I like flying at night. You see the lay of the urban landscape in a way you just don't during the day -- the streetlights lining the arteries feeding the beating heart of the city, the dimly lit limbs leading to outer hotspots.
It was a fitting end to my week-long trip to Barcelona, because it's a city that seems to come alive at night. The heat is a little oppressive during the day -- it didn't help that we were there during the first week of July, like dumbasses -- and the pace is quite slow and quiet, particularly if you're away from the tourist hot-spots. At night, though, the plaças and ramblas fill with friends meeting up, families walking their kids and dogs (so many cool dogs!), and of course all of us tourists, all until well after midnight.
Interestingly, a lot of people have been surprised when I told them that we stayed for a week. I think it's a nice way of travelling though, because you start to feel at home, like you're a part of the city. You're also not rushed off your feet trying to fit everything into a weekend, which is ideal during the height of summer. There is also so much going on in Barcelona that you won't struggle to find things to do...
We stayed in an Airbnb in El Poblenou, a beautiful neighbourhood a little way out of the centre of town (approximately 20 minutes by Metro). Our accommodation had a pool, so we could escape the heat of the late afternoon when temperatures reach their peak without having to trek to the beach (a five minutes walk away, what a hard life AMIRITE) and deal with the sun and the sand and the umbrella rentals (which we did splash out on during our first day because we had to wait to check in). Also our hosts had a dog (LOVE U COCO) and some brilliant recommendations.
- La Sagrada Familia. Buy tickets online to avoid queueing up in the hot Spanish sun (€19.50 for an audio or tour guide, but we went for the cheapass option of €15 without guides. It's an extra €4.50 to go up the towers). Keep in mind that tickets sell out fast for the next day, particularly the morning sessions, so I would plan ahead! I would also recommend the museum underneath the church, which is full of information about Gaudi, design details of the church, and the history.
- Park Guell has some stunning examples of Gaudi architecture -- I loved the hypostyle "room" with the columns and ceiling mosaics. This is another one where it's good to book ahead, but it's pretty affordable at €7 for a regular ticket; this gets you into the "Monument Zone". We didn't go into the rest of the park which is freely accessible. The gift shop is possibly the most interesting looking gift shop you'll ever see from the outside, but I wouldn't bother spending much time inside. If you're really keen, go to Gaudi Experiencia down the hill -- this has a gift shop with much of the same products, along with a statue of Gaudi where you can #selfie to your heart's content, plus some pretty good aircon (hey, it's hot, I sweat a lot).
For something a bit different -- look out for events on posters, through word of mouth, and googling.
- La Fira del Poblenou (Poblenou Craft Beer Festival) was on that weekend. You paid for a glass, and could then try beers for €2-3. Plus there were street food stalls and music.
- The monthly Palo Alto Market features arts and crafts, music, street food, and booze, which all takes place in an abandoned tyre factory turned lush garden and events space.
- Piknik Electronik is one for the electronica fans (and even those who aren't really, like me) and even has a family-friendly picnic area. The heat got to me that day though and I had to leave early :(
Food and drink
My favourites in Poblenou:
- Can Recasens' foyer is filled with racks of wine, hanging cured meats, and boxes spilling over with fresh local produce -- they really take pride in the provenance of their food. Go there for the massive wooden platters of cured meats and cheeses, and the awesome salads.
- El 58, also known by its French name le cinquante-huit, was a recommendation from our host Sandra, and holy crap I'm so grateful. It's popular and you may have to go on the little chalkboard wait list, but it's worth it. They serve tapas with some clever French and Asian twists, along with some great service. The cerviche was a revelation.
- El Tío Che has counters and an internal seating area that opens out onto the cross street. We ate our totally excellent gelato on one of the giant traffic island things all down Rambla Poblenou with seating and space for stalls.
- Can Paixano was another host recommendation, and it seems to be a bit of a Barcelona institution. It's a tiny bar with standing room only, where the team behind the counter serve tourists and locals alike with curt nods and barked orders. Bottles of cava are €5-7, and most of the menu is under a fiver.
- La Boqueria was crowded, colourful, and fun -- get a fruit juice for €1, a cone of jamon, and maybe some cheese to takeaway (we also got some cured meat which we had for breakfast for a few days afterwards). We sat down at Casa Guinart, one of the restaurants on the edge of the market, and had a tasting plate of Iberian ham, patatas bravas, and the first of my Barcelona gin-tonics.
- Speaking of gin and tonics -- the Spanish seem to be really into them! I didn't get to any dedicated gin bars, but most places will serve several brands of gin and tonic, along with flavour additions like cloves, basil, juniper berries and the like. I REALLY LIKE SPAIN CAN YOU TELL.
- Brunch culture isn't big in Barcelona (see nightlife notes above), but if you're craving a bit of home, try Federal Cafe. Kiwis and Aussies will be familiar with the format (it's owned by an Australian) -- counter full of cakes, decent eggs on artisan bread, good coffee, smoothies, etc. I really liked my cold quinoa porridge thing. Solid.
Things to try, in general: biscuits (we came across this place); tapas; pintxos (similar to tapas, served on bread and held together by toothpicks); fideuada (a Catalan version of the paella, made with noodles); pan tomaca (thin crusty bread with garlic and tomatoes rubbed over the surface, served with practically every meal); ALL OF THE SEAFOOD.
Miscellaneous Barcelona Travel Tips
- Tipping seemed to be a similar system to here in London -- you're not obliged to like you are in the States, but it's appreciated; we gave roughly 10%. Be aware also that some places have a surcharge for terrace or outdoor service.
- If you're famliar with metro/underground systems in cities like London, Tokyo, and Paris, you'll do fine. I would go for one of the T10 passes (ten trips on one card) as it's better value than the 2/3/5-day passes, unless you have mobility issues and really can't walk everywhere. Walking is the best way to explore the city! You can share T10 passes too -- just leave it on the stile for your travel buddy. Trips within an hour and fifteen minutes count as one trip (I'm not too sure how that works when you're sharing a pass), and the Zone 1 pass (€9.95 for T10) will suffice if you're only going to be travelling around Barcelona and not making day trips out of the city.
- The Aerobus is around €6 from Barcelona Airport to Catalunya. Alternatively you can take the Metro, which is €4.10 for one-way into Passeig de Gracia, but I think this might be a little slower.
I've got more to say re: beauty shopping and comparisons to the UK, but that'll be a future post! Let me know in the comments if you want to know anything else from a tourist's point of view.