Winter is here and has us dreaming for warm, sunny, European days.
Luckily we may have found the inspiration needed to book our flights…
After reading this, we’re thinking Barcelona could be on the cards for our next (much needed) break.
Barcelona is the vibrant, colourful and beautifully noisy capital of Catalonia, a region to the far east of Spain. The sounds and sights of the city spread from the Mediterranean up into the rolling hills of the west. As the natives emphasise their songful language with enthusiastic arm gestures, the sounds swell around the city creating a symphony of warmth and welcome. In summer the heat can be exhausting and a siesta is always welcome. In winter the sun is a welcome sight and relief from the harsh cold encountered in many other European cities.
Barcelona is not without its troubled side. In recent times there has been much political turmoil, however, with majority of protests mainly contained to one square of the city, during a one week visit, not once did I feel unsafe. The locals are happy to engage in conversation regarding recent political news and votes, voicing their opinions and flying flags to demonstrate their viewpoints.
You often read that one must be careful of pickpockets in Barcelona, and whilst this is true, the level of carefulness is on par with many other European cities.
At any time of year, you should consider Barcelona as a destination on your European bucket list. The city of colour and vibrancy has a way of pulling you in, warming you up and leaving you with a great big smile on your face.
What to See
The issue with ‘What to See’ in Barcelona is where to start. Whether you enjoy art, museums, nature, history or music, there is something for everyone. Personally, I like to start each new city with a free walking tour – these are often found with a quick Google search. In Barcelona, I highly recommend this company for an overview of the city and great local tips.
Gaudi’s famous church is still under construction, but definitely worth the visit. Standing high above the city skyline, it is incredible to try and imagine this church being completed. It is highly recommended that you purchase tickets via their website before your visit, this will save you from disappointment and long lines.
Another Gaudi masterpiece, the park sits at the top of the city to the west. Public transport is easily taken to save a steep walk up the hill. Gaudi’s residence, as well as other unusual buildings, make up the nature reserve that Gaudi planned, hoping to draw the cities rich and famous to the spot. While his dream was not realised, visitors are still left with a lovely park to roam aimlessly, listening to buskers and taking in the views of Barcelona. A ticket is not necessary as the view and sights can be seen from the free access park areas, however, if you’re a big Gaudi fan, considering purchasing a ticket for a more intimate experience.
Casa Batllo and Casa Mila
If art, particularly modernism, is your thing or you’re simply interested in wacky buildings, then you’ll enjoy a visit to these two odd houses designed by Gaudi. Incorporate them into a wander down Passeig de Gracia or buy a ticket and pop inside. Either way, it’s yet another gateway into Gaudi’s mind, viewing the odd design, structure and shape of these buildings.
The flat top hill to the south of the harbour overlooks the sprawling urban city and the sea. Take the funicular from Parallel to the base of the hill, before catching the cable car up to the castle. Montjucic is the perfect place to enjoy a park walk or a nice picnic in sunny weather.
I recommend walking back down the hill to meet up with Carrer de Blai. Here you will find delicious local pinchos, which are definitely worth the walk!
The cathedral stands tall in one of the many squares that make up the old town of Barcelona. The cathedral even bears its’ own legend, one of brutal torture that ended with decapitation. When the head of the fair maiden fell to the ground, 13 doves flew out. Keeping with legend, the cathedral used to house 13 doves (imagine the mess left behind for the poor cleaning staff) as a symbolic ‘omen’. Luckily for cleaning purposes, these days the cloister to the cathedral houses the geese. A handy tip – visit before midday when it is free.
Santa Maria del Mar
This quaint church was funded by the people of the Barrio Gothic (the Gothic Quarter), who decided that the 5 minute walk to the cathedral was much too far, so they petitioned to the city, insisting a church to be built in their area. When confronted with a resounding no, rather than being put out, they commissioned their own structure. If you look closely enough, you’ll notice the FC Barcelona shield in one of the stained glass windows. When the window recently broke, the people voted that it should be restored with the FC logo, most iconic logo in Barcelona. Top tip – visitation is free before 1pm.
Mercat de la Boqueria
A vibrant marketplace off La Rambla that houses fresh food stalls and pop up cafes. Your senses will be overwhelmed by the various smells, colours and sounds emanating from the market. Wander around, taste local produce and then grab some tapas to finish off the experience.
Take a day trip to the spectacular Montserrat. Here you’ll find a monastery atop a mountain. Attached is a boarding school for young boys who participate in the church choir. Whether you visit for the stunning views, to see some history, or to take a nature hike, it is definitely worth the drive. Check out this tour company for wine and Montserrat day trip packages.
Where to eat
One of the many draw cards of Barcelona is the food. Sharing is highly encouraged in order to try more of the delicious flavours of Spain. The timings of meals may take some getting used to, but the more you embrace the local flavours and way of life the more enjoyable it becomes. Lunch is the main meal of the day and is eaten fairly late (around 2pm). Look out for ‘Menu del dia’ directly translated as menu of the day. This is the most economical option for lunch and usually consists of three courses. In the evening, enjoy a beverage and some pinchos (tasty food atop a small piece of bread). Note that a surcharge often comes with sitting outside at restaurants and cafes. Also, don’t forget to try xuixo, a delicious sugar coated pastry available at almost all bakeries.
An awesome experience consisting of friendly waitstaff and delicious food. Don’t expect to see a menu at this establishment. Instead, the waitstaff will ask whether you enjoy meat, seafood or vegetables. Based on your responses, they will design a menu on the spot using the freshest ingredients. Four dishes are recommended for two people. Take the plunge! You will not be disappointed. Oh, and it’s a definite yes to dessert! Get there early as seating is around the bar and it is always full.
Formatgeria la seu
A cheese tasting shopfront run by a brilliantly chatty Scottish lady who has lived in Barcelona for many years. The selection of cheeses come from different regions within Spain and your tastebuds are definitely in for a treat. Drop in tastings are available, but you can also book breakfast, lunch or dinner tastings. They also own Bar Zim, a small cosy wine bar two doors down, which is worth a quick visit for a wine before dinner.
This restaurant serves fantastic tapas! Despite its small size, there is lots of space both inside and out. Share the food, drink the wine and enjoy the evening! Remember, if you’re too early it will seem empty. Don’t be alarmed, it is delicious.
With a menu del dia that often includes paella and is always reasonably priced, this cafe is located at the end of a popular bar street that opens up into a small square. After lunch you may consider walking through the nearby Parc de la Ciutadella and seeing Spain’s Arc de Triomf.
This amazing little dessert bar is definitely worth the extra calories. Each dessert looks spectacular and tastes divine. Treat yourself! You’re on holiday after all.
Specialising in craft beers and ciders, Craft also supplies delicious pinchos. Located within the city centre, it has a cool laid back vibe and often has live music. Hosting Spanish and English conversation evenings, it could also be a great place to make new friends.
Where to drink
To be honest, you can’t go wrong with the bars in Barcelona. Majority of the establishments have sitting outside for guaranteed people watching, a selection of wines and some pinchos. Pull up a stool or chair and savor the moment. Don’t forget to try the local drink – sangria!
The new kid in town, this speakeasy is quirky, fun and hidden. Walking through the door you’ll notice the pastrami sandwich bar. Don’t be fooled! Ask for the bar, pull the handle on the fridge and step on through. The wood finishings of the bar, the mood lighting and the unique cocktails will put a smile on your face.
La Vinya del Seynor
This little wine bar opposite the Basilica Santa Maria del Mar is perfect for people watching. Sit back, relax and waste the hours away with a drink in hand and the pleasant sounds of Barcelona in the background.
Where to stay
Depending on your budget there are many places you could opt to stay in Barcelona. I recommend staying near the Gothic Quarter, to the north of La Rambla and south of the Parc de la Ciutadella, in order to experience many of the wonderful restaurants and bars. The Placa de Catalunya is also very well located, is convenient for public transport and a quick walk fabulous eateries.
Hotel Catalonia Catedral
Located near the Barcelona Cathedral and surrounded by shops, this hotel is perfect to explore the city with ease. In summer you’ll also enjoy the rooftop pool and deck. You may even enjoy hearing the street performers who often frequent the square in front of the cathedral.
Hotel Barcelona Catedral
Found among a myriad of hotels located in the vicinity of the Cathedral, this hotel boasts a bar, restaurant, gym and rooftop pool. Ideally located, Hotel Barcelona Catedral makes getting around Barcelona to see the sites seamless.
A hostel that is a bit further from the Gothic Quarter but has a range of rooms to suit all budgets. There are single and double rooms should you wish for privacy, female only dorms, and dorm rooms for those looking to meet new friends. With a reasonably priced bar downstairs and a rooftop pool, it is the perfect place to save a few pennies so you can spend more on the local cuisine.