One of the most popular tourist destinations in the world is Barcelona. While there is a lot more to Spain than just Barcelona, so far that is the only place in Spain I have visited. For the time-being, here are some recommendations from my previous two visits:
What to see
For a good oversight of the city, the Bus Turistic, a hop-on, hop-off guided tour, is a good investment. You can see the major sights and understand the layout of the city. With the pleasant weather, sitting on the open upper deck of the bus is enjoyable.
Barcelona is a spectacular place to stroll. You won’t get lost and the city is safe – don’t worry! The city is filled with cute parks, plazas, benches along the streets and so many places worth just sitting down and watching the world pass by. And that is what a lot of locals seem to be doing.
There is a convenient subway system, too, but consider walking if you can. You’ll be amazed with the side of life you see that isn’t filled with tourists.
Park Güell is one of the two most famous sights in Barcelona, the other being the Sagrada Familia Cathedral. The Park includes a portion that requires tickets (generally you need to reserve in advance) that is designed by Gaudi. I am going to say something a bit controversial: you don’t need to see that part of the park.
The larger park can be accessed for free. The biggest reason to skip paying for entry to the Gaudi-designed section is the overload of tourists – no good pictures to be had because so many tourists are in your way. But just as importantly, you can see much of the Gaudi area from trails surrounding it. Plus, the highest spot in the park is outside the paid area and is worth the short hike to reach the stunning vista it offers.
Sagrada Familia also requires a ticket. You may find it worthwhile to visit the inside, but much of its spectacular design is visible from outside, as are many of Gaudi’s other buildings. Basically, it is a question of how much time you want to spend in the company of tourists versus seeing the entirety of the city.
Where to eat
The best thing to do in Barcelona is eat, in my opinion. So many options for such good food. The locals tend to eat late. We arrived once at a restaurant at 7:00 pm and were offered the lunch menu. More and more restaurants are adjusting to be able to seat visitors as early as 7:00 pm but you should expect to generally eat a bit later than you may be used to.
Cervesaria Catalana – This excellent and popular restaurant has doubled in size and now operates from 9:00 am – 11:30 pm every day. Still, you may have a bit of a wait as they do not accept reservations. The menu is mostly small plates to share. Best bet is to order from the menu of the day and also ask the wait staff to suggest dishes for you. Let them know what you are looking for (“some seafood, some beef, etc.”) and don’t just ask “what’s good?” Located at Carrer de Mallorca, 236.
Napa – Drawing parallels between the food of Catalonia and its namesake region in California, the cozy and hip Napa Restaurant is making some creative food that offers a good value for the money. Located at Carrer d’Aribau, 151.
9 Granados – Seeking to set itself apart on the Barcelona dining seen, 9 Granados explores a broader range of Mediterranean food with portions a bit larger than typical tapas bars. The setting is hipper and less formal, a fun place to dine with excellent food. Reservations suggested, especially for the outdoor seating. Carrer d’Enric Granados, 9
La Tere – well off the beaten path for tourists but on a charming pedestrian street just around the corner from a square where you should catch a pre-dinner drink, La Tere offers more contemporary tapas with some hints of Asian flavors. Friendly staff and tasty food makes this place worth seeking out. Carrer de Riego, 25.
La Flauta – Classic, reliable tapas restaurant open from 7:00 am – 1:00 am at Carrer d’Aribau, 23,. A bit crowded around dinner time. You can visit their second location, La Flauta II, at Carrer de Balmes, 164 for a bit less crowded option and friendly service.
El Nacional – essentially four restaurant and four bars located in a building on Passeig de Gràcia dating from 1889 that has been beautifully restored. It is essentially a food hall, giving you many options and a hip and buzzing scene. Food is from across the Iberian peninsula.
7 Portes – this classic Barcelona restaurant dates back nearly 200 years and is the home of authentic Spanish paella, the baked rice dish that is a feast. The smartly-attired waiters provide professional service that is not at all stuffy. Well worth a visit. Located near the port at Passeig d’Isabel II, 14.
Barcelona is also known for its churros, the deep fried sticks of dough often served with a thick cup of hot chocolate for dipping. Two of the best are listed below:
Xurreria Trebol is a street-front shop offering dozens of varieties of churros. Grab yours and go at Carrer de Còrsega, 341.
For something a bit fancier, stop by La Xocolateria by Oriol Balaguer for a proper sit-down churros experience. Located at Carrer de la Fusina, 5, right next to the worth-visiting El Born Cultural Center.