Barcelona, Spain - On and off the Beaten Path
I'm not one to become instantly smitten or let myself get swept off my feet in the blink of an eye. JK LOL, I totally am. And Barcelona swept me in like 5 seconds. I love it there. I freaking LOVE it there. Maybe it's the food (definitely) or the cava (obviously) or the fact that pretty much wherever you are you can hear people singing and playing music, and in one way or another celebrating the Catalan culture. My guess is it's all of the above and then some.
BEFORE YOU GO
Catalan is its own language: It is not simply a dialect of Spanish. That said, most people in Catalonia speak Spanish in addition to Catalan.
The city is easily explored by foot: If you plan to venture outside the city, you might want to rent a car. Otherwise, between walking and taxis/Uber you'll be just fine getting from Point A to Point B.
Make a plan: Tourists generally stick around the following neighborhoods: Las Ramblas, Passeig de Joan de Borbó, Plaça Catalunya, and Passeig de Gràcia. These areas are super cool and definitely worth a visit, but there is so much more to see beyond these places.
Be thoughtful with your restaurant selection: For every outstanding restaurant, there are like 20 bad ones. With Barcelona being such a popular tourist destination, many restaurants can get away with serving less than impressive food. You'll have better luck finding a good meal off of the main tourist route and during Spain's typical dining hours.
WHERE TO EAT (AND DRINK) IN BARCELONA
Mercado de la Boqueria: Okay, okay, I know it's "touristy" or whatever, but when in Rome, amiright? I visited almost once a day, and feel absolutely no only a little bit of shame in that. Tell me, how do you resist a place overflowing with pinxtos, fresh mango juices, Marcona almonds, and little gummy candies that look like ladybugs? Answer: you don't. Find La Boqueria on La Rambla. The closest metro stop is Liceu. For an alternative (and less tourist saturated) market experience, check out Mercat Santa Caterina.
Boadas: This art deco cocktail bar is the oldest cocktail bar in Barcelona. Established in 1933, Boadas has been frequented by many notable figures, including Ernest Hemmingway and Joan Miro, whose drawings hang throughout the room. The bartenders are very well versed in what they do, and there likely isn't a drink they can't make. Find Boadas just off of Las Ramblas.
Flax and Kale: It's inevitable that with Spain come carbs. I recommend not only accepting this fact but embracing it. Carbs are delicious, carbs are your friends, carbs give you LIFE. However, be wary, as it’s much too easy to let the vacation mentality take over. Cue Flax and Kale - a plant-based restaurant. Owner and Chef, Teresa Carles has crafted a flexitarian menu so delicious, healthy, and sustainable that it could make you cry.
Rincón de Lola: If it's paella with a view that you're after, this is the place. It literally sits on the beach and overlooks the water. Located in Castelldefels, a beach town just outside of Barcelona.
WHAT TO DO IN BARCELONA
La Sagrada Familia: If you're going to do one touristic activity in Barcelona, this should be it. After all, it is the number - one tourist attraction in Barcelona for a reason. If you anticipate heading here in the future, be sure to purchase your ticket beforehand to avoid the lines. You can do so here.
Castell de Montjuïc: Get your steps in and walk up the mountain, or take the metro/bus/cable car up for a gorgeous panorama of the city on one side, and the Mediterranean on the other.
Flea Markets: Barcelona has some pretty cool flea markets. A couple of my favorites are Mercat del Encants and Mercat Gotic antique market.
Codorníu Cava winery: Dating back to the 1600s, this winery is the oldest cava producer in the world. It's set on a beautiful estate with its unique architecture and stonework that have been maintained beautifully over the years. A guided tour will take you around the estate, through the wine cellars, and into their "Cava Cathedral" (yes, it's as luxe as it sounds) where you'll enjoy a cheese and cava pairing.
Sitges: Tucked away in the mountains, this charming little beach town is saturated with tapas restaurants, cafes, art galleries, music, museums, and VIEWS. Some serious, serious views. 17 beaches run along Sitges' coastline. Some just steps away from the downtown area and others dispersed further out.
Garraf Beach: Nestled below the town of Garraf (a small seaside village between Sitges and Castelldefels) is a small cove - a favorite beach among locals. Garraf Beach has done a great job of flying below tourists' radar, allowing it to avert the urban re-modelings of its neighbors. The huts that line the shore are rented out to visitors, and assist in preserving the foundation of the fishing village that Garraf was built on. There's a train that runs from Barcelona's city center to Garraf. The steps down from the train station will lead you directly to the beach.
WHERE TO STAY IN BARCELONA
Chic and Basic: Located close enough to all the fun, but far enough away for a good nights sleep, this hotel is a favorite among travelers.
Villa Emilia: This place has all its bases covered with a rooftop bar, and a piano bar downstairs. It's super stylish, cozy, AND affordable. Find Villa Emilia to the left of the Eixample, just off the Gran Via.