Barcelona, Spain

By the time we arrive in Barcelona via train from Seville it is already evening, so we quickly drop our luggage at our AirBnB and head out nearby to grab dinner and stock up on groceries. One thing we love about Spain is how restaurants are typically open really late. We find Los Bellota, due to their strong online presence (good job guys!), and are delighted by their gamba el ajillo or garlic shrimp – though mild on the garlic, they were very flavorful and perfectly tender. I also really enjoyed their crisp and sweet white wine Peña de Valle Sauvignon Blanc – it’s 4.25 EUR a glass so you really might as well get a bottle for 6.20 EUR, it’s more cost effective and it’s just the right thing to do.

Wander the Gothic Quarter and avoid the empanadas

The next morning, we take the train out to the Gothic Quarter. It’s the last week of November and Christmas is really starting to make way; impressive lights illuminate the streets and decorations adorn many a displays. We meander through the streets; each block you’ll see either a famous church, palace or plaza; each corner we turn, one of us is pausing to shoot.

Gothic Quarter
Gothic Quarter

After all the wandering we decide to check out Mercado de La Boqueria for lunch. Unsurprisingly it’s packed, but we’re hungry, so undeterred we “Costco” it (start on one end and snake our way through each and every aisle). The market seemed to be organized in a somewhat circular fashion, with the majority of the fish and produce in the center, sprinkled with food stalls and restaurants towards the edges.

Mercado de La Boqueria

All the “restaurants” were filled, so we grab a couple of those famous little 1 EUR smoothies while we try to decide on a food stall; try one of our favorite combos: coconut + blackberry or a mango + passion fruit. As a sucker for empanadas, we get a sample mix from an empanada stall – don’t do it, they were disappointing. We did find a tasty Spanish cheese amusingly called tetilla (“nipple”) from a nearby butcher stall.

Tired of bumping into people, we decide to make our way towards open water. By the harbor we discover that the waterfront is lined with peddlers and what appears to be knockoff bags and sneakers and one sole lady offering to braid hair. Strangely a good number of them seem to be selling the same exact products, which made us wonder how competitive they might be, but alas we were not in the market.

In dire need of a bathroom break, we happen upon La Fabrica, an empanadas chain, on our way to the beach. The delightful illustration style of their menu catches my eye and I think, we were looking for a restroom and find one that comes with empanadas – is it fate to redeem our early disappointment? We take a couple to go and eat them on La Barceloneta beach as the sun sets. The empanadas are better than the ones from the mercado, but not as good as our El Porteño back at home, so while we weren’t expecting much, we remain unconvinced about empanadas in Barcelona.

La Fábrica
La Fábrica

Carlienne Cooks to change our Luck

As dusk settles we realize it’s time to take food matters back into our own hands, so we try our luck over at the Mercat de Santa Caterina, hoping to find something yummy to cook. It’s similar to the Mercado but not as big and though most stalls are closed in the evening, our lateness behooves us as we catch a fresh delivery of ruby red shrimp to a fish stall. Unfortunately the family waiting before us gets dibs and almost buys them out – by the sheer quantity we figure they must own a restaurant, but no: they are buying all that shrimp to freeze them until Christmas! Our hearts almost shatter when we hear that, what a waste of their freshness! So we buy the remaining tinier shrimps and a handful of langoustines and bid them farewell.

Santa Caterina Market
Santa Caterina Market

With our main established, we hunt for some accompaniments around the still open stalls. Carl wants to grab some more jamón ibérico, so we find a cheese and ham stall where we purchase a pack and try new soft Spanish cheese, Puigpedrós cheese, thinking it’d be a safe soft cow cheese, but unfortunately for me, it turns out to be strong and pungent! Noting the variety of mushrooms available as we circle about, we decide to try a new mushroom. We attempt to ask the seller about them, but unfortunately he doesn’t know very much English, so we ask which is his favorite and get a small bag; turns out they’re winter chanterelles and go perfect in a mushroom risotto along with our fresh garlic’d crustaceans.

Carlienne Cooks: winter chanterelle risotto
Carlienne Cooks: winter chanterelle risotto

Garden Parks and Delicious Soupy Paella

The next morning we dedicated to the Sant Montjuïc Gardens, one of the largest green blobs in Barcelona, according to Google maps. But “gardens” is a little misleading, most of them are more parks where locals jog or take their dogs. You can also sneak a peak at the stadiums that were used in the 1992 Summer Olympic Games. We make our way through the parks and pay a quick visit to Castell de Montjuïc, opting to simply stroll around it and enjoy the seaside views.

Castell de Montjuïc
Castell de Montjuïc

There is however a botanical garden towards the South called the Jardí Botànic de Barcelona. The garden is arranged by global regions and features their indigenous plants, so don’t expect too many flowers especially during the winter season.

Some fun facts we learned from the provided placards are that bees evolved from wasps and the only species that are social and aggressive are honey bees. In the Western end we were entertained by the loud chattering of some green Monk parakeets housed up in a palm tree. And just my luck, that as we warmed up from all that walking and I removed my jacket, I was bitten by a fairly large mosquito: in the California section!

Seafood Paella, Restaurant Elche
Seafood Paella, Restaurant Elche

Based on a recommendation for best paella and its proximity to Sant Montjuïc Gardens, we went to Restaurant Elche for lunch. It was much fancier than anticipated and we stood out amongst their elderly lunch crowd, but the classy waiters showed no sign of notice, though we were seated right next to the serving station and we’d have to pause our conversations each time they served and scraped their paella dishes there. The paella is priced per portion and there’s a minimum of two portions, so we ordered that and the house seafood soup. The soup was superb; a rich broth and thick tender chunks of fish and a whole side bowl of croutons that we demolished with gusto. The paella is cooked in a generous amount of their fish broth, so you can imagine what a decadent paella it was – although sadly the seafood atop was overcooked. At least I learned from my previous mistake and ordered a whole bottle of wine instead of just a glass.

Park Güell
Park Güell

Parc Guëll & Our Last Hot chocolate

We spent our third day working off our paella by trekking up to Parc Guëll. We arrived in time to speed walk our way ahead of a noisy tour group and snap some shots around the rock archways while they were still empty. The park is the perfect representation of Gaudí’s celebration of nature: despite how striking his structures appear, they always complement their environment with their organic shapes. Much of the park is now protected or blocked so there’s minimal interaction with the structures, but it really was a lovely place recharge amidst all that green and to catch some stunning views of the city. It didn’t take us long to make our way through, especially since we opted not to go to the restricted pay zone. If you’re hoping to see the famous Dragon Stairway, you will need to purchase the ticket, but as we aren’t fans of packed crowds, it was enough for us to glimpse it through the fences as we passed outside.

As we were nearing the end of our time in Spain, I requested we have one last Spanish chocolate, so we headed over to La Nena. La Nena was our ideal low-key cafe, so we settled in and ordered two hot chocolates and decided to try the lady fingers in addition to their churros. Best decision of the day, because those lady fingers were phenomenal – super airy and crisp! They paired like angels to the devils with the super thick and dark chocolate. We highly recommend the lady fingers over their churros.

Hot chocolate, lady fingers, churros, La Nena

Celestial experiences in La Sagrada Familia

Our next morning is dedicated to La Sagrada Familia as we booked an early time slot (highly recommended). The outside is definitely a hot mess and will be for a while, but it’s pretty amazing to be able to visit a monument that’s still in progress. Traveling usually takes us to old historic places where you’re told that it took decades or centuries to build and sometimes that’s difficult to comprehend, but to visit the Sagrada and know how long it’s taking even in this day with all its technology, really helps to put things in perspective.

The inside is like walking into an extravagant dream: an endless array of color beaming, reflecting and catching; the columns reaching towards the heavens to extremely detailed ceilings that you almost can’t make out with the naked eye (a zoom lens is very helpful). As we sat enjoying the ethereal magic, the organ began to play, signaling the end of mass downstairs.

La Sagrada Familia
La Sagrada Familia

As the Sagrada began to fill, we made our way outside to view the stone figures – such expression cut in extreme angles. I felt at odds, craning my neck to examine rock that seemed so human and yet so tragically cartoonish; it’s astonishing what rock can be shaped into. The museum below the Sagrada was surprisingly extensive. There we read about the history of the project and saw some of the original sketches and models. My favorite sections were the stained glass designs mocked up in watercolors and learning about the references to nature that Gaudí used time and again.

stained glass mockup, La Sagrada Familia

After completing the museum we crossed the street to the Plaça de Gaudí, a little park where you can watch some fairly serious games of bocci ball played by the local retired community. We also noticed our friends the green Monk parakeets chirruping in the trees here too.

Catch sunset at Carmel Bunkers

As the afternoon begins to turn, we hike our way up to the Carmel Bunkers to catch sunset. It’s already an uphill climb from our AirBnB so by the time we clamber up all those stairs, we’ve worked up a good sweat. Unfortunately it’s a cloudy day so we don’t get much for a sunset, but it does still have a spectacular view of the city. We set up our cameras for our timelapses, but halfway through a couple ends up sitting right in front of my view and I had to scrap that one and move my camera. It quickly got chilly with the breeze, even with all our layers, and slightly disappointed with my shortened timelapse, we decided to pack it up.

Carlienne at Carmel Bunker
Carlienne at Carmel Bunker

Since we’ve used up all our protein, we stop by the nearest mercado, Mercat del Guinardó, on the way home. It’s a much smaller market than the others but we find a butcher stall with some breaded chicken stuffed with jamón and cheese and ready made hamburger patties that were delicious!

The best tapas in Barcelona

Our last day in Barcelona ends on the most delicious note when we have dinner at Quimet y Quimet, a well known tapas bar. It seemed that it was more of a before-dinner meeting place, as the rush lulled by 8pm but it was definitely worth our whole dinner stomach! We arrived just in time to snag a spot at the bar so we could watch them work: experienced efficiency! These tapas are assembled to order (which is not as common as you’d think) and packed with well composed flavors, balanced between sweet and salty and bright. Each “sandwich” is placed on top of a light and super crunchy bread roll, they are not easy to eat without making a mess, but luckily everyone is in the same boat so there’s no shame.

Anchovy & cheese, Quimet y Quimet
Anchovy & cheese, Quimet y Quimet

We tried 6 different tapas and all were winners, but for brevity I’ll describe our top 3, the rest are mentioned in the details section. The mushroom and cheese was our top favorite (we ordered it a second time), the cheese is a sweet and mild, topped with aromatic caramelized onions and slices of savory mushrooms and dusted with herbs. The salmon and honey; the rich balsamic honey drenches the yogurt and salmon and will get all over your hands; it’s like an elevated lox. A final favorite was the anchovy and cheese, another perfect meld of savory and sweet. Wash it all down with their toasty house beer and just enjoy the show. As always, we were impressed as the server switched from Spanish to French to English with complete ease!

Paradiso del Tiramisù storefront
Paradiso del Tiramisù storefront

The Shadiest & Tastiest Tiramisu

After that soul satisfying experience at Quimet y Quimet, we went hunting for dessert at Paradiso del Tiramisu, which came recommended by another blog. At first we couldn’t find it because of its rather surprising storefront. While called Paradiso del Tiramisu, there was no visible tiramisu, it looked like a cross between a butcher and cafe. The interior felt like an unkept home; sliced meat laying around and the espresso machine used and not wiped and no tiramisu, much less dessert, in sight! So we ask if there’s still any, perhaps they’ve sold out already, but the guy goes into the back to supposedly retrieve the tiramisu. As he comes back out, he coughs and then hands us a small tray packed full – I know – despite our reservations the tiramisu turns out incredible. The cream is thick and flavorful and the cookies are delightfully crunchy while the generously topped powdered cocoa managed to get everywhere while we devoured it.

We had 5 nights in Barcelona which gave us plenty of time to see the city. There’s so many sights to see (which can definitely add up) but you can manage to see plenty without going into the attractions. Barcelona is quite big so you’ll likely need to use public transportation to get around. The weather was chilly and cloudy at the end of November but we did see some sun.

Browse our photos for inspiration or read on for more things to know before going to Barcelona and other logistical information or jump down to the details on all the places we recommended. If you haven’t yet, check out our other Spain adventures in Madrid here or our quick stop in Seville here.

Photo Gallery

AirBnB

We stayed just on the edge of the Sant Martí district in a “well-lighted and well-communicated apartment”; a quieter area just outside of La Sagrada. The 2 bedroom apartment was close to multiple metro stations so very easy getting around. The apartment fits 4 (all single twin beds, 2 being a bunk bed) and as there were only two of us the apartment was quite spacious. The view is nice and there’s plenty of natural light. We had all the essentials to cook and enjoy meals in. Some amenities that did not work while we were there: the heater wasn’t working, the clothes dryer knob was disconnected and would not seem to reattach, the hair dryer did not turn on, and the kitchen stove vent and light never turned on. We did mention this to Lluis and he offered to have someone come look that evening, but we weren’t staying long so we declined hassling them as we were able to make do without those things. He was great about communicating promptly, we recommend the apartment!

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Logistics

General

We found that in Spain there were less multilingual people and even if you might look like a tourist/not Spanish, people will first speak to you in Spanish. This suited us fine because it helped us really practice Spanish, rather than just asking people if they spoke English all the time.

If you’re also a fan of horchata, please note that it is only available during the summer, so strike Horchata Sirvant off your list if you’re not visiting during that time, it’s not specified what days exactly.

Vaccinations: Routine Vaccinations

Mosquito problems: A lone incident; I was bit at the botanical gardens by a fairly large mosquito.

Problems for tattoos: None

Traveling as a woman: Standard Precautions

Getting Around Barcelona

Taking the train around Barcelona is pretty easy, the maps and directions are really clear and visibly posted everywhere. Trains are frequent and very clean. Each line has its own boarding platform, so while you may need to walk a bit to transfer, I found it less confusing overall.

Save about 10 EUR buy purchasing the 10 tickets pack (much more significant savings than in other cities), they can be shared by multiple people. Otherwise you’ll be spending about 2.20 EUR one way.

Also a reminder that while using Google maps or MapsMe, don’t just rely on their recommended route. At the end of our trip we realized that there was a closer metro station to our Airbnb but because it’s “past” the destination we were always directed to the station before it and had to walk much further with our luggage.

budgeting

Currency: 1 EUR = 1.15 USD
Tipping is not required but is widely practiced here. Apparently there aren’t hard calculations, but rather some small change for the bar or table service or 1-2 EUR at the table.

Daily Budget

$60-80/person: This was for 5 evenings in Barcelona with a private Airbnb apartment. We cooked most meals shopping mostly at the mercados, splurged at Restaurant Elche, and took public transportation quite a bit. We visited La Sagrada but opted to stay only in the free area of Park Güell.

Some typical costs

  • tapas dinner at Quimet i Quimet: 30 EUR
  • paella lunch at Restaurant Elche: 56 EUR
  • AirBnB: $65/night

details

Mercado de La Boqueria, boqueria.info, La Rambla, 91, $-$$ – Market known for its restaurants, produce, and fruit smoothies

La Fabrica (Empanadas Argentinas), lafabrica-bcn.com, Carrer de Pepe Rubianes, 26, $ – Super cute branding and store, common chain throughout the city. Empanadas were good but not the best we’ve had.

Platja de la Barceloneta, Paseo Maritimo Barceloneta, 14 – Great beach area to chill and peope watch.

Mercat de Santa Caterina, mercatsantacaterina.com, Av. de Francesc Cambó, 16

Jardí Botànic de Barcelona, museuciencies.cat/el-nat/les-seus/jardi-botanic-de-barcelona, Carrer Doctor i Font Quer, s/n, regular entry is 3.5 EUR. You can easily spend a few hours here, we recommend a minimum of 2!

Restaurant Elche, elcherestaurant.es,Carrer de Vila i Vilà, 71, $$-$$$ – The paella price is per portion and minimum two portions! This spot is pretty expensive but the quality of the fish broth was superb, but the seafood in the paella was overcooked.

Mercat de Sant Antoni, mercatdesantantoni.com, Carrer Comte d’Urgell, 1

Mercat del Guinardó, mercatguinardo.business.site, Carrer de Teodor Llorente, 10

La Sagrada Familia, sagradafamilia.org, Carrer de Mallorca, 401, $-$$ – The morning light is not as strong, so you won’t get as beautiful rays as you might later on in the day, but then you don’t have to deal with the crowds as much.

Quimet & Quimet, quimetquimet.com, Carrer del Poeta Cabanyes, 25, $-$$ – The very best tapas (montaditos) we had in all of Spain: pork cheeks, codfish liver & tomato; scallops & caviar; cheese, mushroom & truffle; salmon, yoghurt, & truffled honey; anchovy & cheese. Note that you have to buy food, a customer next to us tried to order just drinks and they were denied. Besides, you don’t want to miss out on their food!

Paradiso del Tiramisù, facebook.com/paradisotiramisu, Carrer de Radas, 22, 4 EUR for a small – Be warned this place doesn’t look like a place for tiramisu, but the tiramisu was very good!

Horchateria Sirvent, turronessirvent.com, Carrer del Parlament, de Catalunya, 56 – We heard about their horchata, but found out they only serve it during the summer, we left empty handed.

Heladería Dino, gelatsdino.com, Carrer de Blai, 13, $$ – pretty pricy 3.20 EUR for a small scoop but very creamy, they also offer horchata in the summer.

Bunkers del Carmel, Carrer de Marià Labèrnia, s/n – pretty for a good climb, bring lots of layers and maybe some snacks. There were a couple guys selling drinks out of coolers, but best to bring your own!

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