Barcelona is like an Almodóvar movie: there is a bit of everything, a crazy mixture of environments and we can be whatever we want to be.
This city has endless meanings to me because this is where I found love (met my husband in a club while on vacation in 1999), where I lived and felt extremely welcome in 2001 and a place I will always return to, at least once a year. It is not necessary to list many reasons to love Barcelona, it simply happens.
In this first post – and I say “first” because I am sure I will write others about this place – I will only mention the obvious tourist attractions and take a deeper approach at more “insider” ideas on how to explore BCN.
Barcelona is the biggest and most important city of Catalunya and besides Spanish, locals also speak Catalan, which sounds like a mix of French, Portuguese and Spanish. But no worries! People will not avoid speaking Spanish to you or English, when they can.
The best way of exploring the city is to have no plan at all and just allow yourself to get lost. So, after you do your homework and visit the main attractions, choose a cool tapas bar, grab your cava (or a Rioja wine), watch people pass by, explore the small streets, get to know the cool spots tourists normally ignore.
It is pretty true that Barcelona became such a hype city a couple of years ago that the game turned and the city sort of lost its nice vibration presenting super crowded places, dirty streets and run down monuments. Nevertheless, action was taken and the city is inviting, beautiful again, just as it should be.
One week would be the ideal time to see all the main attractions + time to enjoy the city, go for some shopping, etc. But we all know that many people see everything in much less than this. So, yes, you can see the most famous corners in 4 days.
Best time to go is always and it depends on what your interests are. It is very warm during summer and a good idea is to combine the visit with a trip to Ibiza/Formentera (my favourites), Palma de Mallorca, or Menorca, which are very popular islands and there will soon the a post about these destinations. Autumn and spring are not so warm (nor cold) and also not so crowded as summer while winter is seldom a harsh one (I once saw a little bit of snow and the city was chaos).
- La Sagrada Família
- La Pedrera – Casa Milà
- Casa Batlló + Casa Amatler + Casa Lléo
- Museu Picasso
- La Catedral
- Park Güell
- Fundació Joan Miró
- La Rambla
- Bairro Gótico
- Palau de Música Catalana
- Basílica de Santa Maria del Mar
- Camp Nou visit (for soccer fans, not for me – but I found it was fun to watch a game)
- Plaza de España + Montjuïc + Palau Nacional (MNAC)
*Some of the attraction mentioned above must/should be booked online in advance, like the Picasso Museum or the Park Güell.
Time to start with the interesting part, which are the more focused tips, which will be separated by neighbourhood:
One of the best areas to live in Barcelona for those who want to be close to the action and also where you will find almost all of the international top boutiques (Prada, Gucci, Céline, Hermés, etc), lots of very good hotels and some of the best restaurants in town. Also, a few modernist icons of the city are around the area and there is nothing better than a stroll to explore the beautiful streets and the nice facades. Do not miss Passeig de Gràcia.
Where to dine: 1) Unmissable, wonderful, want it now is TAPAS24, by chef Charles Abellan – take a seat inside at the counter and watch the action as if you would be in a chef’s table. Order the cava of the house and the bikini (truffle ham sandwich), the buemba de Barcelona and the lentils and everything! Yummy tapas!
2) Also good for tapas is Cerveceria Catalana; 3) If you are looking for traditional food and a cool Chef’s table, head to BistrEau, at Mandarin Oriental hotel; 4) Monvínic offers traditional cuisine and good variety of wine; 5) Xerta is starred (one star), elegant, contemporaneous and I love its open cuisine; 6) Boca Grande is more of a cool party mood place than a very good restaurant. Do not miss the beautiful restrooms; 7) Céleri is for sure love at first sight, placed at the ground floor of an organic market and focusing in healthy, organic, raw food. The menu is suitable for vegans, vegetarians and also those who eat animal protein. The ambience is really pretty, relaxed and it has one Michelin star; 8) Disfrutar is unmissable , an “El Bulli for the people” as three ex-chefs of the missed restaurant are owning the place.
9) Moments is another good restaurant at Mandarin Oriental hotel. Actually the best one, counting two Michelin stars and a very “hard to get” chef’s table; 10) Lasarte is the only restaurant which received three Michelin stars in 2017 and there are à la carte and set menu options. Very innovative; 11) The minimalist Alkimia (one Michelin star) impresses for its interior and also for the avant-garde cuisine. A classic.
12) Roca Moo offers creative cuisine in an amazing setting, at fashionable OMM hotel. One Michelin star; 13) Pakta is another starred (one star) restaurant by chef Albert Adriá. Be ready for a very unique experience – a Peruvian Japanese fusion found in the ambience and food; 14) El Nacional is a restaurant cluster in a beautiful environment (lots of information) in a sort of retro-luxury. The drama here are the tourists and it is often a bit crowded. Lunch time might be a better pick; 15) Niño Viejo is the best tacos bar + Mexican street food in BCN and is located at the same address as 16) Hoja Santa, a Mexican restaurant granted one Michelin star; 17) Artte is also an option for those seeking healthy food and is placed is a really modern space which unites art, music, expositions and food.
- El Born
Very trendy neighbourhood, much beloved by fashionable people. Besides famous Picasso museum, many small cool shops and nice little bars and restaurants contribute to the lively bohemian life of the area. It has become more sophisticated during the last years but still hype.
Make sure you pass by El Born Centre Cultural. Not only the Centre is interesting, placed in a old market and containing archaeological sites (fast visit, free without audio-guide) but also the area around it is nice to explore.
Where to dine: 1) El Xampanyet is a classic, since always. But totally full and often, all you get is a drink while standing.
2) Senior Parellada serves traditional food from Catalunya; 3) Ten’s is more like a gastro-bar where you find good tapas and small plates in a modern delightful atmosphere; 4) Montiel is more gourmet and more serious; 5) Llamber is in voga at the moment and the idea is to share some plates. Everything I tried was very tasty.
- Barrio Gótico
The oldest quarter of the city, from the roman times and full of unique tiny streets that transport you to another époque (ok, you have to forget the million tourists around you). My favorite spot is Plaza Reial, a square that even looks a little bit deteriorated but this is its charm. I always return.
Even though eclipsed by the Cathedral, the Santa Maria del Mar (Saint Mary of the Sea) Basilica is also to be seen. It is a huge good example of Catalan Gothic, with a purity and unity of style that is very unusual in large medieval buildings.
Where to dine: 1) El Cercle can be found at Reial Cercle Artístic (artistic circle) and presents an expense menu that varies from Japanese to Spanish. It is nice if you get a table at the terrace with a view to only watch the crowds passing nonstop in a shopping fever; 2) Koy Shunka is the best Japanese restaurant in BCN and serves the most amazing nigiri. Take a place at the counter or at the dining room where the open kitchen is. One Michelin star; 3) Kak Koy is another very good Japanese, in a cool modern environment, bit industrial and where the main dish should be the robot cooked to perfection.
- El Raval
Known as Barrio Chino (China Town) years ago, it was totally underground, even a little bit dangerous at some corners. Nowadays it houses cultural centres like MACBA and the Centre de Cultura Contemporânea de Barcelona (Barcelona Contemporary Cultural Centre), besides a bunch of bars, cute little boutiques and some good restaurants. It is a neighbourhood with a high number of immigrants.
Where to dine: 1) Amazing Dos Palillos (one Michelin star), extremely original asian oriental fusion, tapas and Spanish ingredients. There are two counters – one at the entrance (no reservations accepted) and another, at the back, more elaborated; 2) Tickets is pure passion, unique – there are many counters where it is possible to watch the preparation of tapas that pay a tribute to plates served once legendary restaurant El Bulli. By chef Albert Adriá.
3) Fonda España occupies an imposing modernist building and is a place to taste tradicional dishes; 4) Lolita Taperia
not exactly in El Raval is e very good option for tapas in a modern nice interior, relaxed; 5) Lando is pretty cool and despite its quite remote location, the street is quite trendy. It combines wood tables, brick walls and a menu by macrobiotic specialist chef Benbassat. There are yummy options for vegans.
- La Barceloneta
That’s the sea, the beach! Ok, it is not the whitest sand and the mediterranean is not at its best tone in this area. But the atmosphere is wonderful! By the way, during summer or spring (when it is warm) it might be a great idea to stay around this area – there are two main best hotels, where I have already stayed and can deeply recommend, and many bars and restaurants between these two hotels (W Hotel and Hotel Arts) and around the hotels as well.
Attention to the world famous monument by Rebecca Horn “Homenatge a la Barceloneta” and to the sculpture “El Peix”, by Frank Gehry.
Where to dine: Bravo24, at W hotel is very modern and sitting at the garden is an attraction. By chef Charles Abellan, who I love; 2) Torre d’Alta Mar is for those people who love to dine with a view from above; 3) Suquet de l’Amirall is a place to really remember you are at the beach, comfortable terrace and tasty meals; 4) Arola is wonderful, at Hotel Arts. Young, sometimes with a DJ (check in advance); 5) Els Pescadors is a bit far away but it is a match for sea food lovers; 6) Bestial, a restaurant by Tragaluz group, has had its glorious days but is still a nice option to dine “at the sea”; 7) Enoteca is the haute-cuisine star at La Barceloneta/Port Olimpic, counting two Michelin stars. Wines decorate the ambience at Hotel Arts.
Love this area and the interesting options it offers like the fantastic Joan Miró Foundation (besides Miró art works, there are also pieces of Jackson Pollock and Mona Hatoum, for example), the National Art Museum of Catalonia, the Plaza España and the Pavelló Mies van der Rohe, which represents a milestone to the modern European architecture as well as the “house” of iconic Barcelona chair, created by Mies van der Rohe specially for the Pavillon.
Onde comer: 1) Espai Kru is a beautiful restaurant offering a menu with raw and not that raw options prepared in an open kitchen; 2) Mano Rota is a restaurant and bar with some unique recipes, à la carte or tasting menu.
Decide WHERE TO STAY IN BARCELONA is not at all a hard task. I will list some hotels I like:
- W Barcelona***** is a hotel chain I have always connected to and the one in BCN is not different. Comfy rooms, good location (in Barceloneta but also close to areas like El Born). Good options for dining , relaxed young vibe and a very cool pool with a panoramic view to the sea and cool music. Party mood.
- Hotel Arts – Ritz Carlton***** doesn’t need a lot of endorsement as it has been one of Barcelona’s top hotels for more than 2 decades. Stayed here in November last year (2016) and the experience was absolutely perfect. Attention to detail, very spacious rooms and stunning views. Not to mention that one of the best Spas in town is placed at its 43rd floor – 43 The Spa – with breathtaking views to the sea. At La Barceloneta.
- Mandarim Oriental***** is never a mistake, right?! And the one in Barcelona is an amazing option for people who want to stay very central. It is right at Passeig de Gracia (Eixample), one of the most beautiful streets of the city, and close to some og Gaudí’s masterpieces. Possible to walk to most of the touristic attractions. Pool at the rooftop but not that impressive.
- DO Placa Real***** counts only 18 rooms and furnished with unmatching furniture, which created a great effect. Family owned, very intimist. Pool at rooftop and terrace with a view to the Placa Reial, at Barrio Gótico.
- Ohla Barcelona***** is a beautiful boutique at Eixample neighbourhood and also close to Barrio Gótico. Expect very good food at its gourmet restaurant and party mood at the pool.
- The Serras***** is a very special boutique as it occupies the building where Picasso’s first studio used to be. Small and exclusive with a pool and views to the revitalised Port Vell, at Barrio Gótico.
- El Palauet are 6 suites in a refurbished modernist building which presents all the excesses of the time, together with more contemporary design pieces by Philippe Starck, couple Eames and Jacobsen. Take the Tibidabo suite. Between Eixample and Grácia.
- Olivia Balmes**** is a superior 4 stars that I really liked. Stayed at this hotel during my last trip to BCN and found it really good value. Our suite was very spacious, staff well trained, beautiful settings and a pool at the rooftop. At Eixample.
- Hotel Mercer***** Great location for those who want to stay at the Gothic quarter. Nice boutique accommodation – choose the Gran Deluxe.
- Hotel OMM***** is a hotel, Spa, restaurant, bar, lounge… everything amazing. right at the heart of the city, at Eixample.
Enough for one single post, right?! But stay tuned for more! Feel free to send me questions, comments, complains or whatever, whenever. And make sure you join me around the world on my Instagram account @marineira !