Barcelona is one of my favorite cities. It is uniquely ambiguous. Does it feel like Spain? Of course it does. But it doesn’t feel as “Spanish” as Madrid, and thanks to the Catalan influence, French will sometimes get you by better than English (or awful Spanish, ahem). A city of varied European vacationers, international professors, artists and everything in between, you will not feel out of place. The one thing that has struck me both times I’ve visited Barcelona, though, is the amount of wealth the vacationers have. Maybe it’s the proximity to the sea, but the restaurants along the ocean must make massive profits. I’d see groups racking up “I’m a new banker” tabs. A little atypical of other cities I’ve visited in Spain, but like I said, Barcelona feels like everyone is on some sort of vacation.
I usually give the highs and lows of everything. I mean, skepticism has its place. But Barcelona has me at a loss. There were some mediocre places but everything was generally incredible. Here are some of my favorite things to do in the city categorized by eating (my favorite), drinking (close second but I have my life together), adventures, and museums.
Best Tapas: Pepita and Ciutat Comtal
First you should know that despite Ciutat Comtal being on the restaurant’s doors, most places have it listed online as Ciudad Contal. What is the real name? No clue – just know that it’s on Rambla de Catalunya.
Both are pretty damn close to perfection. The difference: showmanship. Ciutat is the woman on chopped who turned panna cotta into a frozen treat. Pepita is the mom who said “that’s cute” and told you to eat your panna cotta as is because it’s delicious. Pepita folks are nice but it is normal restaurant service with spectacular food. Ciutat’s doors open to a bar full of men telling you to try everything in the display glass. This is probably why my college friend (who’s now a Barca local) recommended Pepita while the hotel and websites recommended Ciutat. Both have the best tapas in Barca, imho – if you have time, do both. And you must eat razor claims everywhere you go in Barcelona because they’re so so good.
Best Hidden gem: Bosque Palermo
Have you ever been to a place where the dust reveals its greatness? Not the most modern looking place and no one really speaks English, but this was the meal that kept giving. Enormous and tasty paella, perfectly garlicky steaks and a bottomless carafe of “house” wine. Not bottomless in the US sense, but there were four of us and we could never hit the bottom. For the low low price of about 3 euro. Who am I to turn down magic?
Best Beach Eats:
What’s great about Barcelona is that there are restaurants right on the Barceloneta beach. Great views plus you can towel off and go straight to a seat. Surfhouse buzzes with lots of good looking folks and has great food and cocktails. True to the beach theme, they offer a variety of seafood filled burritos, nachos, and burgers. While filling, the food is pretty clean and light. They also have acai bowls and the like for those of you who think you can cure your hangovers with berries. And for those who are wiser (or choose to pretend such logic is bs), there are waffles with Nutella. The drinks are also tasty. Surfhouse has my favorite mojito of all time (obviously notwithstanding Cubaocho in Miami).
Most people recommended Barceloneta (the restaurant) for water views and good paella. Ehhh…did not love it. So, during my second visit to Barcelona, I tried Bestial out. Right on the beach, the views are great and the atmosphere is all types of cool and breezy. Unlike Surfhouse, you will want to knock the sand off and wear pants. The paella was very good but the reality is you’ve gotta go further south for good paella. Perhaps it’s sacrilegious but you know it’s true.
If you like gin like I do, Barcelona is a match made in heaven. Most people say, “why do you like gin? It tastes like pine needles.” Dramatic and not true. Beefeater tastes like pine needles. These gins? Flavors of hibiscus, rose, cucumber, you name it. Bobby Gin is the most understated yet impressive place you will find for fun with its twenty varieties of gin. The bartenders are also super friendly and realize that you become more friendly (I’ll speak for myself) as you consume said gin. The moral of the story is that this is the place.
Hotel 1898 does a lot. Of course it hotels (and does so very well) but it also rooftops. Yes, rooftops can verb. On this rooftop, there are great views and delicious cocktails. This hotel introduced me to gin goblets and gin cocktails with cherries. I could go into further detail but it’s kind of self explanatory.
I preface this with the fact that there are a lot of places you could go for a day jaunt from Barcelona. Costa Bravo, Girona, Monserrat, etc. I just so happened to love the day trip that we took to Freixenet. Freixenet is a cava producer in Sant Sarduni d’Anoia, easily accessible from Placa de Catalunya. The train ride is only about 30-40 minutes and offers a nice tour of Catalonia. Freixenet offers a 90 minute guide of the cellars and a history of the winery. At the end, you can taste wines (the best part!) and if you’re anything like me, you’ve only had Freixenet’s Cordon Negro or as some of my friends know it as “the Trader Joe’s cava in the black bottle.” But the winery has different shades of Cordon Negro, including Rose, and a variety of flavors that are not available in the states.
Even though Camp Nou is in Barcelona and easily accessible by bus, train, or walking, it is an adventure. Europeans love their soccer (sorry, football) but next to Romans, this might be the craziest soccer crowd I’ve seen. First, the stadium itself is worth a visit. It is beautiful and has a neat museum where you can learn more about the team. Second, even if you know nothing about soccer (hi!), you will be into the energy of the building. I’m still wondering why soccer games end in ties but this was a lot of fun.
There are many. While you have to visit Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia, there’s another Guadi that is a must: Casa Battlo(pronounced Casa Bayo by the recorder woman at the museum and Casa Bat-e-yo by the locals I met). Word of advice, don’t try to get it right, you’ll get endless “huh” looks. Battlo is a house that Gaudi designed with courtyards and a rooftop. Sufficiently eerie and lovely, it is definitely worth a visit.
This museum does just what it says it will do: give you a tour of the city in the museum. But the most interesting part? The excavation remains that tell the story of old Barcelona.