Traveling by train can be a great way to get around the Iberian peninsula. The main train company in Spain is Renfe. They will usually open tickets up for sale about three months in advance, and their website is fairly easy to use. In addition to the Renfe website, Renfe trains will also show up on Loco2 and Google flights. If you find tickets through Loco2 you can book the tickets directly through them, but if you find them on Google flights you will need to be redirected to the Renfe website before you can purchase them. However, using Google flights allows you to compare the train times and prices to flight times and prices. I have traveled by train a handful of times, and here are my thoughts on train travel in Spain:
Trains give you freedom to move that busses, cars, and planes cannot provide. I don’t have to have my seatbelt on at all times, and I can get up and move around on trains. I can sometimes get carsick in cars and busses, but trains are smoother so I don’t run into that issue. Also, I can get move around, dont need seatbelt. The seats on long distance Spanish trains also tend to be more comfortable than most seats on planes.
No liquid limits and less waiting-
When going through airport security you cannot bring liquid in containers larger than 3.4oz (100ml). However, on trains you can bring a massive bottle of water (or wine) with you. Also, you don’t have to worry about arriving hours in advance to go through security, because you can usually get through train security in just a couple minutes, making for a less stressful travel experience.
Better for the environment-
Trains do significantly less damage to the environment than other methods of travel such as cars and planes. Riding on trains is one way to minimize your carbon footprint.
Seat not always assigned-
On some train routes seats are not assigned, and there may be a lack of open seats available. Also, the seats on trains where the seats aren’t assigned will usually be less comfortable than the seats on the trains with assigned seats.
Can be more expensive and take longer-
Many times train tickets in Spain can be significantly more expensive than a flight or a bus. Also, depending on which cities you want to travel between there may not be a direct train route between them, making other methods of transportation much faster (in addition to a plane already traveling at a higher speed).
No Priority Pass lounges-
If you have airport lounge access, you can sit in a relaxing area and get a free bite to eat and a free drink in many airports around the world. While there are some train lounges in Spain, they are not affiliated with a program like Priority Pass. Lounge access at train stations in Spain is typically only available if you have purchased a full price first class ticket.
Trains are my preferred method of travel when price and time are relatively equal to or better than other methods of transportation. However, when a flight will get me there much cheaper and quicker, it makes more sense to fly.
In the United State alcohol was made illegal from 1920-1933. During this time, know as prohibition, there were a number of speakeasies that served alcohol illegally. They were known as speakeasies because patrons needed to keep their existence on the down low, and they usually had a secret entrance and/or password required to enter. I was able to visit an original speakeasy that is still open in New York City. Although alcohol is currently legal in most parts of the world, some bars have brought back the concept of secret bars and opened them up to many parts of the world. I have visited hidden bars in places around the world, from Chicago to Montreal to Berlin. Barcelona also has some of these clandestine bars, and here are a few I have been able to visit:
Rooftop Smokehouse is one of the best places to get a deli-style sandwich in Barcelona, but they have a not so well kept secret inside their location in the El Born neighborhood. If you enter through what appears to be the door to the refrigerator, it opens up into one of the best bars in Barcelona. Unfortunately the secret has gotten out a bit and there will usually be a line and a wait to get in (which takes away from the fun of the speakeasy a bit), but once inside the taste of the drinks and their presentation are both world class. Their glasses are custom made to fit the unique style of their different drinks. They even have an extra secret room inside the speakeasy that you can access by renting it out for a few hundred euros, or if you happen to be lucky enough to be there when it is unoccupied they might let you in for a bit.
It may look like a barber shop, but I was told that they only cut hair there in “emergency” situations to maintain their cover. A password is required to enter, which can be found on their social media pages and changes monthly. After successfully delivering the password, a hidden door will open and lead into an excellent bar with tasty drinks with great presentation.
Tuxedo Social Club-
Tuxedo Social Club list their GPS coordinates on their webpage, but not their address. A membership card is required to enter, but you can sign up for a free membership on their website. Once you’ve registered, you can find the bookshelves on a small street near the Santa Caterina market and enter through them. There are a few rules to maintain the vibe of the speakeasy, so phone calls, photos, loitering at the entrance, an impoliteness are not permitted.
What I did and saw:
Spinola Bay and waterfront-
The island of Malta has some beautiful coastline to walk along. I walked along the water from St. Julian’s to Sliema, and the views were beautiful. There are also some nice places to sit and take in the views with a cup of coffee as well. I also stopped along the way to check out Saint Julian’s Tower, which was built in 1658 and has now been converted into a restaurant.
Victorian bathing pools-
Along the Sliema coast there are some small pools that have been cut into the rock coastline. It would be a nice place to go for a dip, but it was unfortunately too cold when I was there. Still, it is a great place to sit and relax even if you don’t go for a swim.
Where I ate and drank:
Pastizzi are light and flaky Maltese pastries that are typically filled with either mashed peas or ricotta cheese. Champs is a nice place to try them, and they are open all day and night.
Lot Sixty One Coffee Roasters-
In addition to their spot in Valletta, Lot Sixty One also has a location in St. Julian’s. There are a handful of interesting restaurants in the same building, and there is also a nice outdoor seating area where you can enjoy the beautiful Maltese weather. They served me the best coffee I had while in the area.
Manouche Craft Bakery & Bistro-
At Manouche there are a handful of healthy food options and a large amount of tasty (but not so healthy) options. It is located close to Lot Sixty One in case you want a great coffee before or after your meal.
Pure Living is an excellent cafe. It is set in a basement with a layout than can be conducive to working or to relaxing. In addition to a number of delicious, healthy food and drink, they also sell a number of other products like Dr. Bronner’s soap and bamboo combs.
Coffee Circus Tigne-
Coffee Circus Tigne is a small, cozy little place that serves espresso drinks as well as filter drinks. While I was there I was able to get an Aeropress to go and take it to go enjoy more of the Maltese coastline.
Like their location in Valletta, Cafe Jubilee is a nice place to grab a bite to eat or a drink. They serve good food at good prices. While I was there I was able to try the Fenek Imtektek Bil-Hwawar U L-Laring, which was rabbit that is slow-cooked in spices and orange zest. I also was able to try a bit of their Nanna’s (Grandma’s) Ravioli.
Where I stayed:
Overall, Luma Residence was a nice place to stay. They do not have a 24 hour check in desk, but they can leave your key in a lock box if you are set to arrive at a late hour. The rooms were clean and comfortable, but there would be some noise late at night from the surrounding bars. It was a good jumping off point for day trips to places like Mdina and Valletta.
How I got around:
Due to its small size, Malta does not really have a train system. However, also due to its small size, many places in Malta are relatively easy to reach by bus or ferry. They offer a “tallinja” card that gives 12 rides for 15 euros, but if you travel at certain hours or on certain routes it will count as two rides. I was able to use the bus system to get to and from the airport, Mdina, and Valletta.
My favorite thing:
Lot Sixty One Coffee Roasters is an excellent spot to get coffee and Pure Living is an excellent cafe with some great options. My favorite thing in Sliema, Gzira, and St. Julian’s was the walk along the beautiful Maltese coastline.
My least favorite thing:
St. Julian’s is a big party destination for many European tourists, and which turns some areas of town into dirtier places that stay loud into the morning. That being said, it really wasn’t that bad while I was there.
For next time:
Next time in Malta I would like to go to the Plaza shopping center and see the craft beer selection they have for sale there. I would also like to visit some beaches and see much more of the island including St. Paul’s Bay and Gozo, among others.
If you are looking to spend money in Barcelona, there are some excellent places to do so. However, if you are on a tight budget it is still possible to enjoy this beautiful city without spending too much. Here are a few of my tips for enjoying Barcelona on a budget:
Explore the parks-
Barcelona has some nice parks throughout the city, the biggest of which is the Parc de la Ciutadella. They are great places to go for a jog, have a picnic, or just hang out. When buying food for a picnic, grocery stores like Aldi, Lidl, and Mercadona can be great places to get lower-priced food. Also, Barcelona has some excellent local market that can allow you to taste some Catalonian delicacies for a fraction of what they would cost at a restaurant or bar.
Unlike restaurants in the United States, restaurants in Barcelona (and much of Europe) do not serve free water. However, they do serve inexpensive, quality wine that can sometimes be even cheaper than the water. While there are some places to get quality craft beer in Barcelona, wine will give you the most value for your euros by far. To get you fill of water you can bring a refillable water bottle with you and fill it up at the many fountains around city. The tap water doesn’t have a great taste, but it's free from fountains and there are plenty of other tasty things in the city.
Eat the menu del dia, pintxos, and tapas-
Monday through Friday many restaurants in Barcelona will offer a “Menu del dia.” It is a fixed price menu that will usually be between 9-15 euros and will usually include an appetizer, and main dish, a glass of wine, and a dessert or an espresso. Pintxos are small pieces of food on top of a piece of bread that are held together by a long toothpick. They will be displayed buffet style, and you pay per stick which range in price from one to a few euros. In Barcelona, tapas are small dishes that are meant to be shared, but unlike much of Andalusia they unfortunately do not usually come with a free drink. For tapas it is best to go as a group and order a handful of different tapas so you all try a variety of Catalonian cuisine. Also, when choosing a restaurant it is typically best to avoid restaurants located on main streets like La Rambla.
Take a free walking tour-
As I have recommended before, free walking tours can be a great way to begin to explore a new city. The tours usually last two hours or so, and at the end of the tour you pay whatever you think the tour was worth. My favorite free walking tour company is Sandemans, but there are a number of different good ones in many cities throughout the world. And if you want more freedom with your tour times and locations, GPSmyCity is a great app to use. You can customize your own walking tour and go on the tour at any time you please. They have both a free and a premium version.
Use hostels or points-
Barcelona has a ton of different hostel options throughout the city. I will usually use HostelWorld or Booking.com when looking for and booking hostels. In the low season (winter) the accommodation prices will typically be much cheaper than the high (summer) season. Also, using hotel program or credit card points (like Chase Ultimate Rewards points) can be a great way to stay on budget with accommodation.
Walk and use public transport-
Unlike much of the United States, the public transportation is pretty good in Barcelona. For most Barcelona visitors a T10 will give you the best value. It offers ten rides at slightly more than a euro a ride, and can be used by multiple people (as long as they each scan the card). Barcelona is a very walkable city (although be aware of pickpockets), and walking around can allow you to see the beauty of the city. If you don’t want to pay the entry fees to Barcelona’s famous landmarks (although the Sagrada Familia is definitely worth it), you can at least walk by and marvel at them from the outside. There are also some mini hikes you can do, such as Tibidabo, Montjuic, Bunkers, and Parc Guell, that offer some excellent views of Barcelona.
Take advantage of free museum days/times-
Many of the museums in Barcelona are free on certain days. Some you can just show up to, but with others you may need to reserve a time during the free period. The museums will list their free times on their websites, which could be weekly or monthly. Also, in front of the MNAC museum is the Magic Fountain, which is impressive in its own right during the day, and even more so when it is lit up at night.
Visit the beaches-
There are a number of beaches in the Barcelona area. In the city the beaches are lower quality, but they are more convenient and offer multiple free workout areas with basic equipment like pull-up bars. If you want to relax on a beach that is a bit nicer, Castelldefels, Sitges, and Vilanova i la Geltru are great options and just a short train ride away.
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