The beauty of Barcelona is bejeweled and multi-faceted. Between the vast array of art museums and Gaudi architecture, to the streets that lead you to early morning coffee shops with bocadillos waiting for customers at five o’clock in the morning, to those early afternoon corner bistros with the Estrella Damm beer you’ve been craving (Limon flavored, of course!) this city winds its way around your mind in myriad ways.
For our stay in this eclectic and diverse city, we chose the Barcelona House, an artsy and friendly hotel sitting neatly in the bustling downtown area of the city, just steps away from the main street of La Rambla, leading to the center of the action. The convenient locale of this hotel and the open-very-late staff were thankfully accommodating. The rooms were modern, clean and comfortable, and our quarters overlooked a residential building that simply added to the charm of the place.
After retiring our backpacks in for the night, still hungry from the flight and looking to explore, we ventured down the main thoroughfare after the sun had set and found ourselves at the El Cercle restaurant, serving excellent wine and a great view of the city’s shopping center from the top deck. In actuality, we couldn't find a bad meal anywhere in the city - the food in Barcelona is amazing!
Despite the cold of Spain’s late autumn, we settled in at the best vantage point while the nightlife in Barcelona walked by down below. And, perhaps because of the chilly night, we were quite happily the only guests at the top of the eatery. The food was amazing and the service, despite the weather, was impeccable. Personally, I’m a big fan of anchovies, and while maybe not a great choice while you find yourself elsewhere and land-locked, the fresh fish here was presented with amazing flavor and quite memorable. (We tried them many places, always delicious in Barcelona!)
In this diverse city there are many centrally-located and beautiful shops and boutiques that are frequented by a mass of visitors and Barcelonans alike. This city is one of both old and new, the new being displayed in it’s rows of high-end shops, featuring the upscale wares of all kinds in the famous Passeig de Gracia.
Day-Tour Around the City
To make the most of a Barcelona trip at a reasonable price, we headed downtown to utilize Barcelona’s Hop On Hop Off bus tour, offering both a blue and red line to see the sights at your leisure without breaking the bank. For about $30 per person you can traverse the city all day. You’ll be taken to the most popular and memorable areas of the city, including the Joan Miro museum, where you can peruse his famous modern artworks in the clean-lined building so befitting of his craft.
Although you aren’t allowed to photograph inside the museum itself, walk through to the second level, an outside pavilion where you’ll see a crisp, stark rooftop with his colorful sculptures, where pictures are encouraged and the view is remarkable. While inside, however, don’t miss the unique mercury fountain, a sculpture commissioned for the World’s Fair in 1937 – an art piece actually flowing in repetition with mercury itself - a must see behind the glass as you enter the main gallery.
In addition to the art along your bus tour, you can view the art of Gaudi in the structures that line the streets, a testament to the artist himself, and a view into the traditional history of the city itself. Ethereal and encrusted in tiles and glass, Gaudi history is truly one of the city’s birthrights, not to be missed. As a student of art in my early university years, these buildings hold a certain provenance of Barcelona for me. Not excessive and tasteless (as the word in mistranslation has come to be known as a colloquialism), but they stand moving and bright, an inspired set of architecture in a flat world.
Restaurants and Markets
The city of Barcelona is highly walkable, and once we departed from our day trip on the bus, we found ourselves happily meandering along the streets, searching for a dinner (and drink!) spot. Our favorite turned out to be Rosa Negra, a colorful and vibrant Spanish restaurant on the Via Laietana, serving the best tacos and mojitos we’d had in Barcelona (or, any city), and in addition to the food and drink, the décor is something to behold. Make sure to ask for their hot sauce, if that’s your flavor, it's not to be missed! Without question, Rosa Negra is the best food we had in Barcelona.
If you find yourself in the famous area of the Sagrada Familia, make your way to the En Diagonal Bar, a tasty and Mediterranean themed eatery with a wonderful outdoor dining patio. Just a four to five minute walk down Carrer de Sardenya from the famous church, this quaint spot offers traditional tapas, chorizo, and excellent sangria. Stop in for a bite after touring this part of the city and you won’t be disappointed!
After you find your favorite eatery, of which there are many to choose from, make sure to check out the Mercado de La Boqueria. This indoor market is an impressive expanse, offering local food to chefs as well as home cooks and tourists alike. As one of the liveliest places we’ve experienced in the city, this market is a welcoming and walkable place for anyone in the vicinity. Take your time and mill about the vegetable and fruit displays, as well as the fresh seafood. Even if you’re not going to break out a kitchen set in your hotel, this market is brimming with flavors you can take home with you in memory.
The Sagrada Familia is in itself an impressive and unbelievable work of art as well as history. Apart from the Catholicism of this church, the colorful Gaudi architecture swirls around every corner and window – perhaps the most breathtaking pieces of the structure altogether. Tickets are currently available for 29 euros per person and is worth the experience no matter if you’re an art major or a simply a fan of the great history of this city.
The Casa Amatller is another one of Barcelona’s beauties. While the tours may be short, you are free to photograph along the way. This astounding Gothic structure envisioned by Gaudi the 1880’s has endeared itself as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1984. Surprisingly, this unique location was once a residential building in the heart of the city, and has since been rightly converted to a museum and library. If you’re visiting during the day, leave the Estrella Damm pint for later and stop into the local cafe, the Faborit, for a cup of their delicious hot chocolate!
Continue through the tour of Gaudi’s masterpieces at the Casa Batllo. This impressive building boasts a façade of balconies that well resemble giant bones and skulls, which juxtapose the well-lit, jovial and colorful windows that adorn the outside. The lines of this structure are mesmerizing as well as a marvel of architecture which runs through the blood of Barcelona.
Visit Salvador Dali in a Day
This is the excursion for art lovers, and especially those in love with the work of Salvador Dali. Leave from Barcelona in the early morning and head to the original Dali Theatre-Museum in Figueres, designed by the consult of Dali himself, before heading to the Dali home in Cadaques (called the Port Lligat Museum House).
The museum is truly stunning, offering a glimpse into the mind of one of the most flamboyant and brilliant artists of modern history. The museum truly lives up to the wishes of Dali, who said, “I want my museum to be a single block, a labyrinth, a great surrealist object. It will be a totally theatrical museum. The people who come to see it will leave with the sensation of having had a theatrical dream.” Come, see and dream.
The Dali home in Cadaques is a masterpiece of artwork itself, having been built for Gala Dali (Salvador’s wife), and the location where the couple lived for more than 50 years before Gala’s death in 1982.
There are a variety of Dali-inspired trips to the region for all budget levels, and all include the beautiful drive through the eastern Spanish terrain.
Take in the Nightlife in Barcelona
Once the sun sets, its time to party in Barcelona! There are endless choices of venues, from traditional Latin music to the soulful sounds of blues bands, take a night and experience the best of the bustling after-hours excitement!
The Mojito Club in the neighborhood of L'Eixample, Barcelona offers fresh and festive Latin music with salsa dancing and great drinks as well. Locals and tourists alike flood the dance floors to move with the beat until 5am - if you can make it till nearly dawn! Offering dance lessons for individuals as well as couples and groups, start out learning a few steps and then grab a mojito and join the crowd.
For a more modern music scene, hit up Razzmatazz in Poblenou, offering five individual rooms as venues for tastes of every kind. The music here mixes up the crowd well with international DJ’s spinning everything from electronica to rock to hip-hop… also until 5am! Check out The Loft area for a more techno crowd, one of the hot spots of the club. In addition to the weekend parties, Razzmatazz brings in live acts during the week for a mellower vibe, depending on your flavor!
The beautiful Barcelona beach area offers another option – a spot that goes from day to night seamlessly at Carpe Diem Lounge Club (colloquially known as CDLC), located right on the Mediterranean in Port Olympic. Offering a calming and serene experience during the day, with food and custom drinks, the night turns CDLC into a lively, fresh atmosphere with lots of energy. Dress well and rub shoulders with some jet-setters here, while sipping a fragrant cocktail by the sea!
Barcelona is a vibrant, 24-hours-a-day delight for all the senses, from the quaint coffee shops offering frosty glasses of Estrella Damm and sardines to the world-class art and bustling nightlife, get lost on every corner and fill your moments with experiences that will last a lifetime!