Barcelona is not the prettiest city Europe has to offer. If Gaudi doesn’t do it for you, then some of its architecture may not appeal, nor some of its main sights (i.e. the Sagrada Familia and Park Güell). But – bold statement I know – it is perhaps one of Europe’s funnest cities. So lively, so vibrant, so cosmopolitan. And it may also have been one of the best foodie weekends I’ve had in a while (well, since Bordeaux!).
Here are my top tips for Spain’s favourite city (though I maintain that Madrid gives it a good run for its money), with more detailed blogs to follow:
I’d been to Barcelona a few times before and covered the main sights then. This time my weekend was spent largely hopping from cafe to bar to beach. But here are the sights worth seeing if it’s new to you:
*The Sagrada Familia is not my favourite cathedral (read: not a fan of Gaudi), and think it looks a bit like a melted candle. But it is still worth seeing, purely because it is so unique. And some people love it!
*Park Güell, right in the north of the city on Carmell Hill, and certainly a bit of a schlep up (there are escalators) is colourful and admittedly quite fun. It’s a great place for photos of the city. If you want the signature photos with the lizard then you need to pre-book tickets to get in.
*Apart from that I would enjoy walks through the older areas of Barcelona like Gothic and El Born, or Segway tours are also a very popular way of seeing the city.
*Lastly, the fact that Barcelona has a (very easily accessible) beach is of course a massive bonus. Head to Barceloneta and soak up some rays, or grab a glass of rosé at one of the many beach bars (more on that later). It does get very crowded in the summer, but that just means plenty entertaining people watching.
The Metro is excellent (and quick), and, at 1 euro per journey, very cost effective. It means that if you stay in slightly further afield areas like Gracia, you can be in the city centre within 10 minutes. But, as the locals will tell you, Barcelona is a city of bicycles. So renting a bike may well be worth it. I walked a lot, and find you discover more of the city doing so. But I appreciate that in 30 degree heat this may not be everyone’s cup of tea.
Once upon a time I was not a fan of Spanish food. This changed a few years ago when I went to Madrid and tried ‘real’ tapas. Barcelona has so many fantastic restaurants and cafes I found it hard to choose which ones to try, but I was very pleased with my selection. Here are a few highlights:
*For the healthy ones amongst you, there is no better place to go than FLAX & KALE, a beauty of a ‘Flexitarian’ restaurant, with a mind-boggling array of cold-pressed juices, inventive salads and fantastic tuna/salmon burgers. I’m still craving their blueberry quinoa muffins, and need to go back for their raw cheesecake.
If you’re looking for other healthy options, try Mother and Press & Reset.
*For those of you looking for a more ‘classic’ brunch, then FEDERAL CAFE (in Gothic or Raval) is a must go. From the beloved smashed avocado on rye bread with poached eggs and all the sides you can dream of, to their very popular (I can see why) French toast with pears, bacon and maple syrup – this is a brunch no-brainer. Their design is cool, and you can expect huge open windows allowing light to stream in. Service a bit offish.
*For something a bit more upmarket (though their service needs working on), CORNELIA & CO transports you straight to Manhattan. This chic eatery serves delicious small plates perfect for sharing, and is also a good choice for dinner. They serve breakfast too (but sadly not in August). Their shop is worth a browse, it has some lovely bits and bobs (I loved their copper salad bowls).
We didn’t really hold back when it came to dinner, and Llamber and Boca Grande may be two of my new favourite European restaurants. Both serve tapas, but not like the greasy, oily, carby mess I once knew. This is as sophisticated and inventive as tapas gets.
*LLAMBER is more laid back, a little edgier, and slap bam in the trendy El Born area. Beautiful interiors with red brick walls and a nice terrace outside too. Our favourite dishes were the asparagus and prawn ‘sticks’ with fondu, and the cheese (some of which were very strong) and meat sharing plates. I also loved their tomato bread. After dinner head to Passeig del Born for a few more drinks to end the night.
*BOCA GRANDE is an assault on all your senses (but in a good way). The smell, the noises, the beautiful people, the food. I could people watch for hours, but it was more the incredible intricate interiors of the place that properly fascinated me, with countless mirrors, rows of colourful bottles and dim lighting. As garish as this sounds, they’ve made it look very tasteful. Their squid ink risotto with cuttlefish was delicious, as was their tuna and avocado tartar. Their gazpacho was the best I’ve had. This is the perfect Saturday night dinner date place.
*Barcelona nails its rooftop bars, and the TERRAZA DEL PULITZER was by far our favourite. While you’re not here for the views (below average), this leafy, trendy bar is clearly a favourite amongst locals. I absolutely loved its vibe. By 9pm on a Friday people were dancing like it was 3am in a London club. But the music is chilled rather than too pumping, so it’s perfect for a pre-dinner drink and catch up with friends. Other rooftop bars like La Terrassa at Hotel Villa Emilia and the Sky Bar are apparently also worth going to.
*LA VINYA DEL SENYOR: known as Barcelona’s best wine bar. Located right opposite El Born’s Santa Maria church, this is the place to come and try a number of their excellent (and very well-priced) Rioja’s, while enjoying a beautiful view. They’re open until 1am, after which you can stumble on to one of the many bars that El Born has to offer.
*As if dinner at Boca Grande wasn’t good enough, heading upstairs to their famous cocktails bar BOCA CHICA is a must-do. Reminding me a little of London’s super fun Mr Fogg’s (if you have not been, go), this glamorous, extravagent bar is the ideal place to start – or end – your night. It is ludicrously expensive, but totally justifiable. Oh and check out their loos: an experience in itself.
*GALLITO – our favourite ‘Chiringuito‘. Barceloneta’s beach bars cannot be missed, especially for day time drinking. We visited a number, some disappointed (MOMA – don’t bother) but one became our favourite hangout of the weekend (Gallito). We checked out the newer nieghbouring Pez Vela, but found it more uptight, more expensive and less fun than Gallito. Gallito just gets it right. It’s not too touristy at all, and has a large shady terrace, though even sitting inside on their large loungy sofas is appealing. Their house rosé (18 euros a bottle) is delicious, as are their sharing plates (though the nachos and guacamolo are a little on the small side).
We stayed in an excellent Airbnb in Gracia, with a lovely outside terrace (perfect for pre-drinking). Admittedly probably the best (and most central) areas to stay in are El Born/Gothic/Eixample. If you prefer hotels to apartments, then I absolutely loved HOTEL BRUMMELL. In the quieter Poble Sec neighbourhood, this brand new boutique design hotel has everything you need. The rooms aren’t massive, but they use the space cleverly. With super comfy beds and rain showers and the penthouses have large terraces, you’ll be very comfortable here. I adored their small pool and sunbathing deck, as well as their courtyard terrace. You have access to yoga classes at the next door Garage, and can rent bikes and buy souvenirs at their cool little boutique. Plus, from rooms starting from 100 euros a night, it’s ridiculous value for money.
Other affordable hotels worth checking out are the Praktik hotel chain (Praktik Bakery being my favourite), or, if you want to splash out a bit, I’ve heard very good things about the stunning Cotton House Hotel. You’re spoilt for choice.
Watch this space for more detailed blogs to come about my favourite Barcelona hangouts or check my instagram for more photos.