Architecture, food, wine, coffee, clothes… my favourite things.
I went to Barcelona in 2010 and 2013. The first time it was at the end of a France/Spain trip with my mom and we were super tired by the time we got to Barcelona. We had a good time but didn’t experience the city like I did in 2014. The second time, I went with Hubby at the beginning of a Spain/Morocco/France trip and we had an amazing time.
Don’t stay near La Rambla, the famous, super busy street. I stayed right on La Rambla the first time and everything nearby is super touristy and busy, from the moment you step out of your place. The area surrounding La Rambla is known for petty crime and I found it very hard to relax around there (more about the crime stuff later). Hubby and I stayed in the El Born neighbourhood. It’s younger and hipper, although getting more expensive since it’s trendy. There are lots of boutiques and restaurants and it’s only about an 8 minute walk to the La Rambla area.
Through www.airbnb.ca (read my post on travel tips to learn more about airbnb), I found an apartment for a really reasonable price. It was pretty quirky, one room, super small bathroom, lumpy bed on the floor and the only window was an interior window, which looked inside the building.
But we knew what we were getting into. This place was sooo much cheaper than a hotel or even a hostel would have been. Plus it was private and we got fantastic restaurant recommendations from the owner. This was the start of a 5 week trip, so we didn’t want to spend too much cash on the accommodations, and this place was perfect.
Food food drink food food drink food
One of the reasons we wanted a place with a kitchen was so we wouldn’t have to eat out every meal. For a trip like this one, 5 weeks, if we had eaten out every day, every meal, I would’ve felt like a big ball of blah. And who wants to feel like that on vacation?! So on our first full day we found a little grocery store nearby and bought things like juice, yogurt, wine, cava – the necessities. Then we went to a market and bought eggs, cheese, olives, jamon, chorizo etc. After that, we found a bakery where we bought a baguette and some treats (DONUTS, pizza-type things).
I know this sounds like a lot of food, but really, it wasn’t. We didn’t buy lots of each thing, just a little bit. Then stocked up when necessary. So we almost always ate breakfast at the apartment (I’m one of those people who gets ferocious if I wait too long to eat in the morning) then we’d head out for the day – first stop, coffee (I also get ferocious when I don’t have coffee in the morning. I’m really quite a ferocious being). There’s a market near where we were staying called Mercat del Born. Inside we found a place that serves amaaaaazing coffee.
Every morning we ordered a café con leche – coffee with milk, from this spot. But really, almost every place has amazing coffee.So I’m fueled on a cheap breakfast and excellent coffee… ready to explore!
Tapas bars in Barcelona are fabulous and there’s a very particular way they work. For the good ones, go in expecting standing room only.
The guy behind the bar who takes your order will keep a tally of what you’ve eaten. When you want to eat something else, make eye contact with him and he’ll get to you when he can. You pay at the end after he adds everything up. Lots of food will be on the counter, so you can point and what you want to try.
But there’s also stuff not on display that you can eat, that’s the cooked or warm stuff… and it’s usually the best! That food is usually written on the wall. Now is your chance to be adventurous!! Try new things, even if it looks scary! Everything comes in super small portions and is relatively cheap, so if you don’t like something, oh well… order something else! Oh and my favourite part, each bar usually has a house cava (sparkling white wine), it’s delicious.
So the idea is, you have a glass of house cava along with the restaurant’s food specialty and then you move on to the next spot… and do the same thing. Eating takes a long time this way, but that’s how the Spaniards do it. Slowly and enjoying every morsel. Side note, if you’re like me, eat every croquette you possibly can. Your tummy will thank you and you will thank me. YUMMY.
Two of my favourite places to eat while there were Bar del Pla (sit down dinner) and La Xampanyeria (tapas bar).
The popular places change, so ask around… preferably from someone who lives there. Tourists don’t (usually) have any great insight on what’s ‘in.’
From the airport, we took the Aerobus. It’s pretty direct, leaves from the airport in Barcelona and goes into downtown. It only makes like, three stops and is SO much cheaper than a cab. When you walk out of the airport you take an escalator down and it’s the main bus there.
Getting around Barcelona, the subway system is great. We bought a pack of 10 tickets. Then just hopped on whenever we couldn’t walk anymore. But really, try and walk as much as possible. You see so much more that way.
Barcelona is known for petty crime. Don’t let yourself be a victim because getting your wallet, camera, passport or anything really, is a fabulous way to ruin a vacation. Men, do NOT keep your wallet in your back pocket. The pickpocketers are ridiculously sneaky. This is their profession, and they’re great at it. Don’t wear a backpack that has anything valuable sitting right there at the top of the opening. Ladies, when you’re walking with your purse, hold on to it and keep it right in front of you (read my travel tips for the purse and backpack I bought to avoid being stolen from). When I was in Barcelona with my mom, walking on La Rambla, a fight broke out and two men started shoving each other and yelling. Turned out to be a distraction technique while a pickpocket robbed the unsuspecting onlookers.
What to do
Here are SEVEN things to do while in Barcelona:
1) Visit the Sagrada Familia
When you go to the Sagrada Familia, which you should definitely do, book your tickets ahead of time, online. After ordering tickets online, we picked them up at a Servi Caixa, it’s a chain of ATM machines. The closest one to the Sagrada Familia was right by the McDonalds. Easy peasy and no lines.
We booked a tower tour as well and it was well worth it.
Fabulous views from the tower.
2) A cooking class
Do a cooking class! One of my favourite things to do when I travel, is a cooking class. Oh and while you’re there, ask your instructor for restaurant suggestions.
We did a cooking class with ‘Cook and Taste’ and really enjoyed it.
You get a meal out of it… and the wine’s included! The class also included a walking tour through the city’s biggest market – Boqueria.
3) Shop and eat your way through Boqueria Market
We went on our own as well as with the guide from Cook and Taste. It was fabulous to have someone explain how everything’s done there. Walking through on your own is fun (watch your wallet in here for sure) but it’s even better with a guide.
4) Explore Montjuïc
We went to Montjuïc hill, there’s lots to do and there’s great views of the city.
From what I’ve heard, Barcelona has great museums. As much as I’d like to pretend I’m cultured enough to enjoy museums, I usually don’t. We didn’t go to any in Barcelona. What we did do… wandered. And wandered some more. Seriously, my legs hurt so much after our week in Barcelona… just from walking and wandering.
6) Go for a picnic.
We went to the market, got food for a picnic then found a park and hung out. Sounds boring but it was great to sit and people watch.
7) Shop ’til you drop
Hopefully you like shopping… because the shopping is good!! The boutiques are pretty expensive but fun. Honestly, I just loved the typical stores – Zara, Blanco, Mango, etc.
If you see an ‘x’ in a word, pronounce it like ‘ch.’
Eat the donuts, do it. They’re sooooooooooo good.
El Cortes Ingles is a department store that has everything. My hair straightener blew up on the first day (who brings a brand new straightener on a trip, DUMMY) so we went there and found a replacement.
Before you go to Barcelona, read up on Antoni Gaudi. It’ll make your trip so much more enjoyable to understand Gaudi and how he’s influenced the city.