Most of my trips away with Mr B, without our off spring, are never more than 2 or 3 nights, due to our youngest still being only 15, we rely on one of our lovely friends, who has a daughter the same age as Amber, to look after her for us, and we don’t want to take advantage of her kindness. Consequently. we have become very good at maximising our time in a city and it’s amazing how much you can see and do in 48 hours if you plan ahead and ensure that you are located in the very best part of the city.
So recently we returned to Barcelona, a city we haven’t visited for over 20 years, before our children came along. Our hotel was located in the El Born area, which I had figured out was the part of the city where all the best bars, restaurants and independent shops were. It has a lovely neighbourhood feel such as La Marias in Paris or Notting Hill in London, which is just our kind of place and is also perfect for hanging out in the evening without having to schlep back into the city centre on public transport or spend your money on taxi fares. El Born did not disappoint, in fact quite the opposite, it was love at first sight. You know that feeling you get as your taxi approaches your hotel and you get butterflies in your stomach because you just know you’ve hit the jackpot? El Born is a labyrinth of old streets right in the heart of the gothic quarter with the right amount of traditional Tapas bars and cool cocktail bars, beautiful independent clothes and shoe shops and amazing vintage shops.
A couple of people have asked if I’d write a blog post about our trip as a bit of a guide for their anticipated visit. This is obviously not an exhaustive list of what to do, but it’s what we did and some of the places we saw and would visit again and I can whole heartedly recommend.
So first up, how to get from El Prat airport to the city, you might ask? I know it’s something I always check as it’s not always necessary to jump in a taxi and waste your hard earned euros to get from A to B? I would definitely recommend getting the Aerobus into the city centre. It runs frequently, every 30 minutes, from both terminals and costs just over 10€ return. The train is a bit more complex, depending on which terminal you land at, you might have to get the shuttle bus that runs between terminals, to take you to the train station and then you have to change midway at another station to get the train into the centre of Barcelona?
We chose to stay at Chic and Basic Hotel in El Born. They also have other hotels around the city. It was a lovely hotel, in a great location with a good breakfast and very helpful staff. I wouldn’t say the decor was totally to my taste as it was quite contemporary in the bedrooms and had a bit of a night club feel with LED lights that you could change the colour of by remote control, but it was still very cool and for Barcelona prices, the name of the hotel was a perfect description, working out at about £100 a night for a double room. Breakfast was 18€ each but for that you could help yourself to cereals, eggs, hams, tomatoes, breads and jams, fresh fruit juices and great coffee. They also, as promised, had gluten free bread waiting for me in the morning, which I just had to order the day before with the reception staff. As the El Born area is a warren of small streets it’s perfect for cycling around and the hotel provide their own bikes for hire.
As we arrived quite late in the evening, we ended up eating in one of the first good Tapas bars we passed, which was an interesting mix of North African and Spanish. Cal Pep had been recommended as one of the best Tapas bars in the area and I’m sure it is, but to be honest every place we passed was packed and the food all looked amazing and our choice for the first evening was fantastic. Sometimes we’ve found you can send too much of your precious time looking for a certain restaurant and when you only have two evenings you need to go with your instincts? In El Born your instincts will be on high alert, as I’ve said it all seemed good. The area has it’s own mini Ramblas which is lined with convivial bars and music well into the night and around the old market hall there are also lots of eateries and late night bars.
The morning of our first day was spent at the Museu Disseny which was host to the “David Bowie Is” exhibition, that had first appeared at The V&A a few years back. This was our reason for visiting Barcelona, my birthday present to Mr B was tickets to see this exhibition again. The Museum was about 1/2 an hour walk from El Born which was a great way to take in other parts of the city, stopping midway for a coffee and to soak up the sun and the atmosphere.
After the exhibition, we made our way to La Sagrada Familia which we had pre booked tickets online for. We had viewed this amazing structure from the outside many years ago but obviously a lot of work had been completed since then and after watching “The Art Lovers guide to Barcelona” well worth watching btw, we were intrigued to see what the interior of this formidable building was like. Now I’m going to be honest here, and it might not go down well with the tourist office of Barcelona or fans of Antonio Gaudi, but it didn’t really do much for me! It was a little bit theme park for my liking and although I could appreciate the craftsman ship and skill involved in this build, it was a bit too touristy for me? There were literally hundreds of people within the cathedral all taking selfies on selfie sticks and there was no sense at all that this was a religious place of worship. We even heard one young American lady ask very loudly to a guide “So who was this Gaudi guy then?” In short I’m sorry to say it left me a bit cold and we both agreed after our visit that were a lot more interesting places to see in Barcelona. If you are going to go though, and please don’t listen to me, that’s only my humble opinion on the great building, it is very wise to pre book tickets online before your trip so that you can queue jump and get in there straight away on arrival.
After we left the Sagrada Familia we made our way towards La Ramblas & the amazing Placa Reial that runs off it. This has got to be one of the most beautiful, grandest squares I have ever seen. So much so, it has been etched on my mind as one of my enduring memories of our last visit to Barcelona over 20 years ago. I remembered the breathtaking architecture and the majestic rows of palm trees that line the square, so vividly and of course it looked exactly as i’d remembered it, all those years ago. It is a must for any visit to this city to wander through this square or sit a while with a glass of Estrella or Cava.
We then stumbled across the famous Boqueria food market, just off the main Ramblas. This is an assault on the senses, a riot of colour, sound and smells. It is similar to lots of these types of markets throughout Europe, but as Barcelona is a coastal city, it’s main attraction is the varied and fresh seafood, ranging from oysters, to fresh lobster and langoustines and the unbeatable pleasure of being able to sit at a bar with a plate of fantastically fresh food and a cold drink whilst watching the world go by and observing all the frenetic energy of the stall vendors. A definite must for any food lover visiting this City.
Making our way from the market back onto the Ramblas we had a quick look at one of Gaudi’s other masterpieces of architecture, Casa Batllo. We have seen this amazing structure before so we just took a couple of “We was ere” snaps outside in memory of our visit but if you have never been to Barcelona before or seen this fantastical building, a guided tour is highly recommended. Casa Batllo has a varied range of concerts and events throughout the year, such as live music on the roof in the summer months, with canapes and cava included and a full tour of the interior of the building is included in the ticket price, which you can view here.
Next door to Casa Batllo is Casa Museu Amatller another fine Art Nouveau building and the former home of Chocolate heir, Antoni Amatller. As well as turning the existing family chocolate business into a leading industry, he also spent his time and money as a photographer and collector and employed skilled craftsmen and artists to decorate and furnish his home, which can now be viewed. Looking at the video of the interior which was playing in the entrance to the building, it looks absolutely amazing and a real insight into the life of the Spanish upper classes during that period. We are going back to Barcelona in a couple of weeks and this is one place we really want to go back to.
As you enter the Gothic Quarter of the city you’ll come across the Picasso Museum, which is amazing if you’re a fan of the great man? Across the street from the Picasso museum you’ll find Palaudalmases a small theatre like space where regular live Jazz and Flamenco shows are held, starting from 6.30pm in the evening. The beautiful sun light dappled courtyard as you enter has a real sense of Spanish history and is untouched by modernity. Flamenco is a lovely example of preserved Spanish tradition and culture and I love the excitement of the live performance and the accompanied guitar playing and always try to see it performed whenever I’m in Spain. I’ve been lucky enough to see Paco Pena perform live and I can’t promise that standard of performance but I’m sure it will be authentic and fun?
On our final day we decided to take the pace slowly and ambled around the streets of El Born looking in the many vintage and independent shops, which are all of such quality. Here you’ll find lovely boutiques such as Angle specialising in Scandinavian brands of clothes and shoes for men and women and Little Creative Factory who specialise in artisan made linen clothing and accessories. You could easily spend a day in this area wandering around and getting lost?
A short 20 minute walk away took us to the port where we stopped for lunch at a street food market. The choice of food was vast from sea food, to succulent pork and steak sandwiches topped with caramelised peppers, paella and churro dipped in chocolate. From the handsome port, which is lined with more restaurants and bars than you can shake a stick at, you can take the funicular to Montjuic hill top where you’ll find the Joan Miro Foundation, the only other museum in Barcelona dedicated to just one artist. It’s also a great view point to see the whole city below.
There is so much to do in Barcelona, we didn’t even touch on any of the other Gaudi buildings and Park Guell where the artist lived, as we have visited these sights before, but they are definitely worth a visit if you haven’t been? We also didn’t get to the beach, Barceloneta, which has some of the best seafood restaurants the city has to offer. But there is always next time?
If you have any favourite places that you’ve visited in Barcelona that you want to share with me, leave me a comment, as we are going back very soon and I always love to hear from you x