A WEEKEND IN BARCELONA WITH HOTELS.COM
The time between my first and second visit to Barcelona (ignoring the time I flew in only to drive pretty much straight away out of the city to Girona last year) was over a decade long. A lot can change about a city in that time!
My first visit was when I was much younger and when I was very much one of those 'tourist travellers' (whereas now I'd like to consider myself a 'local traveller': someone - by my own definition - who gets to know a place like a local does). In truth, back then I didn't love Barcelona. The city was in full summer swing - too crowded, too hot - and we aimed for all the tourist traps and those alone. All I remember from that trip was leaving feeling sick from all the second hand smoke I had breathed in over the few days we were there. Not a great first impression for 15 year old Claire... but that was then, and this is now. I knew things would be different and I was right. So when hotels.com got in touch to see whether I'd be interested in escaping to Barcelona for the weekend, I knew I had to return - to see Barcelona properly and experience it the way in which I see all cities these days when I travel. Given my ever-growing love and appreciation for architecture and design, Barcelona is a fantastic place to visit - it is, after all, the home of Antoni Gaudí - not to mention, the brilliant gastronomy scene happening in the city too.
What I discovered from my two days exploring the city is that Barcelona has a bit of everything for everyone: from food and culture to design and shopping. Below are just some of my recommendations that I managed to tick off the list in a very short of space time - ideally I'd need at least 4/5 days to do the city any sort of justice but alas, not this time!
I never knew this side of Barcelona existed until a year or so ago! Shocking isn't it? Filled with restaurants, bars, beaches, yachts and the port, it's a completely different side to Barcelona to explore. Take a stroll along the harbour to the beach, and walk down the beautiful Passeig Colom - less Spain more Miami-meets-Monaco.
If you have the time, I'd recommend a cable car trip from Sant Sebastià beach to Montjuïc Hill. Best on a beautiful day to enjoy the bird's eye views to the max.
During my wanders getting acquainted with the Gothic Quarter, I stumbled across a square filled with palm trees and people. With cafes and restaurants lining every side, Plaça Reial reminds me of St Mark's Square in Venice - a lovely space to see, chill around and perhaps grab a coffee (or an ice cream?) in. I imagine in summer the square is heaving with people but sometimes, there's no escaping the crowds is there?
Once you've had enough of dodging tourists on La Rambla, seek refuge here and catch some vitamin D.
UNESCO-listed Park Güell was Gaudí's 'garden project' at the request of the park's owner, Count Eusebi Guell, back in 1900 and should definitely be on your visit list whilst in Barcelona.
Had I had the park to myself, I could have spent much longer exploring and trailing the tiles which really are quite beautiful to see up close. The entrance is guarded by two Hansel and Gretel gatehouses - which look remarkably like actual gingerbread houses - and once inside the park, you're led up the path to what was possibly my favourite part (not least because it wasn't heaving with people) was the Sala Hipóstila (aka the Doric Temple): 86 majestic stone columns holding up a ceiling covered in allsorts of mosaic jewels. Above this is an open space with a tiled bench curving around the perimeter taking centre stage. No doubt you will have seen the Banc de Trencadís before in photos - it's utterly pretty to study.
Tourist tip: it gets extremely busy as the morning goes on - I dread to think what it's like in the afternoon. We arrived around 10am-ish and already it was too much for me. Swarms of tourists and their selfie-sticks littered the place - I was even asked to move so a woman could have her photo taken on the tiles I was admiring. Needless to say I didn't oblige her but allowed myself a whole thirty seconds to admire the mosaic seat before moving swiftly on! So yes, it is beautiful and worth seeing - but please listen to me when I say GO EARLY. You will regret it otherwise. And make sure you book your tickets in advance - like a Disney attraction, the park admits people entry on a timed basis. So best get the first slot of the day and I think you'll just about come out of the park unscathed.
Tickets & extra info: www.parkguell.cat/en
Once you've had your fix of Park Güell, take a short stroll (around 10 mins) to Casa Vicens, the first significant project Gaudí ever designed and built, using all his influences, sources and experiences in one. The outside is positively striking - bursting with colour and a design like no other I've ever seen. Wes Anderson would most certainly approve. For some serious interior swooning, make sure you nosey round the ground and main floors - here is where Gaudí was let loose on everything from floor to ceiling. The other parts of the house are home to temporary exhibitions. If you're into your architecture and design - this is one place not to miss!
More info & book tickets here: https://casavicens.org
WHERE TO EAT
When I asked followers on instagram where best to eat in the city, I was inundated with responses. Had I managed to fit in all the places, I would have left Spain ten stone heavier! Barcelona has so much to offer on the culinary scene - you really can spend your days non-stop eating if you so wished, but I'll be honest, bu the end of the weekend we were craving a bowl full of greens... not that we were complaining whilst stuffing our faces with croquettes...
I'll start with the places that we managed to visit over the weekend and then I'll share with you some of the other places that were recommended to me so you have a good full list to start with for your trip!
Brunch & Cake - a hugely popular group of cafes around Barcelona - queues are the norm apparently. Portions are huge, food is tasty and you'll probably spend a long time deliberating over the menu.
Martinez - Situated at the top of Parc de Montjuïc, it's often recommended by locals. We had a good meal - slightly on the more expensive side - but I'd definitely recommend a visit in summer as I bet the views and atmosphere will be hard to beat.
Bodega La Puntual - We stumbled upon this place totally by accident and so glad we did! For all the classic tapas dishes done well, go here. You won't be disappointed.
El Canalla - A very cute neighbourhood restaurant a little way out the centre in Sarria. Head upstairs for the prettiest room in all of Barcelona.
La Xocolateria - go for the super thick hot chocolate of dreams and the obligatory chocolate & banana crepe to truly tip you over the sugar edge into a chocolate heaven. Swerve past the churros - they weren't worth the calories.
Recommended to me:
Flax & Kale - Super healthy food in gorgeous interiors.
El Xampanyet - Considered by many to be the best cava bar in the city, it's a tiny spot that gets filled up almost as soon as it opens. Likelihood is you'll have to stand but atmosphere looks buzzy so worth a visit for an aperitif or three.
Disfrutar - Fancy Michelin starred food.
Cañete - Classic Spanish food in classic Spanish surroundings.
El Nacional - One space, 4 restaurants, 4 bars.
Tickets - Imaginative, cutting-edge tapas by Albert Adrià.
Numero Nueve - Cocktails and pretty interiors. Win.
Cal Pep - Traditional tapas - and apparently the tastiest seafood - in town.
Casa Bonay - The rooftop place to hang out in summer.
Can sole - A traditional old-school restaurant in the Barcelonata port area. Little bit on the pricey side but it's been around for over 100 years, so there must be something about it!
Cotton House - Fancy cocktails in a fancy setting.
PALAU DE LA MúSICA CATALaNA
For those interested in architecture and the arts, the Palau de la Música Catalana is not to be missed. A most beautiful music hall that you'll need to book a tour around in order to go inside and explore (that is, if you're not there to see a concert!). Tours run every day and last for around 50 minutes. I'd recommend you book ahead of your trip to secure your spot. The main music hall itself is a vision, but don't miss the terrace outside either - worth the €20 entrance fee alone to see.
WHERE WE STAYED - HOTEL BARCElona CATEDRAL
If you want a hotel right in the heart of everything - and perhaps more importantly, one that won't break the bank - then Hotel Barcelona Catedral might just be the one. Location-wise, it was pretty great (slap bang in the middle of the Gothic Quarter) and everything was within really easy walking distance for the most part of our weekend (the rest of the time we used the metro which was a short walk away from the hotel). The hotel's best bits included a gorgeous lobby bar and restaurant, a secluded rooftop pool and lovely, friendly staff. They also offer complimentary walking tours every Sunday morning and cava tastings on Fridays at 5pm which were nice little something extras. Rooms were comfortable enough but a fluffy bathrobe was definitely missing! We had a questionnable A/C as well, but that might just have been our room and thankfully it wasn't too warm in the evenings so it didn't matter too much.
On the whole it was a lovely hotel which was great value for money with a location that couldn't be beaten.
Oh and there was an ice cream shop right next door which I'd strongly recommend for a post-dinner treat!
4 Calle dels Capellans, 08002 Barcelona
Thank you to Hotels.com, Visit Barcelona Tourism Board & Hotel Catedral for a fantastic weekend in Barcelona - you made it extra special!
All opinions are, of course, my own!