Barcelona will always be dear to my heart. It’s where I overcame heartbreak and re-found my independence – and later where Steve and I got together. I was always told I’d love it there, but I approached the city cautiously, nervous it might not live up to expectations. That was back in the summer of 2008. My one-week stay turned into four and six months later, I engineered my own redundancy and moved back to the city to live. Since those days, I’ve returned again and again to visit friends and spend time in the city that both mended and stole my heart.
I love sharing my favourite parts of the city and have showed plenty of people round or sent them off with a list of my top tips. I though it was about time I shared them here. Today I’ll cover things to do in Barcelona – areas to explore, places to go and where to stay. Tomorrow I’ll add Barcelona’s restaurants, cafes, bars and clubs. It was this knowledge that led my friends to suggest I started a company called Victours!
Where to explore
- Barri Gotico is where I lived. It’s made up of atmospheric winding streets full of little bars, cafes, restaurants and shops. It can be touristy in places but that doesn’t dominate the area.
- The ‘Born’ area is similar to Barrio Gotico but a little more up-market. Metro stops Urquinaona or Jaume I are good jumping off points for the barrio.
- Ravel is on the other side of the Rambla to Barrio Gotico. It’s a pretty trendy area but a little more run down, especially in the southern bit where you’ll inevitably see prostitutes. The northern part of Ravel is home to the university as well as some great restaurants and bars.
- Gracia is one of my favourite barrios. It has a great bohemian vibe and a thriving Catalan community. You can notice the difference in the language in restaurants. It’s a little more out of the way than my other favourite barrios, but definitely worth a visit to lounge and people-watch in one of the plazas.
- There is also Barceloneta, which is next to the beach. This is the working class area and has some good tapas bars. For my taste, it’s not so good for the evening. In fact, I’m really not a fan of the seafront at night – it’s full of touristy bars and reminds me of Leicester Square. It’s a magnet for stag dos of which there are plenty.
What to do
- Parc de la Ciutadella is one of my favourite places in the world, especially at weekends. It’s the perfect place for people watching, full of slack-lining hippies, guitar players, tap dancers and families picnicking. It’s pretty big, so take a walk around and choose your favourite spot. The park is accessible from the Born area or you can walk down from Arc de Triomf.
- Parc Guell was designed by Gaudi and is brilliantly absurd with great views. Even if you’re not a fan of Gaudi, it’s worth seeing.
- Some people love it, others hate it. Either way, there’s nothing like the Sagrada Familia and I’d definitely recommend taking a look, even if just from the outside.
- I didn’t go to the Picasso museum until I moved to Barcelona. I’m not sure what held me back as it’s brilliant, offering a fascinating insight into the artist’s life and the trajectory of his work.
- From Plaza Espana, you can walk up to Montjuic (one of the hills surrounding Barcelona). I have only ever walked down, but I’m told the ascent is quite a climb. If not feeling up for the hike, you can get the funicular from Parallel metro stop. From there, it’s easy to visit the Miro museum, which holds regular exhibitions alongside the permanent collection. From Montjuic, you can get the iconic cable car across to the beach. In the summer, they hold open-air cinema nights in the moat surrounding Montjuic’s Castle. If you’re there at the right time, don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy a spectacular evening.
- If you’re looking for modern art, the MACBA is the place to go, which is in Raval, near the university. I’d also recommend the Caixa Forum museum, which often holds interesting contemporary art exhibitions.
- And finally, I may not like the Rambla but you have to go there to get to the Boqueria Market. Despite being wildly busy, it’s a wonderful “must-see” market, full of fantastic fruit and veg. There are also some great tapas places at the back.
What not to do
- The Rambla was a huge disappointment to me. I had imagined it to be something elegant and beautiful when in reality it’s a wildly busy thoroughfare jam-packed with tourists, living statues and awful food. Whatever you do, don’t eat there.
- Unfortunately Barcelona has some pretty lax laws when it comes to theft and the city is rife with pick-pocketers. So many people I know have had something stolen including me during my first visit to the city, and another time with Steve. The rambla and the beach are popular targets. Don’t be scared – you just need to have your wits about you.
Where to stay
There is a huge couchsurfing community in Barcelona so I definitely recommend that. I met some of my best friends there. If you;d prefer a hostel, my favourite is Mapamundo, which is divided into apartments. The staff are really friendly and gives a good taste of what a local Barcelona apartment looks like.
Things to do in Barcelona
I could go on and on with this list. In fact, I could probably dedicate a whole blog, let alone one post, to the city. Do let me know if you have any questions or want some specific recommendations. I’d be happy to help. And do check back tomorrow for tips on Barcelona’s bars, restaurants, cafes and clubs.
Photos by David Notivoli