Dr Charlotte Russell, Clinical Psychologist
Situated in the North-East coast of Spain, Barcelona is the capital of the Catalonia region. It’s a big and cosmopolitan destination that reminds me a little of my hometown Manchester. Except that it also has beaches and warm weather!
This destination is perfect if:
· You want a fast-paced city with lots to see and do
· You love Spanish food and wine
· You enjoy art and architecture
· You like the excitement and adventure of a big city that is a little rough around the edges. Remember that petty theft and pickpocketing is common in Barcelona, so as with any big city, you need to maintain your awareness when you’re out and about.
· You want the option of being both a tourist and finding places with a young and hip vibe, all on the same trip!
· You like to explore by foot
My top recommendations for Barcelona
Barcelona is famous for the architect Antoni Gaudi, and is home to seven of his spectacular and unique buildings, which form a UNESCO world heritage site. The most visited is the Sagrada Família, a Basilica which is famous across the World. Due to the incredible detail throughout the design and construction, it is known for both it’s beauty and the fact that it has never finished, despite work beginning in the 1800s. Once you get there you realise the building is truly extraordinary and really has to be seen and experienced to be believed.
Outside the Sagrada Familia
Although Gaudi’s architecture is pretty special, I would suggest that there is lots to see and do in Barcelona beyond these buildings. So depending how much time you have and how much you are into architecture, you may want to think about which ones to prioritise. If you are like me, then you will want to spend time ‘absorbing’ the vibe of the city rather than trying to spend a lot of time visiting different sights so think about what will work best for you.
The Arc de Triomf
Barcelona’s Arc de Triomf is situated at the edge of the Parc de la Ciutadella, which is a large and beautiful park in the middle of the city. This means that visiting the Arc itself and taking a stroll down into the park is a great option for a sunny afternoon.
Barcelona's Arc de Triomf, great for an afternoon stroll
Towards the South of the park you can also find the Catalonia parliament buildings which are very picturesque and provide a great photo opportunity.
Catalonia's parliament buildings, with pretty orange tress
The city’s art gallery Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, is absolutely huge and holds varied and interesting exhibitions. The building itself is very grand and is situated with great views over Barcelona itself. If you have an interest in art it Is worth a visit.
Those of you who are into football will need to check out the Barça Stadium Tour & Museum home of FC Barcelona.
Barcelona is also a great place for shopping particularly in the area close to the Plaça de Catalunya. My particular favourite is that it has a massive Sephora flagship store which is a great place to pick up some cosmetics and little luxuries.
Botero’s Cat (El Gato de Botero)
The bronze cat statue is situated in El Raval district, having been moved around Barcelona a few times since 1987. It is well worth a stroll to see it! However I’d recommend you do this during daylight hours as the surrounding area felt a little shady in parts.
Food and drink
There are more than 10,000 restaurants in Barcelona so there really is something for everyone. Given the amazing quality and choice here, as long as you avoid the tourist traps, I’m sure you will have a decent meal. This is not an exhaustive guide, but here were a few of my favourites from my recent visit:
If you like good coffee, go no further than Blackbird coffee corner which is a short walk from the Sagrada Familia. This is a great place for speciality coffee and a cake or pastry, and very stylish to boot.
Sticking with the young and hip vibe, Federal cafe in the gothic quarter is a great place for coffee and brunch. It’s hard to beat their avocado and poached eggs.
Moving on to more traditional tapas, one of my favourite places on my recent trip was Taller de tapas situated in the gothic quarter. We loved sitting out on the terrace and having tapas over a long period of time, followed by paella of course. It’s worth bearing in mind that sitting out on the terrace for many restaurants costs a small amount more than sitting inside, so expect the prices to be 10-15% higher than on the menu.
Taller de Tapas, Gothic Quarter
Another favourite from my recent trip was Güell Tapas near La Ramblas. We found this to be a really friendly and traditional place and the food was top notch, especially their paella. Staff were very welcoming and it was great value. I would definitely eat here again.
Seafood paella at Guell Tapas
If you are looking for a place for drinks the Plaça Reial is a really nice place to sit and watch the world go by. This is a touristy spot so the prices are a little higher than elsewhere in Spain but still considerably less than the UK. If you fancy watching a flamenco show before dinner Los Tarantos is right on the square. Whilst it wasn’t the most authentic performance I’ve ever seen, I enjoyed the show and would go again.
Where to stay
We stayed at Hotel Gaudi near La Ramblas which was well placed for exploring. The room itself was nothing to write home about, but the roof terrace has a great view of Barcelona.
Palau Guell view from Hotel Gaudi
Last but not least:
If you’re feeling hedonistic – The Catalonia region is famous for the sparkling wine Cava, with over 95% of production taking place in this area. What better reason could there be for ordering a bottle and enjoying it with your travel companions!?
Enjoying a bottle of Cordoniu cava
If you want a sense of accomplishment – wear a step tracker and see how many steps you rack up just exploring the city by foot!
Reasons to be optimistic – Most UK airports have several flights per day to Barcelona so it is really an accessible city for a short break. In the summer has the rare combination of being a beach and city break in one. With Spain’s excellent train network it is also easily combined with a visit to other destinations in Spain.
Please note our destination guides contain personal recommendations and not professional advice
If you liked this article check out My top 10 things to do in Spain