A trip which was originally slated for a full week and a half, was reduced to 3 days in the midst of the Catalonia separatist protests in early November. The discussions between the Catalan region of Spain and the rest of the country escalated in 2017, resulting in tensions in the area, protests (both friendly and aggressive) and even included the president fleeing the country. Our trip rerouted us to Portugal, which in itself, was an amazing trip. Read more about traveling to Portugal, a California-esque destination, in my blog post here.
I’m so happy we did allow ourselves a few days to explore Barcelona at the end of the two week European trip, as the city exceeded my expectations and offered a robust itinerary of delish eats, amazing architecture and wonderful museums.
I generally use Air BnB for traveling both domestically and abroad but given the last minute decision to fly back to Barcelona from Portugal, we relied on Hotel Tonight, a division of Hotels.com which allows you to book last minute rooms at discounted prices for a given area through their app. I use this whenever I am traveling and will only be somewhere for 1-3 nights, generally. If you book your first room using my code, ELNARDINI, you will get $25 off! We landed at K+K Hotel Picasso which I HIGHLY recommend given it’s top-notch location, beautiful rooms and excellent service. We felt like we scored for the price. The location is next to El Born neighborhood, my favorite in the city, and across the street from Parc de la Ciutadella. This location made it easy to grab public transportation, walk to dinner and breakfast, and explore many of the highlights of Barcelona by foot, all while being in a safe and comfortable neighborhood. After a few nights we moved on to explore a different location and landed at Casa Bonay which is just north of El Born in the Eixample, pronounced (Eh-Sham-Play). This hotel was very hipster with an amazing lobby bar and cafe which turned into a night club on the weekends. They have a great coffee shop/cafe in the front as well as a rooftop overlook. The room windows opened up on the main road which intersects the city, which was enjoyable to soak in the city vibe.
Museum & Sites //
We were lucky enough to land in the city on the first weekend of the month, as many of the museums are free this day. We had stayed out late the night prior drinking wine but were adamant on visiting the extremely popular Picasso Museum in El Born district the next morning and it was well worth the foggy wake-up. The museum was much larger than I expected and I discovered many things about this remarkable artist which I had never known. You are not allowed to take pictures inside, which I was naively not aware of until someone tapped my shoulder so I do have a few to share 🙂 One tip for visiting, which I assume is the case for almost all museums, book the earliest time possible. Many museums and sites in Barcelona are by reservation so an 8am or 9am start time will allow you to escape the crowds as the city doesn’t really get moving until late morning.
Visiting Gaudi’s sites and works is a must-do and again, make your reservations as soon as you know your schedule will permit. We did not book the Park Guell visit in advance and therefore were not able to go in to the main exhibit, although walking around is a site in itself, including climbing to the highest point of the park, Turó de les tres creus. Antoni Gaudi’s most well known work is located at the Sagrada Familia, a catholic church which showcases his talents and creativity in the era. The construction which originally began in the late 19th century still continues today. Expected completion dates in the 2020’s are being speculated, although given that I was just there, I doubt that to be the case. We booked a reservation for this, and included a tower visit which was worth the extra charge. We chose the Nativity facade or tower, relative to the Passion facade and were happy with our choice. Casa Batlló is a jaw-dropping building located in the center of the city and just standing outside to witness the facade is worth while. If you reserve a tour to visit online, you can save some money and they also offer an early tour which is capped at 20 or so people to allow for better opportunities to take photos.
Food & Beverage //
Taking a stroll through El Born or the Gothic district down towards the water will bring you through windy alleys and streets and drop you off near the aquarium, where the city opens up and you feel you’ve been transported. There is an institution called Can Paixano (La Xampanyeria) which is not to be missed. We built up our appetite walking down to the beach and winding back up toward the city, finally coming to our lunch destination. They serve simple sandwiches, hot dogs and tapas alongside bottles (by the glass if you really wish) of champagne. It is cheap, quick and delicious. The “deli” is standing room only and by the time we left (around 1 or 2pm) there was a line out the door. The sandwiches are simple, a little greasy and give you all the feels. I equate it to an In n Out type experience for those who are not from California. The rose cava (champagne in Barcelona) was sweet and refreshing, and after we consumed the entire bottle, left us feeling a tad tipsy as we crawled out from the dark interior into the afternoon sun.
If you like these hole-in-the-wall dining spots which are frequented with locals, another great recommendation is El Xampanyet located in El Born. It becomes packed with a young crowd for dinner and late-night drinks and often spills into the street.
If you are looking for something in the tapas category which is slightly more upscale, look no further than Cervecería Catalana, located in the Eixample and has tapas of all sizes and flavors. The Cabreaos – potato fries with egg – were amazing and a very authentic dish. I loved the chocolate mousse with olive oil and sea salt for dessert too.
If you are in the born and looking for some delicious tapas bars, I highly recommend Bastaix, Ziryab Fusionand ELDiset. An awesome breakfast place is Citizen Cafe which isn’t authentic but will fulfill those American brunch feels including fresh-pressed juices
Tips for traveling to Barcelona //
- When we visited in fall of 2017, there was no Uber. There is a local ride sharing app called Cabify which I understand is the solution for those who are looking for an uber-replacement.
- The city is easily walkable, if you stay south of the Gracia district. We took the bus to get to Park Guell, but otherwise we walked everywhere. The local taxis are hit or miss, as they are in most cities so after getting scammed we chose to walk and bus.
- The museums are efficient and making an advance online reservation will save you a lot of headache and missed opportunity. Earlier in the day is best.
- El Born neighborhood is the epicenter (as of 2017) of the local, young nightlife. The neighborhood has all the best restaurants, tapas and cocktail bars and is easily walkable. There are lots of hotels and Air BnBs here and if I were to travel to Barcelona again, would look to stay here.
- Don’t be afraid to try some of the authentic tapas. They may appear “simple” or “weird” but I promise you won’t be disappointed.What are some of your favorite spots in Barcelona??