the sun, smile a bit to yourself and then push on up the next steep hill, over the buckling cobblestone sidewalks, down the time-worn stone stairs, and around the next bend, where you’ll spy something else that makes you stop in your tracks, exhale sharply, and pause to admire it all over again.

During my entire time there, I found myself repeating two words over and over: impressive, and picturesque. But there was also this feeling of welcoming ease. That is, unless I found myself in one of the heavily crowded, tourist-oriented areas of town. Even then, though, popping into a shop, I’d be met with a friendly bit of conversation, or be greeted with a familiar ‘bomdia nena’ as I passed one of the restaurant hawkers standing out in front of the rows of cafes, attempting to lure non-locals in for a slightly overpriced bite to eat.

Before I left to visit the city, more than one Spanish associate of mine had used the same word to describe Lisbon: decadente. Upon hearing the word, I’d wrinkle my brow a bit and wonder if I was heading to some place that would be characterized by overindulgence or questionable morality. After arriving, however, I realized that what my associates had intended was the definition of decadence that I’d all but forgotten – that being a place characterized by decay or decline, a place that is now a faded vision of its former glory.

one of Lisbon's many winding staircases

 

a peeling oled facade interplays with modern street art

 

urban decay never looked so good

Indeed, Lisbon is peppered with faded, dilapidated buildings, aged streets and sidewalks in need of repair, neglected and peeling facades, and a thin layer of grunge that seems to have lightly settled over almost everything. Yet, at the same time, the city manages to feel extremely modern and cosmopolitan. The efficient transportation system, the trendy shopping and bar districts, the amusing and provocative street art and performers, the cultural mishmash of colors, styles, nationalities, and cuisines you can see and smell as you stroll through the streets. Couple that with the fact that the city is located next to a huge river and not far from the Atlantic Ocean, and you get the sense of constant flow – an unhurried busy-ness that imparts energy that keeps the city renewed and young despite the obvious fact that it is so very, very old.

forever portugal
feelin' the love in lisbon

Over the next few days, I'll be sharing my insights on what to see and do in Lisbon . Here's a preview of what's to come:

  1. Take Up Residence in Pena
  2. Eat Grilled Sardines
  3. Skip the #28 and Explore Alfama on Foot
  4. People Watch at the Port
  5. Use the Metro
  6. Sample Affordable, New Portuguese Cuisine
  7. See the Monuments in Belem
  8. Take a Day Trip to Sintra or Cascais
  9. Have a Bifana
  10. Learn How to Say Thank You in Portuguese

If you're planning a trip to Lisbon, these travel tips will help you make the most of your time in the city. Bookmark this post, or sign up below to receive the latest posts in the series as soon as they're published! Read the first post now....

how to do lisbon: eat grilled sardines
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The abundance of fresh and expertly prepared fish in Lisbon made me one very happy girl. Grilled sardines is one of Lisbon's most iconic dishes, so if you're a fish lover, you have to experience it at least once.

grilled sardines served with typical accompaniments: potato and salad
how to do lisbon: take up residence in pena
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Just a few minutes away from the hustle and bustle (and higher prices) of the city center is the Pena neighborhood of Lisbon. It's accessible by either:

  • a long walk up a steep hill,
  • a long walk up lots of old stairs, or
  • a brief ride on the Lavra funicular.

Either way, it's worth the trouble. Pena offers lodging options that strike the perfect balance of location, comfort and price. Staying here gives you a break from the busy-ness and lets you experience a more intimate side of the city. Friendly neighbors who smile and say good morning as you pass them on the street, and cheaper, less crowded restaurants are a part of the package.

Where I Stayed: NEW! 2patios&parking; center Lisbon

photo source: AirBnB
Dinner at Restaurant Cerqueira in Pena - All this for a little over 5 euro.
Perfectly prepared caipirinha at Terras Gerais, a cozy Brazilian restaurant in Pena

More About Lisbon Neighborhoods

This post is the first in a series on How To Do Lisbon.

7 reasons you shouldn’t couchsurf if you haven’t already
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Ok. So you’ve heard about Couchsurfing (CS) from a friend of a friend or an article in a travel magazine or around a campfire that one time when you ran into a band of wandering hippies. You may even be thinking of trying it out for yourself. I’m a big fan of both the concept and the reality of Couchsurfing – I’ve used it at least 4 times in 4 different countries (all while travelling solo), and each of my experiences has been amazing. I’d even go so far as to say that my Couchsurfing experiences have renewed my faith in the kindness and hospitality of my fellow upright bi-pedders.

But I also realize that Couchsurfing is not for everyone. It’s not intended to be. And that’s ok. So, if you’re on the fence about Couchsurfing, here are 7 reasons that may (or may not) convince you to book a hotel instead.

#1: Don’t Couchsurf if you don’t personally know someone who has surfed or hosted.

Couchsurfing sounds strange and scary, especially for us Americans. What if this person kills me? Robs me? Rapes me? Makes me listen to Enya all night long? Having a friend or associate who has Couchsurfed before will give you the chance to ask all the questions you want and have your suspicions and fears put at ease before you ever go looking for a host or guest.  If this person knows you well, they’ll be better equipped to help you figure out if Couchsurfing is something that fits your personal needs and tastes. Plus, an experienced Couchsurfer will be able to school you on all of the unwritten rules and customs that are common among CS’ers.

#2: Don’t Couchsurf if you’re just looking for a free room.

Yes. If you find a Couchsurfing host, you will be able to stay at his/her place without paying a red cent. But this isn’t just about what you get out of the situation, it’s also about what you’re willing to give – namely, some of your time, personality, and life experiences. Couchsurfers are all about meeting and getting to know people from all over the world. Many of them have learned second languages, discovered new music, tried new foods, or planned their next vacation to previously unheard of destinations just from the interactions they’ve had with fellow surfers. The goal is to build relationships, not just freeload at someone’s house. It’s even common to bring a little gift or token of appreciation for your host – a bottle of wine, a fridge magnet from your home country or state, or any little thing that says, ‘thanks for letting this stranger sleep in your house’.

#3: Don’t Couchsurf if you’re not prepared to do some upfront work.

Nothing in life is truly free. This applies even to Couchsurfing. In order to have a quality Couchsurfing experience, you’re going to need to spend a lot of time thoroughly filling out your CS profile. The more thorough, honest, and detailed your profile is, the more likely you’ll be able to find someone with similar interests or a compatible outlook on life. Once you’re ready to look for a host, you’ll also need to put in quite a lot of time perusing potential hosts’ profiles, going over all of the feedback that previous guests have given, sending couch requests, waiting for replies, etc. I liken the whole CS reservation request experience to looking for a match on a dating or friend site. It takes time to get quality results. You should also be prepared to leave detailed and useful feedback about your host after your stay – it’s this contribution that helps the next person decide if they should follow in your footsteps.

#4 - Don’t Couchsurf if you don’t have a Plan B.

At the end of the day, you’re dealing with someone you don’t know. Even if you’ve done all of your pre-work and feel comfy with your host, shit happens. Maybe your host will need to cancel at the last minute. Maybe you won’t like the vibe you get when you get there. Whatever the reason, always have a backup plan – another nearby hotel or hostel you can head to if need be, and enough money to pay for a more traditional living arrangement should the need arise.

#5 - Don’t Couchsurf if you don’t like sharing or if you have an inherent mistrust of strangers or the internet.

By its very nature, CS is more suitable for open-minded, gregarious people who don’t mind sharing a little bit about themselves on the internet (i.e., your CS profile) or with people they’ve never met before. If you already know that’s not your style, don’t stress yourself or other CS’ers out.

#6 - Don’t Couchsurf if you’re just looking to hook up or get laid.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your stance on the issue), some folks out there think that CS is the perfect way to get easy sex with strangers. To each his or her own, I say. But, if that’s all you’re looking for, there are plenty of other sites out there that are more suited for that purpose. If you somehow feel like you MUST use CS to achieve your sex-with-strangers fantasy, at least be upfront about your intent with potential guests / hosts, and be prepared for the other person not being on the same page. Full disclosure: I’ve messaged potential hosts who responded with messages that made it clear that their intent or interest would be to engage in some physical recreation with me. While it creeped me out a bit, I was mostly relieved that they were upfront about their intent. I politely declined their offer, and kept searching for a more suitable host. No harm, no foul.

#7 - Don’t Couchsurf if the little voice tells you not to.

As a frequent solo traveler, I’ve learned that one of the best tools in my nomad toolkit is my intuition, aka, the little voice. If you have even the slightest hint of uneasiness or a feeling that something might not be right with a potential Couchsurfing situation, don’t go into it. At the end of the day, you’re travelling to have a good experience, you are under no obligation to suffer discomfort or weirdness even if you’re staying with someone for free.

Have you Couchsurfed before? What have your experiences been like? Still not sure if Couchsurfing is for you? What are some of your concerns or worries?
Share your feedback in the comments!
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my travel style, aka, how I travel on the cheap in spain
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Since I’m in the habit of giving advice and tips about the places I’ve traveled to on this blog, I thought it was worthwhile to share some more information on exactly the type of traveler I am. Travel advice is really only relevant if the receiver has similar travel interests and preferences as the person giving the advice. For instance, some people would never stay in a hostel or couchsurf, while others – like myself – usually steer clear of chain hotels and all-inclusives. So, with that, here’s some insight into my personal travel style, so you can decide for yourself whether my travel advice is suitable for you.

 

I live cheaply when not travelling – I live in a pretty small town in the interior of Spain, so most things here are cheaper than they are elsewhere in the country. My major expense – rent – runs me about 150 euros a month, and that includes all of my utilities. I share an apartment with 3 other ladies – a fairly common arrangement in Spain, even for working professionals – so that helps to keep costs low. Even when I lived on my own, rent and utilities averaged 275 euros a month – extremely cheap by American standards. I eat out, but not too often. When I do, it’s usually at a place where I buy a beer or a glass of wine and get a free tapa. At the grocery store, I buy very few packaged goods – which are typically more expensive than whole foods – choosing veggies, fresh fruits, fish, and meats instead of heat-and-serve meals. I also don’t waste leftovers. I remix them until they’re all gone.
Blablacar – I describe Blablacar as a safer way to hitchhike. I tend to use it for short to mid-distance trips to nearby cities or provinces (roughly, 4 hours or less). Using the site or app, you can search for drivers who are leaving from your area and heading to a destination you want to go to. The drivers offer available seats in their car for a much, much lower price than a train or even a bus. An added benefit is that you get the chance to chat with a local about any number of things, including their recommendations on what you should see and do when you reach your destination.

SpainPass – Like much of Europe, Spain’s long distance train system is quite good. The trains are reliable and fast, and depending on how early you buy your ticket, they can also be quite affordable. I tend to use trains for exploratory, long-distance trips. Renfe – Spain’s national train service – offers a very attractive multi-trip pass for non-Spanish travelers. It’s called SpainPass, and it allows you to travel multiple legs on the train for about 40 euros per leg. The only catch is that all trips must be paid for upfront, and they must all be used in 30 days. Because of the time limit, I try to use this option strategically. For instance, in December, there was both a long holiday at the beginning of the month and the Christmas holidays at the end of the month. Using SpainPass, I was able to travel to Valencia, Malaga, and Barcelona that month for much less than plane tickets or regular-price train tickets. Whenever I use SpainPass, I typically search for a destination that would cost me a lot of money to get to and go there.

 

Skyscanner – Simply the best app or flight search site I’ve found for showing the lowest prices to my chosen destination. There’s enough flexibility in Skyscanner’s search function for me to select a departure location and leave the destination open, which allows me to see where I can fly to for the least amount of money.
Pack light – when I don’t travel via train or Blablacar, I’m usually on one of what I call ‘ghettoeurope’ airlines – Ryanair or Easyjet. These super low-cost airlines are able to keep their prices low because they offer a no-frills service. This is especially true when it comes to baggage restrictions. Both of these airlines only allow you to travel with a small carry-on bag for free. While the luggage size isn’t restrictively small, it may take some smart packing to keep from having a too-large bag that costs you more money.
Hostels – Unfortunately, this is one way I could probably travel even more cheaply. But, since I’m over 35 and my dorm room days are decades behind me, I find it hard to stomach the idea of a communal bathroom, and I simply can’t wrap my head around the idea of sleeping in a room with strangers. I mean, what if I need to poot, scratch, rub one out? Now, I have stayed in hostels, but I always opt for the private room option when I do – it’s more expensive than the traditional hostel experience, but still much cheaper than a standard hotel.

Home stays – I do, however, love Couchsurfingand Airbnb – two options for staying in a home or apartment while travelling. Usually there’s a kitchen I can use to cook a quick meal or even just have some fruit, bread, and cheese for breakfast or a snack.

one of my most unique and enjoyable homestays - a hammock on a houseboat in amsterdam

 

Eat out only for the main meal – I’m a foodie, so I definitely like to eat out when I’m travelling – but I try to eat out for my main meal of the day – typically late lunch or dinner – and just eat fruit or snacks purchased at a local supermarket for the other meals. I also try to save dining out experiences for iconic dishes or local specialties, not just because I’m hungry and need a bite.
Public transportation– Most cities in Spain are very walkable, but when my feet get tired, I opt for public transportation, not taxis or car hires. Not only is public transport cheaper, it’s also a good way to quickly get a feel of the layout of the city and what the people are like.
No tours – I just don’t believe in paying for them. And since I’m not one who feels like I need to see EVERYthing when I visit a place – I typically pick out 2 or 3 must-sees, and let the rest happen as it may – tours aren’t really worth my money. Also, since I stay with locals, there’s no need for a tour. A quick conversation with my host about what I’m looking for and how to get there, and it’s like I’ve received a customized itinerary. However, there are occasionally exceptions to this rule.
Skip paid attractions– Again, there are some rare occasions when I’ll make an exception to this rule. But for the most part, I skip any site that I have to pay to enter. This includes museums and theme parks.  I prefer parks, neighborhoods, plazas, local markets, and other outdoor activities as they give me more of a feel for what the city and its people are like.
What are some of your tips for keeping costs low while travelling in Spain, Europe, or elsewhere in the world? Share them in the comments!
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how to do barcelona
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I’ll admit it. I’m kind of addicted to this town. Maybe it’s because it was the first Spanish city I visited on my own. Maybe it’s because my first visit was the very definition of serendipity. Or maybe it’s because Barcelona is the one city in Spain that I know I can go to to satisfy all my cravings of home. In my opinion, Barna (not Barça - that abbreviation is specifically reserved for the football club) is the most metropolitan city in Spain, even more so than the capital of Madrid, and that’s because Barcelona has something that I think Madrid lacks – soul. Since that first visit just a little over a year ago, I’ve been back to the Catalonian capital 4 times, and it’s only a matter of time before I go again.

After those 5 visits, here are some of my favorite ways to ‘do’ Barcelona.

How to Do Barcelona: Take a Hop-On, Hop-Off Bus Tour

Yes, yes, I know. What sort of insider’s guide starts with, ‘book a tour’? I’m usually not a fan of tours, since I think it’s useless trying to pack in too much sightseeing in a single trip, and I prefer finding (and sometimes losing) my own way. But, there are some cities – such as London and Barcelona – that have so many different sites of interest spread out over such a large area, that I think it’s not only worth paying the price for a tour, it’s also worth saving yourself from aching feet and the frustration of trying to locate even your very top must-see sites using public transportation. My personal advice when booking a HOHO tour in Barna is this: Start early, then stay on the bus for a full loop (yes, it will be hard to resist getting off for photo opps, but do it) before you disembark anywhere. This will allow you get the tourist version of a sampler platter – a little taste of all that the city has to offer – before deciding which places you’d like to hop off at and delve deeper into. Barcelona’s most popular HOHO bus tour is the

Barcelona Bus Turistic

, and it’s the one I recommend. Some of my favorite places to hop off for a more up-close look include:

Park Güell

– You simply can’t visit Barcelona without seeing this impressive outdoor space designed by Antonio Gaudí. While you have to pay for up-close access to some areas of the park, I didn’t, and I felt plenty fulfilled enjoying the park’s free areas.

 A sunny day at Park Guell

La Sagrada Familia

– Perpetually under-construction, this magnificent example of Gaudí’s architectural style is always jam-packed with crowds, inside and out. I recommend viewing it from a quiet spot in the park Plaça de Gaudí located just behind the church.

La Sagrada Familia as seen from Placa de Gaudi

Casa Battló

– Yet another jaw-dropping example of Gaudi’s signature style. I also like this stop because you can take a leisurely southbound stroll from here down either the Passeig de Gracia or the Rambla de Catalunya. Walking down either of these streets, you’ll eventually encounter Plaça Catalunya, the Cathedral and Barrio Gótic, passing tons of shops, street performers and other sensory satisfaction along the way.

Casa Battlo at night

The 'Coquettish Giraffe' statue on La Rambla Catalunya

Barcelona's Cathedral

Batucada street performers in Barri Gotic

Arc de Triomf

/

Parc de la Ciutadella

– The Arc de Triomf is a breathtaking structure that makes for a nice photo opp. At the nearby Parc de la Ciutadella, you’ll find an equally impressive fountain and waterfall feature – La Cascada. On weekend afternoons, there’s usually a group of African drummers doing their thing near the center of the park. It’s an ideal place to cop a squat and soak up the sounds and sun.

The impressive Arc de Triomf

Parc Ciutadella's magnificent fountain and waterfall

Weekend African drumming in Parc Ciutadella

Some places I think are better seen from the bus:

Dona I Ocell as seen from the tourist bus

Plaça Espanya – the nearby Magic Fountain is a prime draw, but since the fountains are better seen at night after the tour bus stops running, you’re better off catching the metro to this location at a later time.

Parc de Joan Miró

– you can snap pretty decent pics of the iconic

Dona I Ocell

statue from the open-air top section of the bus.

Olympic Ring

– home to the telecommunications tower or, Torre Telefónica– a quirky architectural structure that’s a nice visual treat.

MNAC

– unless you plan on going inside of the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, get your oohs and aahs on as you whizz by.

Camp Nou

– I’m not a big football (or, soccer) fan anyway, so an up-close look wouldn’t really do anything for me.

How to Do Barcelona: Buy a Metro Pass

Barcelona’s metro system

is pretty easy to navigate, and there are several options available for

multi-trip Barcelona metro passes

. While which pass you buy will totally depend on how long you’ll be staying in the city and what areas you plan on visiting using the metro, I’ve only ever bought the 10-ride pass, aka the

T10

. A single one-way ticket on the metro runs €2.15, and the 10-trip pass will set you back €9.95, so it’s a great value; you can even share it with others travelling with you. I don’t mind walking between a lot of the places that I visit, and only use the metro if I have to go from one area of town to another, so the 10-ride pass has been sufficient for my multiple 3-4 day trips to Barcelona.

How to Do Barcelona: Stroll the Beach

Barcelona's most accessible beach, Barceloneta, isn't exactly the most picturesque, but it's definitely a nice place to have a Sunday stroll during cooler months, or work on your tan during warmer ones. At night, the area along the beach is filled with nightcrawlers visiting the many posh Miami-style nightclubs in the area.

How to Do Barcelona: Where to Eat

There are no shortage of amazing places to eat in Barcelona, and I know for sure that I haven’t even scratched the surface when it comes to fabulous dining options, but the following Barcelona restaurants have met or exceeded my standards for price, quality and uniqueness.

Teranga

– Senegalese restaurant located en El Born district of Barcelona. The lamb dishes are my favorites.

Restaurante Bar Roble

– Located on the edge of Barcelona’s Gracia neighborhood. A good option for lunch or dinner, this very old school restaurant often gets busy, and the service is typical Spanish / Catalan – occasionally brusque, but always efficient. And if you go when they have the lunch menu special (or menu del día), and you order wine as your included beverage, they plop the bottle on your table, and you drink as much as you want. Doesn’t get much better than that.

All-you-can-drink wine at Restaurante Bar Roble

Fideos de marisco con ali-oli on Restaurante Bar Roble lunch menu del dia

Milk

– Bar and restaurant located not far from Las Ramblas. An excellent choice for first meal, as they offer a daily ‘Recovery Brunch’ from 9am to 4:30pm. Perfect for coming back to life after a night out partying in Barna. If you go on weekends, get there early – Spanish early, like 10 – to beat the rush.

Huevos rancheros at Milk. I dream of this brunch dish often.

A Tu Bola

– Funky little eatery in the eclectic Raval neighborhood. Billing itself as a gourmet street food restaurant, the menu features a variety of different meat or veggie balls. Slightly pricier than I would normally go for, but the food and service are both very high quality.

Savory Mediterranean ball at A Tu Bola

Sweet chocolate truffle ball at A Tu Bola

Wok 2 Walk

– A quick serve chain restaurant with 3 Barcelona locations. Is it life-changing food? No. But I really miss Asian noodles, so it does it for me. Plus, the food is fresh and fast.

How to Do Barcelona: Where to Enjoy the Nightlife

Grácia

– Probably my favorite neighborhood in Barcelona. Full of funky shops, bars, and people – a perfect place to just stroll around and get lost in, day or night.

Plaça del Sol

is a good launching point for exploring the neighborhood.

El Born

– A little sexier and more polished than Gracia, with higher-end shops and restaurants, El Born is a great Barcelona ‘hood to see and be seen.

Antique jewely shopping in El Born

Afro Bar Bella Bestia

– Offering a variety of soulful entertainment, from ska to soul to soulful rock, this low-key bar is a good place to get your groove on.

Harlem Jazz Club

– Live music that might include funk, flamenco, Cuban jazz, and everything in between. More tourists than locals, but the music makes it worth your while.

Plaça Reial

– Just off La Rambla, this well-known plaza is a good place to go for late night hanging, after you’ve finished dinner and clubbing elsewhere and you want to watch (or act like) a drunken Spaniard or Catalan.

How to Do Barcelona: Where to Stay

L’Eixample

– The L’Eixample neighborhood is fairly centrally located and you can find some good bargains on vacation rentals or homestays in this part of town. However, it’s also a pretty big area, so where you choose to stay in L’Eixample can make a big difference as far as walkability to points of interest is concerned.

Where I’ve Stayed in L’Eixample:

Airbnb room near Passeig de Gracia

and

Hostalet Barcelona

Las Ramblas

On my first few visits to Barcelona, I avoided staying here because I didn’t want to be smack dab in the middle of all of the hustle and bustle that is Las Ramblas. But the one time I did stay here, it was quite nice to be able to quickly get back to the flat after a typical late night out without having to worry about catching the last train or possibly walking a really long way after the metro had shut down for the night.

Where I’ve Stayed in Las Ramblas:

Airbnb Room with Private Lounge

Near Park Güell

– If you’d prefer to be able to retire from the noise and crowds in central Barcelona at the end of the day, staying near Park Güell is a good idea. But – and I stress this caveat – be

absolutely

sure that you’re willing to tackle the very steep, very long incline that leads up to this area, especially if you plan on staying out late – I (and my hamstrings) learned this the hard way.  Depending on your fitness level, it can be a beast going and coming.

Note: Unfortunately, the very affordable

housetrip.com

room I stayed in is no longer available.

How to Do Barcelona: Beware of Pickpockets

Before my first trip to Barcelona, I’d heard so many

stories

about how bad and rampant pickpocketing was, that I was definitely on high alert. I actually even saw a foiled pickpocketing attempt occur right in front of me on the metro during my first visit. But, honestly, a little common sense and street smarts will go a long way and keep you from becoming a victim. Walk confidently with your head up (not staring at a tourist guide or map), make eye contact with too-close strangers, and always keep a hand on your personal belongings (tip: go for a crossover-style bag versus a backpack), and you’ll be fine. Especially if you’re used to travelling in large metropolitan cities like New York or Chicago.

Other Barcelona blogs and resources:

Resident Advisor

- I'm a big fan of soulful house music and there's usually some place to get my fix in Barna. RA keeps an up-to-date listing of weekly  and special events for house heads.

Interactive Map of Barcelona City Center

Planning a visit to Barcelona or other Spanish cities? Check out:

7 Things You Must See in Every Spanish City

 for a quick and dirty guide on sightseeing in Spain.

What are your favorite ways to do Barcelona? Any tips on places to see or avoid? Leave 'em in the comments! 

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