I was lucky enough to visit Barcelona eight years ago, so my expectations for showing Laura this wonderland of a city were rather high. Disappointment was nowhere to be found!
Favorite Things: Tapas (shocker), Gaudi masterpieces, the friendliest of people, and streets a made for walkin’.
Things to Know: Barcelona is rather expansive, but the majority of things you’ll want to do, minus Park Güell and La Sagrada Familia (upper right-hand corner of the map below, #4 and no #) are in El Borne, The Gothic Quarter, El Reval (area west of La Ramblas, #1), L’Eixample, and La Barceloneta, most of which border each other and are relatively walkable (though not all in one day).
Ubers are not readily available here and cabs are actually cheaper. Plus you might get a really friendly cab driver like we did who gives you advice about the city!
We didn’t have any issues, but we were warned several times about pickpockets, particularly on La Ramblas, so stay sharp.
This may not be as noticeable for people coming from the States as it is for us coming from London, but while Barcelona’s water is not drinkable, it does wonders for your hair. Softens right up! Also, it’s humid, leave the straightening iron at home.
Accommodations: Barcelona is not the cheapest of Airbnb cities, but it can be done on a budget. Book early and look for private rooms with private bathrooms. Our Airbnb was totally isolated from the main apartment and felt more like we were staying on our own for $75/night. We weren’t quite central, but we were right near La Sagrada Familia. https://abnb.me/NQT0eOfZWL
I truly believe you could simply wander this city and find a thousand delicious places to eat, but if you’re a semi-planner like myself here are some spots to consider:
Cal Pep – On everyone’s list, and for good reason is Cal-Pep. Yes it had been fully discovered by tourists, which means long waits (try to go early or late, they don’t take reservations) and more English than you may want to hear. However, this does not make the food any less authentic or any less delicious. We were lucky to go with a friend who lives in Barcelona and took over the ordering. Which also means I don’t know what’s on the menu other than what we got. Skip the tomato toast, a speciality of Barcelona but better elsewhere. The mussels were also uninteresting. Everything else was mwah! The Spanish tortilla (for which they are famous) was the best we’ve ever had. We ordered a second. The tuna tartare, which I’ve had so many of I would never have ordered was also the best we’ve ever had. Chuletón is thick cut, bone-in, rib steak, and is not listed on the menu as they don’t always have it. It’s worth asking if they are serving it as it is juicy and delicious and served with blistered pardon peppers and melt-in-your-mouth potatoes. Finish up with some Manzanilla sherry and Catalan Cream, which is basically a custardy crème brûlée.
Quimet y Quimet – My personal favorite meal of the trip, this spot is everything I wanted from a tapas bar: sassy Spanish ladies telling everyone when to order and aggressively protecting your tiny corner-counter space from other eager eaters, cheap yummy wine, customers pouring out into the street, and mouth-watering tapas. Whatever you do order the smoked salmon, goat cheese, truffle honey, and balsamic tapa. You won’t want to share so get one for everyone. I also loved the white anchovies, which came on several dishes, I asked for the boss lady for her favorite which came with a tomato confit (which comes on several other dishes and is to die for) and an olive. It was perfection. The cheese plate can be skipped. This place isn’t quite as central as some of the others, but worth the cab or 40-minute walk.
Cafe Viena – This place has several locations, and upon first glance looks like an old New York diner from the 40s. Do not let this deter you. We went to the La Rambla location, and perhaps due to the odd hour (3:45is), it was surprisingly mellow, which provided a nice respite from the La Rambla crowds. The Iberico ham sandwich is the best in the world according to Mark Bittman (legendary NY Times food critic). I have very little to compare it to and was truly sceptical given that it arrived about two minutes after we ordered, but damn was that shit good! There were also several other sandwiches being eaten that I wish we’d had the stomach room to try.
La Fabrica – Barcelona actually has a hefty helping of Argentinian food, including delicious empanadas. If you need a quick snack while wondering around the gothic quarter this is a great option. The spicy chicken was our fave.
Isla Tortuga – Not quite your classic Catalan tapas, and a little pricier than some other spots (though by no means expensive), this is a nice little place to eat on you’re way down to the Barceloneta (beach). Don’t skip the sopressada potato balls with honey. Also, they have a really yummy green salad which sounds like no big deal, but the Spanish don’t exactly do green vegetables, so if you’re craving greens like we were, this is the spot.
Auto Rosellon – About a 10-15 minute walk from Casa Batllo and Casa Mila, this place does a 14 Euro three-course lunch special and serves yummy organic dishes that offer a nice break from tapas-ing. Laura got an eggplant dish that was delicious and some yummy poached pear dessert. My Iberico, buffalo mozzarella, and truffle sandwich was yummy but didn’t compare to Cafe Viena. I’d suggest going for a different option.
Ford de Sant Juame – Towards the top of La Rambla, this an old-school bakery and a great place to grab a bunuelo (bottom right)…or three. I’d pass on the cookies.
If you feel like cooking for yourself there are markets throughout the city with fresh meat, fish, and fruit and veggie stands. La Boqueria (first 3 pics) is the largest, most famous, and also most crowded. Certainly worth a visit to feast your eyes on all the colourful food, but other less crowded markets do exist for shopping purposes (last 3 pics).
Sadly on the third day, I got some sort of stomach bug so we missed out on a whole day of eating. Waaaaahhhhhhhh. The two places we were planning to go but didn’t get to are: Café de l’Académia , which is not open on weekends, or we would have gone the next day. It comes highly recommended from multiple sources and it would be smart to make a reservation. Pinotxo is the second place and also comes highly recommended by almost everyone and every site. It’s a small bar inside of La Boqueria and you basically just have to wait for a seat to clear up. We tried going on an earlier day but got there at 3:00, which meant they were only serving mussels because they close at 4:00. If you happen to be a late-night into the early morning party animal they are apparently open very early too and serve hungry crowds coming home from a night out.
Normally Laura would be all over the coffee shop game, but really it’s much harder to find bad coffee in Barcelona. Almost any little cafe serves up a solid espresso. The Spanish don’t give you quite the same weird looks as the Italians do if you ask for your coffee to go, but when in Rome, I mean Barcelona you might as well relax at the counter for a minute. They also have delicious fresh squeezed OJ most places.
Dr. Stravinsky – Love the interior (might be my all time fave), love the staff, looooove the drinks!!!! The menu obviously changes regularly but if there is something on the menu with basil and olive oil (yes I’m talking cocktails, not food), GET IT! The fermented colada was killer too. And they have a variety of Kombucha if you’re not a cocktail drinker.
Boadas – This is the oldest cocktail bar in Barcelona. It also has a vintage 1940s New York vibe which we loved and seems to pop up a lot in Barcelona. There’s no menu but the bartenders will make you something delicious guaranteed! I had a spin-off of a Trinidad sour with Jamaican Rum and it was everything I’ve ever wanted in a drink. They are also one of the only bars that’s open throughout the day. The rest tend to open at 7:00.
Two Schmucks – We went but didn’t realize they don’t serve cocktails until later in the evening (coffee during the day). Highly recommended by friends and the people at Dr. Stravinsky.
Mirabe – This isn’t a place that specialises in drinks, it’s actually a restaurant, however, I put it in this section because I wouldn’t say the food is worth going for, but the view is. My aunt and uncle happened to be in Barcelona for a night before departing on a cruise. They were kind enough to treat us to dinner here, which was good, but definitely out of our price range and not our typical style. However, if you happen to be near Park Güell and want a glass of wine while you watch the sunset over the city, this would be a great spot. Only do it if you’ve got the time.
My sick day also meant that we missed out on several places we had hoped to grab a drink or two:
Paradiso – Cocktails (also apparently makes great pastrami).
Collage – Cocktails
Sol y Sombra – Cocktails
Can Cisa – Natural Wine Bar
We basically did a variation of two things: See things that Gaudí designed/built, and walk. For all of the Gaudí things (La Sagrada Familía, Casa Batlló, Casa Mila, and Park Güell) you can buy tickets in advance online, which I recommend as they are cheaper and save you extra waiting in line. Both Casas come with free audioguides.
La Sagrada Familía – La Sagrada Familía is the famous church that Gaudí spend 43 years designing and building until his death in 1926. Students of Gaudí’s architecture are working to this day to finish the church (thus the cranes). The stained glass windows project beautiful colors inside the church and Gaudí himself is buried here. Make sure to see the outside from all sides (photo of me gawking included) and don’t miss a night visit. It’s lit.
Casa Batlló – This was the home of Guadí and his family. Now unfurnished the audioguide comes with a smartphone that pictures what the house looked like when the Gaudís lived there. The whole home embodies Gaudí’s surrealist style and the beautiful roof will make all your vitamin D dreams come true. The roof design is meant to evoke images of a dragon and the tall pillars are chimneys!
Casa Milà/La Pedrera – If one surrealist rooftop isn’t enough for you, you’re in luck, there’s two! This home was designed by Gaudi for some rich guy in the early 1900’s. The roof kind of feels like you’re in a Dalí painting. This home is furnished giving you a cool look into the bougie style of the day.
Park Güell – Laura and I agree this was our favorite. Gaudí beautiful work in harmony with sunshine and nature is hard to beat. It’s, unfortunately, got some restorations going on for the duration of 2018. However, it is kind of cool to see people working to maintain Gaudí’s beautiful tile work. Don’t forget to explore the free parts of the park, and definitely stop to smell the flowers.
La Rambla – literally translates to the ramble, which is exactly what you should do down this restaurant and shop-lined street. Keep an eye on your purse/phone/wallet.
If you’re walking south on La Rambla in the lower section (near La Boqueria), make a left on any street and you’ll find yourself in the Gothic Quarter. Use a map or just wander, you’re bound to see beautiful things, including lots of Catalan gothic architecture. Eventually, you should stumble on the Cathedral of Barcelona in a big beautiful sunny square. Keep an eye out for the Roman wall as well.
Just east of the Gothic Quarter is El Borne, which is my personal favorite area to walk around. Like the Gothic Quarter, most streets here are too small for cars, making pedestrian rambles extra enjoyable. The Basilica de Santa Maria is lovely, the streets are lined with lights, and there’s an awesome speciality food store called Casa Gispert that’s been open since 1851. Get Chocolate! The Picasso Museum is also here which was on our agenda for the day I got sick, so we didn’t make it in.
Below El Borne and the Gothic Quarter is La Barceloneta, aka beach (first pic shows the building that marks the border. After the harbour area, the streets above the beach are less touristy than other parts of Barcelona, but lively and fun to walk around with several tapas places flooded with locals. We tried to go into one called La Cova Fumada, but I realized my Spanish wasn’t up to snuff, and my stomach wasn’t quite ready to get back on the seafood horse. This time of year the beach is a little cold but also isn’t crowded. I’m told it can get rather hectic in the summer months. Either way, Laura and I never miss a chance to see the ocean.
Clearly, Barcelona has it all: Beach, art, architecture, food, drink, beauty, charm, and I don’t think I emphasized enough how nice everyone was. Love this city! Can’t wait to come back and try everything we missed and more!