I’ve been living in Barcelona for 3 years now, and I’d like to think that I’ve done a fair amount of exploring. I’ve done various walking tours, entered in the more important architectural buildings and museums, and of course been in my share of tapas bars. However, I had never explored this beautiful city by bike.
So when the opportunity presented itself, I just had to try it out! Beautiful Views + Sunny Day + Some Exercise = sounds like a good combination to me!
Steel Donkey Bike Tour
We met our guide from Steel Donkey Tours, Mariana, at 10am in front of a bike shop in the center of Barcelona. After some brief introductions, we were off! I hadn’t ridden a bike properly in years, so after a rather awkward adjustment of the seat, climb on top (I’m not the most graceful) and start, we headed straight into the center of the city. First up was the Plaça de Sant Jaume where there are two, very important government buildings: the historic Palace Generalitat de Catalunya and the City Hall of Barcelona. Mariana was kind enough to explain to us a little bit more about the buildings themselves and the history, and then we were off again.
I must say there is a bit of a learning curve if you’re not used to going bike riding, especially in the center of the city. There are lots of people, locals and tourists alike, and you can’t be shy ringing your little bell! I was sure I was going to hit someone, but -spoiler alert- I didn’t! Hooray!
We then went through some small alleyways to the charming little square of St. Felip Neri, which actually holds quite a tragic past. On the facade of the small church you can still see the damage of two bombs that went off there during the Spanish civil war in 1938. On this particular day, there were actually some events going on and there was an all-male choir singing softly.
After contemplating the beautiful history of this square, we then rounded the Cathedral of Barcelona. I, a complete bike beginner, didn’t realize that there were brakes on both sides of the bike’s handlebars (I was only aware of one of them), and found out the hard way when we were going down a relatively small hill and I nearly rammed down some innocent passersby. My bad. But hey, I didn’t forget about that for the rest of the trip!
Mariana led us to the famous mural called “The World Begins with Every Kiss,” by Joan Fontcuberta. From afar, it appears to be just a pixelated picture. When you get closer, you can see that each ‘pixel’ is actually a photo. The idea was that locals would send in a picture of their “moment of freedom,” and then the artist put them all together to form this photo. I didn’t know the story behind it, although I had seen it various times on Instagram, so it was a beautiful thing to learn about.
It was then back towards the Cathedral, through a number of winding streets, and into a small alcove that I had had no idea even existed. Inside, surrounded by little apartment windows, we found some ancient Corinthian columns, dating all the way back to the first century BC. It was such a strange sight to see these ancient pillars, still intact, and surrounded in this way. But super interesting to discover!
Mariana, our guide, asked us if we had ever been here before, and I had to admit that I hadn’t. But my husband, who is Catalan, said “Oh yeah, I think I came here on a school trip once.” What a life! I remember in school we just went to some lame, local aquarium (no offense to Californian aquariums…).
Then it was time to start heading away from the Gothic neighborhood and into El Born, the eclectic, beautiful neighborhood I have come to love. We stopped by a free, local museum, and also took a moment to admire the beautiful Palau de la Musica Catalana (which is totally worth taking a look at, both inside and out!). We also passed by the beautiful Santa Caterina market, marveled at the lovely Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar, and then finally found ourselves at a lovely little cafe for a much deserved break.
Although I had been to most of these places already (think – I’ve been living here for 3 years), it was a much different perspective having seen it from a bike, and also hearing more history behind everything (I’m not a big history buff, but it is truly interesting to learn more about Barcelona!). Plus, I’m horrible with directions, and the small winding streets of Barcelona always confuse me, so I use Google maps to this day. So it was nice being able to follow someone around, be led, and just have to worry about not hitting anyone (which, believe you me, was a full-time job). It’s a great way for people visiting the city to get more acquainted and familiar with everything before venturing off on their own.
After a little pastry and some artesanal soda, we were off again – this time to Mercat del Born, which was once a lively, local market until they found 1700’s ruins underneath. Now, you can go take a peek inside for free, or enter below for a small fee.
Then, we meandered through the lovely Parc de la Ciutadella. It’s a fantastic place to wander on a sunny day, with the opportunity to take a romantic boat ride, sunbathe, or admire the beautiful fountains. We also caught a glimpse of the Arc de Triomf, as we then rode on up into Poblenou to get a close-up of the Torre Agbar, a giant colorful tower seen from all parts of Barcelona.
Our guide, Mariana, was very knowledgeable about small, obscure little places to get a little touch of history in the strangest of places. In Poblenou, we went to a little outdoor art exhibit, which was hung from the outer walls of an old factory. From there, we went down the Rambla de Poblenou, which is a nice little street littered with various bars and restaurants. That’s definitely a fun area to go around and spend the day (or night)!
Then, came the best part – a bike ride along the beach. It was a gorgeous day and, as such, there were tons of people out taking advantage. The boardwalk was quite crowded with pedestrians, roller skaters, and other bikers, but we somehow found ourselves without too many problems, admiring the view. There was a lovely breeze as we went, and the views couldn’t be beat.
I would’ve liked to spend more time on the boardwalk, perhaps going a bit slower, and stopping here and there for photo opportunities. But I guess that just means I’ll have to go back on my own sometime!
All good things must come to an end, and I must admit, my ass was starting to hurt (guess I need more experience). We were guided through Barceloneta and back into the Gothic neighborhood which was probably the scariest part for me, because we were also going quite fast in order to make it back to the bike shop on time. The busy streets can be quite scary on a bike, so if you’re a nervous rider like me, be sure to communicate this to your guide.
Even though my ass was hurting and I wanted to chug water as if I’d run a marathon, I was sad to have the tour come to an end. It was definitely a fun and unique experience I’m not likely to forget, and I have Steel Donkey Tours to thank for that!
If you’re visiting Barcelona and enjoy an active visit of the city, do not hesitate to join them on one of their awesome tours! It isn’t a very strenuous workout (thankfully most of Barcelona is flat), but with the heat of the oncoming summer and the humidity, you definitely feel tired by the end. Make sure to bring water and sunscreen, and of course wear comfortable clothes! Sunglasses are always a plus.
Have you ever taken a bike tour of a city? Which city? Would you do it again?
Check out a time-lapse video of our journey here:
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