Cinque Terre

Cinque Terre was absolutely worth all of the hype it gets and truly looks even more amazing in real life than on instagram. It’s a group of five brightly coloured villages along the Italian Riviera. The villages were historically small fishing villages that are now famous for their beauty and a popular spot for tourists. The area is remote and wasn’t always accessible to visit, and visiting by train will connect you easily to all 5 villages, but it can also be done on foot. Be ready to walk, climb stairs and be sure to pack a bathing suit because you won’t be able to resist the amazing seaside. The higher parts of the villages are full of unique walking trails with picturesque views. It’s easy to see why it’s a UNESCO heritage site. 

Vernazza offered a lovely mix of local Italian seaside town and beautiful tourist destination. Here we enjoyed our weight in gelato and enjoyed lovely coastal views stunning architecture. 

The area is very rugged and has various terrains. The swimming spot in Manarola makes for an incredible day:

The incredibly bright colours of the buildings is unique. 

The absolutely picturesque village of Manarola, where we sipped sangria from a cliff side spot: 

The water in the area is spectacularly blue. 

Monteresso offers the best strip of true beach out of the five villages: 

The villages are full of friendly locals and endless amounts of places to enjoy wine, gelato and Italian cuisine. The area is specifically known for pesto, and while it is different than the pesto you are likely used to it is delicious and a must try. The area is also well known for seafood, not surprising based on its location! 

An all day train pass is the best way to see the area quickly, and it’s very affordable. Most train rides between the towns are 5-10 minutes

For me, of the 5 key areas of Italy I visited, Cinque Terre wowed me the most and would absolutely be on the top of my list of places to return to in the future. 

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Barcelona

Barcelona is one of those places you always hear about, and I was so lucky to have the opportunity to finally see what it was all about. From sangria to beaches and stunning architecture, there was a lot to see and do in just a couple of days.

Gaudi:

Antoni Gaudí is a famous architect, very well known for what he designed and built in Barcelona. He was a practitioner of Catalan Modernism. While he is probably most well known for the amazing feat that is La Sagrada Familia, we also visited Park Güell and Casa Battlo. All of his works are very intriguing, especially because even though they were designed in the 1800s and early 1900s, they are some of the most modern designs in Barcelona.

Gaudi’s Casa Battlo:

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Park Güell:

Park Güell was probably my favourite spot to visit in Barcelona. As an urban planner, it was amazing to learn about a planned space that started to be built in 1900.

The site was originally designed as a housing site that was financially unsuccessful. It then transformed to be a public park space. It is also a UNESCO heritage site.

The architecture was very unique and modern and full of detail. From the beautiful columns and stunning mosaic tiles, it is definitely something worth seeing, just be sure to buy tickets online in advance!

Park Güell:

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La Sagrada Familia:

La Sagrada Familia is one of the most amazing architectural stories. Another Gaudi feat, the massive church started being constructed in 1882 and is still not finished! The anticipated date to finish completion is 2026 at the earliest. It is estimated to be about 70-75% complete, depending on various sources. The Basilica is absolutely massive in size and visible from many parts of the city. It dominates the City’s skyline.

While we did not choose to go in, if you do go it costs about 15 euros and be sure to buy your tickets in advance!

La Sagrada Familia:

Montjuic:

Montjuic was another interesting spot to visit. It is a prominent hill with a historic castle. It is essentially the “top” of Barcelona, overlooking the City’s harbour. It historically served as both a castle and a prison. From Montjuic, you get breath taking views of the entire City and the harbour. You can travel to Montjuic by public bus or also by Funicular.

View from the Funicular from Montjuic:

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Probably one of the most touristy areas, the Gothic Quarter offers stunning architecture and history. There are nearby markets, La Boqueria, being the most prominent, is a great spot to check out to see how locals live and also get some fresh fruit and seafood for lunch. La Rambla is a massive pedestrian street offering a lot of restaurants and shopping. It is definitely a tourist hotspot but still a great place that eventually leads right to the Port.

Food:

The food was definitely one of the highlights of Barcelona. We had amazing Tapas – think patatas bravas and seafood croquettes, which was one of my favourite meals of my trip. A must try is definitely the Paella (choose the seafood if you like it!). And of course, the sangria is available everywhere and is wonderful. I don’t know how they make it differently, but it’s the best!

Beaches:

One of the reasons I was most excited for Barcelona was the beaches. What I quickly learned is that they are very touristy, and you should always seek out the smaller, more local beaches. But be warned, they are packed with vendors and people trying to sell you everything from mojitos to massages and it can make for an annoying and not so relaxing experience. But, if you stick to the smaller spots, it is better.

Overall, Barcelona was one of the most unique places I visited in Europe and it had a very distinct, Spanish feeling to it. The city is loaded with history, unique architecture and great food. Next time, I would definitely take advantage of doing some day trips outside of the City to smaller coastal towns.