We are in Lisbon, Portugal tonight, but still savoring the flavors of Barcelona. More to come soon…
We love Barcelona. Between the two of us we’ve visited the Pearl of the Mediterranean six times in the last decade. We were super-excited leading up to this trip; older, wiser, and ready to explore a city we’ve loved individually together (and with Natalie’s folks).
Barcelona is full of wondrous activities. We were only there for 4 nights this time around, but given our previous visits we had a good idea of what we wanted to accomplish and throughly enjoyed our long weekend. Here are some of our favorite things to eat, see, and do in Barcelona.
Eating in Barcelona is a pleasure. The capital of Catalonia is influenced by its location on the Mediterranean and tapas reign supreme. Pork is a mainstay of the Catalan diet, but in celebration of being on the coast, and it being the height of summer, we steered towards delicious fresh seafoods and rich summer produce.
Eating In / DIY
The first place to start your gastronomic adventures in Barcelona is at the famed La Boqueria market located just off La Rambla. You might be thinking, ‘Really? A real, down to earth, shopping paradise located just off the most touristy and notorious walkway in Barcelona?’ The answer is, yes. This market is legit. Prices are reasonable and it’s stocked full of just about anything you could want to eat. Not only is it a practical place to shop, but it’s also a window into understanding Catalan, Spanish, and Mediterranean cuisines.
You’ll find the raw, seasonable ingredients that should be featured at all the best restaurants throughout Barcelona. Spain has a great diverse climate and therefore can grow just about anything in the right season, and that’s reflected across La Boqueria. On top of grocery shopping you can score some great snacks or a fully prepared lunch on the cheap. If you’re on a budget, shopping and eating at La Boqueria will not only make your dollar stretch, but expose you to some of the finest bounty Barcelona has to offer.
Barcelona is jam-packed with restaurants. It can be a bit intimidating, because like in any large tourist city that means there are a lot of potentially bad choices waiting to be made. It pays to do your research. Pushy street touts abound, but stand firm because not all tapas are created equal.
We tended to have lunch (bread, cheese, cured meats, fruit, and wine) on the cheap at our apartment and then head out to a pre-planned dinner.
Three of our favorite Barcelona restaurants are:
- Tickets Avinguda Paral·lel, 164 | + 34 932 924 253 — Tickets is Chef Ferran Adrià’s new(ish) Barcelona restaurant. If you don’t know Adrià by name, you’ve undoubtedly heard of his former restaurant El Bulli, the restaurant that redefined modernist cuisine and put Spain at the center of the foodie map. Tickets is Adrià’s homage to la vida tapas. Natalie’s parents took us for our engagement and we were all wowed by some of the best tapas we’ve ever had the pleasure to consume. Tickets serves the elegance and culinary style that made El Bulli famous, without all pretentiousness that often comes with that style of dinning. In fact, Tickets is one of the most lighthearted and whimsical fine dinning experiences we’ve ever had. A table at Tickets is one of the hardest tickets in all of Barcelona. You can only book online, at midnight, exactly 2 months from the day you want to go. Reservations disappear within minutes every night. We’re definitely glad we had a reservation for our four-top, but have heard couples can score a walk-in seat at the bar by showing up for the 7:30 opening. The Tickets experience is oh so worth the effort, and an unforgettable meal worth every penny.
- Cal Pep Pl. de les Olles, 8 | +34 933 107 961— Cal Pep is possibly Barcelona’s most well-known and intimate tapas experience. If Tickets is mind blowing, Cap Pep is soul satisfying. The ambiance and attitude at Cal Pep is cool and casual. The food is incredibly fresh and prepared to highlight individual ingredients to their fullest. The focus is primarily seafood, but there are some delightful “surf and turf” combinations that will satisfy just about any appetite. The chef and owner, Pep Manubens, is omnipresent, making sure that the food comes out correctly and that customers enjoy the show. There is no menu, just the day’s freshest ingredients served with love. The lines tend to be very long, so make sure to come early to get one of the coveted bar stools facing the open kitchen. If you are looking for the “true tapas experience” Cal Pep will not disappoint.
- Can Majó Almirante Aixada, 23 | +34 932 215 455— If you have a hankering for paella, Can Majó is just the place for you. Barcelona is full of paella fakers, places that use frozen ingredients, bad saffron, and over cook/burn their rice. Can Majó does not fall into that category. Situated in the hip and beachside neighborhood of La Barceloneta, Can Majó serves up great seafood paella with a stunning view. Make sure to call ahead and book at table on their outside terrace. We opted in for their house speciality, which included 4 different sizes of gambas (shrimp) along with an assortment of delicious shell fish. If you need that fix that only paella can fill, Can Majó will hook you right up.
Barcelona is jammed pack with tourist attractions. Some more exciting to others. We didn’t spend much time on the normal tourist circuit but we did see some sites worth a visit.
Here is a quick glance at two of our favorite sights:
- Parc Güell — Far and away our favorite tourist attraction in Barcelona. A creation of Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, touring through Parc Güell is about as far down the rabbit hole most of us will get. (Without substance abuse). Construction of Parc Güell began in 1900 and ended in 1914. In fourteen short years Gaudí manage to create a park unlike the world had or has ever seen. The park has endless examples of Gaudí‘s nevou gothic architecture, as well as communal lounging areas, view points, and trails that lead every which way through the park grounds. The park itself seems to have a life of it’s own, everywhere you walk you encounter new and interesting sites, from full on reggae shows, to Beethoven piano concerts, to freshly made cocktails being served as the most unlikely of locations.
- La Sagrada Família — No trip to Barcelona would be complete without a visit to La Sagrada Família. We aren’t huge on visiting huge churches, sure we did on our visit to Rome, (do as the Romans do right?) but La Sagrada Família is no regular church. Designed by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, the construction of Sagrada Família commenced in 1882 and has been a tourist attraction in Barcelona ever since. Gaudí‘s unique gothic style has made it’s mark all over Barcelona, but nowhere is it more magnified then the Sagrada Família.
There is no shortage of things todo in Barcelona. We enjoyed our four days by passing the time slowly and at our pace. We didn’t hustle out the door every morning, and we didn’t engage in Barcelona’s famous late night nightlife. That said, we feel as though we DID it right.
Here are some of our favorite things todo in Barcelona:
- Eat — Pretty obvious right? Well we felt the need to say it again. Barcelona has been one of our favorite places we’ve eaten so far. We love the Spanish, Catalan, Mediterranean fusion that Barcelona has to offer. Just stay informed on the good sports and avoid the tourist traps like the plauge and you should come out on top of the Barcelona food scene too.
- Spend a late afternoon at Parc Güell — Why a late afternoon? Because that’s when the sun is a bit less oppressive, and there are fewer tourist there. Parc Güell should be given at least 4 hours to fully explore and discover all of it’s delights. Stroll your way all the up to the top for a spectacular view of Barcelona, then slowly make your way down hill, stopping to check out the site, the music, and hopefully the hand made mojitos like we did.
- Walk everywhere — When touring in Barcelona, you should walk everywhere. Not only did we find the city completely safe and non threatening, but it’s flat, and beautiful. Antoni Gaudí‘s architect and influence can be seen throughout the entire city. The streets are lined with beautiful people, cafe’s, restaurants, and buildings. Sure the public transportation is great, and there are tons of taxies everywhere, but we find that walking everywhere we really got a sense for Barcelona’s people, neighborhoods, and culture like we couldn’t have otherwise.
- Walk down the beach / Jump in the Ocean — Sometimes the fact that Barcelona is a beach town gets lost in the frey. Well we are here to say that Barcelona’s beach life is alive and well. Not only is the boardwalk worth a stroll in its own right, but the beaches offer plenty of tanning space and the water is calm and oh so swimmable.
- Relax in Placa Reial — Formerly the home to Catalan royalty, Placa Reial is located right off La Rambla and is a beautiful place to relax at a cafe, have a beer, or people watch the day away. We often found ourselves in Placa Reial morning, evening, and night. Yeah, it’s a bit touristy, and yes, it was a stones throw away from our apartment, but we loved the ambiance, the street performers (sometimes), and the over all grandeur of the plaza itself.
- Buy beer from the street hawkers and drink it on some 500 year old steps — The first few times that I (Cliff) went to Barcelona it was all about the crazy expensive club parties or pub crawls. Well, needless to say that wasn’t on the agenda for this trip, nor was there any desire from either of us to club it up with a bunch of 18 year old backpackers. The best way to enjoy a evening drinking in Barcelona, is to buy a beer (or two, or six) from one of the passing beer hawkers in the old gothic neighborhood’s winding streets. Walk anywhere in this neighborhood after 8PM and you shouldn’t have an issue finding a guy selling beers for 1Euro a piece. Usually icy cold, delicious Estrella (Spain’s answer to Budweiser). Find a nice perch full of people doing the same, and just sit back, relax, and enjoy beer after beer. (Don’t worry about finding it, after you buy one they know where to find you)