Spain is known for its captivating culture, delicious food, welcoming locals and perfect weather. It offers impressively diverse architecture as well as spectacular natural landscapes and a sun-drenched coastline. In Barcelona, you can experience all of these highlights in one city! Expat Explore Tour Leader Shabby has travelled to Barcelona many times. She shares her tips on where to go if you want to taste, see and experience the true heartbeat of this popular travel destination.
Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia and is one of the hottest destinations on our European tours. Spain’s second-largest city is most famous for the art and architecture of Gaudi, as well as the many outdoor markets, restaurants, museums and beaches.
Here are Shabby’s top tips on visiting Barcelona and a guide to heading off the beaten track while you’re there:
Barcelona is the Catalan capital of Gaudi, jamón, beaches, wine and an utterly superb Gothic quarter. A visit to this seaside city would, of course, not be complete without a visit to La Sagrada Familia and a ramble down Las Ramblas, but for those of you travel cats looking to explore the sides of the city not seen in the brochures, come explore Barcelona with us off the beaten track.
A 14th-century Gothic-style monastery with a beautiful garden – perfect for a quiet moment, alone with the bird song and trees. Filled to the brim with fine examples of religious art, Pedralbes also charts the everyday lives of the nuns of the Order of St Clare. That it serves as a cooling respite from the scorching midday sun also serves to up its appeal.
In a city full of quirky museums (history of ham anyone?), this museum of funerary hearses set at the entrance to a cemetery has to be the strangest. Take in people’s last rides as creepy mannequins in mourning wear look on. Opening times are as bizarre as the museum so be sure to check online before setting off.
Sagrada Familia? Check. Park Guell? Check. Casa Batlló? Check. If you just can’t get enough Gaudi, the man who built Barcelona, there are lesser-known examples of his work dotted all over the city. Finca Guell in Avinguda de Pedralbes, 7 is private property but worth a look for its iron dragon gate and a visit to Placa Reial will give a glimpse into Gaudi’s early work (FYI- check out the streetlamps).
Though flamenco is much more noted for its gitano communities in Andalucia, Barcelona actually has a surprisingly good scene for a Catalan city. Popular amongst the performers themselves as a place to play, Tablao Cordobes brings the spirit of ‘duende’ right to the touristy heart of Las Ramblas. Bet you didn’t think that could be possible eh?
La Boqueria on Las Ramblas (91) is clearly the most iconic of the food markets in Barcelona, but if you’re looking to dodge the crowds there’s plenty of alternatives in the city… our top pick would be Mercat de l’Abaceria Central, a 19th century market for local people. Alongside an array of ingredients from fish and cheese to veggies and paella, there’s also a sushi place and let’s face it… everyone loves a bit of sushi.
The barrio of Gràcia is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful areas in Barcelona so as you can imagine, there are limitless places of good places to eat. However, for a mere 10 euros per head, you could be tucking into ceviche surrounded by locals at La Singular. Word of warning, though- it’s a small eatery so… booking in advance may be wise!
In Spain, you will find places serving pintxos and this is a must when in Barcelona. A Pintxo is a snack made for one person from a combination of ingredients. From the Basque region to Catalunya, these little toothpick tapas are incredibly popular in Barcelona. Wade through the lakes of second-rate offerings and get yourself to Taktika Berri in the Eixample Barrio for a choice of over 25 hot and cold dishes.
Let’s get one thing straight, Barceloneta may be the closest beach to the city but it is not the only one by a long shot! All are within walking/trekking distance and cater to a different crowd… Mar Bella for the windsurfers (with hidden nudist beach… oo-er), Playa del Paseo Marítimo complete with children’s playground and a half-pipe for skateboarders, La Nova Mar Bella for the women and for those looking for some quiet time, it’s got to be La Nova Icária.
Sadly, the Park Güell of Gaudi fame is no longer completely free to enter but fear not, there are plenty of others to choose from.
Parc de Collserola is by far the most eye-catching 8000 hectares of natural beauty up on the hills overlooking the city with chapels and farmhouses dotted throughout the vista. Best thing? You may also find the antique fairground ‘Tibidabo’ used during the filming of Woody Allen’s ‘Vicky Christina Barcelona’.
Somewhat smaller is Parc del Clot, a homage to Barcelona’s industrial past since the 80s, complete with old railway arches. It’s all in the name but Parc del Laberint is home to a maze of cypress trees! If that’s not enough to whet your appetite for grassy goodness, this is also the ideal place for a romantic stroll with your better half through squares and past waterfalls.
If you ask most people, where to get the best views of the city from above, you’ll surely hear ‘Montjuic’ but if you’re looking for something less crowded, head to the Carmel Barrio to find an old civil war bunker with a 360º panorama. Take wine, snacks and a lover for one of the best sunsets of your life!
Definitely not the cheapest suggestion on the list but at Javier de las Muelas’ Dry Martini, you really get what you pay for- classic surroundings of metal and wood, quality ingredients, white-suited bartenders free-pouring icy gin cocktails as big as your head. A drink will cost ya but it’s definitely worth popping in for one, even if just for the environment as one of the ‘World’s 50 best Bars’.
Definitely chilling down the other side of the affordability scale from Dry Martini, Barroc hits all the right spots. Low prices, baroque décor, cheeky bits of tapas and the sort of mojitos you’d sell your house to have regular access to… win.
Tiny cheap ‘n’ cheerful hole in the wall offering over 150 types of shots… we’re not talking your standard tequila with lime here either. Prepare for chupitos on fire, chupitos with candy, chupitos with surreal names and just about any other sort your brain, fevered by chupitos, can conjure up. Only open between 10.30pm and 2.30am so… make sure you get there on time.
Enjoy Shabby’s Barcelona off the beaten track guide? Follow her on Instagram for food and travel inspiration!
The next time you’re in Barcelona, you’ll have so much more to discover! Make your next trip to the Catalonian capital a memorable one with one of Expat Explore’s exciting rail tours. Hop aboard the two-week Amsterdam to Barcelona Rail Explorer tour to make your next trip to Europe an unforgettable one.