Barcelona. I can’t stay away from it. The culture, the architecture, the beach, the food, the people. It’s an explosion of awesomeness on so many levels.
So here is a quick guide to where I ate, drank and was merry on my most recent Barcelona weekend – updated!
Now before I go on, I have to qualify this post with the disclaimer that my travel buddy and I have spent a lot of time in Barcelona. We’ve been to all the museums and sites of Barcelona. So this trip had the basic aim of eating, drinking and generally soaking up the laid back atmosphere of Barcelona in the spring. My tips are accordingly refreshment-related.
If you’re flying in to Barcelona for the weekend, chances are you’ll arrive fairly late on a Friday. And there’s only one thing to do once you dump your bags at your hotel – hot foot it to Bar Celta in the Barri Gotic. It’s a pulperia (specialising in octopus based dishes) but has a variety of tapas for those not so aquatically inclined. It’s basic and very rustic, but oh so delicious for a late night intro to your Barcelona weekend.
Saturday morning saw us head to the home of the best coffee in Barcelona, Aussie run Federal Cafe in the very pleasant neighbourhood of Sant Antoni. As it’s located off the main tourist drags, the crowd is mostly local with a few discerning overseas visitors. For another brunch option, you cannot go past Caravelle in the Raval. Best breakfasts (that will last you until well into the afternoon) in Barcelona. They had me at their croissant-cheesecake-french-toast all-in-one extravaganza.
Don’t overindulge in brunch at Federal Cafe, though. Just down the street is my favourite old-school ice cream shop, Horchateria Sirvent. If a mid-morning ice cream is too much for you (although why wouldn’t you, you’re on your holidays), then opt for the tiger nut milk drink. It’s a slightly sweet nut milk that will give you the sustenance for your next stop…
La Boqueria Market. This famous food market on the Ramblas is a feast for the senses. Yes, it is overrun with tourists, but locals still come here to stock up on the weekend’s supplies. The stall owners do cater to the tourist crowd well with little take-away grazing sized portions of jamons and other cured meats, cheeses and bit sized morsels of fresh goodness. Stock up on jamon to take back home with you.
For a very similar, and more authentic (i.e. less overrun with tourists) market experience, head to the Mercat de Sant Antoni. I much prefer it to La Boqueria market, mostly because it is unburdened by the tourist hoards, but partly because of the fabulous little oyster and cava stall.
A spot of shopping is always in order, so we moseyed up the Passeig de Gracia. Not only is this glamorous boulevard home to some rather fabulous shopping (from high street favourites to high end sparkle), it also hosts the incredibly mad Gaudi works, La Pedrera and Casa Batllo.
All that shopping makes a girl work up quite the appetite. So El Nacional was our next stop. It’s a Barcelona institution. This old but incredibly chic warehouse offers you a choice of restaurants and bars, all decked out in the most photogenic Art Deco style. We started at the oyster bar, and moved on to La Taperia where the tapas is so well done. Here we discovered my personal highlight of the whole weekend: the pan con chocolate with olive oil and salt. Mind blowing and life changing in one simple dessert.
And if you find yourself mooching around the Eixample and in need of a tasty treat, I stumbled across the most mind-blowing little churreria called Xurreria San Roman. They make the most magical pastry: if a churros and a cannoli got together and had a baby, this would be the result.
Post lunch, we decided we deserved to treat ourselves to cocktails in the sunshine. With a view. Just up the Passeig de Gracia from El Nacional is the Mandarin Oriental. And on top of the Mandarin Oriental is the most chilled yet chic rooftop bar. Gorgeous views of the city stretch from Mount Tibidabo, down the treeline boulevard to the sea. What’s not to love?
Another cocktail fave is the ever so edgy Two Schmucks in the Raval. The cocktails are to die for, and the two schmucks themselves are the perfect hosts for your visit to the divinely chaotic neighbourhood.
Sufficiently hydrated, we headed into the Born and Barrio Gotic districts for more mooching around the charming, independent boutiques. My top picks are:
- Lurdes Bergada, for it’s perfect linen summer dresses and co-ordinates. It’s a local mother-son design house, all made in Catalunya;
- La Manual Alpargatera, for espadrilles. It started as an espadrille workshop in the 1940s and there are still people making the fabulously summery shoes in the same spot, together with the biggest array of espadrilles you could wish to browse through;
- Miista Barcelona, it’s a London-designed shoe store, but the directional footwear of Miista is made locally in Spain.
- Coquette for its eclectic stable of fashion labels (from Isabel Marant Etoile to Nanushka) and its minimal take on boho interior.
- A little further away in the Raval district is Carton, the studio of Felix Lozal. Here he concocts the most divine creations all in cardboard. From fantastical chandeliers to coral-like lamps that look like they have ben plucked from the ocean bed. You’ve got to see it. Next door is an equally impressive interiors store, CoCo Raval, with a collection of modern local designer wares.
Dinner that night took us beachside. A bit further out of the centre of town is Xiringuito Escriba. It’s on the beach, it has the most amazing paella, it’s rustic and charming. It’s the perfect dinner spot.
Other excellent options for dinner are:
- Bar Cañete in the Raval district. Its a cosy local tapas restaurant with a strong heritage, using the freshest of local ingredients. Don’t be put off if there’s a few tourists there. It hasn’t become a victim of its own popularity.
- For something very casj, very hip and very Mexican, head to La Pachuca in the Raval. Another favourite of the local hipster scene, it gets crowded so be prepared to wait for a seat or get there early. The margaritas are perfection.
- La Gresca restaurant in the Eixample neighbourhood was perfect for a special meal (the tasting menu couldn’t be faulted), but if you get a table in the more casual bar area, its a great dinner or lunch option. Every dish is done just beautifully.
- The absolute highlight had to be the michy-starred Disfrutar. Started up by two ex-El Bulli chefs, this is a tasting menu I’ll never forget. Every. Single. Dish. The staff were charming and attentive. The wine pairings were unexpected, but actually made the entire experience a magical one. The waiting staff gave us instructions on how to eat each course, and it quickly became apparent why: the dishes are created in the most creative way, and appearances were deceptive. Be prepared to be surprised and delighted with each bite.