I had booked flights and hotel for Barcelona as a birthday surprise for Rich. With a possible Madrid trip in 2023 I wanted to go to somewhere in Spain just in case Madrid didn’t happen, but not to Madrid of course. Direct flights very early Friday morning and very late Sunday night made for a perfect long weekend away with almost 3 full days in the city.
The Early Bird is a Tired Bird
Super early start at 4am on Friday, ouch. We were hanging but a great approach over snow capped Pyrenees and sunny Barca was helping a bit with feeling like zombies.
Dropped off our luggage at the hotel, doing all the check in etc in Spanish. I’ve come along way with my Spanish since we’ve been here last time.
Coffee was needed and picking one of the dozens of good ones Google Maps showed us was difficult. We settled for the Roast Club Café nearby in Eixample which was every bit as good as the best coffee places in Bristol.
Eixample was a nice neighbourhood with plenty of cosy looking cafes, restaurants and bars each with stellar Google reviews. Really enjoyed marvelling at the impressive architecture all around and all that space! Reminded us a bit of San Sebastián.
Leaving Eixample we walked down along Passeig de Grácia around midday. The lovely neighbourhood vibe with quiet streets gave way to the posher high street shops and way more tourists.
Passed by Casa Batlló, a very busy spot and my first encounter with the genius that is Gaudi. How amazing was this house? So many details and out of the ordinary shapes to feast the eyes on, yet it all seemed to be part of one big organism. Generally, Barcelona was a place for architecture lovers. So many unique and stunning buildings!
Walked in the general direction of the cathedral through a wide pedestrianised shopping area. Looked alright. But we much more loved the narrower streets of the Gothic Quarter with its unique and often quirky clothing or shoe stores and the odd super rustic restaurant or wine bar thrown in for good measure. That was much more like it!
Headed towards a public toilet near the Basilica when we stumbled upon Kælderkold – a craft beer bar. Well, would’ve been rude not to… and they had loos too, haha. Their own beer was pretty awesome and we really enjoyed ourselves with a couple of cold drinks listening to old school rock tunes. Winner.
Did some more mooching around the Gothic Quarter since it was so nice, got some ice cream despite a chilly 10 degrees (sun shining and all that) then popped into Mercat de la Boquería after passing the (in)famous La Rambla pretty unimpressed.
The market was busy with tourists mingling with locals doing their food shopping. Lots of charcuterie stalls, fruit and veg, bakery goods, burritos, fresh fish and meat, herbs and spices. A chef’s dream really. I find markets like this so inspiring. Shame I don’t have anything like it near where we live. Eyes wide we moved leisurely through the throng of people just wondering at all the lovely food we couldn’t take with us.
Then it was back to the hotel for a chill and snooze. Well earned after over 12 hours of activities.
Out for another round of craft beer at Conesa just across the road from the hotel. There are half a dozen craft beer bars within like 2-3 blocks there! Then to Xera for Rich’s birthday meal. Wow!!!! Had the best meal ever with lovely service and outstanding food for a very reasonable price. The Ceviche was incredible as well as Bravas and Crema Catalana!!!
After such a fantastic birthday meal for Rich we were simply too knackered and full to go for drinks, so back to hotel around it was 9pm. What a great start
Leaving the hotel at 8am felt early. I mean on a day off that is always an early start for Rich, but I’m normally up by 6. Not so today after such a long day yesterday. At least we both had slept really well. Walked a good 40 mins on very quiet roads to THE tourist attraction in Barcelona. La Sagrada Familia. Quick coffee and croissant before heading into the already very impressive building. Had to go through proper airport-style security and I was lucky I could charm them with my rudimentary Spanish into letting me in with my cough syrup when liquids were generally banned. I was suffering from a chest infection and that stuff kept me from coughing all day long so I was quite keen on keeping it.
I know next to nothing about art or architecture. I do like churches in general for the astonishing feat of construction a lot of them represent. Yet, La Sagrada Familia was by far the most amazing Christian building we’d ever seen. Absolutely incredible. Everything seemed to flow and it felt more like being either in a forest or in the belly of a very big gentle beast or on a different planet altogether. And whilst there was not an inch that hadn’t been designed and thought through, there was something very organic about it. What an experience and something I will not forget anytime soon.
After spending a good hour there we walked south aiming for the beach which we had not quite gotten to the day before. Passed the Arco de Triunfo and Parc de la Cuitadella which was a bit disappointing. We were getting pretty tired, hungry and a bit dehydrated so although being rather close now we abandoned the plan for beach and headed into El Born instead to find a brunch spot and a bottle of water prior to that.
Alsur café hit the spot nicely with good coffee and food in a nice relaxed and lively atmosphere. Rich had great Huevos Rotos and I went for Arepas which I never had before. Refreshed we wandered around El Born with its narrow pedestrian streets and eclectic mix of shops and cafés. Another lovely neighbourhood.
We abandoned plans to see the beach and instead went back to the hotel via a beer at Kaelderkold in the Gothic Quarter and a stroll through San Antoni. A snooze later we found ourselves at the bustling The Bullman Irish pub watching the rugby before it was time to head to Don Asador for our much anticipated Argentinian meat fest.
Turned out it wasn’t quite as good as the ones I had in Argentina and the one we had at the Argentinian in Andorra, but still pretty good. It’s a shame you can’t get a proper chimichurri in most places. This one was absolutely perfect! So were the Mojitos! Rolled out of there and decided to walk it off on a twenty minute stroll back South to that metal pub we’d found on the map.
Hell Awaits looked cool from the outside, cool from the inside, but accepted only cash. Heading to the nearest cash point it right out swallowed Rich’s card and refused to give it back. What the….?! Tried another two cash points with my card. Santander wanted an unreasonable EUR 7 in fees for taking out EUR 50. Errr. Nope. Enter Western Union. They had the audacity to demand EUR 5 in fees for taking out EUR 20. Yeah. No….
Guess hell had to wait a bit longer for us. Slightly grumpy we just walked back to the hotel then. Bit of a downer after a fantastic day.
Sun and Beach in Late Feb
The second big tourist attraction waited for us on Sunday and once again it was well worth it. Had great breakfast at Roast Club café and the took the metro to save us a fair bit of walking, yet there was quite a bit up steep uphill climbing left to reach Park Güell.
Quite warmed up we entered with no queue but soon found ourselves in amongst a fair amount of people just before lunch time. The park itself is yet another experience of the ever present Gaudi and like the Sagrada Familia absolutely worth it. We enjoyed the walk amongst those weird and wonderful arches that looked like made out of mud and marvelled at the huge gate houses that looked like gingerbread houses.
The sun came out more and more so we had a rest in one of the airy stone alcoves on a bench just watching people strolling past for a bit before heading back out and downhill into the neighbourhood of Vila de Grácia. What a nice area! Similar to El Born or the Gothic Quarter but without the tourists. Just locals. Reminded me of Friedrichshain back in Berlin in the late 90a before it became overly popular with tourists.
Had a coffee and a well earned rest overlooking a square and enjoying the lively yet relaxed atmosphere. Then walked to the nearest metro station to go down to Barceloneta. Last attempt to see the beach. It was very busy all of a sudden, yet the wide beach promenade was a welcome surprise. This was much nicer than anticipated! Even though it was busy on a late February Sunday we enjoyed a little stroll up and down the promenade. What was it like in May or June? We didn’t want to imagine.
Walked back via the bay where there was a little street food market and a couple of street musicians. It was really nice here. Then through the Gothic Quarter to the bottom of La Rambla. Spotted an Irish Pub and watched a bit of the rugby once more before walking up La Rambla, still not impressed.
Back for one last hurrah to The BlackLab craft beer bar where we were the only ones for a bit, but it had to be done. One for Jess one for Merlin and that was it. Sitting on the plane as heavy rain was pouring down it seemed we had times it just right with snow forecast for the following morning.
Te Queremos, Barcelona
Wow, what a weekend. It felt much longer than three days and we had managed to do quite a lot even though we didn’t plan any of it and just went with the flow. For us Barca was a city of fantastic architecture, food and drink and we only glimpsed the tip of the iceberg there.
We really enjoyed mooching around the different neighbourhoods and there is so much more to explore. We didn’t make it to Poble Sec for instance. And there are more large green spaces further out which looked worth a visit. There is also a nice relaxed vibe in general but for us particularly in Vila de Grácia and Eixample. If/when we go back, I’d definitely get myself a Lonely Planet to really make the most of it and discover more of the hidden gems.
What a wonderful city and one to definitely come back to one day.