Barcelona is one of my favorite cities in spain; it's one of the best european travel destinations for everyone from foodies to beach bums and JET SETTERS alike. i recently went back with my husband for a week and took detailed notes and did major research, including meeting with locals, to provide you with the best possible recommendations for planning your next trip. Here's A link to a custom google map and a list of my top type A picks for what to do when you're not taking a siesta!
Top 10 Type a Tips to Know Before You Go to Barcelona:
- The airport is a good 25 minutes away from the city center and is a pricey taxi ride. Instead, consider taking the Aerobus which takes you to and from the airport for about 5 euro one way, stopping at a few major points around the city. We were able to walk or take a cheap taxi to our hotel from the convenient drop off points. Be sure to know which terminal you are going to because they are very far apart and if you get dropped off at the wrong one it could take you about 30 minutes to get to the correct one (something we learned the hard way!). There are free buses that run between the terminals frequently, but if you are there early in the morning or late at night they will be hard to find. It costs a minimum of 20 euro to take a taxi between terminals and we only had 17 euro on us and a 10 dollar bill and we had to pay it to get a ride, otherwise we would have missed our flight. It was a nightmare!
- Tipping in Spain varies, but 10% is a reasonable tip at any restaurant.
- Like most of Europe, you need to request the check when you're ready to go. Just say, "La Cuenta, Por Favor" or signal your server by writing into the air and you'll be on your way in no time.
- In Barcelona, Catalan is the local language, not Spanish (a conversion of Spanish and French). So if you're using a translator app (which you should!), you will need to swap between Spanish and Catalan depending on what you're looking at. Even if you don't speak the language, you want to know how to say Thank You at the least. Be sure to say it in Catalan instead of Spanish so that you do not offend anyone, and although it is very similar, it's not the same. Thank you = Grathias NOT Gracias. Got it?
- There is free wifi all over the city. Wifi hotspots are at every metro stop so you can always connect if you're lost, are in a bind or just need to check my blog for where to go next.
- There's so much to see spread across the city, so I definitely suggest buying a metro pass so that you're not limited to one area. The metro is very easy to navigate, comes often and there are convenient stops near all the major attractions. To make it easy, get a 10euro pass that covers 10 single uses, which can also be shared between multiple people. The pass is also transferrable to the bus system and if you get off of metro, you can use that same pass on the bus within 2 hours without having to swipe again.
- Uber and other "taxi" like services are outlawed in Barcelona, but Taxis are pretty prevalent and safe - just keep in mind that most of them are cash only so stop by an ATM.
- Each time you use an ATM you are usually charged a fee by your bank and by the ATM, so get a good amount out each time. Banks usually limit you to around $150-200 each transaction, but you can call them and request a higher cash withdrawal limit so that you can avoid all those unnecessary charges.
- Most places have stopped using swipe only credit cards, so it's better if you have one of the cards with a chip in it. Also note that European credit cards often have pins and will ask you for one when you are charged. You can either add a pin to your card by calling your bank or just press the green button when asked for a pin and hope it doesn't stop you (we were fine doing that 90% of the time).
- Hostals (opposed to hostels) are smaller hotel accommodations, many similar to boutique hotels. They vary in price and in rating, just like anything else, but are worth checking out because I found them to be much more intimate than the larger hotels in the city.
My husband was working in Barcelona so our hotel options were limited to a certain price range and let me tell you that this isn't a cheap city to stay in. So I had to improvise a bit... this is where I learned about hostals. Hostels are pretty much banned from my vacation vocabulary, so when my husband suggested that we stay in a hostal I was pretty sure he confused me with his dream wife. But then I did a little research and discovered that hostals are actually smaller hotels with only around 10-15 rooms and can actually be really nice, with a much lower price tag.
We stayed at Casa Mathilda and loved it. For less than $75 per night, we had our own beautiful room with a king bed, bathroom, desk and bath robes. The decor is simple, pretty-chic, with everything you need for a comfortable stay - including a mini fridge (important for those late night leftover cravings). There's a bright and beautiful communal dining area and a spacious outdoor patio for enjoying an afternoon glass of sangria. It's also in a safe/swanky part of town, just a short walk from Sagrada Familia and close to major subway stations so you can get anywhere quick.
Dining Options Fit for Foodies
On the surface, it may seem like the only food being made in Spain is deep fried tapas; however, with a little insider knowledge (thanks to my new friend Ruth who has lived in Barcelona for over 10 years) and willingness to venture outside of La Rambla, you'll find that there are some pretty amazing restaurants that few tourists ever experience. Here's my list of favorites, ranging from cheap eats to moderate meals, some well known spots and some hidden gems. Keep in mind that you can pretty much walk into any tapas restaurant and be just fine, but I'm leaving those off the list since they are everywhere. I've also included a link to a custom map so you can find a delicious spot wherever you are in the city.
Obsessions del Raval
Obsessions was hands down our favorite restaurant in the city, so much so that we went two nights in a row! Now this is a true local spot - you won't find English menus or crowds of tourists; Obsessions is only for those in-the-know. It's also the most inventive, creative and delicious spot we we've been to in a long time. The owners are a fabulous husband and wife couple and the husband is the head chef, who is actually trained as a pastry chef, which is perfectly displayed in every dish he creates. For example, he makes an incredible foie gras dish with a savory chocolate sauce that blew my mind and his deconstructed cheesecake is to die for! Everything from the delicate presentation to the depth of flavors is what makes this my #1 foodie destination in Barcelona. Surprisingly, it also comes with a very reasonable price tag - less than any mediocre spot on La Rambla. I only wish I had photos, but both nights I was too busy savoring every bite to remember, so you'll just have to take my word for it (sorry!). **They used to be at a different location, so I linked to their Facebook page with the correct address. You can check out their TripAdvisor page for reviews, but make sure you get the address from the Facebook page or you'll end up in the wrong spot.
This is definitely the most touristy spot on the list, but even locals will tell you that Ciudad Condal is one of the best spots in the city and it's also been one of my all time favorites (I go multiple times whenever we are in Barcelona and crave it until we go back!). Unless you get here early for dinner, plan on pushing your way to the hostess stand putting your name in for a minimum of a 30 minute wait... and no they do not take reservations. It's loud and crowded, but part of the fun and worth the wait. Last time we ate there we got out at 1am and there was still a long line going out the door to get a table! Keep in mind that they do have English menus so be sure to ask for one if you need it - but here's my must order dishes:
- Sangria! Oh man it's good. I suggest ordering a half liter or a liter depending on how thirsty you are.
- Mixed Salad Plate - it's a combo of five cold salads. Think more like tuna salad rather than caesar salad. It's my favorite thing on the whole menu and is definitely enough to share between 2-3 people. It comes with a few pieces of pan de tomate, which are so delicious - basically bread with fresh pressed tomato and olive oil on top. Be sure to get an order of this if you don't order the salad plate.
- Pimientos de Padron - non spicy green peppers grilled and liberally sprinkled with salt.
- Potatas Bravas - Fried potatoes with a mayo sauce drizzled on top.
- Hueves Estrellados - I didn't remember the exact name of the dish, but thanks to an awesome reader, J.R., he kindly reminded me! It's basically means eggs (usually over easy/runny) splattered over french fries/potatoes.
- I've never had a bad dish so order more until you're full!
- They have delicious desserts that change daily and I've loved all of the ones I've tried.
Picnic is in the Borne district and is the perfect restaurant for a light, fresh lunch with unique options and their menu del dia that includes 3 courses and a drink is a steal! Everyone that works here is extremely kind, making you feel like you walked into a friend's really well decorated kitchen for a meal. The chef is extremely detailed and inventive with his flavor profiles, while being committed to local, seasonal ingredients. The fried green tomatoes and ravioli were my absolute favorite dishes and a refreshing reprieve from the heavy breaded dishes that tempt you around every corner of the city.
In the mood for something ethnic, then Mosquito is your best bet, serving seriously delicious dumplings and noodle soups on the cheap. The British owners spent a great deal of time in Asia perfecting the art of Chinese tapas. They also serve a wide variety of craft beers, including my favorite, Lambic, which aren't easy to find. Be sure to order a bowl of the wonton noodle soup and pork dumplings.
If you are near La Rambla and want some delicious food amidst the tourist traps, head a few blocks over to Sensi Tapas in the Barri Gotic. It is a bit more touristy and higher priced due to the area, but it will not disappoint for a great dinner. It's small and fills up quickly so make a reservation to avoid the frustration of having to go somewhere else because of the wait. Favorite dishes: burrata with three tomato textures, Normandy-style casserole, and the truffle ravioli.
La Tasqueta De Blai
La Tasqueta De Blai is a traditional pinchos restaurant and great for a quick lunch or dinner. Everything is self serve on small plates at the bar with toothpicks in each tapa and costs $1 each. At the end of the meal they count how many toothpicks you have so they know what to charge. This is a great way to try a bunch of different tapas without fear of a large bill - but do keep in mind that the toothpicks add up fast when you're having fun!
Experiences and attractions
Barcelona is a city that has it all - striking beaches, world renowned architecture, luxury shopping, old world culture, championship sports and high-end experiences to meet the needs of every traveler. Be sure to check out my custom Google map to see where everything is in relation to where you are so that you can efficiently plan out your visits.
Parc del Laberint d'Horta
Don't worry about pronouncing the name, everyone knows it as Labyrinth Park. It's a 30 minutes metro ride out of the city center, but is worth the journey for the gorgeous views, romantic gardens and immaculate maze of cypress trees. The cost is around $5 per person (free on certain days) and provides hours of exploration. It was definitely one of my favorite sites in Barcelona, mainly because it was so tranquil compared to the crowded streets and constant noise of the city.
Aire de Barcelona Spa and Roman Baths
Aire de Barcelona is Spain's premiere luxury spa and is the epitome of high-end experiences. From the moment you step foot through the doors of Aire de Barcelona spa, you are soothed by the aroma of fresh cloves and cinnamon and it is evident that you've entered a world of serenity and leisure. In the dim candlelight of the brick laden spa cave (as I like to think of it), you'll discover pools of varied temperatures, a jacuzzi, salt pool, jacuzzi and steam room. In the main corridor you'll find water and delicious hot mint tea, very much like the tea I had when visiting Morocco for the first time... I think I sat there drinking an entire pot all to myself it was so good! Guests are let in in 2 hour waves, so you'll have this time to enjoy the various pools either until the 2 hours is up or until you are called for your scheduled treatment. I had the full Aire Experience scheduled, which included a hammam treatment (full body scrub) and 60 minute massage, which was serious heaven after the long days of traveling. Just be sure that you make an appointment as this place fills up fast, even during the off season! Check out my full review of this incredible spot on the blog, with all of the Type A details you need for an effortless spa experience.
Antoni Gaudi tours and hot spots
If there is one name that represents Barcelona worldwide, it's Antoni Gaudi, the city's most famous artist and architect. His life and legacy can be found all throughout Barcelona and should not be missed. Here's my suggestions for a great Gaudi crash course.
Free Gaudi Walking Tour by Hostel Culture
Hostel Culture offers free, English speaking walking tours that meet daily in front of the cathedral and an entertaining, Gaudi guide will take you on a 3 hour tour all over the city pointing out Gaudi's greatest works along the way. Since I didn't know much about Gaudi, this was the perfect way for me to learn on the go, while also meeting new friends and getting tips from a local expert. There's no need to reserve a spot, you can just show up when and where they specify and join the tour (don't worry, you don't have to be staying in a hostel to attend). A couple things to keep in mind: there's almost 4 miles of walking so bring comfortable shoes and a bottle of water. Also, while the tour is free, you should absolutely tip your guide as it's the only way they make any money; 10-20 euro per person is a proper tip and still way cheaper than any paid tour you'll find.
Honestly, you don't need to pay to enjoy most of Gaudi's works, except for Sagrada de Familia. It is magnificent just from the exterior, but it's truly breathtaking from within and one site you simply can't miss. Now, I've been inside what seems like hundreds of cathedrals from Rome to Paris, but I've never seen anything like what Gaudi created to honor God and represent deep faith. I suggest making online reservations so that you can skip the long lines at the entrance (during peak season you could wait hours) and it's worth the extra couple bucks to get a full 1.5 hour small group, guided tour of both the outside and inside of the basilica so that you have a better understanding for what you are looking at (the audio guide does not do it justice!). Ticketbar is one of the best guide companies that works directly with Sagrada Familia to ensure tickets and a timely entrance. Tours depart several times a day, but be sure to check the website for exact times when booking your tour. **Note - it's not necessary for you to print your tickets, the guide will have your name and number in your party when you show up at the meeting spot (I hate having to find a printer when I'm traveling so this is a plus!). If you plan on going without a guide then there's no need to plan more than 2 hours to explore, but I would still suggest buying tickets ahead of time and skipping the line. No matter what route you take, I promise you it's an experience you'll never forget.
Park Guell is a large modernist park, just outside the city center that showcases some of Gaudi's works. The majority of the park is free, with one section blocked off unless you purchase a ticket - which in my opinion is entirely unnecessary. The only way to get here is by bus (or to drive of course), but it's relatively easy to get to and buses run from the city center often. You get some gorgeous panoramic views from this area and it's a great spot for a picnic and a hike, but not much else. Unless you have a lot of time in Barcelona, this should be last on your list of sites. Also keep in mind that there's a good deal of walking that you have to do and it's the last place I'd want to be on a hot summer day!
Attend an FC Barcelona Game at Camp Nou
If you're a soccer fan, watching an FC Barcelona game is one of the greatest experiences you could ask for and there are only so many opportunities to watch Messi play live (one of the greatest players in the game right now). Soccer is treated like a religion in Spain and Camp Nou is the Vatican. For a couple hundred dollars, you can spend an unforgettable evening cheering on the best team in Spain along side local fans. No scheduled games during your visit or don't want to drop that kind of cash? No problem! You can still take a tour of the stadium through Ticketbar for a fraction of the cost and enjoy the history and beauty of this world renowned stadium.
la boqueria market
La Boqueria Market is a great spot to explore and people watch. It is definitely a tourist spot being right off of La Rambla, but I absolutely love produce markets where I can get a feel for what grows locally. Be sure to stop in and grab a fresh juice drink for 1 euro, I especially love the coconut because it's so deliciously creamy!
Get all of the recommendations above in one cool, downloadable map!