“Las ramblas, I’ll meet you
Come on and dance with me in Barcelona
I just want to be in Barcelona”
Ed couldn’t have said it better himself and you know this song was on blast as I landed in Barcelona.
Once I knew I was going to Ireland pre-moving to Austin, I decided to take advantage of the time in Europe and extend my return date to Austin by two weeks because why not? At that point, I just had to find the people and place to fill my days with. Enter Keith.
My best friend Keith had always wanted to go to Spain, specifically Barcelona, because a few friends had traveled/studied abroad there and I had been to Barcelona once before for about 24 hours which didn’t give me much memory of the city myself. A little (okay a lot) of convincing, and we managed to align our schedules so that we were both going to Barcelona… together!
One thing I really admire about our friendship is we think differently and learn from each other, which also applied to the planning of this trip. Typical Roth-style of travel is cram as much as you can in as many places as you can in the time you have i.e. be in a different town every night, on the road every day sort of travel, but this trip Keith suggested we call Barcelona home for the week and really get to explore the city in depth and I’m so glad he did.
Meeting at the airport, we headed straight to our hotel, Hotel Serhs del Port, that we called home for the week. If I could recommend a time to go to Barcelona, I would say the last week of September/first week of October is absolute perfection. While the Gothic Quarter is where all the main action and major nightlife happens, I would say for the price and location of our hotel, we were more than pleased with our choice. As far as transportation goes, Barcelona has a great public transit system and either by walking or taking advantage of the metro we were able to get to most of the places we wanted to.
Our first dinner was at PaloSanto in the El Raval neighborhood. It’s easy to miss as it’s a little hole-in-the-wall-esque, but is definitely worth going out of your way to eat at. Full out on all the classics like patatas bravas with spicy bravas sauce, a local Spanish cerveza and killer white sangria (because that is totally a thing), tortilla española, and tender octopus hit the spot and got us in the Spanish mood. I wasn’t feeling that good the first night so we called it an early night, but my broken heart would be mended knowing that we still had the whole week ahead in BarTHElona. 🙂
We woke up our first day in Barcelona and were eager to hit Brunch and Cake, but when we got there the line was much longer than we were hoping for. Thankfully the waitress let us know about another Brunch and Cake location up the street that we were able to snag a seat at. The smoked salmon bagel was on point, but the low of the trip was Keith biting into the worst burger ever. This would not be the only terrible burger experience in Spain, so for your own sake skip burgers in Spain and stick with the classics.
After brunch, we visited the famous Parc Güell. Architect Antonio Gaudí rules Barcelona with his Catalan modernism and this park is one of his many masterpieces. The majority of the park is free to the public, but the area where the mosaic wall is that you see in all the photos of the park requires reservations in advance which you can do here; punctuality is enforced! Unfortunately the majority of the wall was being reconstructed when we were there, but we were still able to admire the view and I 100% reenacted Raven’s iconic leg kick from the Cheetah Girls.
Afterward we Ubered up to Tibidabo Amusement Park, Spain’s longest running amusement park perched at the top of the Collserola Ridge. There’s a few ways to get up the mountain, including by metro or the funicular. Once at the top you’ll get incredible 360 degree views over the city, sea, and inland towards Montserrat. I think we were the only people above the age of 13, nonetheless we had a blast being kids, going on different rides, and taking in the magnificent views. Note that this park is only open on the weekends, no weekdays, so you’ll want to check the schedule for when they are open. One of my favorite moments of the trip was seeing the most beautiful panoramic sunset over the city and mountains from the top of the ferris wheel like a scene out of a movie!
We may have gotten temporarily lost on the way back down, but after some strategic survival skills kicked in, we made it down the hill. We ended up having a late dinner at Margherita. While it was pretty good, something to note is that service is Spain is practically non-existent. Whether it’s waiting 15 minutes for water after you sit down, or not having a waiter pass your table all night, it can be a bit frustrating to get someone’s attention and feel noticed as a customer, but I guess they make up for it in the fact that all their food is amazing.
There’s no way you can go to Barcelona without visiting the most iconic site in the city, La Sagrada Familia. As one of Gaudi’s most famous works, this Roman Catholic temple has been under construction since —wait for it— 1882! (and is still being built today). Impossible does not even begin to describe the intricate and creative genius brain of Gaudí. Planning your visit to La Sagrada involves buying tickets online to skip lines, and you can add on the option of spiraling either the Nativity or Passion facade (we chose the Nativity facade). If you plan on visiting a lot of main tourist attractions, you might want to consider the Barcelona City Pass, which includes free entrance to La Sagrada Familia. We skipped this option as we planned on exploring more off the track spots rather than many tourist stops, but it may save you some money and time if you are going to a lot of main attractions.
After escaping the beautiful chaos of La Sagrada Familia, we had the best tapas for lunch at Bar Cañete. As noted in the name, most of the seating is at the bar which I’ve always thought are the best seats in the house to see all the action and to be closer to the food. Bar Cañete was on my list of must eat at places and everything we ate including the lobster croquette, the Barceloneta bomb (aka the best spicy meatball of my life), Cañete style shrimp in garlic, Galician scallops, and aged beef steak with foie and truffle were beyond top notch. I made reservations ahead of time to confirm I could get in on these first-rate tapas and if you have to choose one tapas bar to eat at while in Barcelona, this would be my first choice.
After a mini siesta watching the Spanish Netflix series Elite, we took a late afternoon stroll to Parc Ciutadella, a green oasis in the middle of the city that includes the Parliament de Catalunya and Barcelona Zoo. Somewhere in the middle of the park they have an area where you can rent a rowing boat and we goofed off a little bit rowing around the lake. The northwest corner of the park leads to the Arco de Triunfo de Barcelona which is a nice walkway to stroll in the evening and people watch.
Another subpar burger for dinner, we redeemed our sadness with a few drinks at Flaherty’s Irish pub. While we started at a fun traditional Irish pub, Barcelona is known worldwide for it’s nightlife. Whether its bar hopping, beachside clubs, live music and dancing, flamenco shows, or exclusive parties, Barcelona is the place to go out. This blog goes into great detail about the night scene more than I ever could, and mentions the option of the Barcelona Nightlife Ticket. We opted for Opium, though lined along the beach next to Opium are a few other great nightclubs that are supposed to be killer. You can’t go wrong going out in Barcelona!
The Picasso Museum was another tourist stop we made reservations for to see. In short, you’ll love it if you love Picasso. If you’re not a big Picasso fan, I’d suggest passing and hitting up another famous museum like the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Fundació Joan Miró, or Casa Mila by Gaudí.
We grabbed a quick bite at a cute corner shop called Funky Bakers to hold us over until lunch at Bodega 1900 by Albert Adriá. It’s no secret Barcelona has some of the best food in the world and is concurrently home to world renown chef Albert Adriá of El Bulli. Having watched his Chef’s Table episode, it makes sense that reservations for any one of his 6 restaurants books months and months in advance. While I still dream of going to Tickets, Bodega 1900 is his more accessible restaurant in the shape of humble tapas with the Adriá flair. Our favorites included the beef carpaccio, their filet and pan con tomate. Pan con tomate is a staple in Catalan cuisine and translated literally is what it is; bread with tomatoes. It is so simple and yet holds its own as a side and in reality, as a main. Tomato and bread is better than it sounds, good enough to travel to Spain for!
One thing Keith sacrificed for coming on the trip was being able to sailgate at one of the UW games but little did he know, I planned a surprise sail to make up for it/I really just wanted to go sailing in Barcelona. It was my first time booking an Airbnb experience and I have to say that I would definitely do it again. There were a multitude of sailing options, both day and evening, to see the city from the water side. We went with the Barcelona Sunset Sailing Cruise with Sebastian and once again, fell in love with Barcelona sunsets. If you come to Spain and don’t have paella, well did you even go to Spain? Paella actually originates from the Valencia region, but is made in every region in Spain today. On the waterfront there are a collection of restaurants that serve fresh seafood and paella for dinner. Albeit they are a bit touristy, but popular nonetheless for food with a view.
Continuing our journey of eating as many Barcelona bites as possible, we hit up La Boqueria Mercato for breakfast. La Boqueria is Barcelona’s iconic produce market whose maze of stalls featuring local wines, fruits and veggies, meat and seafood, spices, candy, and yummy restaurants scattered throughout draws any foodie or foodie friend into it for it’s vibrant colors, energy, and tastes. It’s the perfect place for a quick bite or to stock up on snacks, especially jamon iberico de bellota, manchego and marcona almonds. Regarding eating jamon iberico de bellota, I’m taking a direct quote from my chef friend Kevin that is too good not to share: “Make sure it’s BELLOTA and hand sliced in front of you. PAY THE RIDICULOUS AMOUNT AND DO IT. WATCH SHIA LABEOUF IF YOU HAVE TO. Savor it and let it sit and mingle in your mouth. Make out with it.” If Kevin doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will.
Quite close to our hotel was the Parc del Mirador del Poble-sec and Port Cable Car you can take for a short but scenic 7 minute trip over the city’s port. Researching this online is a bit confusing because there are two cable cars that take off from the same place, the Teleferic de Montjuic and the Port Cable Car. We went with the latter, that crosses the water for aerial views above Barcelona’s marina. For this one there are two access points, one from the water on Passeig Don Joan Borbó and one from Montjuïc mountain, and you can opt for a one-way or roundtrip ticket. Follow these directions for the Port Cable Car and you’ll find your way!
After the ride, we grabbed an early dinner at Cerveseria Catalana. We had passed it a few nights prior and the place was packed, overflowing out into the streets so we knew we had to eat there. Thankfully we got a table a few nights later by going a bit earlier around 6pm since they do not take reservations and it did not disappoint. Every single pintxos and tapas we ordered was scrumptious including the skewered shrimp, something to do with salmon and cream cheese, some other seafood goodness I can’t recall. We ate so fast we forgot to take photos, but I’ll always remembering rolling out the door stuffed and satisfied.
Lucky us found out there was a football game going on during our week in Barcelona and even luckier us got tickets to a FC Barcelona game! Watching a European football game live, nonetheless at Camp Nou which is the largest stadium in Europe, is an EXPERIENCE. Truth be told, I was a little torn as Barcelona was playing Inter Milan, my alma matter Bocconi and studying abroad in Milan adding to my bias toward Italy, but nonetheless I repped the navy blue and maroon of Barça and I chose correctly because we won!
For a little snack to start off our day, we grabbed some coffee and lemon poppyseed cake at ARTisa coffee before a long afternoon of cooking and eating at Cook and Taste Barcelona. Our chef Carlos taught us how to cook four Spanish classics including escalivada, gazpacho, paella, and crema catalana plus a lot of wine to wash it all down. It was a smaller, intimate setting and chef Carlos was very knowledgeable about the history and details of certain processes. Taking a cooking class is a fun hands on activity for any age and a great way to get to know the culture of a place, this being the kitchen to do it at.
Wanting to ride like locals, we rented a motorbike from Mondorent to watch another stunning sunset at Bunker del Carmel. Important note: if you are planning to rent any sort of motor vehicle in Europe, you MUST have your international driver’s license (which you can get at your local AAA or AATA). Now that we made it safely back, we were lucky we didn’t get pulled over as we
may have been were driving illegally…so I would say if you plan far enough ahead, definitely get your international driver’s license or risk life on the edge and do what we did (not recommended, but just as if not more fun). But it was all worth it for another jaw-dropping sunset!
As a self-proclaimed foodie, it’s always been on my bucket list to go to a 3 Michelin star restaurant. My aforementioned friend Kevin recommended a long list of fancy restaurants that was narrowed down to Lasarte. If I have to be completely honest, the service was way too formal for me, but at least I had great company and an actual full belly to laugh about it at the end. The presentation was impeccable, and the waygu ravioli and sweet yogurt made in the shape of a cherry I will never be able to recreate in my life again. After dinner we popped into Bobby’s Free speakeasy which from the outside looks like a barber shop but if you have the right connections (and the right password), you are taken behind the staged set and down into an energetic, bustling bar with a lively crowd and live music.
Breakfast in Spain is the smallest meal of the day, which makes churros and chocolate just the right size for a morning pick-me-up. Consider it the Spanish version of donuts and hot chocolate, but add more dipping and more drooling. Many places offer churros and chocolate, but there are multiple churrerias that specialize in making your perfect deep-fried delicacy dreams come true like Xurreria Laietana and Xuerria San Manuel Roman.
We had another fantastic lunch at Tosca del Carme, perused some cool local products at Origens Craft & Design kitty corner from the restaurant, and finished with a sweet treat at Rocambolesc where the Roca brothers, the team behind the best restaurant in the world El Celler de Can Roca, created an ice cream line with a gastronomic touch.
Getting in some last minute shopping at the Maremagnum on the coast, we popped into Pasapalo for our last dinner. It’s a cozy little gem in a sea of great tapas bars and hit the requirements of good food and a good price. Our last drinks were enjoyed from the bar on the top floor of the W Hotel, and a bittersweet beach walk back to home.
If I had to describe the Barcelona trip in one word, it would be blissful. It didn’t just seem like a dream trip, it was. No matter where you go, I’ve always thought how well you travel with someone is a true test of your relationship with them and can either make or break the trip. Suffice to say, I’ve got great friends and great travel buddies, and Keith is both! There is so much to do and see in Barcelona, and I know we barely scratched the surface, but I’m so grateful we scratched it together for the first time. Takeaways from this trip are easy: Go somewhere fun, with someone fun, and have fun!
Want to know everywhere we went in Barcelona? Check out the map below for all our favorite places! Note: I added a few more places that I wanted to go to but just didn’t have the time to make. Will have to cross off on Barcelona round 2 🙂