Sitting outside a café on Plaça Revolució, in the heart of Gràcia, can give you a good insight into the daily lives of Barcelonians. Kids play with water balloons by the fountain, and friends catch up over cañas at the bar. In a city that compares to London, in size and cultural offer, the pace feels much, much slower.
From beaches, mountains and a rich urban area, Barcelona is not a trivial city to tackle over a weekend. With ten districts crying for your attention, it's easy to understand the difficulty of electing where to go and what to see. With this guide, we present a curated view, from the neighbourhood café to interesting museums.
Vila de Grácia
Having stayed in almost every district of Barcelona, we recommend the Grácia area. Bordering Eixample and Sarrià-Sant Gervasi, the neighbourhood is a bohemian and liberal ideology bastion. Spend a day (and night) in its streets and you'll find a multitude of boutique dinning spaces, terrace cafés, designer shops and independent bookshops. Plaça del Sol, where crowds gather late at night to share a beer, has lively and friendly atmosphere coexisting with the adjacent buildings.
Accommodation wise, you can find mid-range to luxury hotels, decent hostels and AirBnB flats. Despite AirBnb being under fire from the Catalonian government, there’s still a wide range of flats available. With an option for every budget, a desirable location to access the sights and a trendy community, Gràcia is amongst the best places to stay.
Worth to mention:
In August, the neighbourhood is home to the Festa Major de Gràcia. The week-long explosion of creativity is fun but loud, with late nights. If you prefer a quieter environment there are other alternatives, such as:
El Born is the medieval, yet fashionable neighbourhood. Near the ramblas, it boasts a rich eating and drinking scene and fashion scene
El Raval, home to MACBA (Museum of Modern Art) and a multitude of design studios and cafés, is another option. Its grittier, dirtier side can, however, put some people off. We’d recommend it if you are in search of a multi-cultural and authentic Barcelona.
La Sagrada Família
Carrer de Mallorca, 401 • 15 to 29€
The beautiful Sagrada Família's been in the making for more than a century. Its ambitious plan and a troubled history haven't helped. From the early death of its architect to the Spanish Civil War, the basilica's construction has spawned through generations. But as of October 2015, it has entered its final stage, with its completion expected by 2026, on the centennial of Gaudí’s death. We definitely recommend paying the fee to go in. If the exterior is impressive, the interior is jaw dropping. The stained glass work fills the building with a kaleidoscopic effect of blues, greens and oranges as the sun passes through the facades. The colours contrast with the white stone and floors, creating the most interesting game of light and shadow.
It's possible to visit the interior and two of the towers. If you book online, not only will the ticket be cheaper but you’ll also avoid queuing twice. All entrance fees fund the annual construction budget.
Also worth a visit
The Gaudí trail
With so many buildings across town, it’s hard to avoid the work of the Catalan architect. From the two houses on Passeig de Gràcia — Casa Milá and the famous Casa Battló — to Park Guëll there's plenty to see. From all these sights, the Gaudí House Museum on Park Guëll is the least famous. Yet, it will give you an insight into the life of Gaudí like no other place.
North of Barcelona you can see, in the distance, a castle perched on top of a high Tibidabo mountain. This castle is in fact the Sagrat Cor church and shares the mountain with an amusement park. The viewpoint affords spectacular views over Barcelona and it’s coastline. But climbing to the top of the basilica can provide you with even better and less crowded views. To reach the mountain you'll need to take Tibidabo funicular, the first of it’s kind in Spain.
Carrer del Marquès de Barberà, 24 • 15 to 20€
In El Raval, minutes away from La Rambla, a bar cum restaurant offers to take you on a journey through the tropics. When you first enter, a small hall with chairs, colourful pillows and salvaged wooden tables leads you straight into a long corridor. Past this, a bright and spacious dining area open up. A map of the world carved out on the only exposed brick wall, contrasts with the rest of the space. Immaculate white walls, clean lines and design furniture. Green details – napkins, lamps, vases – stress the refinement of the area.
The menu caters for veggies, celiacs and health-minded alike. For brunch, there’s huevos rancheros, eggs Benedict, açaí bowls, pancakes and much more. From the colourful smoothie list, we recommend the Thai Dragon Tail and the Watermelon Coconut water.
Also worth a visit
Quinoa Bar Vegetariá
Travessera de Gràcia, 203 • 10 to 15€
This tiny place in Gràcia, home to the best vegan carrot cake we’ve ever tried, is a welcomed change in Barcelona's food scene. Catering for veggies and vegans, it offers great burgers, scrumptious saladas and a daily quiche. During lunch hours, set menus include one of their refreshing, made to order juices, making the place an affordable option for lunch.
C/ Balboa, 1 • 15€
A neighbourhood tapas bar, a stone throw away from the touristy Barceloneta. A young crowd forms in the evenings, making it a popular place for those who know. The menu boasts all the usual suspects of Catalonian cuisine; patatas bravas, tortilla de patata, piquillo peppers or chipirones. Everything is well cooked and well served. As an inside tip, if Bitácora is full and there’s no place to sit, just go the restaurant next door. The name is different, but it shares Bitácora's kitchen and menu.
HOW TO GET THERE
There are a couple of low budget airline companies that fly directly from London to Barcelona. Prices are affordable throughout the year but fares increase during peak season (May - September).
Make sure to always search Skyscanner for the best possible deals. That's always our approach!