Barcelona needs no introduction as it’s one of the most visited cities in Europe but, to be honest, it’s easy to get lost in the touristy side of the city and not see the real Barcelona. You could spend your whole trip eating mediocre paella, wander La Rambla, and fighting crowds at Sagrada Familia and leave more frustrated than inspired. Which would be a total tragedy because this corner of the world is one of the most vibrant, creative, and interesting places out there.
There’s no shame in doing a touristy thing or three to make sure you hit up the Barcelona basics but you want to make sure you do it the right way and simultaneously get an insider’s view too. Here are my recs on where to stay, where to eat, and, of course, what to do in Barcelona:
Before You Go
Where To Stay
Boutique on A Budget: Room Mate Anna
As you know from our Milan guide, this Spanish hotel chain is our go-to when it comes to affordable boutique hotels. There are a few Room Mate properties in Barcelona but the central location in Eixample, reasonable price, and decent room size of the Room Mate Anna makes it our top pick in Barcelona.
Waterfront: W Hotel Barcelona
To be honest, most of the time we stay away from American hotel chains when we’re abroad in favor of local boutiques. But the W Barcelona is an exception. Just outside the bustle of the tourist center on the water front in Barceloneta, the W Barcelona has one of the best pool scenes around so you can feel like you’re simultaneously on a beach and a city vacay.
Chic and Central: Soho House Barcelona
The location near the water on the edge of the Gothic quarter is reason enough to stay at the Soho House Barcelona. But add in stunning design, a picture-perfect building, a spa, impeccable hospitality and the only problem is making sure you leave the hotel. Oh, and P.S. you do not need to be a member of Soho House to stay there!
What To Cook
Get a taste of Barcelona before you arrive by cooking up these recipes:
- Spanish-Style Gin and Tonic Cocktail
- Bocadillo Antxon: Chorizo, Fried Egg, and Shoestring Fry Sandwich
- Roasted Red Pepper Romesco Sauce
What To Watch
- L'Auberge Espagnole: A French film that's a cute take on studying abroad in Barcelona
- Vicky Cristina Barcelona: This totally crazy Woody Allen film is all about a love triangle and Barcelona is the backdrop
- All About My Mother: One of the most Almodovar films starts in Madrid but quickly moves to Barcelona
Once You're There
Where To Eat
Even if you’ve never had vermouth before, pinky promise that you’ll dip your toe into the vermouth scene when you’re in Barcelona. And, while there are a lot of places you could go only for vermouth, we’re partial to the casual but classic bar that is Enterpanes Diaz where you can get excellent bocadillos (sandwiches) to pair with your sips.
The other must-have drink in Spain? Sherry. And the perfect place to get a taste of excellent sherry with some modern tapas is Palo Cortao. I went there for an episode of Off Menu and loved that it was nothing but food-loving locals (and that they had ah-mazing jamon dishes)!
The brainchild of the El Bulli alum Mateu Casañas, Oriol Castro, and Eduard Xatruch, Disfrutar is a high-end dining experience that’s worth the pricetag. Be sure to splurge on the chef’s menu with the wine tasting and don’t be in a hurry — promise it’ll be an unforgettable experience.
Neighborhoods To Explore
This is one of the most visited parts of the city by tourists so plan to explore it in the morning or later evening when there aren’t crazy crowds. It is home to the oldest buildings in the city with winding Medieval streets and even part of a Roman wall.
Just adjacent to the Gothic Quarter but with more locals in the mix is the eclectic El Born neighborhood. It’s a largely pedestrian-only area so it’s the perfect place to wander and check out everything from vintage shops and indie boutiques to the gorgeous green space of the Parc de la Ciutadella.
Once you’ve strolled the city center areas — from the Gothic Quarter to Eixample and over to El Raval — make sure to make time for Gràcia. This large neighborhood extends from the center of town to Parc Güell and is worth exploring.
For An Insta-worthy View
You could visit Parc Güell just for the view back on Barcelona or to get a peek into the inspiring architecture of Gaudí, but, no matter the reason, you should make sure to visit. It gets crowded quickly so do your best to get there as soon as they open.
The climb up to Montjüic can be done on foot but we prefer to hop in the cable cars because the trip up the hill gives you some of the most incredible views of the city. And, once you’ve taken in the panorama, give yourself time to explore the whole area as it has everything from the 1992 Olympic swimming pool to a castle, a theater, and a handful of museums.
At the edge of the city is Mount Tibidabo which has the highest view of the city. You can again hop a cable car to make the ascent up the mountain or take a car up there on your way in or out of town.
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Updated February 2018