In anticipation for the easing of travel restrictions, I'm recapping our last trip to Barcelona and compiling my HFL-approved recommendations for a weekend to remember.
I may be #hungryforlife but recently I've been seriously starving for some travel. No lie, the past few nights in a row, I have dreamt about drinking wine in Barcelona which I'm taking as the universe's way of saying "write this post NOW." Message received loud and clear. So here is my round up of all the sites, activities and restaurants you can't miss out on if you're headed to Spain anytime soon.
When I think Barcelona, I think narrow walkways, balconies full of laundry, sandy beaches and the freshest seafood imaginable. To me, the city is full of vibrant people, tiny flavourful bites of food and the sweetest sounding guitar music you'll ever hear. Kalo and I actually extended our trip because we were having so much fun and didn't want to leave. That's how you know everything I'm about to suggest will be muyyy bueno. But quick disclaimer, we were last there in 2018 so definitely do your own research as I'm sure plenty of rules, opening times, etc. have changed since then.
We stayed at two fabulous hotels. First, Hotel España located right in the historical heart of Barcelona. Want to be in the middle of the action? Then Hotel España is the place for you. To mix up the vibe, I also recommend Eurostars Grand Marina Hotel down in the port of Barcelona. Swanky is the word that comes to mind. Whichever you choose, you'll be in good hands and have the opportunity to experience Barcelona from a couple different angles. Now, let's get into the exciting things there are to do, see and, most importantly, eat.
As touristy as it is you need to meander your way up and down La Rambla, a long pedestrian street that is Barcelona's central hub for souvenirs, street artists and massive pitchers of sangria. At the very top of your bucket list should be sitting at one of the many restaurants and downing jug after jug of sugary sangria. It's just plain good fun. And once you're a bit tipsy you simply must get walking, get your bearings then get lost again. I encourage you to weave in and out of the plazas that border La Rambla, stop for melt-in-your-mouth fried squid at Restaurante Tobogán and buy items you don't need from the many kiosks along the way. You'll have a blast. Guaranteed.
Keep in mind that walking can only get you so far. Another great way to see the city is on what else? A scooter! Head to La Bikeria, a great little shop with the friendliest staff. By renting a scooter, you'll be able to zoom down tiny streets, past beautiful cathedrals and along the sea. It's a little nerve racking at first but in no time you'll begin to feel like a local. Plus there is something sexy about holding on tight to your honey all day (wink wink).
The last item on your "do this" list should be to plan the perfect beach day because you can bank on some gorgeous weather! We were there in May and I don't think we saw one cloud the entire trip. Barceloneta Beach is the most popular and as you can imagine pretty packed but it's by far the easiest to get to on foot. There are chairs and umbrellas to rent if you get there early plus plenty of bars that'll deliver drinks and snacks right to your spot in the sand. I'll never forget the Spanish gentleman singing "cerveza beer, cold beer, fresh beer" up and down the beach all day (and I mean all day). I think Kalo and I were his favourite customers but as long as I live I'll have that song stuck in my head. For more quiet playa options, I have my sights set on Bogatell, Nova Icària, Ocata, Montgat and Castelldefels.
Mercado de la Boqueria is seriously impressive and worth an afternoon on your itinerary. Imagine stalls upon stalls, as far as the eye can see, selling everything from octopus to olives. I distinctly remember all the cured ham legs hanging from practically every available space. Now, I'm sure I've mentioned before that I hate ham but the thinly sliced, salty jamón offered to market-goers is absolutely to die for. If you get lucky, I highly suggest bellying up to one of counters for a couple rounds of tapas. Seats are hard to come by but the food these vendors are cranking out is spectacular.
If you're anything like me, you can't go to Barcelona and not see some traditional flamenco dancing. The show at Palau Dalmases makes for a truly magical evening. I'm talking long, ruffled dresses. Serious, passionate expressions. Intricate beats. Strong stomping. Intimate, moody venue. Check it out. You're welcome.
And of course I can't have an "all things Barcelona" post without talking about Gaudí. His architectural design aesthetic is unlike anything I've ever seen with all the unusual, funky lines, curvy structures and use of mosaic tiles. La Sagrada Familia, although under construction, is truly a wonder to behold. Unfortunately, we didn't have time to go inside but I can't wait to set up a tour the next time we are in Barcelona. Instead, Kalo and I spent a full day wandering through Park Güell. This is not your average park. There is something new and colourful to see with every twist and turn in the path. The best part is finding a shady spot to listen to local musicians jam on their guitars.
To polish off this post I'll be speaking my love language ... food. Euskal Etxea Taberna has, in my opinion, the best pintxos, or Basque-inspired appetizers, in town. Tucked down a small street, this restaurant knows how to top crusty bread with the most exciting ingredients. It's important to note that some etiquette is required when visiting an authentic pintxos bar and luckily for you all I've made an idiot out of myself enough times to know right from wrong. First find a place to stand as pintxos are to be eaten at the bar. Help yourself to the food laid out but keep in mind, that it's not an all-you-can-eat buffet no matter how tempting. Take a gander at the menu behind the bar as that'll feature yummy hot dishes like croquettes made-to-order. Don't stress over not knowing what in the hell you're eating. Take a risk! Part of the experience is trying new things and flavour combinations. And finally, whatever you do save your skewers to be counted when you're ready to pay and leave.
In search of ridiculously delicious paella and the best bird's eye view of Barcelona? Martínez sits on top of Montjuïc, offering diners rich rice dishes along with a beautiful panoramic of the city and port below. You'll want a seat on the patio surrounded by lush plants, lobster tanks and a full oyster bar. That magnificent moment when the waiter placed a massive, steaming paella pan in the center of our table is one I will cherish forever. Pro tip. Remember to scrap up the crusty soccarat. It's all about the caramelised, crunchy goodness at the bottom which is a sign of an excellent paella.
Fun fact. Barcelonians eat dinner rather late starting around 9-10PM. It takes some getting used to but that's when the heat of the day disappears and the dishes tend to be lighter than lunch. Estimar is the ultimate hole-in-the-wall hidden gem. There are maybe 12 tables, low ceilings, views right into the kitchen but the seafood on ice in the middle of the dining room is the real showstopper. Your meal will be pricey but the experience is truly special and the food is pristine. I also highly suggest Marea Alta for a romantic dinner. Up on the 24th floor of the Colón building, this restaurant transports you directly onto an ultra-modern fishing boat. Request a table by the window, sit back and enjoy your grilled fish!
Last but in no way least, you can't leave Barcelona without visiting a cafe to dunk some churros into warm melted chocolate. It's pure heaven. At La Pallaresa Xocolateria Xurreria you'll find tender churros, lighter than air whipped cream, deep dark chocolate and strong coffee. The inside isn't much to look at but the lines outside the door let you know this spot is a real treasure.
I'm afraid that's the end folks but hopefully I've done my job and inspired some of you to book a trip! There was plenty Kalo and I didn't get to do so I've been keeping a little list for future trips. So far, the Picasso Museum, cava tasting, tapas at Tickets and a cocktail bar crawl are at the top. Be sure to send any recommendations you have my way. I hope to see you soon, Bar-TH-elo-na.