In early July of this year, I vacationed in the energetic, eclectic city of Barcelona for 4 days and have been meticulously constructing this post in order to give this city the insight it deserves! Hopefully anyone who visits Barcelona for the first time will find this helpful, and of course, if you’re here because you know me in real life and wanted to find out more about my trip, that’s great too.
This is the 1st post in what will be a 4-post series that documents my favorite experiences in the 2 weeks I spent in Europe, with the other 3 cities being Nice, Rome, and Sorrento (+ Neighboring towns). Please follow on the right-hand side of this page to receive updates on new postings, and click below to read more 🙂
This was my first time in Europe, as well as my first time traveling outside of the US to a country where I didn’t know the language of. I probably should have learned some Spanish or Catalan phrases before this trip, but fortunately I was able to rely on Adam to communicate and navigate this city. But, as a side note, pretty much everyone spoke English.
We booked our lodging through Airbnb and stayed in El Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter), which was a 1 minute walk from the famous La Rambla street and about a 5 minute walk from the huge produce/meat market La Boqueria. The freshly cut fruit and juices at La Boqueria were so great and I constantly raved about how much more flavor the fruit had compared to what I’m used to consuming in the US.
Before getting to the real content of this post, I need to mention that the temperature was above 95 degrees the whole time we were there, and we had a little misunderstanding with our Airbnb lodging so instead of the A/C we expected, we only had fans. Despite never being able to truly feel cool and clean during our stay, I had the most amazing time and here’s a list of some of my favorite experiences/places in and around this city:
Restaurants: We lucked out with our restaurant choices and ate at two amazing, affordable restaurants on our first night there. Barcelona is known for having some serious night-life, and dinners don’t begin for some until 10pm. Wandering around the trendier El Borne neighborhood, we came across a Pintxos bar called Euskal Etxea and walked in. In case you are unfamiliar with Pintxos, they are mini snacks that can consist of ham, cheese, veggies, fish — really, whatever they can put a toothpick through (see left photo below). The place had no prices displayed, but we were told to grab whatever we wanted and they would charge us by the number of toothpicks left on our plates. We ordered 2 beers and snacked on 8 pintxos, for a total of 22 EUR. I enjoyed these so much (both for taste and value) that I made us go back the next night too.
The actual “dinner” we had was at Tapas 24 which did a more creative, modern take on the traditional tapas (small plates), with a less casual environment and younger crowd. The tables were fully occupied when we arrived around 11pm, but we quickly found 2 people who vacated the bar area. We enjoyed a nice bottle of Spanish white wine and had the most delicious dish consisting of patatas fritas (aka fried potatoes…nothing strange there), over-easy fried eggs and jamón ibérico. Everything else we ordered was amazing and you could taste the simple, fresh ingredients that were prepared with skill and care. This was my favorite meal, with prices that were extremely reasonable for the quality of food.
Later on in our trip, we explored La Barceloneta, which is where the beach is located and also where many people find the best seafood meals. If you want to try Paella, I would definitely recommend coming to this neighborhood for the most authentic flavor (which should be rich with saffron), and avoid any of the places that have it pre-made. Paella is generally a shared dish cooked in 1 big pot, and what I learned is that if a place is willing to serve this to just 1 person, it’s probably nowhere close to the best paella out there. I don’t want to mention the restaurant we went to because I didn’t think it was the best out there for value, but it was definitely freshly made. Initially, I didn’t know if I actually liked it, but then I unintentionally had some pre-made paella and could really tell that it lacked saffron.
One other restaurant definitely worth mentioning for the overall experience is Quimet & Quimet, which was featured on Anthony Bourdain’s show. I didn’t expect us to actually be able to eat here, and when we arrived at 6pm on our last night in the city, it was already packed. We almost walked away to go elsewhere, but we were told by these customers leaving that it was totally worth the hassle and to just squeeze our way to the bar. This place was not only tiny, but only offered standing dining, and the only way to order and pay was to get the attention of one of the two chefs. The menu had of a variety of canned seafood, fresh shrimp, salted beef — basically anything that didn’t need to be “cooked” in the kitchen, because all the preparation was made in front of you at the bar.
Many of the items we ordered were prepared on top of a piece of crusty bread, so it was kind of like a Pintxos. Despite these mostly “not so fresh” ingredients since so much of it is canned or dried, the toppings they used were the opposite, so the contrast in flavor and texture was pretty awesome. This place was intense in both atmosphere and flavor, and the chefs preparing the food in front of us were the owners. Oh yes, I forgot to mention one of the best things here was the sangria and anything with fresh shrimp in it. The one thing I didn’t like were the canned mussels…
Shopping: In the center of Barcelona, shopping could be described with one word: everywhere. If I walked around for 25 minutes, I could probably spot 5 different H&M, Zara, MANGO locations, and then you have the boutique-y stores that are so interesting and are sprawled across the narrow streets. One jewerly/accessory boutique that I purchased from is called OMG BCN and the items that I purchased were hand made and super unique-looking compared to what I can find in the US. I just took a look at their IG and saw the 2 people pictured who helped me in the store, lol.
I didn’t shop at all the first 2 days we were there because we had so many touristy spots to hit up, but when I finally did, it seemed every internationally recognized store like the ones I mentioned previously had a huge sale (we were there basically the first week of July, but the signs seemed to indicate that the sales lasted until at least mid-July). This is when I realized I truly made the mistake of bringing any clothes besides the ones I was wearing on this trip. My carry-on suitcase was probably 80% full when I left the US, and before I left Barcelona, I definitely traded out some of the clothes I brought for newer ones I purchased. At least I had a slight inkling this would happen, so I didn’t bring my favorite tops anyway 🙂
El Cortes Ingles is a 7 (or is it 8) floor department store, with a cafe at the top that overlooks Plaςa de Catalunya. For 16 EUR, on our last day we enjoyed a bottle of wine and dessert and reflected on the time we spent there. An annex of this store is located in the same rotunda, but kitty-corner, and I only explored the ground floor of the annex but came away with a couple decent dresses for around 20-25 EUR each, which I wore constantly during the next week and a half of our vacation.
Also, for any Longchamp fans out there who don’t live in the euro zone, the Le Pilage totes in Barcelona and in both France and Italy were about 40% cheaper retail than their prices in the US, after adjusting for exchange rates (the EUR:USD was 1:1.13 during my time here). I came away with a large and small for less than I would have paid for 1 large in the US!
Prior to arriving in Barcelona, we planned to make a day trip out of a neighboring resort town of Sitges, which is a 40 minute train ride from Barcelona’s main train station (the stop can be reached at Plaςa de Catalunya). Funny thing…we ended up getting on the wrong train, which took us through the Catalan wine country for an hour and a half, but the train’s last stop happened to be on the same line as the train we should have taken. We then took the RIGHT train from the opposite direction. I actually really appreciated this experience because if it weren’t for the mistake, we would never have seen how many residents in this region, outside of the big city, actually live.
When we finally did arrive in Sitges, it was about 2pm and the beach was quite packed despite it being a Monday. Getting out of the train station, it didn’t seem like this town had that much to offer, but I think at that point we were just really anxious to get to the beach. It took us about 10 minutes to walk to the ocean and once we rented some chairs and an umbrella and plopped ourselves down, it was truly a relaxing, enjoyable experience. The sand at that beach was extremely fine with no pebbles at all, and you could walk 100 feet into the ocean and still only be waist-high in water.
We spent about 3 hours at the beach itself, and then wanted to explore the rest of the city. I thought there were plenty of cute clothing and accessory shops, as well as gelato and snack shops. In my opinion, the most picturesque part of this town was walking up to the Church (pictured above)) and getting a view of not only the ocean, but all of the buildings along the “boardwalk”. We took so many pictures here and they are definitely some of my favorite from our entire Europe trip.
Must-do Touristy Things: If you don’t know much about Gaudi, Barcelona will give you that opportunity to learn and appreciate his work. The two places we went to below are definitely “musts”, and each took us about half a day. Keep in mind that the weather was around 95 degrees, so at times it was almost unbearable to be outside, but we still managed to have a great time.
Sagrada Familia is a church that has been under construction since 1882, and they hope to complete it by 2026! The cathedrals in Europe in general were architecturally astounding to me, but this one was so modern and colorful inside.
Adam purchased tickets in advance for this, which I highly recommend if you know what date you want to visit. In addition, you can pay a little extra to take an elevator that will get you to one of the towers (there are 2 you can choose from, and we chose the Passion facade, which faces the City center), where you get incredible views of Barcelona and also have the opportunity to take some unique photographs.
Park Guell: This was one of my favorite experiences in Barcelona, and it was so easy riding the subway to the stop closest to Park Guel, and just walking there. I saw many people wearing flat sandals, but I was really glad I wore my Nikes because the entire way to the park was uphill (granted, tons of escalators), and once you reached the park, it was more walking. The park has 2 separate areas, the free area and the Monumental area, which you need to purchase tickets for and wait for a designated time-slot to enter (unless you make your purchase in advance online). The park as a whole is also a very popular picnic area, and on a mild weather day we definitely would have done that. On the day we came, we basically decided to try and see most things but leave before the early afternoon sun and heat hit.
As you’re climbing up in the park, there are so great views of Barcelona, like the one above where can really see how outstanding Sagrada Familia is compared to the rest of the city. Just..whaaaaat????
The best view, though, was at the top of this thing above. We didn’t even go during the peak time, but as soon as we climbed on, it became extremely crowded and there was very little room to move around. I actually got pretty scared and wanted to find someone to take a photo of Adam and I as quickly as possible. Obviously the photo isn’t the best because there’s a hand that needs to be photoshopped out, and we didn’t even get Sagrada Familia in the background. Oh well, we were here. Above is proof.
We purchased tickets the day of to enter the Monumental area, which contains a ton of Gaudi’s work and is the main reason tourists come to this park. There were just so many areas to explore once we got inside, although we did not opt to visit the Gaudi House Museum. It was quite crowded in the entire area so it was a bit difficult to get photos without a ton of other people in the background. Since it was very hot, and shade was pretty limited inside the area, we wandered around for over an hour taking photos and then decided to find some shade elsewhere. Viewing Gaudi’s work was truly an awesome experience, and I thought that the variety of colors that he used in his work is truly a reflection of Barcelona as a city.
This was a pretty long-winded post, and if you made it through most of this, I hope it was at least somewhat enjoyable for you! Please comment if you have questions on the specifics of my trip, as I would love to talk more about it 🙂 Stay tuned for posts on the other cities I visited!