6 things you should know before your next trip to Barcelona
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If you haven’t been to Barcelona yet, perhaps after reading this you’ll get straight on to booking flights. If you have been, you’ll know it’s a beautiful city. Regardless, when you visit next, here are six things you should know.
1. Barceloneta Isn’t the Best Beach
If you’ve seen pictures of Barcelona, one will surely have been the long stretch of beach that leads up to the iconic W Hotel in the shape of a sail — locally known as ‘La Vela’. This area is called Barceloneta and is one of the busiest tourist spots, meaning that the beach gets very crowded at times. Don’t get me wrong that if it’s your first time in the city, it’s definitely a beach you should visit. There are dozens of Chiringuitos (little beach bars and restaurants) along the length of the beach, which vary from cheap(ish) tapas and sangria to fancier seafood places with set menus, like Can Majó, that you might go to for a nice dinner in the evening.
The beaches get gradually a bit nicer the farther you walk away from the city. The other main beaches in the city are Platja de la Nova Icaría, which is still quite touristy, Platja del Bogatell, which is great for beach volleyball, and Platja de la Mar Bella, which is the city’s gay beach — part naturist, part not.
For slightly more picturesque and tranquil vibes, you can catch a train to Montgat Nord on line R1 from Plaça Catalunya. This beach is quite small but as it’s used mainly by locals, during working hours in the week it is usually pretty quiet. There are still a couple of Chiringuitos, again, a lot quieter than what you find at the beaches in the city.
There is also a beach perfect for the AvGeeks. Playa del Prat de Llobregat runs alongside Barcelona (BCN) airport and gives you spectacular views of the planes.
2. There is Another, Better Rambla
Barcelona’s famous tree-lined La Rambla is actually made up of a series of smaller Ramblas: Rambla de Canaletes, Rambla dels Estudis, Rambla de Sant Josep, Rambla dels Caputxins and Rambla de Santa Mònica. It starts in the center of the city at Plaça Catalunya and makes its way down to the marina.
This street gets very busy with tourists, and as such, it has become a target for pick-pockets, illegal street vendors and over-priced restaurants.
A little farther along the coast and still within the city is a neighborhood called Poblenou. Its Rambla del Poblenou is the heart and soul of the area and is lined from start to finish with bars and restaurants. The best thing about it is that there is barely a tourist in sight — it’s a real local hang out. The food is great, too, and cheaper than on the Ramblas in the center of town.
It’s also very easy to find. You can either take Line 1 on the Metro to Glòries and walk a few streets along the Avinguda Diagonal until the start of the Ramblas. If you’re at the beach already, walk to the far end of Platja del Bogatell then cut through the Parc del Poblenou and you’ll soon find the bottom of the Rambla.
3. Great Food Spots
Barcelona has more restaurants than you could possibly fit into a few day’s holiday. My recommendations are always places that locals like to go, whether they’re completely tourist-free or have a good balance of the two. Here are a few spots I would highly recommend, ranging from the fancy to the post-beach, chilled vibe.
L’Olivera — A Catalan delight
This is one of my favorite local hidden gems. The tapas arrives fast and are as good as it gets. The restaurant is so traditional that it doesn’t even have a website.
Can Majó — Seafood by the sea
When you’re not just eating tapas, set menus are very popular in Barcelona. Can Majó is your typical Catalan seafood restaurant where you can dine outside on the terrace just a few feet away from the beach. The menus range from $50 to $75 and includes a starter, main, dessert, bread, wine and water and coffee.
El Árbol — The best brunch in Barcelona
Él Arbol’s unique take on brunch is a breath of fresh air and the experience is much more friendly than some of the Instagram brunch hot spots that it competes with close-by.
The food is tasty and the combinations are quite something. The coffee is also great. Bad coffee is rare in Barcelona (unless you go to a chain), and this place is no exception.
1881 Per Sagardi — Dinner with a view
If you love Mediterranean cuisine, then you absolutely must make a reservation here. The food is on the pricier side, but it’s amazing. Not only that, but the restaurant is located atop the Catalonian History Museum and offers spectacular views over the waterfront. This is a great place for a special occasion or to just treat yourself.
Lateral — A modern, unique take on Spanish cuisine
Lateral is a small Spanish chain with restaurants in both Barcelona and Madrid. As well as being fresh, stylish and trendy, it prides itself on being a unique culinary experience. The dishes incorporate themes and styles from across the globe but have a distinct Spanish twist. The restaurant isn’t cheap, but it doesn’t break the bank either.
Carabella — Chilled out cocktails and food
Carabella is perfect for after-beach snacks and drinks or a place to meet friends before heading out for the evening. The cocktails are lush and the tacos will be far too tempting to not order two or even three times. This is a place to eat, drink and be social.
4. Great Bars
Barcelona is not short of a bar or two. Many of the bars and clubs close to the beach are overpriced tourist traps, which are really not Catalan bar experiences. But there are some great ones. Also, if you’re a gin fan, make sure while you’re in town that you track down a Galician gin called Nordés — if it’s served right it will come garnished with frozen grapes.
This bar has been called the best in Barcelona, so make sure you don’t miss it. It’s quite small, but serves up some of the tastiest and most original cocktails. Despite how busy this place gets, the staff are great. You can have a good time here any night of the week.
This bar is in the El Raval area of the city, which is a slightly less touristy area than El Born and the Gothic Quarter but still packs a punch. This is a great place to go for a couple of drinks after dinner or before you head to out to a club. It’s quite a small place but doesn’t feel so, as the front opens out onto the street.
This is a one-of-a-kind cocktail experience that will take you on a journey. Every single cocktail is a work of art. It’s more like a theatrical performance that will have you entertained until your first sip of magic.
5. Tipping Isn’t Essential
Waiters in Barcelona are usually on quite a decent salary and not on the hourly rate more common in the US. This means that going over and above to provide excellent service isn’t as important for them as they don’t rely on tips to make up for a poor wage. Even if they wanted to wow you with their service, they probably won’t have the time, as restaurants tend to be very understaffed.
6. There Is so Much More to See
Barcelona is in one of the most beautiful regions of Spain, Catalunya. It has mountains and beaches and everything in between. If you’re a bit of an adventurer, try escaping the city to the country and check some of these places out for day trips or even overnighters.
Tarragona is just over an hour’s train journey from Barcelona, so there’s no need to hire a car. It’s a real Catalonian delight with tons of culture. The main feature is the walled old town with tiny cobble streets and quirky shops and eateries. It also has an impressive amphitheater dating back to the 2nd century AD with spectacular views into the Mediterranean. There are several beaches worth a visit, too. Unlike Barcelona’s beaches, these are natural and a lot quieter. L’Arrabassada, La Savinosa and Cala Romana are the three I would recommend if you need some relaxation of wandering around the city’s old town.
Sitges is a lot closer to Barcelona than Tarragona, but still takes around an hour to get there on the local commuter train. The town is most famous for being one of the most LGBTQI+ friendly places in the world. It hosts a huge pride parade every year and has a vibrant bar and club scene centered around la Plaça Indústria only a couple of streets back from the beach. The beaches here are natural, and much more picturesque than the most popular ones in Barcelona.
The Costa Brava
Starting in Blanes, around 40 miles north of Barcelona, and stretching all the way to the French border, the Costa Brava is one of the most stunning coast lines I’ve seen.
At just under two hours away from Barcelona by car, Calella de Palafruguell is a magical little escape from it all. Its rocky inlets and tiny beaches are awash with crystal clear water.
The town itself is very small and hilly. The best thing to do is find a place to park and wander until your heart’s content. There are dozens of restaurants dotted along the coastline, which usually have beautiful views of the Mediterranean. The food, especially the seafood, is super fresh, tasty and value for money.
The journey to get to Cadaqués is an adventure in itself. Different to Calella de Palafruguell, the buildings here are nearly all white, which gives off almost a Greek Island feel. Cadaqués is all about exploring. Meander around the coast and clamber down rocks to deserted sand or stone beaches to your private little slice of paradise.
When you need a hard-earned rest from all that exploring, there is no shortage of restaurants dotted along the coast line. Despite this place being quite a popular tourist attraction, particularly with the French, it doesn’t feel too overcrowded at all.
No matter if it’s your first or your ninth time in Barcelona, there are certain things you should keep in mind. In order to make the most out of your experience, take these tips with you.
Featured photo courtesy Getty Images.
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