A Weekend in Barcelona
This past June, we headed to Barcelona for a weekend. A couple of days certainly isn’t enough to do and see everything you might like. Especially when some of the time is taken up working, as it was for me. So, this is by no means a comprehensive guide of Barcelona. But, we still managed to fit in quite a bit. You can see the full photo journal here.
WHERE WE STAYED
As I mentioned, the impetus for this trip was a work event I had. So, that impacted where we stayed. My work commitments were in the L’Eixample District, so we narrowed our search there. It’s a nice, pretty upscale neighborhood. It’s central enough, but not so much that it’s overrun with tourists. We usually try to find something a little more off-the-beaten-path (aka – where the hipsters live). I think we would likely have stayed Vila de Gracia otherwise. But, we were happy with L’Eixample.
The upside of being there for work was that we had a larger hotel budget than we normally would. Although, still a non-profit university level budget, so don’t get too excited. We ended up staying at Ca La Maria. It was a beautiful old building that’s been modernized and has a great deck space. And the owner, Maria, was lovely and very eager to help. But the room was tiny and the bathroom privacy situation left a lot to be desired. Honestly, if I were doing it again (and especially if I were paying), I’d just book an Airbnb. We saw some pretty great places at reasonable prices. We like places with character, and there were plenty.
WHAT WE SAW
One very helpful tip we got from Maria was to book tickets online for museums in advance. If you show up to the main sites thinking you’ll just be able to walk in, you’ll probably be disappointed.
Another free tip from me: it’s really hot in Barcelona in the summer. I’ve now learned that lesson twice over. It makes you really understand the whole concept of the siesta. So, if you’re there in summer – just consider that as you plan your time. In the height of the afternoon heat, indoor museums and bars/restaurants are good. You may want to leave time before dinner to go home for a second shower of the day. These kinds of things.
Strolling the Cuitat Vella (Old Town)
After we settled into the hotel, we took the obligatory stroll down La Rambla Boulevard. It’s nice enough, but swarming with tourists. Getting off the main street and into the narrow back streets was better. There were small shops and restaurants. Good for wandering aimlessly. The next day after my work event was done (and while I waited for Chris to return from his day trip to Andorra), I went back to check out La Boqueria market. They like their meat, for sure.
This is not your typical cathedral, which makes it worth the effort to go see. Even twice, in my case (which is saying a lot). It’s still under construction, and there was a lot more to it since I went in 2003. Like a roof. Anyway, it’s the great life work of Antoni Gaudi, the BMOC of Barcelona architecture. There are a few different kinds of tickets you can book. We ended up going for it and paying the 30 Euro for the tickets that allow you to go up one of the towers. You have to pick which tower in advance. We went up the Nativity Facade. The other option is the Passion Facade. You’ll find all sorts of theories about which is better. I liked the Nativity side because you could walk outside between two towers. Also, as you take the spiral staircase down – you can step out onto balconies and get a good view of the city and ocean. It’s cool at the top because you can see some spire details you don’t get from below. The spires are topped with colorful fruit sculptures and other weird things. I think if you’re going all the way there, it’s worth going up the towers.
By the time I got around to booking it, the only time slot available for Park Guell was 8am. To my great surprise, I managed to drag myself out of bed to get there (not so much for Chris who was struggling with his time zones the whole weekend). It turned out to be a great visit, and I was very happy to have done it so early. Even at that hour, it was really hot. I took the public bus up to the top of hill above the park. It was a little confusing finding my way to the entrance from the bus stop, but I did. And luckily, it was downhill. If you take the subway or a different bus, I think you have to walk uphill from the stop. It’s not the end of the world, but in case you care – plan around the hill. I know I’m harping on the heat, but I was full-on sweating despite the early hour and despite having saved myself a hike. Anyway – once there, you just wander the grounds. It’s a unique place. Definitely worth the visit.
We strolled down by the beach and put our feet in the water, but we didn’t stay long. It was packed. If you’re a real beach person, it’s definitely worth the trip. But, we mainly went down in an attempt to take the cable car from the port up to Montjuïc. We were going to then walk to dinner at Palo Cortao from there. That plan failed because we just missed the last ride of the day. The cable car hadn’t actually left and there was a guy in the ticket office, but he was unmoved by our pleas. If only we hadn’t stopped to put our feet in the water…oh well!
WHERE WE ATE
We had limited time on this trip, and even some of that was spent eating at restaurants for work that I would not go out of my way to recommend. But, there were a few places that stood out to us.
La Pepita was a great little place with excellent food. Perfect for lunch. I had the nectarine gazpacho with avocado and acorn-fed iberco ham, which was delicious.
We did another lunch at Bar Mut. We walked in right at noon, and it was empty. But, we were lucky we arrived when we did because it filled up fast. I think a lot of people had reservations. So, if you’re organized enough, you might want to make one. They had apparently only implemented a physical menu the day we were there. I was glad they had, though. I’d read that it was a bit confusing to order based just on the waiter’s recommendations. Plus, it’s a little bit pricey, so you want to know what you’re signing up for. We made the mistake of skipping the giant prawns. We went back to order them once we realized our error, but they were out. So, jump on those if you go!
Go to Palo Cortao! We wanted to go to a lesser-explored part of the city, which is what pointed us in the general direction of Palo Cortao. It’s a relatively new restaurant, but had great reviews. We were not disappointed. We got there on the early side (which for Spain is 8ish) and the place was empty. It seems like a good approach if you aren’t organized enough to make reservations. Just get there before any self-respecting Spaniard would eat. It’s a simple, but very well-designed space. The food was amazing. And cheap! We had multiple drinks, appetizers, mains, dessert, and coffee and I think the whole bill was $65. We ordered the charcuterie plate, scallops, squid, pork tenderloin, and crème brûlée. Each dish had some interesting combinations. And most importantly – everything was delicious. We really felt like we found a gem with this one.
WHERE WE DRANK
Full disclosure – I have no advice about where to get good wine or cocktails. But, I did discover that Barcelona has a pretty decent craft beer scene. It’s a real treat for a beer drinker like me that places like Paris and Barcelona are getting on this train. The three places we checked out were Garage, Black Lab and Beer’linale. Garage had the best beer, to my taste (which tends towards IPAs). But, it was also the most out of the way. We stumbled upon Beer’linale, which is just off La Rambla. They have some good local beers on tap, and it’s right in the old town. Black Lab is down by the Port. Solid beer, and they have nice outdoor seating. We met one of the assistant brewers who turned out to be a recovering lawyer from the US! His wife’s job took them to Barcelona. Instead of figuring out how to practice there, he turned his beer-making hobby into a job. Chris and I were very inspired.