Fancy a bargain break in Barcelona? Combine city life and sandy beaches with a camping holiday on the Costa Maresme, close to Spain's Catalan capital
We'd been wanting to go to Barcelona for some time, but looking at the prices of the hotels there was no way we could afford a week's holiday. But, with another wet summer under way in the UK, why not swap our planned camping trip to Cornwall for a camping trip to Barcelona instead?
I did some research, and the campsite that caught my attention was Camping Barcelona
– advertised as 'camping by the sea, close to Barcelona'. This meant we could combine a few days at the beach with some sightseeing in the Catalan capital. The campsite looked amazing. The pitches had sea views
, there was a shop, bars and restaurants on site, a huge outdoor swimming pool and even a farm. It worked out at around £160 for seven nights for a week in July, slightly more than we'd have paid in Cornwall but with far better facilities and good weather guaranteed
We decided not to hire a car to cut costs. Public transport is so reliable and cheap in Spain, and the campsite was only about one kilometre from two train stations, both serving Barcelona. After collecting our suitcases at El Prat airport, we negotiated the Spanish railway system and enjoyed a pleasant journey along the Costa Maresme. It was a hot, Saturday afternoon, and I looked out enviously at people sunbathing on the beaches and swimming in the turquoise sea. I wanted to be there, rather than stuck on a train. However, at least it was clean, spacious and air-conditioned, more than you can say for train services in London during the summer!
On arrival at Mataró we found the taxi rank just opposite the station and were soon at the campsite. After checking in, we were directed to our pitch and given a map to show us where all the facilities were. We managed to get the tent pitched in record time, despite the heat, and the fact the ground was so dry we could hardly get the pegs in (one problem we wouldn't have had in Cornwall!), and went to explore the surroundings. The Olympic-size swimming pool was fantastic, but as we were right by the sea, we only used it once!
The campsite also had a very well-stocked shop. It's quite small but sold everything, from fresh bread every morning to cheeses, meat, fruit and vegetables, children's toys, beachwear, and beer and wine. One of the best things about this site, though, is the farm. We certainly had a good outlet for all our leftover bread after breakfast each morning! The young goats came running to the fence as soon as anyone went near. The more reserved sheep and donkeys could barely get a look in.
It wasn't until the first morning, when I unzipped the door of the tent, that I realised the farm also had peacocks. I couldn't believe it when I saw one strutting around right outside our tent!
With all the attractions at the site we could probably have spent a week here without venturing anywhere else. However, the main reason we'd come was to explore Barcelona. This amazing city is just a 30-minute train ride from Mataró, with services leaving every 15 minutes and a fare of €5 for two of us. There is also a bus from the campsite, but this was more expensive and left at a set time each day so we preferred to be independent.
We alighted at Plaça de Catalunya in the heart of the city, where trendy shops and plush hotels abound. One of the world's most famous pedestrianised streets, La Rambla, also starts here, so we decided to go for a stroll. It's worth visiting La Rambla for the vibe and the colourful street entertainers. Many of the restaurants here have 'meal deals' – five tapas or paella for two for €12. The food at a couple of restaurants we did try was decent enough - nothing to write home about, but quick and convenient all the same.
Be warned though, if you don't specify what size beer you would like, you will more often than not be brought a massive one-litre glass! The price of two of these cost as much as our food in one restaurant, and although I found the locally-brewed Estrella Damm very pleasant, I did well to even lift the enormous glass, let alone finish it!
La Boqueria, just off La Rambla, is a vast indoor market that sells every type of fruit and vegetable imaginable, as well as flowers, an abundance of fresh fish, meat, cheeses, breads, pastries, and many other products.
We spent three days sightseeing in Barcelona, and of course no visit would be complete without taking in some of Antoni Gaudí's amazing architecture. Gaudí has left his mark in various parts of the city, but the Sagrada Familia ('Temple of the Sacred Family') is his most famous structure and one of Barcelona's finest landmarks. This breathtaking masterpiece surpassed all my expectations and you can only really comprehend its size and what a dominant building it is when you look at it from the hill of Montjuïc on the other side of the city and see it rising up miles above anything else around.
The hillside of Montjuïc is certainly worth exploring. It was home to the Olympic village when Barcelona hosted the games in 1992 but is now eerily deserted. You can take a tour of the Olympic village and stadium and there are also lots of museums in this part of the city. However, we preferred just to stroll around the parks and gardens. Situated between the city and the sea this mountain has stunning views wherever you look. We could have sat up here for hours, after catching a cable car to the top, watching the boats going in and out of the port. It is a great place to escape the hustle and bustle below.
The Picasso Museum, in Barcelona's Old Town, was definitely worth the 45-minute wait to get in and displays work from the artist's formative years, which differ in style dramatically from the famous cubist paintings he became renowned for later in his career.
As well as exploring the city we also spent several days snorkelling and sunbathing at the nearby beaches of Sant Andreu de Llavaneres and Mataró. Mataró has a great choice of restaurants around the marina area (Port Mataró) and fresh fish featured highly on all the menus, including the local speciality, cuttlefish. The restaurants here aren't cheap but you will get value for money. For example, a three-course meal for two with a bottle of cava cost €48 at Pulpo restaurant. The food was very good and we were treated like royalty by the staff! There are also several beach bars at Mataró which open well into the early hours.
The campsite's own restaurant is very reasonable and serves fish, meat and pasta dishes as well as burgers and sandwiches. It's reasonably priced with a main course and a drink starting from under €10.
We definitely want to return both to the campsite and Barcelona itself, as we didn't have time to see anywhere near all of it. Perhaps 2026 would be a good year to go, when the Sagrada Familia will finally be finished - although something tells me I'll be back long before then.