Barcelona, for so many reasons, is one of my favourite cities in Europe. Its lively, friendly and relentlessly energetic atmosphere is entirely unique, and seems to be in a state of perpetual fiesta-fuelled summer-y-ness. Although the city sprawls across a huge expanse of land, and can at times seem overwhelmingly big, the narrow, winding streets help to make the city feel homely and intimate. The food here is mouth-watering, the mojitos are strong and plentiful, and there is always something fun to see; thanks to my sister being an (albeit temporary) resident, and living in the heart of Barcelona, I was able to experience the city from an insider’s perspective.
Scroll on for my definitive list of what to do and see in each area.
Barcelona’s Gothic quarter is one of the smallest and oldest areas of the city, and is also perhaps the best example of the traditional architecture that most people associate with this part of Spain. Bookended by La Rambla and El Born, this is arguably the best place to base yourself for a trip to Barcelona, as it’s in walking distance from pretty much everything you would want to see.
WHAT TO SEE:
Plaza George Orwell
One of the most unusual sqaures in the city, thanks to its controversial sculpture and artistic graffiti, the name of the Plaza pays homage to British 20th century writer George Orwell: fittingly, a security camera has been installed next to the plaque. Very Big Brother-esque.
Meaning the ‘royal’ square in Catalan, this courtyard-style plaza is dotted with palm trees and surrounded by regal, elegant architecture. Grab a coffee or a beer in one of the many restaurants strewn across the square, or simply take a quick break by the grand fountain: either way, this small but beautiful area has something on offer for everyone.
WHERE TO EAT:
Carrer de la Ciutat, 5, 08002 Barcelona, Spain
Located on Carrer de la Ciutat, this edgy, modern coffee bar is a hipster’s heaven. With its high ceilings, clean-cut shapes and motivational neon wall art, you would never imagine this cafe to be found in one of the Gothic quarter’s winding, labyrinthine streets. The coffee is strong and wonderful, and the donuts are to-die-for.
WHERE TO DRINK:
Carrer de Rera Palau, 4, 08003 Barcelona, Spain
If you’re a lover of all things weird and wonderful, then Paradiso is the perfect bar for you. Upon arrival, you may think that you have the wrong address: it seems to drop you in front of an empty butchers’ store. But think again: this speakeasy cocktail bar is actually hidden behind a fridge door, leading you through a luxurious, red velvet curtain and dropping you straight into the 1920s. Whatever your cockatil preferences, you can be sure to be served your drink in the most extravagant way possible – be it in a conch shell, a wooden monkey skull, or even a steaming bell jar (don’t worry, I was as confused as you are).
Carrer de Bellafila, 3, 08002 Barcelona, Spain
The name of this snazzy, cosy cocktail bar comes from the front door: you can only get in via a rickety wooden lift, which makes up the entrance. Once you’re inside, you feel like you’ve stepped straight into an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, with its traditional 1920s decor (which has been preserved exactly as it was originally decorated). A definite must-visit for anyone who loves a delicious (and strong) cocktail, and a lively yet sophisticated atmosphere.
Similar in many ways to the Barri Gotic, and situated directly next to it, El Born is known to be one of Barcelona’s most picturesque and elegant areas. It has all the charm of the old Gothic historic centre, narrow streets and colourful squares included, with the added bonus of being right next to the beach.
WHAT TO SEE:
Carrer dels Banys Vells
Probably my favourite ever street in the city: it’s home to a variety of funky, hippie-tastic clothes and jewellery stores, bright and bold street-art and jam-packed bars. Located right near the Picasso Museum and leading straight down to the beautiful Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar, it’s the perfect place to stumble across during a stroll around the area.
WHERE TO EAT:
Bubo Tapas Bar
Carrer de les Caputxes, 10, 08003 Barcelona, Spain
Soak up the vibrant yet laid-back atmosphere of the Basilica’s square in this traditional-yet-trendy tapas bar. With a glass of sangria in one hand, and a perfect view over the goings-on of the street, I challenge you not to be wholeheartedly (and whole-stomach-edly) satisfied after a delicious meal at Bubo.
WHERE TO DRINK:
Carrer dels Banys Vells, 6, 08003 Barcelona, Spain
Warning: one of Barcelona’s most famous and well-regarded mojito bars has earned its accolade with good reason. Don’t be fooled by its unobtrusive exterior, as inside this cosy, local hideout, bathed in a warm red glow, is a plethora of homemade gins and VERY strong mojitos. Not for the lightweight or faint-hearted.
Montjuic & Poble Sec
For what is arguably the best view over the Barcelona skyline, Montjuic is 100% worth the (very steep) climb; stretching for miles and miles, everything from the Barceloneta beach to Mount Tibidabo can be seen from this viewpoint, punctured also by the towering glory of the Sagrada Familia. A perfect way to spend an afternoon for anyone feeling energetic (or wanting to power through the mojito-induced hangover from the night before).
WHAT TO SEE:
Set against a backdrop of lush green gardens, high above the Placa d’Espanya, this palace is one of the grandest and most majestic buildings in Barcelona. Enjoy a wander around the grounds, or venture into the art gallery if you’re feeling cultured: but make sure to stop and take a picture (or 20) of the view across the plaza, with its 4 iconic pillars.
Montjuic Public Pool
Boasting what is potentially the best view over Barcelona, Montjuic’s public swimming pool is a well-kept secret. Upon arrival, you descend a labyrinthine set of grey stairs, which seem to transport you down into a concrete dystopia. Yet setting foot at the poolside, you are greeted by a view which stretches all the way from Montjuic to Tibidabo, displaying Barcelona’s haphazard architecture in all its glory.
The pool itself is part of the old, semi-abandoned Olympic park, making it one of the largest in the city. Open from 11am – 6:30pm, 7 days a week, this is the perfect spot to enjoy the Spanish sun, and hide away from the crowds which flock the streets of central Barcelona.
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK:
L’Atelier de Blai
Carrer de Blai, 38, 08004 Barcelona, Spain
Pinchos, a.k.a. the best invention in the world, are basically large tapas dishes served on bread. Simple, maybe, but life-changingly delicious. And the best place to try this speciality? Along the Carrer de Blai, just nestled at the foot of Montjuic: a street along which you will be absolutely spoilt for choice. The bar/restaurant L’Atelier de Blai is a personal favourite, serving extremely generous glasses of sangria to accompany the pinchos.
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