Okay, this is way overdue (not to mention I’m posting quite late today). Y’all have been requesting travel guides for Barcelona and Madrid ever since I got back from my trip last month, so my apologies for the tardiness of this post.
To start, we had the most magical time in both cities. But we’re just going to focus on Barcelona for this post. As we were there in the “off season” (winter and spring), the hotel was mad cheap. Like, we stayed at the Hotel Arts for under $300 per night (and they upgraded us when we arrived!). It was pretty baller… albeit a bit on the chilly side a few days.
So let’s just hop right in to my Barcelona Travel Guide, shall we?
– How to Get to Barcelona –
This was easy. We just flew into the Barcelona – El Prat Airport (we flew Dallas to Miami, Miami to Barcelona). There are tons of flights from the east coast to Barcelona every day, so getting there really shouldn’t be a problem.
In the event that you’re already on the continent and traveling by train (my favorite way to travel), the Barcelona Sants train station is actually quite lovely… and surprisingly close to the city center.
Either way, keep in mind that Barcelona does not have Uber or Lyft. So be prepared to take taxis or the metro system when traveling within the city. Or you can walk – I definitely prefer that mode of transportation!
Note that when departing Barcelona, you should give yourself a little extra time for both traffic and security. And for the inevitable possibility of you getting super confused. Even though the train station was only 15 minutes from our hotel, we left the hotel almost 1.5 hours before the train was set to depart. We arrived with an hour to spare, but then spent the majority of that hour (1) going through security and (2) being slightly confused because none of the signs were easily visible. We ended up getting on the train only a few minutes before it departed (and immediately grabbed two glasses of wine!).
– Where to Stay in Barcelona –
Like I said above, we stayed at the Hotel Arts (a Ritz Carlton hotel) while in Barcelona. It was absolutely lovely. I really cannot say a bad thing about our stay (plus it was crazy cheap for a Ritz!). It was also right on the beach, which was super fun at sunset.
Not feeling the Ritz but still want the beachy feel? The W Hotel is also on the beach: it’s super swanky and it has some great restaurants (amazing paella!).
If you want to be a bit more in the hustle-and-bustle of the city, I recommend the Renaissance Barcelona Hotel, the Mandarin Oriental, the Cotton House Hotel, the Alma Barcelona Hotel, the Hotel Omm, and the Hotel Claris. All are located super close to La Sagrada Familia, La Rambla, Parc de la Ciutadella (my favorite park in Barcelona!), the Gothic Quarter, and Mercado de la Boquería.
– Where to Eat in Barcelona-
Oh my god, the restaurants. We ate so well in Barcelona. If I could just eat in Barcelona restaurants every day for the rest of my life, I’d be such a happy camper. Seriously so so good. Here are four of my faves from our trip:
Brunch & Cake:
There are two locations for Brunch & Cake and both are equally adorable / delicious… so I obviously recommend going twice (both for brunch… it’s definitely a brunch spot in case you didn’t get that from the name). Don’t miss the smoked salmon on brioche, their chocolate pancakes, or their juices. And please take me with you. PS they don’t take reservations so be prepared to wait if you go during typical “brunch” hours.
Oh. my. god. I can’t remember the last time I dined this well. We went to Botafumeiro for dinner on our last night in Barcelona – it was a bit more expensive than our other meals but worth every penny. They had a great wine list and their lobster paella was A+. Like A++. Make sure you also get their smoked salmon appetizer. But definitely get the lobster paella. Because OMG.
Cervesería Catalana was probably the best tapas I’ve ever had in my life. But actually. Make sure you several pitchers of their sangria. Because it’s damn good. And strong. I don’t really remember everything we had (again, the sangria is strong), but I do remember that I loved the food a lot (and not just because of the sangria). The waitstaff was also super friendly, which definitely added to the experience. Note that there will be a wait, so grab a drink at the bar and get excited for a fun, late dinner (very Spanish!).
La Taperia, El Nacional BCN:
El Nacional BCN is the coolest and I desperately wish we had one in Dallas. Basically, it’s a giant building, filled with a bunch of different restaurants and bars that all share the same space but are totally unique. There’s an oyster bar, a French-style brasserie, a deli, and – our choice for the evening – a tapas spot. While the tapas at La Taperia may not have been the quality of Cerveseria Catalana, the atmosphere at El Nacional BCN was so awesome. Really lively and fun, with engaging waitstaff. Instead of ordering like usual, you just wait for somebody to walk by carrying the tapas that you want and then you wave them over. It was so fun. We ate very leisurely that night and left well after midnight (it was a Monday night), and the whole space was still completely packed (particularly the bars).
– What to Do in Barcelona –
This was not my first time in Barcelona: I had visited the city nearly eleven years ago with my mom and hit all of the highlights (La Sagrada Familia, Casa Batlló, Park Güell) so I already kind of knew what I wanted to do. On top of that, my friend and I spent weeks scouring Pinterest for places we wanted to visit / things we wanted to do while on our trip.
Our two big Pinterest must-see’s were (1) Parc de la Ciutadella and (2) the Gothic Quarter. We actually did both of these on our walk from our hotel to the Mercado de la Boquería on our last morning in Barcelona. Parc de la Ciutadella (that gorgeous gold fountain pictured above) was particularly stunning. Like absolutely breathtaking. I recommend popping into the park and going for a leisurely stroll with a cup of coffee. Because that sounds like the most ideal morning ever.
The Gothic Quarter is also pretty awesome. The Catedral de Barcelona is gorgeous, yes, but I’d actually recommend just spending an afternoon wandering aimlessly through the tiny streets of the Gothic Quarter. There are tons of little bars and restaurants in the Quarter… especially ice cream and gelato spots (all of which looked delicious – we didn’t grab any because we were walking to grab lunch in the Boqueria).
Mercado de la Boqueria:
I was kind of torn about whether to classify this under “where to eat” or “what to do” in this Barcelona Travel Guide. Because, honestly, it’s both.
The Mercado de la Boquería is one of the most amazing outdoor food markets in the world. Tons of stalls, bars, and mini-restaurants selling every type of food imaginable. As my “lunch”, I grabbed one of the most amazing juices I’ve ever had in my life, a cone of calamari, and, of course, a glass of wine.
But really, the main activity was people watching: in addition to housing a bunch of restaurants and eateries, the Mercado de la Boquería is also a fully-functioning market in the middle of Barcelona. We saw people haggling over the price of an entire fish (legitimately an entire fish). People bought fresh, handmade pastas. The best sight was actually my travel companion discovering the giant strawberries of Spain, dipped in chocolate and put on a stick (her joy was palpable for several days thereafter).
If you watch Emerald City, you might recognize Park Güell as the shooting location for the palace in Emerald City. You can basically see the entire city from the front of the park – it’s absolutely stunning.
To visit Park Güell, you need to purchase a ticket for a specific entry time. Tickets are pretty cheap (less than $10), but I still recommend ordering your ticket online ahead of time.
We actually totally messed up (well, my friend did) and ordered our ticket for the wrong day. So we showed up, and couldn’t get into the park. Thankfully, my Spanglish was strong enough for me to convince the ticketing agent to let us swap our tickets for a time later that day… but we still had to kill two hours before we were allowed to enter (we went to a bar).
However, when we finally were able to enter the park, it was lovely. Park Güell has absolutely gorgeous mosaic work throughout the park. On top of that, the space under the upper deck (with the columns) has legitimately the best natural lighting I’ve ever seen in my life (and it was easy to get photos down there without anybody else in them!).
Palo Alto Market:
So we actually found out about Palo Alto Market from a friend of mine who is currently living in Barcelona. And we went there only a few hours after we landed in Barcelona (super jet lagged).
Palo Alto Market is super cool. It’s basically a food truck park with live music, bars, and tons of pop-up shops. And they had every kind of food with the food trucks. My friend was super excited because we even found a food truck that specialized in Nashville Hot Chicken (my friend’s from Nashville). And I was super stoked because I got some amazing fried artichokes… and I love fried artichokes. If it’s still open on your next trip to Barcelona, I highly recommend popping by!