20 Mar Look up! – Barcelona city guide 2018
Barcelona is heaven in city form.
You can breakfast in a shady square, stroll to the beach for a swim, enjoy a lazy lunch looking at the sea then shop your way back to your hotel. In the evening you can eat until your tummy asks you to please stop, before drinking until dawn – all within walking distance.
I am lucky enough to have visited Barcelona for work and play many times. Yet, every time I find new places to eat and drink – and new places that wow me with their unique style.
Here are my latest discoveries…
Pez Vela, on the Barceloneta (Little Barcelona) beachfront, is close enough to the sea that the seafood on the menu may have hopped right out of the water and onto the plates. It certainly tastes that fresh. We shared a paella – and it was ‘close your eyes and hum with each mouthful’ good.
Forget bus tours and tourist crowds, the best view of Barcelona’s skyline, including the still unfinished Sagrada Familia cathedral is from the 9th floor café in the El Corte Inglés department store on the Plaça de Catalunya. Now, I am not normally a huge fan of big shops, especially when there are so many lovely little ones to discover. But, this café has windows that offer views to rival any private roof top bar.
And the wine’s okay too.
Look up on the corner of the street…
You never know what you might discover. Barcelona is a city that could well cover every era and style in the Wikipedia entry on ‘architecture’. And there are playful touches everywhere you look, like this rain-ready dragon flying high above the corner of Cuitat Vella and La Rambla.
I can’t pretend that I understand the maxim of Barcelona’s Maxo gallery:
‘The full denial of art in its purest state of expression.’
Maybe their translation has let them down. Maybe I am simply too mainstream.
The gallery, in El Born, is a delight for the senses though. From the toy train curling its way around the ceiling, to the minion (Yes, minion. Maybe that counts as a denial or art?) who dances when you press the right button, to the box frames showing 3D scenes of Barcelona made from photos and photomontage.
We left smiling.
My other half Andrew likes to get lost so that he can find new places.
Which is how we found the Mercat el Born, a vast covered market in the trendy el Born area. Within five minutes – maybe four – of setting foot through the big glass door I was in love and wanted to eat everything I could see. I cursed our hand-luggage only airline tickets and contented myself with wandering from stall to stall gazing at Iberico hams, manchego cheese, artichokes the size of melons.
Next time I will take a big suitcase….and fill it!
Where to stay
This time, I booked us into the Petit Palace Boqueria, on a side street just off La Rambla, in Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter.
The corridors and rooms in this hotel were designed by someone who simply loves purple. If you can look beyond that they are comfy and, if you ask for one overlooking the courtyard garden, surprising peaceful for such a centrally located hotel.
My favourite thing about this hotel are the free bicycles next to the reception desk…they might not brake as quickly as you hope on your first attempt. But you can be on the Barceloneta seafront and whizzing down towards the Hotel des Arts before you can say, “Coming through – brakes not brilliant!!!”
There is only one thing better than seeing Barcelona on foot – and that is whizzing through the streets of the Gothic Quarter on a bike. When your borrowed bike doesn’t have particularly responsive brakes, well that just adds to the excitement!
Where to eat
I have yet to have a bad meal at La Bona Sort tapas restaurant in el Born. And because my best friend (and longtime Barcelona travel companion) has a thing for their salted padron peppers, I have been quite a few times over the years.
Their tapas is divine and their Albarino white wine slips down far too easily. Luckily the bill is never horrifying.
Where to drink
I usually drink only white wine – either fizzy or ‘still’ as my Kiwi friends refer to all non-sparkling vino.
However, the cocktail list – and the sheer theatre of the cocktail-making process – at the newly opened Dr. Stravinski bar in el Born turned my head.
I left with my head spinning after just one cocktail and will be sticking to white wine in future. It was an amazing cocktail though.