There are a couple of ways to get to know a city well. One is to rent an apartment in the centre and spend the next few years walking its streets, getting to know it’s cafés, bars, restaurants and secret corners.
Alternatively, for the fast track version you can hook up with other people who have done exactly that and reap the benefits of their intimate knowledge.
That’s what we did and the result was a jam-packed programme of some of the best bits of one of the world’s great cities, Barcelona.
Wake Up Coffee in Barcelona
Nearly every little bar and café looks inviting in Barcelona but start the day in opulent style at the café in the Palau de la Música Catalana (San Pere més alt). A shot of adrenalin (otherwise known as café Americano) in this bright and airy, artistic hot spot is just the ticket for setting you up for a day of exploration.
Things to Do in Barcelona – Take a Specialist Tour
Joining an organised tour isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but there’s too much that could easily be missed in the narrow streets of Barcelona’s Cuitat Vella and Barcelona does specialist tours extremely well. Iteneraplus are made up of passionate guides who know Barcelona inside and out and can take you on voyages through Barcelona’s past and present that range from Civil War and Modernist tours to Rutas de Chocolate and Theatres, Cocktail & Cabaret.
Things to See – Barcelona Cathedral
One of Barcelona’s Gothic masterpieces, the Cathedral (Plaça de la Seu) deserves a visit even if ‘over the top’ religious monuments leave you cold. It’s an impressive building whatever your religious persuasion and there always seems to be something interesting going on in the Plaça de la Seu; from street theatre and traditional dancing to craft markets and giants with oversized heads. If you’re lucky you might even get Catalonia’s famous casteliers doing their thing.
Unusual Features to look out for 1
The letterbox outside of Casa de l’Ardiaca near the Cathedral represents an artistic in-joke. Commissioned to design their letterbox by the Lawyers’ Association at the end of the 19th century, Lluis Domènech revealed what he really thought of legal bureaucracy by throwing a cat amongst the pigeons or, in this case, a tortoise amongst the swallows.
Shopping Break – La Boqueria Market
Visiting Barcelona without visiting its famous food market on La Rambla is against the law isn’t it? It should be. La Boqueria is the sort of church where I do my worshipping. If you haven’t been before, prepare to have your senses take a serious pounding.
Lunch Spot in Barcelona
Escape the crowded La Rambla and Cuitat Vella and head to the wide promenades at Port Vell and La Mar Salada (Pg Joan de Borbó, 58) where the menu is as fresh as the salty air. Cocas with foie, potato bombs with black sausage, paellas and strawberry mojitos tempt you to linger long over lunch.
Things to do In Barcelona – Get High
Post lunch take the cable car that links the port with Montjuic for some aerial views of Barcelona. I still think the climb up the tower in the port is scarier than the ride itself. The cable car runs between 10am and 8pm (times vary depending on the season) and costs €10 one way or €15 return.
Things to see in Barcelona – Go Gaudí
Alternatively walk off lunch by seeking out Gaudí’s wonderful gifts to the city starting with Casa Battló and neighbours on the ‘block of discord’ (Passeig de Gràcia), then head to Casa Mila’s surreal rooftop (Carrer Provença) from where you can spot the next stop, the Sagrada Familia, Gaudí’s swan song which will be completed… someday. After all that walking a rest in the park is in order but the wonders in Parc Güell (Carrer d’Olot 5) , Gaudí’s mosaic marvel, are more likely to keep you on your toes.
Unusual Features to look out for 2
Plaça de San Felip Neri near the Cathedral remains mainly free of tourists, yet it is one of the most poignant plazas in Barcelona. The little square’s pockmarked walls are a testament to a tragedy, the bombing of the square by Franco’s forces resulting in 42 deaths, many of whom were children from the plaza’s school. The gouges in the walls were caused by shrapnel from the bombing. It’s claimed by some that Franco’s henchmen carried out executions in Plaça de San Felip Neri and those shootings account for some of the other holes in the walls.
Dinner in Barcelona – The Attic
Las Ramblas may take on the personality of a naff tourist resort at times but there’s no denying the hustle, bustle and sights still create a buzz and it’s an exciting place to be at night. Trouble is there are so many restaurants it’s difficult to make a decision. The ones in adjoining Plaça Reial are popular but harder to spot is the stylish Attic (Las Ramblas, 120) where the rooftop setting is an escape from the hen parties that dumb down the style of the avenue below. A Mediterranean menu with ingredients from La Boqueria compliments the sophisticated décor. The sea bass is particularly good even if you’re not going to get obese on the portions.
Hitting the Barcelona Bars
Three favourites with different flavours of the city to try. Atmospheric Café Art & Schilling (C/FERRÀN, 23) is one of those bars that fits like a glove and is good for hanging out in day or night. I downed a lot of cava there one merry New Year’s Eve. Bar Marsella (C/Sant Pau, 65) is an institution of absinthe drinking and one for the writers who want to unlock their minds, although finding it after dark can prove a puzzle. For fashionistas who want über cool surroundings, Fabrica Moritz (Ronda de Sant Antoni, 39) is sleek and sexy and they brew their own beer. The guys who own it also arrange the most bizarre and brilliant urban adventures like their classic seiscientos tapas tour.
Where to Stay
For anyone who actually finds the time to sleep in Barcelona, Claris Hotel represents the chic, contemporary face of Barcelona whilst the Hotel Laietana Palace is more old school Barcelona. Both are in good positions for getting to most of the best bits of Cuitat Vella.
Jack is co-owner, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites as well as a contributor to online travel sites and travel magazines. Follow Jack on Google+