Barcelona for beginners (like me): places not to miss, plus some overrated ones
I know I know, I should just be ashamed of myself - but I had never been to Barcelona before. I had been living in blissful ignorance of not knowing what I was missing for years.
I managed to make up for this enormous gap thanks to a business trip to Barcelona, where my company has one of the largest offices in Europe (there is also a gym - yay!).
So, after spending two wonderful days with my colleagues (if you are reading this post, hello 😀), I took the opportunity to visit the city over the weekend. On Friday, in fact, I was joined by Sabrina and Roberta - do you remember them? around the same time, last year, we went to Sicily together, here is the link to the post.
Unfortunately, we only had a scant two days to visit and there were many other things we wanted to see/do. So, with a lot of humility, I thought I would put together a guide to Barcelona for beginners (like me) and collect some things that are absolutely not to be missed and others that are, in my opinion, a bit overrated.
I realised, by the way, that I didn't take many photos during this holiday, so you'll forgive me if this time I use the internet to enrich some paragraphs with images that are not mine.
Further down, as always, you will find more info on hotels/hostels and various restaurants (by now you will have understood, whoever I go with, we like to eat!). At the end of the article, you will also find the city map with all points of interest.
Barcelona in two days:
La Sagrada Familia
Casa Milà ("La Pedrera")
Plaça de Catalunya
If you have a bit more time:
La Sagrada Familia
Excuse me, but what the hell am I supposed to say about La Sagrada Familia? Maybe just wondering how I ever lived without experiencing the thrill of entering such an incredibly majestic and magical piece of architecture. Admiring it from the outside is a thrill in itself, but going inside and realising its grandeur and all the incredible play of light and colour is really something else. We bought (well in advance) tickets on the official website of the basilica, or rather, the Tempio Espiatorio, designed by Gaudi as a sacred place in which to celebrate the life of Jesus. The Sagrada Familia, in fact, is a living work of art, in continuous evolution, which - when the project is complete - will consist of 18 towers (12 representing the apostles, 4 the evangelists, one the Virgin Mary, on which a star has been shining since December 2018, and the tallest of all representing Jesus Christ, still under construction), three façades (the Nativity, the Passion and the Glory), a crypt and the apse.
In addition to the classic ticket plus audio-guide, we also decided to buy the entrance to one of the two towers - something else I absolutely recommend. The tickets are not cheap, but the visit is absolutely worth every cent.
Casa Batllò is one of Barcelona's main architectural attractions, designed and renovated/converted by Antonio Gaudi around the early 1900s into an extremely modern and colourful building. The façade of the house is covered in beautiful mosaics that resemble fish scales, the shapes present are mostly round and undulating, as if to remind us of the waves of the sea. We admired this incredible work at night, illuminated by lights ingeniously placed to enhance the shapes and colours. Nevertheless, I strongly recommend visiting Casa Batllò during the daytime, I think the sunlight does it much more justice.
Casa Milà ("La Pedrera")
Not far from Casa Batllò, on the same Passeig de Gràca street, is another great work by Gaudí, Casa Milà - built a few years after the first one. This building too was completely designed with rounded shapes on both facades, reminiscent of the movements of the sea. The incredible stonework is complemented by the equally incredible shapes of wrought iron worked to create plant motifs.
Plaça de Catalunya
About a ten-minute walk from Casa Batllò and Casa Milà is one of the most important, as well as the largest, squares in Barcelona, Plaça de Catalunya. This square connects the old city (Ciutat Vella) with the Eixample district, considered the newest part of the city, where Gaudi's various works can be found; it is a major thoroughfare where several metro lines meet. A square definitely worth visiting, given its importance, but one that did not leave me speechless.
From Plaça de Catalunya starts the world-famous Rambla, Barcelona's avenue about a kilometre and a half long, where one usually strolls among a sea of people, clubs, shops and street performers. Even this, as well as Plaça de Catalunya, was not a place that impressed me much; not surprisingly, in fact, I don't have a single photographic memory of it. If, however, you are in the neighbourhood and fancy a drink, don't be tempted by the touristy places you come across on the street - further down I recommend a 'more intimate' place, hidden in an old hospital!
Also part of the Ciutad Vella is the Barrio Gotico, which can be easily reached on foot from Plaça de Catalunya or La Rambla. I don't have many photographic finds of this wonderful quarter; this time not because I didn't like it, on the contrary, I was extremely fascinated by it and I absolutely recommend a visit. In fact, within this neighbourhood is the square I liked best of all the ones I saw in Barcelona, Plaça Reial; an area shaded by tall palm trees, surrounded by wonderful 19th-century buildings and a variety of characteristic places. Here we found numerous handicraft stands, including one run by a very pretty lady, who makes handmade jewellery with stones of all possible shapes and colours. In the Barrio Gotico you can also admire the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Pi, behind us, along with many quaint little streets full of very particular shops (from clothing boutiques to vintage shops).
From the Barrio Gotico it is very easy, in about twenty minutes walk, to reach the famous La Barceloneta district, perhaps the liveliest in the city, especially at night - thanks to its clubs open until late. We enjoyed taking a walk to admire the scenery and having lunch in the area, overlooking the sea. In the evenings, as mentioned above, there are many clubs that organise dinner and after-dinner events; a quite famous club where we spent the evening organised with my colleagues is Bestial - where we found food absolutely above expectations and music after dinner, until late at night.
Another famous place and one that, unlike the others mentioned before, is absolutely worth the fame it deserves is Parc Güell - probably one of the most famous green areas in the city and designed by Gaudí in the early 1900s; named after the person who commissioned the work (source). It is located slightly outside the centre of Barcelona, towards the north, but is easily accessible from the centre by bus (V19 / 116). There is usually a big queue to get in, so I highly recommend, even an hour before, buying tickets online. Yes, it is always full. In fact, to take the first photo you see, we even had to queue (those who follow me on Instagram will have seen my Instagram post vs reality here - it made me laugh a lot)!
Along with all the places we managed to visit in just two days, I would also like to include Monjuïk, a place we obviously did not visit due to lack of time, but which had been strongly recommended to us. On the mountain there are so many attractions and places to visit, it is a bit like a small city. I was told that from there you can enjoy one of the best views of Barcelona from above.
Another place that was recommended to me, probably only to be seen if you have more time available, is the Picasso's Museum, located in the new Eixample district, in other words the same area as Casa Batlló and La Pedrera (mentioned above). The museum contains about 4,000 permanent works by the artist and the ticket price is about 10/12€.
🏨 Where we stayed
As mentioned above, I had the opportunity to visit Barcelona mainly thanks to a business trip, which saw me sleeping for the first night in a very nice hotel in the Eixample area, called Casa Bonay. A very different hotel from the usual hotels you book on business trips, much more youthful and sustainability conscious. Great location and great breakfast!
Once Roberta and Sabrina arrived, however, we decided to move to a hostel a little further away from Casa Bonay, called Fabrizzio's Petite and chosen in the same area precisely because it seemed to us - and indeed turned out to be - the best solution in which to stay in order to be able to visit the city on foot.
🥘 Food & Drink
Having stayed in the Eixample area, most of the places we tried (but also liked the most) are located here.
Let's start with a little bowler, my absolute favourite (but I am clearly biased towards their choice of vegetarian cuisine). A microscopic place to say the least, it will have maybe 7/8 seats inside and a few tables outside, right next to our hostel, but where I have probably tasted the best beers ever (made by them!). Vegetarian cuisine and super hospitable and friendly staff. If I ever go back to Barcelona, I will definitely drop in again!
Casa Amalia 1950 €€€-€€€€
Not far from the Wum, also in the same neighbourhood, there is a restaurant that is as fancy as it is incredibly good (booked on The Fork with a discount!), where you can taste a fabulous paella, as well as many other equally excellent dishes. Probably the best meal eaten in Barcelona!
Lato Cafè €€
Still in the Eixample area, this time a proposal for brunch, another great passion of ours. There's not much to say about this place, except that my friend Roberta, back in Barcelona again after a few weeks, did an encore with her colleagues. Superlative brunch!
Right in front of the beach of La Barceloneta, there is this beautiful and impressive restaurant, offering traditional dishes with a modern twist. It was suggested to me by a colleague who has lived in Barcelona for years and we were not disappointed. The prices are also very reasonable considering the service and location. Absolutely recommended (always best to book).
El Jardí €€
The last place, but certainly not in importance or beauty, we found by googling literally 'hidden places near La Rambla'. Never was there a better description for such a place. Hidden inside an old hospital, it is an almost magical place where you can have an aperitif with tapas and a fresh caña away from the hustle and bustle of Barcelona's most famous street. Shhh - don't spread the word too much though!
And here the map with all the places of interest visited: attractions, restaurants, bars and beaches.
Various thanks: Again, by now we are a fairly well-trodden trio - but I owe you thanks. Travelling with me is not always a walk in the park, I admit <3