Beautiful Barcelona has so much to offer visitors, stretching far beyond the well documented tourist attractions like the Sagrada Familia by Antonio Gaudí and Camp Nou.
To celebrate the recent launch of Vueling's new service to Barcelona, former resident Sally Gurteen, aka The Café Cat, shares her insider’s tips on the best things to see and do in the city.
1. Drink Coffee
An ever-growing trend across Europe, a daily cortado is fast becoming a necessity. To get your Barcelona caffeine-fix, be sure to head to Satan’s Coffee Corner where you’ll find the best coffee served by impassioned entrepreneur, Marcos Bartoleme. Tucked into a nook of the old Jewish quarter that you’re unlikely to ever find again, I like to opt for a takeaway and loiter near the frequent tour groups that pass through, picking up nuggets of wisdom about one of the most fascinating areas of the capital.
2. Go Independent
Forget the chains and go independent. Better still, go independent and established. Dimly-lit and a sultry spot for a cerveza (beer), Casa Almirall in El Raval is the area’s oldest running bar. Not far from here you’ll find Café Granja M. Viader, which is the longest family-run business in the city, and perfect for an early evening churros and chocolate fix. Your sweet tooth will also be satisfied behind the art nouveau façade of Gran Via’s Escriba, filled with fine chocolates, sugar work and pastries, inspired by three generations of the hard-working Escriba clan.
3. Eat Brunch
You might be surprised to hear it, but brunch is kind of a big deal in Barcelona and the Sunday queues are there to prove it. You’ll be spoiled for choice mind, with contenders for your appetite at Picnic, Federal, Caravelle and Granja Petitbo, for example. Imagine the world’s best breakfast recipes but with a personal twist. Think rich green avocado, salsas, herbs and warm spices. Think fluffy pancakes and chocolate banana sauce. And eggs. Very sunny eggs.
4. Join the Queue
In Catalonia, you’ll know a place is worth visiting, or a thing worth having, by the amount of people loitering to get in. Any good ‘horchateria’ comes with a wait. What’s horchata? It’s a rich, cold milk made from almonds or tiger nuts. Should this not tickle your fancy, they’re also likely to serve excellent ‘turron’ ice creams or ‘granissat llimona’ - the best lemon granita you’ll ever have.
5. Get Spiritual
Only just becoming a ‘thing’ in London, Barcelona is the home of the vermouth revolution. Commonly, this spirit (or fortified wine) is sipped in its rust-red form over plenty of ice with a wedge of orange and a salty anchovy olive. Surprisingly, it’s addictively quenching and reasonably priced. There’s nothing better on a balmy summer’s night, except maybe the city’s other alchoholic passion: the gin and tonic.
Go to Betlem (C/Girona) for vermouth and Bar Pesca Salada for gin and tonic and a wonderfully fish-like experience; the ceiling is a giant sardine can.
6. Escape the Crowds
Like any city, Barcelona is a busy place. If you’re getting slightly intimidated by the crowds, consider slipping away to lesser-known curios. The Poble Nou Cemetery is often deserted but filled with wonderful vaults, stonework and tombs. Be sure to look out for ‘El Petó de la Mort’ (the kiss of death), a fascinating and macabre work of marble.
7. Get Outta Town
Barcelona is well-connected, and you can sally up North or South for quieter plains. Head up for Cadaqués, a small fishing village at the northern most point of Catalonia, or down for the beautiful city of Tarragona. Both boast a wonderful history and culinary fare, promising a sea-breeze-sigh-of-relief from the madding Catalan capital.
El Encants Vells market was made for a good find and an even better haggle. Never be put off by a no. Start with your lowest price and work up to a negotiation, if you can’t get your wicked way. Old maps, books, antiques and oddities, the market is open Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays from early morning into the mid-afternoon.
9. Check Out the Views
While the city itself is quite flat, it is embraced on its perimeters by the famous Montjuic and Tibidabo peaks. Head to Montjuic for a swim overlooking the city, botanical gardens, an old castle that runs an open air cinema in the summer, and the Olympic grounds. Take an old tram to the tip of Tibidabo, where you’ll find the Sagrat Cor - a church topped by the sacred heart sculpture of Jesus and encircled by one of the world’s oldest running amusement parks.
The mountain of Montserrat is also a short journey from the city and is home to a Benedictine Abbey, as well as being identified in Arthurian myth as the location of the Holy Grail. While I’m not sure this is the case, I know for certain you’ll enjoy a fine meal at the mountain’s base at Restaurante La Vinya Nova, surrounded by the famed serrated peaks of Montserrat and miles of olive groves.
10. Be Amused
Spain and Catalonia are both world-renowned for their gastronomic contributions to the San Pellegrino’s Top 50 Restaurants. Within Barcelona, chefs Albert and Ferran Adriá have run somewhat wild with their experiments, turning the Poble Sec area of Barcelona into a culinary amusement park. Formerly found at El Bulli (the world’s best restaurant for many consecutive years), the brothers are now involved in not one, but six different projects within the city.
You’ll find eclectic tapas at Tickets, Peruvian and Japanese fusion at Pakta, vermouth at Bodega 1900 and Mexican street food at El Niño Viejo. Make sure you book months in advance though – these places are so sought after, the wait never seems to end.
When not frequenting her old haunts in Barcelona, The Café Cat can be found in Islington, London where she reports from in and around the capital and Kent on food, travel and lifestyle. For food and travel inspiration, catch her on Twitter.
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