Barcelona has it all – beaches, a collection of fantastical Anton Gaudi works including perhaps the most incredible church you will ever see and thousands of years of history. To that you can also add a food scene which many would say is unrivalled in Europe, world-class museums and galleries and an atmosphere of extreme warmth and welcome. Within minutes of arriving in this spectacular city you will be left in no doubt as to why it plants itself so firmly into the hearts of all who visit.
Capital of the fiercely independent region of Spain known as Catalonia which has its own language and flag, Barcelona cannot fail to impress. Whether you have a love of architecture, a passion for food or simply want to explore the sights, sounds and colors of an ancient city founded by Romans in the first century BC, Barcelona can delight and show you something special at every turn you make.
Barcelona is a well-spread out city and although many of its main attractions are within walking distance of each other at some point in your day you will almost certainly need to use public transport. Barcelona has an excellent and cheap metro system but buses allow you to take in even more of your sensational surroundings as you travel from A to B. There are also options for highly convenient hop on hop off buses which, depending on what you want to see, can be great value for money. Additionally, Barcelona has a collection of cable cars and funiculars which include the port cable car that runs between Montjuic Mountain and the port. Such rides are tourist attractions in themselves rather than simply just a means of transport as they offer such incredible aerial views of this lovely city.
A Morning in Barcelona
Barcelona is known as a city which is filled to bursting with some of the most unique and breathtaking architecture to be found anywhere on the planet. Of all the city’s most famous attractions a large proportion of them are the result of just one man’s whimsy and genius – Anton Gaudi.
Your Barcelona morning is an exploration of some of these Gaudi treasures – not just a visual feast for architecture appreciators but also all those who enjoy exquisite beauty, uniqueness and indescribable grandeur.
What better way could there be to start your Barcelona day than with a meander in the architectural wonderland created by the city’s most famous son – Gaudi? Originally intended as an up-scale housing development for the wealthy, the project never saw fruition but Gaudi just kept going with his fantastical vision until 1914 with the area becoming a park in 1924.
Today the 42 acres of park which incorporate natural elements within the man-made – something close to Gaudi’s heart – showcase the artist’s flamboyancy and just what happens when an architectural genius is unleashed. Just as with other urban parks the world over Güell has trees, pathways, plants and benches on which to pause and ponder but all similarity with other such places ends there. Depending on your ticket time you entry point will vary but with each as soon as you arrive you will begin to get an inkling of what treats lie in store. The original entry – the beautiful sculpted and plant-surrounded stone staircase is one of the first things you will encounter and where you will find Gaudi’s dragon. This outsize salamander – mainly decorated with blue and orange mosaic – keeps guard as you ascend and then weave your way through a labyrinth of giant columns with mosaics adorning the ceiling; an area once intended as a market place.
Such words as whimsical and magical tend to crop up again and again while dazzling and spectacular are also much used in attempts to describe this other-worldly park. However, as is true of many places which have no equal in the world, descriptions fall somewhat short of being able to paint a clear picture of what Güell Park is. A riot of effervescent color and chimerical creative liberty, almost everything you see at Güell Park is highly detailed with unexpected angles and quintessential Gaudi touches.
Expect pathways lined with colonnades, cascading staircases, decorative tunnels and graceful archways supporting roadways and viaducts; everywhere lines veer from the conventional and fantastical detailing here is the norm. Among the buildings within the park can be found the four-storey house which was once home to Gaudi himself. This vibrant pink-hued structure filled with Gaudi furniture is today a museum which you can explore for an additional entrance fee. A couple of the other buildings can be entered – one has a gift shop inside which is usually quite crowded.
For many the park’s highlight is the vast principal terrace which features one continuous bench representing a serpent which, with typical Gaudi flare, is an artistic mosaic masterpiece of form. As the terrace is elevated – sitting atop the colonnaded labyrinth – and the park itself nestled into the hillside, views from here offer stunning panoramas of both the entire park and Barcelona stretching off into the distance to the ocean. The majority of pictures you will see of the park are taken from this vantage point.
Güell Park – now a UNESCO World Heritage Site – is divided into the large free-to-enter area and the Monumental Zone which incorporates the Gaudi features and incurs an entrance fee. While the Gaudi elements are of course the star of the show the park also features some lovely planted areas which elsewhere might merit a visit for themselves alone. 400 visitors are given admission to the park every half hour and once inside you can stay all day if you wish.
If you want to soak up one of the best views in Barcelona head to the park’s Turo de les Creus on a hilltop where Barcelona in all its glory stretches out before you with the ocean as the ultimate backdrop.
Morning Coffee in Barcelona
With a vast abundance of cafés and café bars known as granjas it won’t be difficult to find a spot for a morning refreshment pause. What comes harder perhaps is finding one where the atmosphere fits your concept of ideal with a price tag to match. The most inflated prices can be found on the street cafés of the famous Las Ramblas stretch while many of those close to the main attractions will also feel they have a free-rein to charge what they will because the tourists still arrive no matter what.
The lesser tourist-oriented and the more genuine are there however. Having finished at Güell Park you are perfectly placed to explore Gracia – a charming district of Barcelona which offers a multitude of little hidden gems and authentic coffee spots where the locals head. Additionally, because it is removed from the central hub, prices here reflect its location and are more reasonable.
One of the Gracia options is Mamas Cafe which has a lovely, plant-draped and peaceful little inner terrace with a tiled floor for enjoying your coffee alfresco. Surprisingly, outside of the Las Ramblas Barcelona is short in supply of outdoor café spots so this family-run café which sits behind a small and easily missed doorway is a real find. It will also register as a hit if you happen to have a sweet tooth with its range of cakes. Tea drinkers are also catered for and Mama’s is one of the places you can try one of the traditional Catalonian chocolate drinks such as cacaolat or suizo.
La Nena Xocolateria
Should the desire to sample the city’s famous hot chocolate be your principal goal during your morning pause between Barcelona explorations Gracia is home to La Nena Xocolateria granja which specializes in this traditional treat. Churros con chocolate – a breakfast staple for many Catalonians – means a steaming mug of thick chocolate with a fried dough accompaniment similar to a doughnut. The chocolate comes in a variety of forms – both excessively sweet and more on the bitter and unsweetened side – and the surroundings of bare and painted wood in which you drink it decidedly charming.
If the quality of your coffee can make or break the success of your day Gracia offers a few options for you too. One of these is Onna Cafe with its enticing array of baked goods, Costa Rica-sourced beans and in-house roasting. Compact little Onna decorated with all things coffee-related is where the locals head in the area when they want high quality coffee.
As your morning will continue with exploring Gaudi’s spectacular church of La Sagrada Familia there are also some café choices close to here which will make for an easy life. As already mentioned outdoor spots for enjoying the Spanish sun are not that easy to come by in the city but the lovely On Cafe is another exception. Sip your morning coffee at a street-terrace table and watch the Barcelona scenes or take a seat in the airy and modern interior space with its casual atmosphere. Once you feel ready to get going again La Sagrada Familia is less than 500m away.
La Sagrada Familia – Gaudi’s Church
Whether or not you are religious and whether or not you consider yourself interested in architecture the astonishing Sagrada Familia is an essential inclusion in any Barcelona itinerary. For many this is the city’s number one sight – the obsession of Gaudi’s last 40 years of his life and his greatest work.
For all those even vaguely familiar with the work of this Catalan genius it will come as no surprise to learn the Sagrada Familia is no ordinary church.
While this glorious building does indeed feature some Gothic elements as was the intention when Gaudi took over the project from another architect in 1883 the essentially Gaudi twists are all there too. The result is a fantastical building and a church like no other in the world.
Standing considerably taller than anything which surrounds it, the church is an ever-present landmark remarkable for its height alone. However, adding significant aesthetic to the effect are the Sagrada’s many soaring spires. To date it has 8 but Gaudi’s original plans showed a total of no less than 18 spires, between them representing the Apostles, the Virgin Mary and the Evangelists. The tallest spire when it is completed will represent Jesus and soar to a height of 170m.
And when will it be completed? This is of course the question which has been asked now for decades. When Gaudi died in 1926 his church was far from finished and it has been, for the last 90+ years, a work in progress; when you visit the church you are in effect visiting a building site although this in no way detracts from the experience. The most recent estimates for completion give the year 2026 – the 100th anniversary of the great architect’s death. Controversy has also plagued the continuing work. Gaudi’s original plans, models and workshop were all but destroyed in a fire and deliberate acts of vandalism in 1936 when civil war broke out in Spain and there are many as a result who argue the church’s design has strayed significantly from the artist’s original vision. Gaudi, it would seem, was himself not concerned with such things saying – ”There is no reason to regret that I cannot finish the church. I will grow old but others will come after me.”
Controversies and continuing arguments aside, the church remains an astonishing showcase of Gaudi’s style with plenty to see which was completed before his death. With Gaudi’s well-known aversion to straight lines which, he argued, are never present in nature his towers have unusual outlines encrusted with elaborate sculpture which overall give something of an effect akin to that of a fairytale castle. The façade round the back of the church – the Nativity Façade which many believe to be the most beautiful – is so incredibly decorated and detailed it could alone keep you occupied for hours.
The magnificence and general feast for the eyes continues inside the church too. Consisting of five aisles, the interior is principally white but splashed with color as light filters in through the rows of stained-glass windows. The infused-light effect which results creates both an atmosphere hard to describe and an elegant beauty. The towering pillars divide towards the ceiling giving an effect of tree branches spreading into a forest canopy. All of this was intended by Gaudi who also designed it so the effect of the mottled light flooding the interior mirrored that which can be seen in nature as sunlight pierces trees. The decorated roof above it all is a masterpiece in itself and as with elsewhere has enough detailing to merit prolonged exploration.
Besides being home to a museum which contains models of the church along with an exploration of Gaudi’s life, his magnum opus also contains the great man’s remains. His tomb can be visited through a side hall in the museum
Like Güell Park visitor numbers to enter the church at any one time are limited and with the church representing one of the most visited attractions in all of Europe you will need to plan in advance. While exploring the outside of Sagrada Familia is free, you will have to pay an entrance to look inside. You will also need to bear in mind that as a functioning Roman Catholic church you must dress appropriately which means shoulders and knees covered and any hats removed.
If you want to understand the incredible symbolism incorporated into the church – a feature of all Gaudi’s works – you will need to take a guided tour or alternatively rent audio equipment. One option for the audio tour also gives you the opportunity to ascend via lifts into towers within the church’s façades.
Casa Batlló and Casa Mila
Another of Barcelona’s famous and fantastical Gaudi buildings, Casa Batlló can be found less than 2km from his glorious church. With much to explore it is unlikely you will be able to fit this into your morning as well as the park and Sagrada Familia so you will need to decide which of the architect’s major works to focus on. However, even if you don’t have time to explore Casa Batlló in full you can at least take a look at its incredible façade which is covered in the most remarkable detailing. The whole is a quintessential Gaudy fantasy of irregular lines including the waved curving form of the windows along with flowing stone sculpture. Covered in mosaics made up of broken ceramics, Casa Batlló is also one of the artist’s most colorful works incorporating principally oranges and blues but in every shade imaginable.
And as if this wasn’t enough, in typical Gaudy style there is even more to the design than this. Also known as the ‘House of Bones’, Casa Batlló which has three distinctly different façades is a riot of balconies, pillars and other features which appear as bones, skulls and other anatomical inclusions such as blood vessels and tissue. Its roof – perhaps its most famous feature – resembles the scaly and spined back of a dragon.
The house was designed by Gaudi as a private residence for the Batlló family and although it is far from being Barcelona’s only Gaudi-designed house it is perhaps its best known. It is also one of the seven UNESCO World Heritage-listed sites which are collected together under the title of the ‘Works of Anton Gaudi’. Today the house is a Gaudi-themed museum in which can be viewed the incredibly lovely and vast Noble Floor along with fantastical-scaled halls, stairways and a wealth of other-worldly features. Entering the museum also gives you access to the roof from where you can view the ornate curving chimneys and the dragon back detailing from a near enough distance to give you a full appreciation of the exquisite detailing.
Just a few minutes’ walk from Casa Batlló can be found Casa Mila or La Pedrera which, while also being 100% Gaudi, is very different again. Now home to a cultural center, like Casa Batlló this masterpiece can also be viewed inside but, also like Casa Batlló, is worth passing by just to get a glimpse of its wonderful façade
Covering six stories in total, this majestic and almost fortress-like building dominates an entire street corner and presents a one-color vision of Gaudi-rich quirky elegance. Featuring the wavy lines and a wealth of sculpted detailing for which the Catalan architect is so well known, Casa Mila is another of Barcelona’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Packed with further Gaudi details inside and bereft of right angles or straight lines, like Casa Batlló the building’s roof area can be visited and offers some lovely Barcelona views. Here you will find yourself amid its incredible array of chimneys, each so exquisitely sculpted they are stand-alone art works in themselves. Resembling helmets which might be found atop a suit of armor, it is said George Lucas drew his inspiration for his Star Wars storm trooper helmets right here.
Lunch in Barcelona
Having spent the morning exploring what Barcelona is best known for – Gaudi – you can now experience what typically comes a close second – its food. With so many different areas all filled to bursting with eating venues you could spend a few years in the city without getting round them all.
To help you narrow down your choices we have kept it simple, choosing some great spots placed close by Casa Mila where your morning ended or in Las Ramblas where your afternoon explorations begin.
When mentioning food and Barcelona in the same space it is impossible not to include the iconic and historic Boqueria Market – one of the continent’s largest food markets. Located just off Las Ramblas, this covered market has been a local institution since 1836 and is nothing short of heaven for the gastronomically-passionate.
Many Barcelona visitors come here simply to experience the incredible sights and aromas of this bustling collection of stalls and specialist traders with the whole a true kaleidoscope of colors. Some of the fruit stands are nothing short of works of art while otherwise you might find anything from a mountain of exotic-looking mushrooms to stunning displays of confectionery which make your mouth water just to look at them. Seafood, cheeses, meats, olives, nuts, spices, wines – all this and more is for sale here. Many of the fruit stalls sell freshly squeezed juices in incredible varieties and displayed in such a way you will almost certainly want to take a picture even if you don’t partake of the delicious wares.
La Boqueria is also a great place to come for lunch with most of the tapas bars and restaurants found here of the pull-up-a-stool-at-the-counter variety. Despite the casual and relaxed vibe the food is often of a quality as high as anywhere you will find in the entire city and for many you have not experienced the city’s dining scene in full until you have feasted at the Boqueria Market.
If you’d prefer to lunch in a rather more tranquil atmosphere direct your steps to El Principal del Eixample just a two minute walk from Casa Mila. This Catalan cuisine restaurant has a charming tree-filled courtyard in which you’ll be enclosed by some of the lovely architecture Barcelona is so well-loved for. Alternatively the elegant indoor dining area features well-spaced tables and a slightly more refined atmosphere.
La Terraza del Claris
A four minute walk in the other direction from Casa Mila brings you to the Claris Hotel on the rooftop of which you will find the stylish La Terraza del Claris Mediterranean-cuisine restaurant. Somehow managing to offer elements of both cozy and elegant and with both set menu and a la carte choices, this intimate lunch venue also comes with some fantastic views of the city. If the spot ticks all your boxes you might be interested to know the bar here is also home to a highly-respected mixologist; maybe worth keeping in mind for sundowner cocktails.
An Afternoon in Barcelona
With lunch over its time to get back out onto the streets to continue your Barcelona adventure. Your afternoon begins with a stroll along the famous Las Ramblas followed by a visit to the ancient cathedral and then you can round up your afternoon with a choice of museums.
Strolling Las Ramblas
Almost a mile long and with a history stretching back hundreds of years, this iconic pedestrianized and tree-lined street sits at the heart of Barcelona and is an essential inclusion for every city visitor. Technically a series of streets with different names each carrying the name ‘Rambla’ (hence the pluralization when talking about the entire length) Las Ramblas begins in Plaza Catalunya and runs to the sea at Port Vell.
Las Ramblas is a bustling and vibrant place, full of kiosks and vendors selling everything from newspapers to flowers and lined with cafés, souvenir stands and artists selling their wares.
As you stroll you will encounter a number of attractions and points of interest such as theaters, churches, museums, markets and historic buildings all of which you can investigate further if you wish to do so. The old part of the city, known as the Gothic Quarter and directly connecting in places, lies to Las Ramblas east with its maze of narrow streets and picturesque squares which you can also include in your explorations.
One of the things the streets are most known for is its plentiful supply of street entertainers and artists. Although you will almost certainly have seen ‘living statues’ before it is quite unlikely you will ever have seen them quite as they are here. With so many performers vying for the attention of the tourists artists have to be evermore inventive and outlandish so quite what you might see can verge into the decidedly bizarre. Expect everything from mythical creatures and famous figures to skeletons on bikes and the devil. While the gallery of human statues make up the greatest number of acts you might also see buskers, dancers and acrobats.
If you don’t have the time or energy to follow the street from one end to the other pick a section which most interests you. Nearest to the northern end is Rambla de Canaletes with its Font de Canaletes fountain while Rambla dels Estudis is where you will find the Baroque church Esglesia de Betlem.
A little further brings you to Rambla de Sant Josep which also goes by the name of Rambla de les Flors because of the concentration of flower sellers here adding riots of color to the scenery. This stretch is also where you will find the Boqueria – Barcelona’s huge market.
Moving southwards you arrive at Rambla del Caputxins which is home to the 19th century Gran Teatre de Liceu – the city’s famous opera house. Be sure to check out the pavement mosaic of Barcelona artist Joan Miró which he created in the 1960s. If you duck through an alley here you will find yourself in the highly picturesque and palm-tree filled Placa Reial where you can see some Gaudi-designed lampposts.
Last of the Rambla stretches is Rambla Santa Monica which is where you can find an arts center which was formerly a convent and the maritime museum before finally arriving at Barcelona’s old port now mainly used by pleasure craft. Before arriving at the water’s edge you will encounter the monument dedicated to Christopher Columbus. You can actually ascend this monument by way of a small lift to get some lovely city and Las Ramblas vistas from a viewing tower.
Gaudi’s sensational Sagrada Familia is not the city’s only cathedral; long before the famous artist started raising his fantastical structure the city already had a beautiful cathedral. This 13th century Gothic building is without doubt rather more conventional than Gaudi’s creation but is nevertheless worth a visit especially as any stroll of Las Ramblas takes you within close proximity.
The exterior is detailed and ornate while the inside – free to enter depending on the time of your visit – is filled with opulent furnishings, a lovely altarpiece and a large collection of religious statues. The cloister garden here with its tranquil pond and verdant tropical greenery is especially lovely while for a small fee you can visit the roof of the cathedral. Not only are the city views from here worth your while but you can also get a privileged up-close view of the ornate spire.
As with Barcelona’s other religious sites the dress code here is strict and you will be unable to enter unless you have both shoulders and knees covered.
A Choice of Museums
Your afternoon continues with a choice of museums – the Picasso Museum or the Museum of Catalan History. As they are separated by just a few minutes’ walk you may even want to try and squeeze them both in or otherwise dedicate your time to just one.
The Picasso Museum
While Gaudi undoubtedly steals the Barcelona show he is not the only famous artist to have called the city home. Picasso moved with his family to Barcelona in the late 1800s while only a young teenager and the city was to play a sizeable part in his artistic development. Even though the artist known for his incredible abstract work never again lived permanently in Barcelona after he left it in 1904 he visited many times and the city remained deeply rooted in his heart his entire lifetime; so much so that the Picasso Museum came into being at the personal request of the artist himself.
While this museum and gallery may not be the only Picasso-themed institution in the world it is notable for its extensive early works of the artist which displayed by time-line show an interesting transition in style. With a total collection of Picasso pieces numbering more than 4,000, the museum is an almost exhaustive display of all his former and lesser known works up until his famous Blue Period. There are also inclusions of the more whimsical paintings and sculptures that he created towards the end of his life.
Besides the gallery aspect the museum also takes you on an exploration of Picasso’s lifelong love affair with the city. Once you have explored this aspect you will understand why the museum was given life on the express wishes of Picasso.
If you happen to arrive in Barcelona on the first Sunday of the month or visit the museum between 3 to 7pm on any other Sunday admission is free.
The Museum of Catalan History
The region of Spain known as Catalonia which sits in the country’s north-east corner where it borders France has its own language and centuries-old distinct culture and history. Barcelona is the capital of this fiercely independent-minded state which is peopled by many who do not even identify themselves as Spanish.
The history of Catalonia has been a long and sometimes bloody one and the people both proud and fierce. Completely separate since its 11th century beginnings, Catalonia became part of Spain in the 15th century when a royal marriage led to unification. One of Catalonia’s darkest periods was during the Franco dictatorship years in the 20th century when the right-wing dictator crushed the region in his efforts to destroy any Republican resistance. The previous autonomy of Catalonia was taken away, any signs of Catalonian nationalism swiftly dealt with and it was made a crime to speak or use the Catalan language.
In very recent times the question of complete autonomy has again arisen with the Catalan people voting by quite a vast margin for independence in 2017. The Spanish government has refused to recognize the legality of the referendum and Catalonia’s right to separate sovereignty – an issue which continues to rage at the time of writing.
To come to Barcelona without at least understanding something of the Catalonian people’s story is to only experience part of the city. A great way to give yourself instant and easy access to what it means to be Catalan is to visit the Museum of Catalan History.
Housed inside a former port warehouse which dates from the 1800s and is the only remaining example of the old harbor’s buildings, the museum will take you on a journey through Catalan culture and heritage. Beginning with the Stone Age and following right through to the present day, the modern presentations cover such diverse topics as ancient regional hunting and gathering, the Roman era and the Franco years of repression.
Once you have finished exploring the galleries you can head up to the roof terrace which has a café and some wonderful views of both the port and the Barcelona landmarks.
If you would like to explore some history or art but neither Picasso nor the story of Catalonia fire up your interest sufficiently there are plenty of other museum and gallery choices.
Possibilities include the City Museum Barcelona with its 2000 year old Roman town which was uncovered beneath modern day Barcelona in the 1930s, the Maritime Museum where you will explore the medieval glory of Barcelona’s sea-trade with a full-size replica vessel which you can board, the vast CosmoCaixa science museum and the National Museum of Catalan Art (Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya/MNAC). This latter – the city’s largest art museum – is housed inside the beautiful and majestic Palau Nacional and is home to one of the most significant collections of medieval Romanesque art on the planet. Even if you don’t want to go inside the view of the city from the steps is more than worthwhile although the MNAC’s rooftop view which encompasses the Sagrada Familia in the distance takes it all up again by several fantastic notches.
There are also some rather more niche and unusual offerings in the museum category such as the former palace-housed Hash Marijuana and Hemp Museum (the largest cannabis museum on Earth), the Barcelona Erotica Museum, the Funeral Hearse Museum and the Chocolate Museum. This latter traces the arrival of the first cocoa beans into Spain hundreds of years ago, includes free chocolate in the admission price and features a range of intricate sculptures made entirely from chocolate. These include a horse drawn carriage, a Sagrada Familia and certain other Gaudi masterpieces
Pre-dinner Drinks and Dinner in Barcelona
With more bars and restaurants per capita than anywhere else in Europe you’re really not going to have any problems finding a spot once the time comes for some well-earned sundowner drinks and an evening meal. With such a plethora of choice the issue is really going to be how to find your ideal spot from such a vast diversity.
One way of doing things is to follow the locals. Just as Italy has its pre-dinner tradition of aperitivo so Spain has its tapas. Tapas, in case you didn’t know, is a general term for a selection of small sharing plates usually accompanied with a drink which can range from simply a bowl or two of nuts or olives to a selection which is ample enough to replace a full meal. In Barcelona tapas bars are found on virtually every street and corner in the city.
Quimet and Quimet
One Barcelona tapas favorite which has been in the same family since it opened more than 100 years ago is Quimet and Quimet. As a highly popular choice this won’t be for you if you’re looking for tranquil but if you want high quality, sophisticated tapas and the chance to mix it up with locals this is a great option. Lined top to bottom with bottles of every size, shape and color, Quimet and Quimet’s interior is both charming and beautiful. If the whole tapas concept is a little intimidating for you then let yourself be advised by the waiters who always happy to help with selections.
If you have envisaged something rather more serene for your pre-dinner drinks head out to the beach which can be reached with a 20 minute stroll or a quick metro ride. Being able to transition from bustling city to the calm, turquoise Mediterranean waters so easily is one of the things which make Barcelona such an incredible destination. Drinking and eating venues abound at the coast with La Barceloneta beach serving as the most popular and busy of all your options.
Vai Moana Beach Club and Restaurant
Xiringuitos is the term used in this area to describe a beach bar, one of which is El Poblenou’s Vai Moana Beach Club and Restaurant. Looking almost more tropical Pacific than Mediterranean, this laid-back spot has a good cocktail selection and a choice of tapas. Located right on the beach, you can literally feel the sand between your toes or recline on a lounger as you watch the sun set.
Should your tastes lean rather more towards the classy try Xiringuito Escriba, also on Poblenou. Another absolute beachfront location so you don’t have to forego those sea views, Xiringuito Escriba offers a little more in the way of sophistication with a terrace and a more up-market vibe.
When your thoughts turn to dinner venues you can just make life easy for yourself if, earlier, you decided to go to the beach for sundowners. Xiringuito Escribà has some great rice dishes along with a diversity of seafood including a mixed platter if you can’t quite decide what to opt for.
While many of the beachfront restaurants really don’t try too hard to impress, knowing the locality alone will keep the customers coming in, there are some notable exceptions. One of these is Red Fish in a plant-surrounded distinctive shaped structure which also sprouts greenery from its roof. The decked alfresco terrace here is lovely, its seafood dishes high quality and served in portions which can satisfy even those with larger-sized appetites.
If you prefer to stay closer to town it helps to know that Barcelona, like many cities, has areas which are especially known for their concentration of restaurants. These include the Port Olimpic area, Sant Antoni’s Calle Parliament and the Gothic Quarter. This labyrinth-like latter – Barcelona’s old town heart – is one of the city’s most atmospheric and charming areas full of cobblestone streets. These in turn are lined with a quantity of medieval buildings and even Roman leftovers and punctuated with picturesque squares. Restaurants are plentiful here and tend to fall into the same charming and atmospheric category as the district as a whole. However, as the Gothic Quarter is such a tourist magnet you may have to hunt around to get past the blandly tourist traps to unearth the gems. One of the latter is Can Culleretes which has been part of the Barcelona scene for almost 250 years.
Surrounded by vast wall paintings and old photographs of famous folk who have dined here, Can Culleretes is an elegant white table-cloth venue serving traditional fare. Choose from a la carte or a variety of fixed-price menus.
Another Gothic Quarter restaurant treasure is A Restaurant found within the exclusive Hotel Neri which sits alongside the cathedral. Once a private aristocratic house, this 18th century building’s original features have been preserved with some sophisticated contemporary additions which harmonize perfectly to create a glamorous atmosphere.
For those to whom fine dining with a view is the ultimate aim head to Marea Alta which sits atop the Colon tower at 24th floor level. The decor is pale wood floors and a basic palette of white with splashes of blue making up a sparkling, sleek and modern design. Surrounding you are floor-to-ceiling windows so you can drink in every inch of those glorious 360 degree Barcelona views. If you dine here in summer you can enjoy your dinner of chargrilled fish and smoked specialties while ticking off all the landmarks. If the sun has set then your view instead will be a riot of twinkling lights as Barcelona switches on.
An Evening in Barcelona
Barcelona’s vibrancy is a round the clock thing so you will have no shortage of ways to fill your evening hours in this wonderful city.
If you are the kind of person who simply wants to settle yourself with a drink in hand and let the evening unfold Barcelona has no shortage of choices with more bars than almost anywhere else on the continent taken on a per capita basis. While practically anywhere offers options there are some hotspots such as Passeig El Born which has one of the city’s liveliest after-dark scenes. Alternatively head into the Gothic Quarter – the oldest part of Barcelona – with its Roman and medieval architecture, weaving cobblestone alleys and a plentiful supply of picturesque plazas with alfresco bars. One of the quarter’s loveliest plazas – Paca Reial – is where you should head if you’re a jazz fan. The Jamboree Club here also hosts blues, soul and funk musicians with the vaulted cellar venue adding considerably to the atmosphere.
The Magic Fountain – Font Magica de Montjuic
The biggest and arguably most ornamental of the city’s many fountains, Font Magica sits beneath the stunning Palau Nacional and almost every night in summer works hard to live up to its name. With a stunning display of water dance, multi-colored lights, lasers and music it easily achieves its goal too. Releasing 700 gallons of recycled water every second through thousands of jets, the fountain puts on a spectacularly choreographed performance in which spouts reach 170ft into the night sky.
Palau de la Musica Catalana
Barcelona has a thriving arts scene with a plentiful supply of venues. Some of the venues in question are every bit as much the main attraction as the performances they host and the king of all these is the Palau de la Musica Catalana. Unique on a global scale, this ravishing building is the only concert hall of its kind to get UNESCO World Heritage status.
The exterior of the early 20th century Catalan Art Nouveau building with its exquisite mosaics and grand columns is worth a look alone even if you can’t check out a show. However, while the exterior could be described as exceptional the interior takes things into the sublime.
Both majestic and grand, the tiered oval concert hall is a riot of intricate sculpture surrounded by sensational stained glass with a principal theme of flowers and plants. Overhead is a glorious stained glass ceiling which during daylight hours floods the auditorium with pools of colored light.
It is highly likely that you will spend any time here gazing up and around trying to take in the magnificence of it all. The local, national and international orchestral symphony and choral performances here are top-notch and undeniably enhanced by the magic of their surroundings.
While Barcelona is not the traditional home of flamenco it has several venues which offer stunning performances of this highly passionate and colorful dance display.
One of these is another of the city’s architectural gems – the stunning 17th century Baroque Palau Dalmases with its 14th century façade. Tucked into an area of Barcelona which was once the domain of the rich and aristocratic, Palau Dalmases stills displays some of its original Gothic features which include the atmospheric courtyard, a chapel and the staircase.
Today this Gothic treasure hosts hour-long flamenco performances every night and, just like the Palau de la Musica, is such a special venue it will considerably enhance any show you might see here.
Another option for flamenco is the Tablao Cordobes. Shows at this cave-like venue are decidedly intimate, with just 150 people watching any performance, none of which use microphones or any artificial amplification. If you opt into their dinner and show package you get the best front row seats in the house.
Barcelona by day is wonderful but Barcelona by night offers up a different kind of magic. Night tours come in a variety of guises from romantic cruises through to food experiences and walking or bike tours to personalized behind-closed-doors experiences inside one of Barcelona’s main attractions.
You may not have had time to fit this Gaudi treasure into your Barcelona daylight discovery hours but even if you did visit it earlier it is worth considering returning for a tour by night. Highly personal, these small nocturnal group tours allow you to enjoy Gaudi’s astonishing design intricacies without the crowds and are magically enhanced with audio-visual elements. This feature incorporates special lighting and visual projections combined with a stirring musical soundtrack. The spectacular finale takes you onto the roof with its sea of exquisite chimneys sculpted by Gaudi where the light show creates a decidedly ethereal air.
Tours culminate with a glass of bubbly and snacks in an atmospheric courtyard surrounded by the genius of Gaudi’s work. Alternatively you can opt into a night tour and dinner package where you dine before or after your tour within the building.
Ghost and History Tours
Within five minutes of arriving in Barcelona it will be very evident that this is a city flooded with history. If the stones of some of the city’s most ancient buildings could talk the tales told would include certain darker elements. These include themes such as witchcraft, public executions, gruesome murders, possessed nuns, restless ghosts, Spanish Inquisition tortures and all kinds of sinister, spine-chilling or otherwise macabre events.
Joining up for a darker side history tour or ghost walk allows you to not only visit some of the city’s historical gems such as churches and the Arc de Triomf while also exploring some lesser-known and hidden corners but also plunges you into Barcelona’s less savory past.
Tours vary in length but typically take around two hours and, as no ghost tour can be truly terrifying until after dark, tours in summer begin around 9pm to allow for the later sunset times.