I have wanted to visit Barcelona for years, ever since the month I inter-railed around five European countries with two girlfriends on a teeny tiny budget and heard everyone we met in backpackers and hostels along the way tell us, Make sure you go to Barcelona! Alas, we’d pre-booked our flights and Rome was due to be our final stop.
Ten years later, Rasmus’ cousin told us he and his family were moving to Barcelona for six months and we knew straight away that we’d be visiting. It was also a wonderful excuse for some winter sun, so we booked our flights and last Friday night drove through the cold damp Luxembourg countryside to the airport and headed for sunny Barcelona.
I loved this city! Our tourist style could be described as “walk and eat”. We tend to avoid the buses and guided tours. We just set our noses in the right general direction of the main sights and then proceed to get lost as we wander around, discovering things by accident, choosing to turn down the side streets and looking for the local bars and cafes.
And these we found in abundance in Barcelona. It is a great city for walking in, especially the old quarters. There is a maze of narrow stone streets between tall buildings full of iron balconies and washing hanging above your heads. You’ll happen around a corner onto a massive church, or a bustling market. And then within another 20m it’s quiet and still and you find a small cafe to sit in over a cup of hot chocolate and breath in the age-old atmosphere.
November is not a bad time to visit. We had sunshine all weekend, and although it was still cool, it was thin-jumper-light-jacket cool as opposed to the thick-jumper-heavy-coat-multiple-scarves cold of Luxembourg. And there were certainly less tourists to fight with than there would have been in the warmer months.
And the food! Oh the food. Rasmus and I love to pick holidays to places where we can just eat our way through the city, and Barcelona shone in this regard. From the hot chocolate and churros, to the empanadas, the amazing tapas and flowing wine, and the traditional seafood paella. Oh we were certainly well satisfied.
So if you’re heading to Barcelona soon, here are a few of our suggestions of places to walk, places to eat. It’s certainly not definitive, and we may well have missed out some must-do’s, but we had a wonderful weekend and I’m sure you’d not be disappointed.
…down La Rambla, from the Plaça de Catalunya to the Port de Barcelona. It’s a beautiful tree-lined avenue, but don’t be afraid to take some diversions… the Mercat de la Boqueria (old covered market) was fantastic – fish and charcuterie and piles of vegetables. The Liceu Theatre is apparently well worth a visit although we skipped this one. Get a coffee at the harbour and sit swinging your legs over the edge and enjoying the view back at the city.
…through the maze of streets that are the Barri Gòtic, La Ribera and El Raval districts. Just get lost there. Wander into the small shops that look interesting, stop for a drink. Duck inside a church, or the cathedral if you find it (the cathedral cloister contains a gaggle of geese which is kinda fun). And take lots of pictures because every corner is photo-worthy.
…around and through the Sagrada Família. Of course. It is an entirely unique building, and there’s not so many buildings in the world you can say that about. This unfinished basilica is weird in the best way. We actually expected it to be more bizarre inside than it was – instead we found it beautifully light and soaringly lovely. I had heard it was really a temple to Gaudi, but in fact in manages to remain a place of prayer and worship, which I think is what Gaudi would have wanted anyway.
…if you have extra time and are feeling energetic, the walk between the Sagrada Familia and the Port is not bad. You pass by the Arc de Triomf, and through the lovely Park. But it’s a long one – we were soooo hungry by the time we made it to our lunch spot at the Harbour.
…at the Port, take the Teleférico del Puerto cable car across the water for a wonderful view of the whole city skyline one way, and the Mediterranean sea the other.
…north from Plaça de Catalunya towards two of Gaudis most famous buildings – Casa Batlló and Casa Milà. We didn’t go in either but it was fun to stand with the crowds of tourists on the pavement and take pictures of these strange façades.
We had some good recommendations and followed some of the guidebook suggestions, and stumbled across a few great places all by ourself:
Taller de Tapas – We found this place by accident when we were looking for somewhere to get some easy tapas after our massive paella lunch. We bagged ourselves two seats at the bar and the adorably sweet bar girl kept us happily drinking cava. Their grilled octopus was ah.maze.ing.
Mercat de Santa Caterina – we headed here on the recommendation of friends. It’s the modern version of the Mercat de la Boqueria covered market, with a beautiful wooden ceiling that looks like the waves. We waited ten minutes for a seat in this busy restaurant, but it was worth the wait. It’s a little pricier than elsewhere, but the food was delicious. We had the squid and a lamb dish. And I had fresh squeezed juice which was yummy.
Bastaix – this was another accidental find but we loved it! We were on the lookout for a second tapas bar for the night and spotted some empty stools outside this unimposing little restaurant. The waiters were friendly, the tapas was excellent and it was fun to sit outside admiring the lovely Santa Maria del Mar church and watching people go by.
El Xampanyet – This was our favourite find. A guidebook favourite, it is a lively and busy tapas bar. We elbowed our way in and stood at the bar, where we made friends with a German woman who kindly helped us figure out the chaotic system of ordering and paying. Our glasses were kept generously topped up the entire time by the friendly staff and the tapas was cheap, plentiful and excellent.
Taverna del Bisbe – we stopped in here for a beer/hot chocolate when we were still waaaaaay to early for dinner time (ie. 7pm). It’s right by the Cathedral, so full of tourists, but we had a nice view out over the square and it was a calm place to stop in for a drink.
Tostaderos BonMercat – our last morning we stopped in here and I got my thick hot chocolate and churros which was just delicious. They made the churros to order. It’s also a coffee shop with huge bins of different coffee beans and a big roaster.
Miramar Restaurant Garden & Club – after taking the cable car across the harbour, we stopped here for another drink (hot chocotlate for me, coffee for Rasmus) to watch the city slowly darken as the sun went down. It’s a lovely view already if you can’t be bothered to climb right to the top of the hill!
Paco Alcalde – we headed here for lunch on a recommendation from friends. It’s in the tiny huddled harbour area, on a narrow street, down which you can catch a glimpse of the Mediterranean horizon. It’s tiled walled traditional atmosphere was fun and the food was alright – a bit cheap and cheerful rather than high quality.
La Pizza del Born – we bought empanadas here our last lunchtime. It’s a cute little “fast food” place for a slice of pizza or empanada, in one of my favourite parts of the city.