Barcelona is an amazing year-round destination though we particularly love it in the warmer months when the city seems to pulse with an added energy beneath blue skies and blazing sunshine. Our resident travel expert, Roxane, spent a very happy weekend strolling the streets, seeing the sights, and eating tapas before collapsing on the beach for a siesta and a swim. Here she shares her top 10 things to do in and around this vibrant city.
They say it’s hard to have a bad meal in Barcelona and I have to say, I’m inclined to agree. From cheap and tasty tapas sat in a buzzing square in the cool Gràcia neighbourhood (more on that below) to beachside fish tacos and salads in the sunshine in El Born – here are my top picks:
Tapas 24 – With a queue out the door and a ceaseless flow of delicious dishes appearing from the open kitchen, well-known chef Carles Abellan delights both tourists and local alikes with his gourmet takes on the tapas classics. Sit at the bar for full effect.
Gallito – For such a sweet seafront setting, you might expect the food to be ‘meh’ but think again at this cool beachside spot. With a Mexican vibe and good-looking staff, there’s a great buzz to the place and live music some evenings.
Sol Soler – Set on Plaça del Sol in Barcelona’s cool Gràcia neighbourhood – this is a popular place and for good reason. With a lovely laid-back vibe – the interior is all cool tiled floors and wood beamed ceilings or you can sit outside and enjoy the jolly groups of people enjoying a spot of el botellón (basically drinking in the streets).
Mescladis – Tucked away down a little street in the El Born neighbourhood, this not for profit café aims to build a sense of inclusivity – hiring and training immigrants and holding intercultural workshops amongst other things. They serve delicious salads and tapas in a lovely, outdoor space.
You’re spoilt for choice on beaches in and around Barcelona with those closest in the busiest and crowds thinning out the further out of town you move. Set along the metro line L4, the central beaches are easy enough to get to with Barceloneta the most central of them all – making it very popular and sometimes tricky to even nab yourself a postage stamp of space to lay out your towel on weekends and sunny days. This is kind of part of the fun though – and there are some great opportunities for people watching from the comfort of a chiringuito (the beach bars that pop up in summer) over a cold cervesa or two. Just be sure to watch your stuff – pickpockets are rife in this part of town.
3. Gaudi architecture
One of Barcelona’s most famous residents, architect Antoni Gaudí certainly left his mark with his distinctive and much-loved creations dotted across the city. From La Sagrada Familia to Casa Batlló – no trip to Barcelona is complete without a visit to one of his masterpieces. We particularly enjoyed La Pedrera with it’s wonderful rooftop views (you can actually see all of Gaudí’s works from here, through carefully positioned structures that frame your view) and sunset at Parc Guëll, tracing the cool mosaics with the city bathed in golden light below. As with many of Barcelona’s sights – you will need to book ahead to ensure entry.
4. La Boqueria
Set just off La Rambla, the Mercado de San José de la Boquería may be somewhat of a tourist trap but it’s well worth a visit nonetheless – with a sprawling mass of stands selling all manner of fresh produce and characterful stall holders vaunting their wares. Head there for opening to avoid the worst of the crowds and see the best of the produce.
If you like a bit of retail therapy on your break away, Barcelona has got you covered. Passeig del Gràcia is a great place to start with metre after metre of independent boutiques, designer stores and high-street shops set all the way along this gorgeous avenue which also offers some great examples of Catalan Modernist architecture. There are also some great discount shopping opportunities with Zara’s cheaper sister brand Lefties boasting several stores across the city and a Mango Outlet store on Carrer de Girona. For those that prefer their shops independent – there are boutiques aplenty to explore in the El Born barrio.
Thanks to its fertile soil and mild climate, Catalonia has long been a big wine-making region for Spain but it was only in the 19th century that they turned their hand to sparkling and the much-loved cava was created. There are plenty of wineries within easy access by train or car, offering tours and tastings or you can sign up for a more formal tour with transport included from the city. Some of the larger wineries can feel a little corporate, so opt for a smaller spot for a more authentic feel. If time is tight – it’s still worth trying to squeeze in a tasting in town and we hear Vivinos is good.
7. Museums & Galleries
With Picasso, Dalí and Miro (to name but a few) all having either been born or spent considerable time in Barcelona – it’s unsurprising that there is an impressive artistic side to the city with numerous galleries and museums celebrating the works of these artists and more. Set to the south of the city, Montjuïc is a great area of art-lovers with both the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya and the Fundació Joan Miró found here (along with the Barcelona Botanical Garden). Back in the centre of town, The Museu Picasso can be found in the Gothic Quarter – just be sure to book well in advance as unfailingly it sells out.
8. Get lost in the Gothic Quarter
Despite being touristy, step off the main tourist thoroughfares in the Barri Gòtic and you can find quiet streets aplenty. The city’s Gothic cathedral – Pla de la Seu is worth a visit as is Plaça Reial, though we wouldn’t recommend stopping here to eat as you’ll most likely pay through the nose to do so. In the summer, the narrow alleys offer some welcome respite from the heat and we enjoyed just wandering through, getting lost in the winding maze.
9. Explore the Gràcia neighbourhood
If you’re keen to enjoy a more authentic slice of Barcelonian life – head north to the Gràcia neighbourhood which sits just above Eixample. With its lovely squares and laid-back vibe – it’s a great place to just hang out and watch the world go by though there are plenty of sweet little bookshops, galleries and vintage stores ripe for discovery.
As if the city needed any more gee-ing up, there are a whole load of festivals that take place here and make for even more reasons to visit – from the the Festes de la Mercè that takes place in September each year spreading across the city in honour of the patron saint to more local neighbourhood festivities that take place in each neighbourhood throughout the year (one of the biggest is that of Gràcia in mid-August). Festival del Grec is an international theatre, dance and music festival held across numerous venues (though originally and most notably the open-air Teatre Grec) in the Montjuic area. Further to this, Barcelona plays host to some impressively large music festivals including Primavera Sound at the end of May and Sónar in mid-June.
Where to stay:
The Eixample barrio is one of our favourite places to stay in Barcelona – whilst many of the sights are still within easy walking distance it’s a quieter part of town and a welcome retreat from the tourist masses further in. The lovely Gràcia barrio is also only a short walk away north and there are plenty of public transport options to explore further afield.
Retrome Barcelona – Set across a couple of different buildings, this quirky spot refers to itself as more of an ‘urban retreat’ than bonafide boutique hotel though it’s certainly not lacking in charm. With a cool retro feel throughout, rooms are each individually designed and there’s a fun bar area where breakfast and drinks are served throughout the day.
Address: Carrer de Girona, 85, 08009 Barcelona, Spain
Casa Mathilda – This sweet and stylish B&B offers an unfailingly warm welcome and some lovely design. Housed in a beautifully restored apartment in Eixample, there are just 14 rooms here giving it a lovely laid-back and intimate vibe and the little terrace with it’s original tiling is a great spot for breakfast in the sunshine.
Address: Calle Roger de Llúria, 125-127, 08037 Barcelona, Spain
How to get there:
Barcelona-El Prat Airport is set south west of the centre and easily accessible via train, bus or taxi.