Last year, pre-Brexit, I made a pact with myself to see more of Europe. I considered it an injustice to have so many iconic and amazing places on my doorstep and to still not have visited. Post-Brexit and the looming possibility of expensive visas and increased travel costs, and these feelings are even stronger. Barcelona was first on my list in June 2015. Spoiler alert: it’s so good I’ve been back again since. So here’s my guide to Barcelona and the best the city has to offer.
Barcelona is an amazing city, located on the eastern cost of Spain on the med. The biggest thing that hits you is how hot it gets, in June (and August the second time), temperatures sat around 30 degrees Celsius – I couldn’t quite believe it could be this hot somewhere only an around a 2 hours flight from the UK and its poor excuse for a summer. Especially as it also only cost us around 70 quid return for the flight!
Both times I’ve been to Barcelona we stayed in an Airbnb. They are so many to choose from in Barcelona. My biggest tip is to book your place to stay as early as possible, they get snapped up quick, and even though we still had a cheap and well-located apartment the second time, it was nowhere near as amazing as the 18th Century place we had the first time around. My biggest tip is to book your place to stay as early as possible, they get snapped up quick.
“My biggest tip is to book your place to stay as early as possible, they get snapped up quick…”
There is so much to see and do in Barcelona, but the beauty of it being so close to the UK means you don’t have to rush to do everything as it’s so easy to come back too. Those further afield; a week is plenty of time to take in the best of the city.
I see a trip to Barcelona split in one of two ways: Staying in the city and travelling to the beach, or staying near the beach and travelling to the city (in a micro sense of local beaches in the city and macro sense of outside the city beaches like Sitges – more on that later). It very much depends on the type of holiday you want. Both times we opted for the city as we wanted restaurants for dinner and local places for drinks and dancing in the evening. The local beaches along form Barceloneta are still easily reachable by Metro, depending on where you choose to stay in town.
Staying in the city
If your trip is mainly beach focused, then staying on the east side of the beach is preferable to make it easy to get to the sand and sea, but will mean a good 30 minute walk or shorter cab ride into the main night district. If you only plan to go to the beach for part of the trip, then I’d recommend staying is the Gothic or Exaimple districts for ease of access to nightlife and other sites.
The beaches in the city are great. For family trips and mixed-groups there’s Barceloneta beach. Further up the beach is a gay-friendly and nudist beach, Playa de la Mar Bella. Both are super relaxed, and have a mix of people, some who aren’t nude, but prefer the adult-only space. You do get the odd person peacocking – excuse the pun – up and down the waterfront, but for the most part it’s super laid back, friendly and a lot of fun.
Gonna need to practice those underwater selfies #blowfishface
A photo posted by THE SCIENCE OF APPEARANCE (@iamneilthornton) on
You get people walking up and down the sand selling fresh sangria, water, cola and beer – the humming nature of their calls is hilariously soothing as it all rolls into one mantra-sounding chant. It’s actually an illegal practice, so you’ll see them hit the deck when police turn up (it’s quite funny to watch). But the drink is cheap and super handy. About 4 euros for a beer.
Staying outside Barcelona
I’ve never done this, but you do have the option of staying at more seaside locations like Sitges, about 30 minutes outside the city. It’s only around 5 euros for the return ticket in or out of the city. So if you want pure relaxation with only a day or two visiting the city, this could be the option for you.
We took a day trip to Sitges which was a lot of fun. Similar to the city, you have you split beaches of family, gay and nude. It can get really packed during peak season however. There are a lot of nice bars and restaurants here so you’re spoilt for choice, but I personally didn’t think I could stay there for long as I would get bored. If I go back, I’d like to do a couple days here and a couple of days in the city.
Now, obviously most of our nights out were focused around big of gay nights, so if that’s what you’re after, read one. Otherwise jump to eating out for local recommendations.
The Eixample district is where you’ll find a lot of the gay night life. Bars worth visiting are La Chappelle and Punto next door, I loved this place. Tacky but just fun.
For big nights out there’s a wide offering in Barcelona, with the big two being Metro and Arena.
If you’re ever in doubt – pop on to Grindr and the like, the locals are usually pretty helpful in finding where to go or eat.
Food and drink is really reasonable in Barceonla – they also free pour booze so watch out how much you have, I got so unintentionally wasted I don’t remember getting home and woke up with a huge bruise on my arm! Your guess is as good as mine…
There are loads of cafés and little eateries worth trying out, you can usually never go too far wrong – but just watch out for the super cheap places, the food isn’t great.
If you’re looking for something a little more upmarket, my three favourites are below.
Flamant is a double win for anyone lookin for a more refined night without worrying about the cost. A gorgeous resturant with wonderful staff, Flamant has an extensive food and wine menu with a great set menu offering. We had three courses and half a carafe of wine each for around 16 euros. Winning. Book here
La Xalada has probably got to be one of the best places I’ve eaten in Barcelona. Located just down from the Poble Sec metro station, right near where we were staying, La Xalada is a quaint, family-run restaurant that serves outstanding food. Book here
Things to do in Barcelona
There’s so much to see and do in Barcelona, event if you don’t plan a thing. Aimlessly walking around is in itself an adventure, unearthing lots of cute and quirky sights and sounds. It’s a bustling city that never forgets its Spanish flavour.
The works of Antoni Gaudi: Sagrada Família & Park Güell
No trip to Barcelona would be complete without visiting iconic works of Antoni Guadi. A Spanish architect, Gaudi’s work is instantly recognisable and many of his most famous projects are based in Barcelona.
Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya
Even if you’re not the museum-going type, it’s worth taking a trip to discover the amazing views and beautiful gardens en route.
One of the most famous tourist sites in Barcelona, Las Ramblas cuts through the heart of the city and is packed with entertainment, shops, stalls and restaurants. A must for a first timer.
So there you have my guide to Barcelona! There’s so much to see and do here, I’m sure I’ve missed loads, so I will keep adding anything I can think of.
If there are parts of Barcelona you think should be in this guide, give me a shout on Twitter!