One of the most efficient yet surprisingly still underrated ways of seeing a city is still the topless bus tour. I don’t know why some people think this is a “lame touristy” thing to do. It literally is the best of both worlds. You get to see all of the city’s popular sights and most importantly, all of your transport is covered. If you are not interested in a particular sight you just keep it moving. Do yourself a favour, don’t sleep on the topless bus tour thing (Pun intended).
So when I had a day to spare on my recent visit to Barcelona, I decided to bus it like a boss. There are a few companies that operate bus tours in the city. I honestly just chose the first brochure I found so can’t even pretend like there was any actual vetting process here. The bus has free wifi on it so you can keep it live for the gram and snap chat. There is also supposed to be uSB charging points and an app but I couldn’t find any of these. I was however generally happy with the Barcelona City Tour option so would definitely recommend it.
Before we go any further, there are a few things which may seem obvious to some people but, for everyone else like me, need to be considered before heading out on a tour.
4 things to remember before a topless bus tour
- Put in work
Even though the route is predetermined for you, you still need to do the prep work on all the sites. Know which ones you want to get off the bus for. Estimate the amount of time that you will spend at each. Understand if there are additional entry fees for the sights. Know how frequently the busses come passed so when you get off, you can time exactly how much time you have available. There may be other sights within and around a particular stop that you may also want to see. You may want to stop for lunch or drinks etc. Basically: just do your homework
- Prepare for the weather.
If it’s hot – bring a cap and shades. In fact just bring cap anyway. Bring a jacket in case it gets chilly. If it rains you’re basically stuffed either way on a topless bus and you probably should have planned better, but if you are going to be a Die Hard then bring a rain jacket with a hoodie.
- All stars are not walking shoes
I must say I stupidly forgot this very important fact and paid the price. Whilst it is a bus tour, naturally to actually get to see the sights you need to do a fair amount of walking. Make sure you choose comfort over swag or be prepared to suffer.
- Give yourself time
You will be surprised how quickly time flies by. The full route I chose takes 2.5hrs to complete by bus however with all the stops you are going to take a day is actually not enough to see everything properly and you should probably split the journey over two days so that you can get the most out of it. Start early in the morning to maximise your time. The ticket is valid for two consecutive days so you can do this without paying twice.
There are a total of 19 stops on the green rote that I took. There was no way I was going to be able to see everything properly in the hours that I had available on the day, so some tough calls had to be made. I got off and explored some of the sights and others I just drove passed on the bus.
1. Plaza de Catalunya
The best place to start is at the beginning, so I took a taxi to the first stop on the route which is in the centre of Barcelona at Plaza de Catalunya. The tour offices are also situated here so although you can start your journey on any of the stops, it’s a good place to start especially if anything goes wrong as was the case with me. I refer you back to point number 1 above about putting in work. Part of this also means to ensure that you have your voucher printed as a back up in case you can’t access your phone at any point in time which will save you the trip of having to go to the office to print out another one.
The Plaza is also generally considered the place where the old city meets the new city so you can see a contrast in the architectural style in the surrounding buildings.
2. Arc de Triomf
Yep Barcelona has their own arc too. They weren’t going to let Paris have all the fun. The Barca version was build it 1888 and was used as the entrance to the Barcelona World Fair which was basically a 6month expo that the city hosted in 1888 and again in 1929. The actual structure is not dissimilar to Paris’s Arc de Triomphe which was built 50years earlier, barring its red brickwork. The arc is also situated at the start of the Parc de la Ciutadella and Passeig de Lluís Companys which are equally impressive sights.
3. Barcelona Zoo & Parc de la Ciutadella
Skipped this stop as seeing caged wild animals in Europe was not really a priority of mine. Although if you do have time the Parc de la Ciutadella is worth a visit.
4. Passeig de Colom
There are a number of museums and monuments around this stop. One of the most significant ones being dedicated to Christofer Columbus to commemorate his visit to the “Catholic Monarchs” (Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon) after returning from his first voyage to the Americas. The promenade here was also created in 1888 for that World fair. Must have been a real turn up
5. World trade centre
Missed it like Springbok tackles against Ireland
6. Jardins de Miramar
The Miramar Gardens are a must see, located at one of the end of the Montjuic mountain with some spectacular views of the city. From here you can also walk to the Costa i Llobera Gardens which are equally amazing and feature some 200year old cactuses imported from far away lands. I hope they didn’t take any of ours, otherwise I’m sure it won’t be long before Julius is up there claiming our goods back.
7. Fundacio Joan Miro
Reluctantly skipped this one but I would have loved to spend time here and see some of Joan Miro and other modern art in the museum, but decided to miss it because I just didn’t have enough time to do it justice. I will be back.
8. Anella Olimpica
The main focus point for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics where the Olympic stadium is situated and where most of the activities took place. Decided to give it a skip though
The National Museum of Catalan Art. See point 7 above
10. Poole Espanyol/ Spanish City
An outdoor museum also designed for the Barcelona World Fair, the 1929 edition. It’s a recreation of a typical Spanish town meant to represent a sample of the architecture of Spain. Entry into the “city” is €10.40 with the 20% discount you get on the bus.
There are a number of shops and restaurants as well as the highlight of my visit there being the Museu Fran Daurel Contemporary Art Museum. This almost made up for missing some of the museums. I managed to see some Pablo Picasso ceramics and pencil drawings, Joan Miro lithographs & etchings as well as a few Salvador Dali pieces. Unfortunately none the really famous ones but still a very special experience, which I can’t show you because no pictures allowed.
11. Mies van der Rohe Pavilion
Also built for the 1929 Barcelona World fair. Also skipped it
12. Plaza España
This is where the Venetian towers are and was used as the entrance to the 1929 World Fair. The bus drives passed the “Magic Fountain” in the centre, designed by Carles Buigas. Didn’t get off here either but the architecture is breathtaking.
On this route you also get a view of the majestic Montjüic’s Magic Fountain from the bus. Apparently the night time views are insane.
13. Estació de Sants
This is Barcelona’s central railway station. From here you can also visit Parc de l’Espanya Industrial and Catalan Countries Square. A controversial piece of architecture in Barcelona as it’s an entirely concrete square without any vegetation. Just drove past this without getting off the bus.
14. Camp Nou
There was no way I was going to miss this and the reason why I skipped many of the other sights because the day was moving along rather quickly and my flight back home was on the same day so there was no room for delays. Even though I’m not particularly a Barcelona Fc fan, any self respecting football fan can’t pass up an opportunity to visit this mecca. The cost of the Nou Camp tour is €21.90
The tour is slick and even as a non Barca fan was blown away. There is also a mega merchandise store which pretty much has anything that can be branded with a Barcelona FC logo. They’ve made the tour extremely easy to self navigate although you can pay for a guided tour or headphones with voice notes at each of the items on display. I chose not to. Because Finance minister. Because junk status. Because rand.
This was one of the confusing items on display. President Obama visited the club and he wrote them a letter to thank them for their hospitality. They gifted him a personalised jersey, now that very same jersey is on display in the museum. Apparently Obeezy is a Barca fan but the jersey baffles me.
Joan Miro created the piece on the left for Barcelona’s 75th anniversary in 1974 and the one on the right was done by Antoni Tapies in 1998 for the clubs centenary. Certainly helps to have world famous artists as club fans clearly.
Yes those are the 5 FIFA Ballons d’Or’s belonging to Lionel Messi.
The club has a small chapel to side of the tunnel before you run out onto the field. Clearly it works. Kaizer Chiefs should look into this cause the sangoma’s are not doing their job.
After spending longer than I had anticipated at Nou camp, time really wasn’t on my side so I stayed on the bus for the next three stops.
15. Plaza Pius XII
16. L’Illa Diagonal
17. Avenida Diagonal
18. La Pedrera
An Antonio Gaudí modernist building from the early 1900’s. This is located on the Paseo de Gracia which is where you want to be if you want to go shopping and have money to blow. The street reminded me of the Champs-Elysées in Paris and pretty much has the same kind of shops as well. Just standing in those streets I felt like my bank balance was shrinking so I didn’t stay long.
19. Casa Batlló
The last and stop of the trip is another one of Gaudi’s masterpieces located just across the road from La Pedrera. The building which used to be a private residence of the Batllo family has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Even though I managed to cram quite a lot in a very short space of time, my biggest regret is not being able to see the Fundacio Joan Miro and The National Museum of Catalan Art but those two alone would take up the most part of an afternoon so going back to my earlier points, make sure you give yourself at least two days to see everything properly by bus and do your homework.