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How to spend a weekend in Barcelona – 19 Dos and Don’ts

A local's guide to Barcelona

There are NINE UNESCO World Heritage sites in Barcelona. But did you know that there’s a museum of funeral carriages?

Nope? Didn’t think so.

Do not fear, Amber is here. To let you in on all the secrets of this wonderful city. To help you to avoid the museum of funeral carriages (and other places which may bore you to death).

I have plenty of tips for you if you want to see the best of this city. But before we get to the fun stuff, here are 5 things you shouldn’t do in Barcelona:

5 Barcelona Don’ts

La Rambla

I’ll never know why, but La Rambla is a tourist hotspot. Sure, it connects Plaça Catalunya with the harbour, but it’s just a boring street with a few market stalls and plenty of pickpockets. Oh, and don’t forget the drug dealers. Coffee shop, anyone?

Rambla del Raval

West of La Rambla, you have Rambla del Raval. Rambla del Raval and La Rambla are alike in that they’re both full of overpriced, low-quality restaurants.

Note: “Rambla del Raval” is just a street, whereas “Raval” is the name of the barrio (neighbourhood) itself. There are some great restaurants in the north of Raval, so I’ll share those in a moment.

Plaça de Catalunya

At the northern end of La Rambla, you have Plaça de Catalunya. Unless you need to go shopping, it’s not worth making the trip for.

The Beach

The sand isn’t real.

In fact, there were no beaches in Barcelona until 1992.

It’s ironic that one of the top ten beach cities in the world – according to National Geographic and Discovery Channel – imports its sand from Egypt.

A trip to the beach also involves getting hassled by salespeople peddling pub crawl wristbands. Once I actually bought one so that I would be left in peace.

Barceloneta beach

Passeig de Joan de Borbó

Do you want to be surrounded by other Americans and crappy food? Me neither. And I’m English.

When most people go to the beach, they grab something to eat on the way from Barceloneta metro station. Rookie mistake.

This street is called Passeig de Joan de Borbó. Don’t eat here.

For good food by the beach, check out La Heladería Mexicana (The first vegan Mexican place I’ve come across),  Bacoa Burger, Kaymana or Surf House Barcelona.

Dos

Now on to the fun stuff! Here are twelve of the best ways to experience Barcelona:

1. Feel the laid-back vibe in Eixample

Oh, Eixample. My girlfriend lived here before we moved in together, so I get nostalgic butterflies when I think about it.

Although Eixample is known as the “gay” neighbourhood, don’t be thrown off by the pride flags and naughty shops – it’s no gayer than a wander through London. In fact, it’s just as popular with the locals who come in for their breakfasts and evening drinks.

Tip: San Trop is one of my favourite bars in the neighbourhood. It’s so old fashioned that it looks like somewhere Hemingway would have thrown back a few. But I love it.

Head upstairs for a little privacy and the bartender will come up to take your order.

“Vintage chic”

2. Sagrada Familia

I hate myself for including this, but I must.

The Sagrada has been under construction for 136 years, and they’re estimating completion by 2026. Spaniards have a reputation for being lazy, but this doesn’t help their case.

Guess who was the architect?

Gaudi, of course.

Construction on the cathedral began in 1882, but because the local council didn’t approve it, no authority oversaw the project. Now they’ve been smacked with a 36€ million euro fine, most of which will go towards improving public transportation. This is rather poetic, given the fact that Gaudí was killed by a tram while on his daily walk to confession in 1926.

3. Port Vell

The marina is just south of La Rambla. It’s a great place to wander around in the day time or to do some shopping in the Maremagnum mall.

4. Spend a night in the old Civil War bunkers

Bunkers in El Carmel is, in my opinion, the best place to see the city in its entirety. Go up just before sunset, crack open a bottle of wine and enjoy the view.

The remains also have a pretty interesting history.

5. Drink in El Born

One of my favourite neighbourhoods is close to the Marina, Barceloneta beach AND the Gothic Quarter. It’s called El Born.

El Born has plenty of great bars and restaurants, but it’s much more than that. It’s the rare kind of place where you can have a chilled night or a crazy one.

Start at Passeig del Born and see what you find.

Tips:

Start the night with a carajillo (a short coffee with a shot of alcohol) at Quillo.

Then, grab a cocktail at Mamaine, a glass of Spanish wine at Casa Nova, or, if you’re in the mood for beer, wander slightly out of the area to BlackLab Brewhouse.

6. Eat with the locals

Bún Bò Vietnam

Here are, in my opinion, the best areas for foodies:

El Raval: This may be known as the “University area”, but it has some of the best food joints in the city. Get your health food kick at Flax&Kale, check out my favourite Mexican place Rosa del Raval, or swing by Betty Ford for one of the best burgers you’ve ever had. Go here in the daytime.

El Born: If you’re yet to fall in love with the city, get lost in El Born. There are plenty of places to eat here, but one of my favourites is a restaurant called “Casa Nova” – directly opposite the cultural centre. Sit by the open window area for the best people-watching spot in Barcelona. Great wine and tasty tapas.

Gothic Quarter: This area is the most touristy of the three, but it’s worth the crowds. I think it’s more exciting to discover this area by yourself, so I won’t give you any restaurant spoilers!

7. Transport back to medieval times in the Gothic Quarter

The Gothic Quarter offers far more than something to eat.

Think narrow medieval streets, cute shops and pintxos restaurants (restaurants serving small sandwich-like tapas).

What’s not to love here? Get off at the Jaume I metro stop and spend a few hours getting lost.

Tips:

Grab a bocata or three (sandwich) at Conesa (they cater to vegans and veggies) or Bó de B (there’s a reason for the queue!).

There’s also a particularly cool café close to La Rambla called El Bosc de les Fades. Indoor thunderstorms kind-of-cool. It’s like something out of a fairy-tale.

8. Check out Barcelona’s nightlife

Barcelona knows how to throw a good party, although it’s not quite as crazy as Madrid – something which you might be grateful for!

Just remember that bars don’t get busy until midnight on weekends, and clubs sometimes even later – but they are open until 6am.

During the summer, head up to Montjuïc for the La Terrazza open air club.

Razzmataz is the biggest club in Barcelona with five rooms, or of course there is Opium or Shoko, or the more student-friendly hip-hop club Otto Zutz.

Opium is known for having the biggest DJ sets, but I would also recommend Carpe Diem Lounge Club if you’re looking for somewhere less-crowded.

LGBTQA+ friends also have plenty of options. Arena is a popular choice, or their sister club Aire – Sala Diana, which was designed for the lesbian community. Arena plays mostly house and pop music, whilst Sala Diana plays a combination of Latin music and pop music.

9. Passeig De Gràcia

I have fond memories of this area. In fact, I had to manoeuvre through the tourists every day to pick Biby up from work. It was also here that I realised I loved her, because I had packed her some peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The sign of true love.

Even if you don’t have a Biby, there’s plenty to do here – besides the luxury stores. Passeig De Gràcia is also home to Antoni Gaudi’s Casa Batlló and Casa Milà – two of the most otherworldly buildings in existence.

Although Gaudi began his career making lampposts and newsstands, the Spanish architect is now considered Catalonia’s face of modern architecture. This is sad, given the fact that when he dropped dead, his dishevelled appearance led people to think that he was a beggar. He did not receive any immediate medical attention.

You can see Gaudi’s work in passing without actually going inside. Many people buy the expensive entry tickets and get up early to queue, only to find that the building is too busy to enjoy.

I recommend including a walk around Passeig on any itinerary, so why not appreciate these casas from the outside?

10. Barcelona’s hidden markets

You’ve probably heard of the Boqueria Market (the huge market off La Rambla), but there are so many cool markets in Barcelona.

The first that springs to mind is Palo Alto Market. Palo Alto is an urban garden located in the courtyard of a former factory turned co-working space in the heart of Poblenou. But it really comes to life during the first weekend of every month, when it plays host to local artists, food trucks, musicians, and other artisans. It’s certainly more of an experience than a market.

I also heard that Mercat de Sant Antoni has recently reopened. There was a lot of talk about this place, so I would recommend checking it out. It spans an entire block in Eixample!

La Boqueria is open from Monday to Saturday, 08:00 – 20:30.

Palo Alto market is held the first weekend of every month, from 11am – 9pm.

Mercat de Sant Antoni is open from Monday to Saturday, 08:00 – 20:30.

11. Experience the creative side of the city

If you’re an art nerd, you’re in luck.

Barcelona is FULL of museums and art galleries – many of which are free on a Sunday! Woo!

Click here for a list of museums and their free entry times.

Or, if you’re more in the mood for an art gallery or two, click here for the TimeOut list.

12. Check out this secret viewpoint

Everyone wants to get to the top of the city, and although Bunkers is my favourite spot, this one is certainly worth knowing.

You’ve probably seen or heard of the famous Christopher Colombus statue at the end of Las Ramblas, right?

Well, despite my opinion that Colombus was a bit of a nob head, this is a pretty beautiful place to take in the city one morning. It’s called Mirador de Colom and you can take a ride up to the top to see the tree-lined boulevard known as Las Ramblas – before the pickpockets and human statues swarm in for business. Most people don’t know about this viewpoint, but it’s the best one if you don’t feel like the trip to Bunkers.

13. Parc de la Ciutadella

Ah, Parc de la Ciutadella. The most verdant oasis in the city. This is one of my favourite parks in the world. Plus, it has a boating lake, a zoo and a rose garden! Take a blanket, a couple of beers and a speaker to see what Barcelona is all about.

14. Explore the magical Montjuïc

There’s so much more to Montjuïc than the museums and the magic fountain.

There’s a botanical garden, stadiums from the 1992 summer Olympics, and a beautiful municipal pool that overlooks the city (the one that was used in Kylie Minogue’s music video for “slow”, FYI).

There’s also a cable car that goes all the way up to Montjuïc castle – an old military fortress with awesome views of the city.

If that isn’t enough for you, I recently discovered that the hills are full of beautiful gardens and greenery. These span so far that you can actually get lost! If you want to discover these and explore the real magic of Montjuïc, keep an eye out for my next post!

How to spend a weekend in Barcelona – 17 Dos and Don’ts

These are my favourite ways to see Barcelona, but they might not necessarily be yours. Do you think I’ve missed anything off the list? Hit me up in the comments below.

Flail with me

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