The first stop on our honeymoon was Barcelona. Perched above the Mediterranean on the north eastern corner of Spain, Barcelona just might have the best vibes of any city I’ve visited yet. It’s just cool. Cool in the way that makes you feel welcome and relaxed, the very best kind of cool. Hundreds of tiny, twisting alleyways are bordered by massive tree-lined boulevards. Café tables line most sidewalks and fill the plazas, and they’re usually full of people enjoying what’s best in life. Somehow it feels beachy and a like big city all at the same time. In the summer, the sun doesn’t go down until 11 pm, which means you can take a nap at 7 pm and still have a whole day’s worth of fun ahead of you when you wake up.
Though we didn’t plan anything in advance other than where we were staying for the whole trip, there were two reasons we wanted to go to Barcelona: the food and the Gaudí architecture. We let the five days we spent there unfold in front of us unscheduled, led by recommendations from friends and family or by our curious eyes and able feet. It was a glorious string of restaurants and museums, architectural landmarks and parks, markets and cafes, beaches and bars, all enjoyed at the leisurely pace that 17 hours of daylight affords.
Usually I come back from trips with plenty of photos and blurry memories, but I wanted to try something different this time around. At the end of each day, I took notes on what we’d done that day, what we’d eaten, what we’d discovered. I realize that this might be par for the course for some folks (ie: better writers than I), but it was quite the accomplishment. Armed with the specific details that often float away from me immediately after returning from a trip, I give you our favorite things to do, eat and drink in Barcelona, and a few stories to keep it interesting.
La Sagrada Familia. Gaudí’s stunning and ongoing masterpiece. I was brought to tears by the beauty of the Sagrada Familia. I’ve never been inside a building so transcendent. While the outside is interesting and impressive, organic weirdness juxtaposed against gothic tradition, you must go inside. The light inside, colored by panels of stained glass and bouncing off of treelike white marble columns, baths you in a rainbow. It is unlike anything I’ve even experienced, transcendent. Tip: Buy tickets the day in advance online so you can skip lines, and if you can get a ticket to go up one of the towers, do it.
Park Guell. Another Gaudí project, Park Guell aspired to be a multi-home oasis for wealthy Barcelonans, but was never completed. However, what was finished, is absolutely beautiful—full of experimental landscaping, phenomenal mosaic work and amazing views of the rest of the city. My favorite part of Park Guell was the community meeting area, a terrace filled with columns covered in white mosaic. Tip: Buy tickets in advance online, and go early in the day. After you go to the main part of the park, exit and hike up to the top of the mountain for wonderful views of the city and sea.
La Boquería. A food lovers paradise. La Boquería is a semi-covered market filled with hundreds of tiny stalls, and even more people doing their shopping and/or gawking at the incredible spread. Fruits, vegetables, meat, seafood, cheese, charcuterie, bread, pastry, candy, and everything is beautiful. If we could have figured out how to smuggle in a leg of jamón ibérico back into the US, we absolutely would have. I’m still a bit sad we didn’t manage it. There are also small tapas bars scattered throughout, which are absolutely worth eating at. Tip: Go more than once! Eat at a bar inside the first time, then go back and get picnic supplies another day.
Museu Picasso. If you like Picasso, you must go. What I liked best about the Museu Picasso and Fundación Joan Miró was that I was able to see the evolution of the artist’s style over their whole career, and experience their work in so many different media—painting, drawing, sculpture, ceramics, printmaking, photography. Seeing a body of work beyond just the “greatest hits” is a very different way to experience an artist, and I really enjoyed it. Tip: Don’t skip the room with the series of pigeon paintings.
Fundación Joan Miró. I loved this museum. A good portion of Miró’s work, though not all as I discovered while viewing this collection, has a playfulness and lightness to it that I really respond to. It was neat to see how the symbols and color pallet he’s know for evolved. Tip: Have a coffee on the terrace and smile at the bobble-eyed ceramic figures sitting out there with you.
El Born Neighborhood. We stayed in this neighborhood and it was a perfect home base. Narrow, twisting alleyways are lined with restaurants, bars, cafés, shops and apartments, almost no cars can squeeze their way in. I felt lost all the time, but in the best possible way. Jordan, of course, always knew where we were. We spent a lot of time meandering through the streets, coming up on a new little plaza or cafe or shop that looked interesting, poking in, grabbing a drink or pastry or an ice cream, and then kept on strolling. Tip: Don’t try and get anywhere on time or any a hurry. Relax and enjoy yourself.
Barceloneta Boardwalk and the Beach. Barcelona’s beach boardwalk is awesome—wide and well-paved, and the beach is beautiful. I was so excited to put my feet in the Mediterranean; it was colder than I imagined. Our second day, we bought some penny skateboards (knock-offs for $20) and skated all around the boardwalk. I’m terrible at skating, Jordan is much better, it was ridiculously fun.
Cal Pep. Cal Pep was a recommendation from our friends Josh and Erin. It’s a gem. A tiny shotgun style restaurant with just about 14 seats at the bar, it’s super lively and really fun. If there’s a wait, you can stand behind the seated guests and have a class of wine. When you sit down, the waiter/chef/barman will ask if you’d like to order or let him choose. We let him choose. Pan con tomate, sautéed cockles, fried baby artichokes, roasted fish with potatoes. Though they specialize in seafood, we had the best tortilla española of our lives at Cal Pep—runny eggs studded with bits of smokey ham and potatoes then slathered with a layer of pork fat when it came out of the pan. Muy bien.
El Quím de La Boquería. Located in the heart of the Boquería market, it might take you a while to find El Quím, but as we’ve previously mentioned, it’s worth getting lost in La Boquería. El Quím was a recommendation from Jordan’s uncle Jeff, and serves traditional spanish tapas. We had the garlic shrimp, blood sausage, patas bravas and probably a few more dishes I can’t quite recall—cava at lunch is a wonderful idea—and everything was delicious. Not to mention, you have the bustle of the market around you and the ingredients are just so fresh.
La Boquería. Get snacks a La Boquería and then find a plaza and picnic. You’ve got to try the jamón—they have several varieties and you can get slices fresh off the leg. Of course there is the manchego, and why not a baguette while you’re at it. There’s also little cups of cut tropical fruits. I was able to try wild strawberries (frais du bois, alpine/woodland strawberries) for the first time. They are the cutest and have a texture strangely similar to pop rocks.
Cafe con Leche. I love the leisurely coffee culture of Spain, it was one of my favorite parts of living in Argentina too. Sit down, have your coffee, and then sit some more. There is no coffee to go. Chat with your friends, read the paper, smoke a cigarette, eat a little snack. It’s a good reminder to slow down, and we took Barcelona up on that plenty.
Helado. You can get pretty decent helado all over the place and when you’re walking 10+ miles a day in the summer heat, why not stop at least once a day? My favorite flavors were passionfruit (aren’t you surprised) and coconut, and Jordan’s favorite was dulce de leche.
Other things you should try and eat. You can find these dishes at many restaurants, and the place you stumble upon will most likely be pretty darn good. Patatas bravas, grilled razor clams, fideos with seafood, chicken croquettes, grilled asparagus. It’s hard to eat poorly in Spain.
Ohla Hotel Bar. Another recommendation from Jordan’s Uncle Jeff, Ohla is the most over the top/amazing cocktail bar we’ve been too, and that is saying something since we come from San Francisco. They serve classic cocktails but with a twist. Each cocktail is expertly prepared and garnished to the hilt. Jordan got the mojito and the martini, I got a passionfruit tequila drink complete with a bruléed passionfruit garnish and tiny spoon to eat it with and their piña colada. Not just any piña colada though, my ‘circus’ colada was garnished with caramel popcorn, a tiny cone of cotton candy and sprinkles. Jordan’s mojito was dusted with gold. His martini, now that was prepared table side. It was an experience.
BierCab. A beer bar with 20 taps. They had Jordan’s long lusted after Cantillon on tap (the reason we ended our trip in Brussels), along with other craft beers, mostly from Belgium but some from the rest of Europe. We went twice, both times in the mid-afternoon and it was super mellow and delightful. If you like craft beer, it’s absolutely worth a visit.
Lambicus. We ended up at Lambicus by accident, though Jordan had heard of it while researching the Barcelona beer scene. We were on a long stroll back from the Miró museum and heard a woman singing jazz in the street along with a small band, and decided to see what was going on. Turns out, it was the bar’s anniversary party. We had a few beers – they have a few taps and large selection of bottles – while listening to live jazz and eating corn nuts. If you happen to be in the neighborhood after museum-ing, why not?
Whew. I’m sure I overwhelmed you way back up in that ‘to do’ section, but Barcelona really is a stunning city, perfect for all of our favorite things: eating good food, looking at art and architecture, wandering around without a plan. And on top of all that, I got to spend time with my sweet husband, both of us relaxed and not distracted by work responsibilities for the first time in maybe years? Perfection. Let’s go back.