Barcelona was my final stop in Spain, and on this vacation; Madrid was first and Monaco was second. I try to end my vacations with less activity, more peace and relaxation, and of course luxury. Each leg of this trip was unique and special in its own way and little did I know that Barcelona would not only be the perfect way to close out this trip, but it would make a home in my heart and require at least two more future visits to take in all that it really has to offer.

And I know once you visit, you’ll feel the same way and want to go back for various reasons in varying seasons.

We crossed spacious streets, with buildings resembling palaces, in La Rambla promenade; the shops were well illuminated and there was movement and life… I did not decide to go to sleep, even though I wished to, so I could rise early and contemplate, in daylight, this city, unknown to me: Barcelona, capital of Catalonia.

– Hans Christian Andersen


Logistics and Excursion Planning

After the amazing experience I had in Madrid, I knew that Barcelona would be equally spectacular, and I needed to make the most of my four days in town.  This meant planning ahead of time for dinners, exploring on my own, and of course excursions.  During my downtime in Monaco, I did just that.  Since I was already packed and didn’t have to contend with the process, I could devote all of my energy towards fun versus tedious.  

TB TIP: The summer solstice in some countries is wildly celebrated. In fact, Barcelona allows fireworks to be set off by residents only one day per year, and it’s the summer solstice. I highly recommend planning to visit one of these countries for this celebration at least once in your life.

So now the planning process.  While some view this as a daunting task, trust me, it’s fun when you know the ins and outs.  Here’s how I navigate it:

  • Find a Marriott property that suits my desires for this trip (each of these wants must be checked yes):
    • Something luxurious on the water and in the City so I can recharge and still take a short walk to dining, shops, etc. 
    • High floor room to hear less street noise and have an impressive view of the fireworks.
    • Stay on points is available (it usually is, but out of country can be tricky and sometimes it’s not an options). Also, inquiring into any fees that apply to foreign travelers is a must; you’d be surprised what I’ve encountered when not asking that question.
    • A nice pool vibe to soak up some sun and sip on a cocktail.
  • Since I already booked my return flight from Barcelona back to the U.S., the only thing left to do was check American Airlines‘ partner sites via their app for airfare from Monaco (NCE) to Barcelona:
    • Secure an inexpensive economy flight as it’s about an hour-long flight and First or Business Class isn’t worth it.
    • Iberia Airlines had direct flights from Monaco to Barcelona for less than 100 euros.
    • I don’t want to get up early in the morning as I wanted to enjoy the nightlife my last night in Monaco, so a flight departing between 1p-3p is perfect to make sure I can still maximize my first day in Barcelona given that it was the summer solstice.
    • There wasn’t a lounge in the Nice airport, so I’ll have to wait for the VIP experience in Barcelona.
  • Excursions:
    • To Viator I went with the goal of exploring Barcelona’s history and culture.
    • Barcelona is known for its architecture and I wanted to see/learn more about it.  It’s an nine hour tour, but hits nearly all of the historic and famous sites I wanted to see.
    • Walking tours are always a win as you get to see new areas, learn the history and get some great pointers from locals.  I found one that started off at a little old bar and ended in a private kitchen cooking paella!  

Travel Day

Waking up for the last time in Monaco was bittersweet.  Yes, I had a great time and am going to another beautiful place, but I will be leaving Monaco and it really made a place in my heart. 

Fortunately, I was able to secure an early afternoon flight, so I could have breakfast on the Port de Cap-d’Ail waterfront one last time.  I haven’t been that quiet and away from my phone in a long time… Packed and ready to go, the hotel called me one last cab in Monaco, and I was off to the Nice airport.

Similar to my flight experience from Madrid to Monaco, this was easy and pleasant.  Customs in Barcelona were similar to Madrid and very easy.  After a 20-minute cab ride, I arrived at the Ritz Carlton Hotel Arts Barcelona on the Port Olimpic waterfront. 

I definitely saved the best for last hotel-wise.  It cost me 60,000 points per night which were steep, but better than spending 995 euros per night.  The check-in experience made it very obvious I was at a 5-star hotel; greeted promptly upon exiting the elevator with champagne and a smile. 

Within minutes I was upgraded to a junior suite, on a high floor, with ocean views and a spectacularly large bathroom and shower (I’m talking steam, multiple jets, the works!).  I was already swooning and had only been in my room for 15 minutes.  

Unpacked and settled, it was time to check out the pool. This wasn’t just any hotel pool (one of several reasons I booked this property), it was 5 floors above the street and beach boasting amazing views and a great bar with lots of activity and liveliness. 

Upon entering, I was taken to a cabana and given a cocktail and tapas menu to review.  I’m telling you, after a travel day, especially coming from Monaco, this was PERFECT and exactly what I needed to ease into Barcelona.  After some great food and libations, a nap, and some pool time I was headed back to my room. 

It was the Verbana de San Juan (Summer solstice), and I wanted to get showered and eat dinner before it got crazy on the streets and everything shut down.  

As the night progressed, the energy continued to rise.  Beaches rapidly became filled with people, fireworks were blasting in the sky throughout Barcelona, the roads became packed with cars and mopeds with party chasers, and people were coming from all around with coolers and smiles. 

I knew the summer solstice in Barcelona was a big deal, but I was quickly realizing I was in for much more than I had anticipated.  Dinner and sangria done, check paid, I embarked on the 100-yard walk back to my hotel.  I’ve gotta say, the little restaurants along the Marina strand were fun; I’d definitely be back for an early breakfast to watch the sunrise one of these days I’m in town.  

Little did I know when walking into my room for the first time, that the hotel staff was kind enough to give me a room that would yield the best firework and party views for the solstice.  Now 9 pm, it was on and cracking. 

There wasn’t an empty spot on any of the three beaches I could see.  The streets were full.  The sky was booming from fireworks.  And I was sipping on a drink in my room watching it all with the lights off from 25 floors up.  After a few hours, I slipped into bed, curtains still open, and fell asleep to fireworks illuminating the sky…

Day One – Solo Exploration 

What I didn’t anticipate was the party down below lasting until 6 am -ish.  I awoke around 6 to police sirens as they began to ease the crowds home and move everyone out for a new day to start sans fireworks and massive crowds.  Yeah, waking up at 6 am on vacation, especially after being up until nearly 1 am wasn’t what I had in mind. 

Normally I’d go back to sleep, but I was full of excitement to go explore the city on a day when I knew there would be less traffic as thousands of people were just returning home to sleep off the solstice.  I was on the loose by 8:30 am and exploring all of the surrounding areas plus La Rambla was my goal.  

I took a different route leaving my hotel than I would returning, therefore maximizing what I could take in on one day.  I had dinner booked at Enoteca Restaurant located inside my hotel, so rushing wasn’t an issue and I could spend a solid 7 hours just exploring, eating and living.

I walked past the Barcelona zoo, and while tempted, decided to pass on taking a tour so I could explore the older areas of Barcelona and La Rambla.  The first stop was the Cathedral of Barcelona.  This was my first taste of what was to come architecture and excursion wise, and wow!… what an utterly beautiful church and experience.  After some pictures and time spent, I was off to have brunch and kickstart my day.  

Several hours later, a few sangrias in, Christmas ornament shopping done (I buy an ornament from each travel destination to decorate my second Christmas tree, the travel tree, each year), a few souvenirs and goodies procured for friends, and I was ready to make the trip back to my hotel. 

So ready in fact that I hailed a cab and took a load off for 15 minutes.  Usually, I would make the walk, but it was hot, I was drained, and wanted to be lively for my dining experience.  

After a short nap and shower, I made the walk to Enoteca.  While I am quite the foodie and do love a good dining experience, my level of excitement was elevated for this dinner.  To start, Enoteca is a dual Michelin star restaurant which is extremely rare. 

The menu is composed of Spanish fusion blending the ocean and farmstead which is truly my favorite.  And it’s in my hotel so I can gorge for three hours and slowly walk back to my room and crawl into bed.  Upon entering, I was pleasantly surprised; the pictures online didn’t capture the perfect blend of elements that Enoteca boasts; I knew this would be a dinner memory that would last a lifetime.  

Each course on the Michelin Star sampling menu had a recommended drink pairing, and while I don’t usually partake in these as they are a little pricey, I did at Enoteca.  And it was worth it!  Each drink (including my beet martini) paired perfectly with the food. 

From the foie gras black truffle bunelo, to the tuna loin with sea urchin caviar, to the seabass and finally smoked Wagyu, this was heavenly!  Dessert sent me over the foodgasm edge, and with a final dessert cocktail, I was off to bed with a heart warm from gratitude and utter happiness. 

Day Two – Cooking Paella

Given my dining experience the night before, I was in no rush to get up.  After a great sleeping in session thanks to the Ritz Carlton line of bedding, I was determined to have a good brunch somewhere near La Rambla and take in the city a little more. 

Between finding a place that was open and highly rated, I landed on a spot that was small and full to the brim of diners.  Clearly, this was a popular locals spot; after I arrived, six more groups did as well. 

Given that it was just me, my wait was short, and I was able to dine within 15 minutes.   Hair of the dog bloody mary and excellent crab benedict consumed, I decided to walk around for a bit prior to heading back and relaxing before my paella excursion this evening. 

Maybe it’s just me, but the historic smells, tiny cobblestone streets, and old buildings penetrate the soul.  You can almost hear the horse-drawn carriages of old clanking down the streets while people hustle and bustle to sell food and goods from their carts.  

When I got back to the hotel, a nap followed by some relaxing steam shower vibes was in order.  Heading to my paella excursion, I was in such a good mood.  Got to the meeting place (an old, small bar with great vibes) a little early to have a drink prior to meeting up with the group. 

The guide arrived shortly after and was a fun woman of similar age that I immediately bonded with.  As we left the bar and made the short walk to the private kitchen, she explained the history of the area and sent me off on a million little mental tangents that I still recall to this day.  

Upon arriving at the final destination where we would learn how to make paella, and then cook it together as a group, I was pleasantly surprised; this was not some little modest place.  It was a modern, well-adorned test kitchen type of environment with two dining tables that accommodated 12 people each. 

Apron on, check!  Chef’s hat on, check!  Let’s do THIS!  Wait, first a group sangria break.  Okay, now we’re ready to make some magic!  An hour later, we were eating the paella made by 30 hands with fresh, local seafood and shellfish.  By far, one of the best excursions I have ever booked, and the best nights out in general.  

Day Three – Architecture and History

This tour is one of those ones you want to do since it maximizes your time and destinations visited, but given the 9.5-hour duration, it requires an early start time (8 am) which means you’re up early and there’s no time to spare. 

The bus stop was about 10 minutes away via cab, so I left my hotel by 7:15 am to make sure I was early.  A bit of advice from someone who has done it, don’t be late for your excursions.  They usually will not wait, and truly it’s just heartbreaking and frustrating to miss one.  Plus, you don’t get a refund for being late.

Our tour started in Montserrat; a monastery up on a mountain top overlooking Barcelona.  This was a really cool place to visit.  We got to tour the church, see one of the remaining Black Madonna’s, and experience the wine and liquor that monks have been making for hundreds of years to help sustain the facility. 

Naturally, I took some home to share with friends.  Next, it was back to Barcelona for the Sagrada Familia tour; this is the most notorious church in Spain and possibly the world.  Words can’t express the awe you experience taking in this Gaudi-designed structure. 

It’s beyond unique, and something YOU MUST see once in your lifetime.  However, I recommend you don’t go in the summer as the lines are extremely long and full of tourists.  

After touring several other historic Gaudi-designed buildings and Park Guell, the tour had concluded, and I was headed back to my hotel.  There really is no other place in the world like Barcelona from an architectural standpoint, it is truly amazing and memorable. 

One last meal on the beachfront boardwalk, and it was time to pack and get ready to head home.  I had a morning flight, and the weather was looking rough forecast-wise, so it was going to be an early night and morning.  

Trip Summary/Recap

Spain really raised my bar for Europe.  I didn’t think it could eclipse my other favorite European destinations like Paris, BUT IT DID!  The culture and people are so unique in my opinion, and overall, very inviting to Americans and other tourists. 

If you can stay by the ocean in the Ritz or W hotel, I highly recommend it; the area is full of energy, the beaches are gorgeous, and there are several little fun shops and restaurants to check out.  Overall, this trip was perfect, and I wouldn’t have changed a single thing about it.  

This winter season, 2020/2021, Barcelona got snow.  This is highly rare, but after seeing some of my favorite places covered in snow I was struck with wanderlust and wanted to return ASAP.  Had it not been for COVID, I would’ve.  Just something to keep in mind, Barcelona really is the perfect year-round destination.

Tips & Tricks


  • Monitor the weather for the time of year you are traveling to Spain.  It can be quite warm, or quite chilly based on the season.
  • Destinations look close on Google Maps, but require quite a walk once you set out.  It’s a great city to walk in, but there is no shame in calling a cab either.
  • Pool and beach attire.  Yes, you will want it.  The hotel pools, and overall beach scene, is pretty poppin so get ready to have fun.
  • Dining attire is necessary, all day tour attire won’t do for dinner in such a culturally spirited place. Think flowy dresses, vibrant colors, and overall fun attire. 
  • Most of the areas you will want to dwell in are cobblestone lined streets in Barcelona, so while you want heels for dinner you may want to bring wedges to avoid the awkward trip unless you aren’t walking in evening attire.


  • The weather is humid as you’re by the ocean, but several of the great historical sites are in the mountains.  I recommend bringing a packet of Liquid I.V. for each day you’re in Barcelona and Europe as a whole.
  • Bring cash, it’s a welcomed form of payment with street vendors and the several small shops throughout Spain.  In fact, they gave me a discount in most shops for using cash.
  • Walking along La Rambla is heavenly and I highly recommend doing the entire stretch.  It’ll consume ½ day, but is a great experience and there are several little shops and restaurants along the way worth visiting.

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