As anyone who has had the severe misfortune of having a conversation for more than 4 minutes with me will know – I once lived in Barcelona for a time and so I’m the perfect person to write the following piece.
It should also be noted that I very recently got back from a holiday to the city and so all of this information is brand-new and up-to-date. Not like any of this Lonely Planet crap.
Gone are the days when Ryanair would label Reus and Girona airports ‘Barcelona’ and you’d be expected to spend an extra 2 hours on a bus journey into the city. Now you’re pretty much guaranteed to be flying into El Prat airport – conveniently located just on the outskirts of the city.
Getting to and from the airport is relatively simple – you can either take a taxi or take advantage of the rather excellent Airport Aerobus service that runs every 20 minutes from both terminals. It takes around 35 minutes to get into the unofficial centre of the city at Plaça de Catalunya and it’s only €5.90
Where to Stay
Barcelona truly is a tourist city and there’s more hostels, AirBnb’s and hotels dotted around it’s streets than anyone could ever care to imagine. It’s also true that many of these places get full up very quickly, so you’ll have to be a serious early bird to catch a good bargain.
In terms of the best places in the city to stay I’ve personally always concentrated my sleeping around the Gothic Quarter of the city because not only is everything then within easy walking distance, but you’re also only a short walk to the beach.
Other great areas to stay include Raval, Poble Sec and the area north of Plaça de Catalunya between Passeig de Gracia and Diagonal. Anywhere else and you’re probably going to spend most of your time on the Metro or getting blisters in your Birkenstocks.
What to do
As you’d expect from a large metropolitan city, there are literally thousands of things to do in Barcelona, especially considering it truly is a city that never sleeps. Therefore, the best I can do is offer my suggestions on what to do based on what I’ve done.
A word of warning though – my holidays usually consist of me eating too much, drinking too much and getting sunburnt.
Barcelona is one of only a rare set of large cities in the world that benefits from all the trappings of being a major commercial centre whilst also possessing a decent beach. Now, it might not be the most attractive of beaches and it must be said that it gets very, very busy on here but the beach over in the Barceloneta area of the city is perfect for sunbathing, reading the latest Jackie Collins and getting pished. If you can’t be arsed moving from your spot, there’s always some dodgy geezer on hand to sell you a beer (never pay more than a Euro) or there’s a really good supermarket around 10 steps off the sand.
The city’s biggest and easily best club, Razzmatazz is a HUGE warehouse-looking monster that houses 5 different rooms all with different music and programs at any one time. There’s something for everyone here whether it’s dancing like a dick head to trance, chatting some shit out on the rooftop smoking area or grooving like a legend in the 90’s room – if you can get bored in here – I’m sorry, but you’re boring. I should also mention the guy who sells samosas outside too – they’re the best samosas you’ll ever have in your life – buy one and be nice to him please.
Razzmatazz, Carrer dels Almogàvers, 122, 08018 Barcelona
El Bosc de les Fades
This weird little oddity is hidden away in the rather rubbish Barcelona Wax Museum – so it’s quite an easy one to miss (or just not want to bother with). It’s actually pretty good though. Basically they’ve recreated a little fantasy garden in a bar, complete with water feature, loads of foliage and the moon. It’s a lovely little place to take someone for a few drinks – romantic in many respects – and it’s dark as shit so if you want to start necking at any point – you can do without being disturbed.
El Bosc de Les Fades Passatge de la Banca, 7, 08002 Barcelona, Spain
George Orwell Square
Always my go-to place in the Gothic Quarter, George Orwell Square is home to a decent selection of bars and restaurants, all set around a nice little square (obviously) that is also good to just sit in and eat kebabs and drink street beers. Bar Oviso is a great place for a few gins and a bit of a nibble, while Vegetalia Gotico serve up some fantastic veggie dishes that even proper carnivores will enjoy. For a real treat you should also get yourself to the fantastic Quick Greek who serve up probably the city’s best Gyros that won’t make much of a dint in your traveller’s cheques.
The Gothic Bars
Head on down to the Gothic Quarter on any night of the week and you’ll be certain to find a whole host of weird and wonderful bars in which to get sloshed in. Walking through the warren-like streets can sometimes be a bit confusing but luckily enough there’s usually a busy place just around the corner.
Personal favourites include the 80’s themed Polaroid Bar which comes complete with a little ET on a bike about the bar, Manchester Bar which has an excellent 2-4-1 happy hour offer and a jukebox that will make you feel right at home and ‘The Bollocks’ which is exactly what it says it is and is the perfect place for a few mega-strong cocktails. I also highly recommend Machete Latino Street Food because not only is their food fantastic but they also do a truly wonderful margarita. Head on down on a Monday for €4 Margs and on a Tuesday for €1 tacos – both of which will blow your socks off.
A bit of a Barcelona institution, La Xampanyeria is located in the back streets on the way to Barceloneta beach and provides a window into what many places used to be like in the city before all the tourists moved in. That’s not to say that you won’t find any here – it’s usually packed to the rafters with them – looking to get hold of some bocadillos or sip some cava in a truly authentic setting. Jostle your way in, get as much as you can from the counter and then go sit in the street and enjoy.
La Xampanyeria, Carrer de la Reina Cristina, 7, 08003 Barcelona
La Sagrada Familia
The poster-child for any and all tourist shots of Barcelona, la Sagrada Familia is certainly a must-see attraction for any visit to the city and even though you’ll find a gaggle of snap happy tourists around every corner, the building itself is very, very impressive. With the date for completed construction stretching out into sometime in the next 25 years, you could be excused for thinking that this is just an example of the classic workman laziness – but it isn’t so. The Gaudi designed structure is SO complex and intricate that it has taken over 130 years to build already. I wouldn’t bother paying the money to go inside – unless you’re really into God (or architecture).
Another of Barcelona’s pretty impressive super-clubs, Sala Apolo is right in the centre, wedged in the middle of the Raval and Poble Sec areas. Again this is a multi-roomed affair and its old life as a theatre is clear to see straight away. It’s quite common for there to be music concerts on in here before it turns into a club so if that’s your bag then check out the listings below and see if there’s anyone decent on.
Sala Apolo, Carrer Nou de la Rambla, 113, 08004 Barcelona, Spain
All the Gaudi Buildings
As well as his most famous work – la Sagrada Familia, Barcelona is pretty much the unofficial museum of all things Antoni Gaudi with a wealth of his work on display around the city and even a fabulous park in the north that overlooks everything.
One of my favourites is up on Passeig de Gracia and is called Casa Mila – you can’t really miss it – it looks a lot like a huge wasp’s nest if I’m being honest with you. Another is Palau Guell on Nou de Rambla, enjoyed because I used to like right next door to it and could examine it in detail from my balcony every day. Finally, there’s Parc Guell which is lovely to walk around, has some fantastic views and features a whole host of mosaics and intricate architectural designs. Of course there’s more but I’m not going to sit here and list them – just Google it.
Vintage Shopping in Raval
The area of Raval used to have a bit of a bad reputation but as with most places around the world with such handles – it wasn’t really warranted. Unless you go to some parts of Honduras that is – they REALLY are shit holes of the worst degree. Anyway, Raval is a great place to wander around on an afternoon and there’s quite a few vintage shops knocking about where you’ll be able to bag yourself something cheap and brilliant. Want a Silk Cut t-shirt for 1 Euro? Look no further than Carrer de la Riera Baixa and Carrer de Joaquin Costa.
Mercat de la Boqueria
I’d wholeheartedly endorse the decision to avoid la Ramblas altogether – it’s a cesspit of hawkers, pickpockets, annoying tourists and blokes dressed up like Transformers who demand €5 off you if you even just look in their direction. There’s a couple of good things on there though, one of them is a huge Carrefour supermarket and the other is Mercat de la Boqueria, the rather famous food market that most people who visit Barcelona just seem to end up wandering around. Sure, it’s nowhere near as good as it used to be but there’s still plenty of great places to grab a bite, buy some weird food or just do what I always do and get pished up.
Mercado de La Boqueria, La Rambla, 91, 08001 Barcelona
Anyone who has ever eaten at a tapas restaurant will have enjoyed a lovely plate of Patatas Bravas. The little cubes of fried potatoes, topped with a spicy tomato sauce and garlic aioli are the perfect finger food alongside a couple of dozen Estrella’s and word on the street is that this little place in the Sarria district of town offer the world’s best. The jury is out on whether this is actually the case – but many, many people believe it is so and I for one would agree with them around 80% of the time. It’s certainly some of the best Patatas Bravas I’ve ever had but the BEST IN THE WORLD? I’m not 100% on that. Get yourself there and make your own mind up.
Bar El Tomas de Sarria, Carrer Major de Sarrià, 49, 08017 Barcelona