5 Things to do in Barcelona, Paris, Monaco, Nice, Madrid and Lisbon

5 Things to do in Barcelona, Monaco, Nice, Madrid and Lisbon

Tomiwa in Lisbon, December 2018
Tomiwa in Lisbon, December 2018

I just got back from a 14 day blitz of London, Paris, Nice/Monaco, Barcelona, Madrid, and Lisbon. It was an amazing experience, if you are going to any of these places here are somethings I think you should try to do.

Note: You should also read my post 7 Tips For Travelling to France, Spain, Portugal or Anywhere in Europe. The two posts together contain a lot of helpful tips for anyone travelling to Europe.

Eat a Paella and Tapas in Barcelona

Don’t Eat here. Paella Tourist trap at La Rambla.

Spain is known for their famous dish called Paellas and Tapas. If I had to give an analogy you might understand, Palleas is basically rice stir fry with seafood (or meat or other vegetable) and Tapas are essentially appetizers. The analogy doesn’t do the food justice (google it to get a better idea) but they are really good and I recommend you try them, also a good rule of thumb is to eat the local cuisine of wherever you visit.

The best Paellas we had was at a place called Paelleria. They seemed to be heavily geared toward tourists, and while I try to go to places where locals eat and avoid “tourist traps”, I really enjoyed the experience. If you order Paellas I recommend getting the seafood mix (Lobster, Squid, Clams, Shrimp etc). Paellas have also become a huge tourist attraction so many restaurants are now offering Paellas, so make sure you check Google reviews, Yelp or Trip Advisor to avoid a tourist trap with cheap, low quality Paellas. Unfortunately, we fell for this trap at the second place where we ordered Paella at La Rambla.

The best Tapas we had was at a place called Lonja De Tapas. I recommend getting any of the Tapas that have potatoes with spicy sauce and sunny side fried eggs. Me, David and Val ended up ordering 3 of the exact same thing, in hindsight, we shouldn’t have done this. We should have each ordered something different and just share our plates so we can try as many different things as possible.

Visit and climb up an as many hills as possible

Me at Mirador de Joan Sales – Mirador del Virolai beside the Park Guell

As someone who tries very hard to be disciplined about my social media usage, I was a bit surprised that a large part of my trip was predicated on what would make the nicest pictures for my Instagram. It’s really interesting to witness how true this is for me, the people I travelled with and many others in my generation. Anyway, that’s a topic for another post.

One thing I realized by the 3rd hill we climbed up is that whenever you have to go somewhere high up on a hill, the steeper and higher you climb, the nicer the view and the more fire the Instagram pictures. So if there is a hill, or even better, a castle or tower on a hill in your city, make sure you try to visit it. In addition to hills, anything by the water will be really nice as well, especially on a sunny day. If you’re in a city like Monaco, the water is on a hill AND over the water so the view is twice as amazing so make sure to go to Le Palais des Princes de Monaco and go for a walk down Boulevard Louis II behind Casino de Monte-Carlo!

Note that these places are not disability friendly so keep that in mind (I may be wrong though, check before you go). If you are able to climb up these hills, it will also be really good exercise and the good news is when you go back down, gravity does most of the hard work for you.

Here are the places we went to that had really nice views:

Visit the Louvre Museum Just Before it Closes

Okay this is a very risky piece of advice and we did it by accident but I actually think it worked out for the best.

I won’t go over the whole story again (see it in my last blog post) but we got to the Louvre Museum about 15 minutes before it closed. I almost turned around because I didn’t want to pay full price for just 15 minutes (I know, what was I thinking). I’m glad my friend, Val convinced us to go because we were actually able to see the Mona Lisa without any ridiculously long lines or crowds and take our time.

More importantly and if I’m being honest, I actually think the Mona Lisa is a bit overrated. Personally, once I saw the painting I was a bit underwhelmed, especially considering the ordeal we went through to go and see it. This was also a nice reminder that life is more about the journey than the destination.

The best thing I got out of that trip was being able to take pictures in front of the painting so I can show and tell people that I’ve seen the Mona Lisa. Getting there just before closing time allowed me to get in, take some pictures and get out.

Again, I’m not exactly sure I can say I recommend this approach but its actually a pretty clever “hack” that might work for some people.

Buy freshly squeezed orange Juice from the Pingo Doce Supermarket in Lisbon

Another very European thing is a machine that makes freshly squeezed orange juice at the supermarket. One of our Airbnb hosts recommended a supermarket called Pingo Doce which is an amazing thing to buy both groceries and prepared food. Its the closest thing I saw in Europe to a North American style Whole Foods or Superstore that has everything under one roof and the prices are really good.

The coolest thing about the machine is the fact that they actually allow you to squeeze the oranges yourself and you can see the whole process of how the juice is made which I thought was really cool. The price was also very affordable, you can get a 500ml bottle for I think €1.99 or a 1L bottle for €3.59 which I thought was a great deal. Easily one of the best things I bought in my time in Europe. Here is a video of me using the machine and showing how it works.

How to Make Freshly Squeezed Orange Juice in Portugal

Bonus: Rent an e-scooter to explore Lisbon Waterfront

Full disclosure, I didn’t do this but I really wish I had (hence why its a bonus). The Lisbon waterfront is really nice and unlike most other places that have some sort of barrier to going in the water, in Lisbon, there is literally nothing separating you from the Atlantic Ocean (or is it the Tagus River?). I saw so many people, seeming to have the time of their life on their electric scooter riding along the Lisbon coastline. I had first gotten the idea in Madrid when I saw so many people having fun in Madrid on those same scooters. I was going to download the app in Lisbon but thought it would be too small of a city to have a good scooter sharing program (stupid assumption on my part, that’s why you should never assume).

If you want to learn from my mistakes, download a scooter sharing app. I recommend Lime since they are the only company that I saw in both Barcelona, Madrid and Lisbon.

Visit a Live European Football Game (even if you’re not into football)

Even if you are not a football fan, you should go watch a live European football game at least once as the atmosphere is absolutely amazing. The fans are so passionate and on a different level than what we’re used to at NBA or NFL games in North America.

I was fortunate enough to go to 3 games. Inter vs. Tottenham (Champions League) at Wembley, Barcelona vs. Villareal (league game) at Camp Nou and SL Benfica vs Pacos Ferreira (cup game) at Estadio de Lisboa e Benfica.

Here’s what I learnt from visiting 3 games:

  • The less famous clubs typically have the most passionate fans (gold medal goes to the SL Benfica fans who stood and sang for 90 minutes straight in a game against a 2nd division club)
  • The big clubs (Spurs and Barcelona) typically have a lot of casual fans or people just visiting for the experience which makes the atmosphere a bit less exciting
  • Try to make sure its a game thats a must win for both teams otherwise, the game can be a bit boring to watch as modern football has become very “cute” (a lot of lateral passing). To be honest, I was a bit disappointed by the lack of intensity and ambition in the Barcelona and Spurs game.
  • Try to sit close  (but not too close) to the die hard supporters section, they sing very exciting and funny songs and they make the game and atmosphere a lot more exciting

Giving Back

Looking at those pictures and even while writing this article, I still can’t believe I actually saw the Mona Lisa, Sagrada Familia, watched a Barcelona game etc. I feel very grateful for being blessed enough to have these opportunities and I will continue to give back so others can have this opportunity as well.

I did some research on charities and here is a cool one called Take Flyte that gives underserved communities the opportunity to travel to different places. I donated some money to this charity and if you are privileged enough to have similar experiences to the ones I’ve had, I would encourage you to give back in your own way as well.

Merci d’avoir, lu bonne journée.

Gracias por leer que, tengas un buen día.

Obrigado pela leitura, tenha um bom dia.

Thank you for reading, have a nice day.