BARCELONA, Spain — They were on girls’ trips, guys’ trips, family vacations and honeymoons.
They were on the train, sharing massive platters of seafood paella and packed into Anton Gaudí’s mind-bending architectural jewels.
And then there was me. The solo female traveler in Barcelona.
If you’re taking a solo trip for the first time, a European city like Barcelona is a good place to start. The city is dynamic, the streets and cafes are always packed, it’s safe to walk around at night and people mostly speak English.
Barcelona on your own means meandering the Gothic Quarter’s narrow streets or the Eixample neighborhood’s high-end stores and 19th century architecture at your speed. And no judgment when you stop for gelato or churros and chocolate twice a day.
If you’re planning a trip, be aware of the political conflict that’s turned violent at times in Catalonia’s capital. Spain’s highest court sentenced leaders of a Catalonian independence movement to prison last month, setting off waves of protests. I was in the city the day the ruling came down and luckily only saw peaceful protesters blocking roads and rallying with flags.
In roughly four days in Barcelona, here are some must-dos and need-to-knows for navigating the city solo.
The toughest part about on-your-own journeys can be mealtime. Sit at the bar, where you can chat with the bartender and get tips from locals or other tourists.
But don’t be scared away from Barcelona’s patios and plazas. Cafés and bars — not the thumping-music, cruising-for-singles bars, but where most people grab tapas and wine — are everywhere and bustling.
While tapas let you sample delicacies like cod croquettes and calamari, you don’t have to miss out on the paella that’s usually for two or more: Chefs would make a solo serving of the rice dish.
Save most of your appetite for Spain’s traditionally large lunch. The menú del día will give you three courses and beer or wine for 10 to 20 euro.
Walk it out
You’ll now have plenty of fuel to hoof it 12 miles a day and truly breathe in the city. I took a train just once in Barcelona.
Many sights are blocks apart, including Anton Gaudi’s iconic Casa Batlló and Casa Milà — his wavy, mosaic-encrusted modernist buildings on the bustling Passeig de Gràcia shopping street.
It only takes 10 minutes between his masterpiece, the unfinished Basílica de Sagrada Família, and the unmissable Sant Pau Recinte Modernista, a working hospital until a decade ago that was designed by Gaudí’s teacher, Lluís Domènech I Montaner.
Breaking down sightseeing
First, grab a SIM card at the airport so you can Google the names of tapas and walking instructions.
One day, start at Gaudí’s Park Güell and get ready to climb a hill. Part of the park is free — you can see his viaducts and gardens — but don’t skip the paid area. It has a large square lined with a colorful smashed-tile bench and boasts views of the whole city.