“Barcelona, I still long to hold her once more,” sings George Ezra lovingly. The city is indeed one that you can easily fall in love with. Barcelona is a big city filled with culture and commerce, but has an easy and laidback atmosphere. So whether you are there to indulge in food, drinks and culture or if you want to live la vida loca, Barcelona is there for you. Its inhabitants are kind and always love to help. Ask for one insider tip and receive a written list of all the best bars and restaurants in the neighborhood.
The people of Barcelona see their city as the capital of Catalonia more than just a big Spanish city. For this reason the main language is Catalan and not Spanish. The city was hit hard by the global economic crisis in 2008 and again in 2012, but because of its good position as a port city and thanks to thriving tourism, things are getting better. The fact that things are looking up can be felt in the streets, where a relaxed and happy vibe prevails.
In Barcelona you can perfectly combine aimlessly wondering around the city with visiting the exceptional touristy have-to-do’s. The best times of the year to go are spring and fall, when the temperatures are comfortable and the streets are not completely overflowing with tourists. When you look at the listed highlights on every Barcelona city guide you would almost wonder why the city is not called Gaudílona instead… It is extraordinary how artist and architect Antoni Gaudí left his mark on the city. To get a good overview of his work, go to the furnished house Casa Batlló, take a look at museum La Pedrera, go for a walk in Park Güell (and take a picture with the iconic colourful mosaic lizard), and venture to the dazzling, still unfinished Sagrada Familia.
The Sagrada Familia, which people started building in 1882, is definitely not your average cathedral with its organic shapes and extravagant ornaments. Walking through the entrance for the first time is an impressive and breathtaking experience. The height and shapes of the interior make you feel like a tiny little ant walking underneath a roof of leaves and flowers. Be aware, the risk of ending up with neck pains is high! Especially in the afternoon, when the light falls beautifully through the brightly coloured stained glass on the walls of the cathedral and colours it with flaming reds, deep blues and forest greens. This definitely creates a magical atmosphere.
Besides all the Gaudí galore, Barcelona has a lot more to offer. It has a few nice neighbourhoods to wander around in. Depending on your mood and interests choose an area and just start walking.
Gràcia is a charming little area that feels like an independent village, this is partially because it was a town that only joined the city of Barcelona about a hundred years ago. The atmosphere in this typical Catalan neighbourhood is authentic and serene. The streets are narrow and the little squares are filled with terraces where people enjoy a drink and a bite. Because of the slightly lower rent, a high percentage of the residents are students, artists and young families, which gives Gràcia a creative and special character. Especially at night it blooms. Squares like Plaça de Vila Barcelonians fill up with friends and families. Children play on the square until late and fill the evening air with happiness.
Three areas that are connected by location and characteristics are El Borne, Barri Gotic and El Raval. These neighbourhoods are both charming and cool. With a lot of independent shops, vintage stores, cafes and markets, there is no way you could get bored here. Stop by the amazingly crazy and fun vintage store Flamingo Vintage, which also has a bar in the back. Or if you do not like to buy worn clothes, pay a visit to Le Fortune, a cute little store filled with cool brands. The neighborhoods also flourish after sunset, with many bars, terraces and clubs that are all bustling with people at night. Dance to funky beats at Marula Cafe and drink a cocktail at Plaça Reial.
During all that strolling around, you obviously need to make sure you feed yourself properly. So it is a good thing that Barcelona makes you believe you died and entered food-heaven. Food, mostly accompanied by a glass of good wine or a mug of café con leche, plays an important role in the Spanish culture. In the morning it is hard to resist stepping into one of the sweet bakeries and get yourself a pastry. Every late afternoon the city feels weirdly empty for a while, but around eight or nine people come out of their houses and make the streets come alive. Bars are filled with chatting people and the murmurous sound of tipsy laughter. The smell of fried, smoked and baked food seeps through the cracks of the doors and fills the night air.
Somewhere in the middle of the charming Gràcia you will find the equally charming Mama’s Cafe. This little café with courtyard serves delicious sandwiches and cakes. What makes this place even better is that everything is organic. The courtyard proves to be a perfect spot to spend a warm Saturday morning where you enjoy a good-for-the-world-and-good-for-your-belly breakfast or snack and read something or chat with friends.
In the El Borne area is a small and delicious place called Bar Brutal. It is located on Calle Princessa. The street, which feels a bit dodgy and tacky with all its souvenir shops, does not look like the place to be for a nice place to drink and eat. But give it a chance, because this wine bar is a pleasant surprise. During the day it is a wine shop called Can Cisa, so do not pass it because that is the name above the door. The big wooden tables and the wall stacked with wine bottles give Bar Brutal a smoky atmosphere. And even though the name might suggest brutal service, the waiters here feel like old friends. Order one of their gorgeous wines and accompany that with a cheese and / or meat plate. The cheeses are tasteful and spicy and the meats are so tender they melt on your tongue.
If you are in the mood for a delicious and deliciously cheap Mojito go to Rosa Negra. This Mexican restaurant and bar has a fun and sexy interior. The walls are painted in electric turquoises and the air above the bar is filled with old-fashioned fuchsia lampshades. This combined with some interesting art, like painted dolls stuck to the wall or an art piece made of coloured flip flops, creates a fun environment.
There are a few things that everyone who visits Spain for a short amount of time feels the need like eating. One of these things is the typical traditional Spanish rice dish paella another one is the sweet sugary fried snack churros and the last one is obviously tapas. The latter you can find in almost every café, but just to suggest one, go to Bo in on Plaça de Vila in Gràcia and you will definitely have a lovely evening. The chic yet unpretentious restaurant Elche is a perfect place for a first encounter with Paella. It serves different kinds of the rice dish on white table linens. For delicious churros made with a recipe that has been successful since 1968 go to Xurreria Manuel San Román, on Carrer dels Banys Nous. You might pass it thinking: “this can’t possibly be it.” The place is tiny and the interior is completely white – even the lighting. But what it lacks in cute decor it makes up for by giving you probably the best churros you will ever taste. You’ll devour the doughy, fried piece of sweetness without any trouble.
Next stop: Barcelona por favor!