The ultimate dilemma when choosing where to spend you summer holiday: city break or beach retreat? Lucky for you the incredible city of Barcelona offers the best of both worlds: lazy days on sandy beaches, late dinners, even later drinks and more culture than you can shake a stick at. The city is undoubtedly the cultural hub of Spain where an exuberant, young party atmosphere meets some of the twentieth century’s greatest achievements in art and design. It is also 50 quid return on Ryan Air with cheap booze and a beach. With so many dimensions to the city, Barcelona is exactly what you make it – here are TASTE’s top tips for traveling to the iconic city.
Where to stay
Barcelona is the perfect city break, whatever you bank account and there are plenty great places to be found on Airbnb – just make sure you read the reviews carefully and don’t get caught out by hefty deposit fees. Not ready to take the Airbnb leap of faith? You can still do Barcelona on a budget.
If you are really strapped for cash, look in to staying at the university accommodation over the summer. Stick to Residencia Universitaria C. R. Bonanovain in El Puxtet, a great location just a little further out the city but full of great bars and cafés that are popular with the Spanish locals and a little more authentic than what’s going on in the centre. The accommodation, broken up into small student flats, is extremely basic – we’re talking singles beds, no towels and a shared bathroom, shower and kitchen.
If you are looking for something a little more luxurious but are still on a budget, its worth looking at Secret Escapes and Lastminute.com where you can find great deals on four star hotels. On my last trip I upgraded from the student halls to stay in Expo Hotel which boasted a roof top pool and terrace and clean modern accommodation located right next to the Barcelona Sants Station train station.
Where to eat
Barcelona is absolutely bursting with bars and restaurants but the standards and prices throughout the city can vary dramatically. It’s always best to have a place in mind rather than being sucked into an overpriced tapas bar on La Rablas. Lucky for you, TASTE has plenty suggestions.
First up Bar Lobo, the perfect metropolitan den, tucked in a corner just off Las Ramblas. The ultra-modern space is large and airy complete with oversized Chinese lanterns and dramatic oak décor. While it’s well worth a visit for the design alone, the cuisine on offer is equally impressive. Come in the afternoon and enjoy a bottle of wine on the terrace or join the city’s young crowd in the evening to try a range of classic tapas dishes.
If Bar Lobo is all about the atmosphere, La Maladrina is all about the food – specifically it’s world class steaks for less than the price of your metro ticket. The best steak dinner I’ve ever had was topped off with a five euro bottle of wine, and shots were offered with the bill as a parting gift – what more could you ask for? Down by the pier, this place is a little off the beaten track, but don’t be misled by its humble interior or lack of tourists. La Malandrina is one of the locals’ best kept secrets so it’s best to get here a little early. The Spanish don’t typically eat till nine or ten so beat the rush and get there for around eight.
Not to be missed are the fabulous bars and well-priced cafes in the EL Puxtet area. Hop on a subway to the north of the city and wander round this quieter neighbourhood filled with bakeries, tapas bars and, best of all, plenty of locals. You can always tell how good a place is by how many Spaniards choose to eat and drink there – and this is especially true in El Puxtet. In the evening, weave through the streets and follow the natives to the most packed out bar and order a goblet of gin and tonic. By day you can’t beat Doctor Coffee – order a café latte and a delicious pastry. For a light afternoon snack or a delicious meal on the cheap, head to the local focaccia joint where you can enjoy beautifully made bread topped with fresh ingredients, all made on site.
What to see
Thanks to Barcelona’s amazing metro system you can pack in all the sites in just a few days. While of course the beach is the highlight of the holiday for many Easyjetters heading out to Barcelona, the atmosphere within the city centre is equally electric and not to be left out.
Start your break with a visit to La Sagrada Familia, a vast Basilica designed by Catalan architect Gaudi, that has remained under construction since 1882. Avoid the swarms of tourists and visit early in the day, where you will experience the beauty of the morning light flooding in through the stained glass windows – an unmissable photo opportunity. Even better, do as I did and use your last metro card of the trip, pitch up several shots the merrier and enjoy a full on midnight photofest.
As I’ve already mentioned, one of the best things about Barcelona is that it’s a city with a beach. Tourists tend to head for Barceloneta, but why not try local favourite Bogatell beach- it’s cleaner, safer and a lot less crowded.
Any true nineties kid will remember the episode of Friends (The One with the Video Tapes) in which Joey tells the elusive seduction story of him backpacking through Europe ‘hiking in the foothills of mount Tibidabo’. While visiting the real Mount Tibabdabo might not bring you the luck it brought Joey, it is certainly a sight to see. Standing at 512 meters, it’s the tallest of all of the Collserola mountains and marks the frontier of the Barcelona’s county. It also houses Barcelona’s only theme park with 25 rides, a telecommunications tower and an imposing neo-gothic style Catholic Church. Natch. It’s well worth the walk up from Mount Tibabdo metro station and the dizzying height of the funicular to find the best panoramic view of Barcelona (as well as the best candy floss). For something a little closer to sea level, the Barcelona Bunkers offer a full 360º view of the city, revealing everything from the spiralling city street to the glorious beaches. Built in 1937 and used during the air raids in the Civil War, the site has come to be regarded as Barcelona’s most popular secret space.
No visit in Barcelona would be complete without paying a visit to the legendary Parc Guell. The park is a breath-taking space overlooking the city filled with Gaudi’s remarkable architecture and signature mosaics. While general entry to the park is free, unfortunately they now charges for entry to the Monumental zone, the space where all of Gaudi’s work can be found. Depending on how badly you want a picture with a mosaicked lizard, these tickets can be booked online for seven euros, though it is probably worth mentioning that the average supermarket rose here is a mere two euros. My tip? Take a peek through the gates and some well angled pictures and head to the nearest supermarket with seven euros in your pocket and sense of smug superiority in your heart.
Where to party
Razzmatazz is probably one of the best known clubs in Barcelona – and for good reason. This gigantic warehouse club caters for a huge variety of events and tastes, hosting everything from tech house to electro pop. It’s a little off from the centre but revellers can hop on buses straight to the club from outside Corte Ingles in the city centre and often tickets for events can be bought on the beach from Razzmatazz young PR staff.
What to wear (aka how not to look like a tourist)
The local girls are naturally dripping in the latest finds from sexy Spanish labels Mango and Zara (and unfortunately the less sexy but equally popular Desigual) and while this is undoubtedly a stylish city, shopping is bound to be your last priority when in Barcelona. Instead pack casual but party ready outfits – heels are a no-no here – the look is one part boho one part raver. By day wear Supergas and cat eyed sunnies with a bag that fits snuggly under your arm or across your body (in other words, don’t let the pickpockets immediately target you.)A snazzy leotard or swimming costume paired with shorts is sure to keep you cool when you’re fighting you way through sweaty ravers in the wee small hours. If sightseeing is more your thing, stack some delicate bracelets and pair them with a floaty skirt and a top that let’s the sun bronze your shoulders.
The local lingo
Catalonians, in general, are a feisty lot. With a history of fighting for their traditions, culture and lately, their independence, the people of Catalonia are no pushovers– add this to a mix of clueless British stag dos on packed out metro and things might get a little heated. The best way to win them over is to speak their language – no matter how feeble your grasp of Catalan. Pronunciation is fairly straightforward and of course, is very similar to Spanish. Still no clue? When in doubt, always praise Messi.
Hello Buenos días
Thank you (very much) (Muchas) gracias
You’re welcome De nada
Please Por favor
Excuse me Perdóneme
Do you speak English? ¿Habla inglés?
I’m sorry Lo siento/Perdone
I don’t know No lo sé