Barcelona Travel Tips – from those “In the Know”
Barcelona is a classic weekend getaway. But it’s also a huge and busy city, so where do you base yourself for maximum enjoyment? In this post, brought to you in a collaboration with Apartment Barcelona, we offer some guidance as to what’s in the different districts you could stay in. And we’ve pepped it up further with inside tips on favourite things to do or see from the folks at Apartment Barcelona who know the city like the back of their hand, as you do when you live, work and run a business there…
Sooner or later you’ll be in Barcelona
At some point in your life, you’re probably going to consider a visit to Barcelona; with or without your children. And you won’t be disappointed. Barcelona is spectacular. It has world class art, culture, food and football. It has vibrant festivals, parks and attractions. And it has Gaudí; in bucketfuls. But that’s quite a lot isn’t it? If you try to do the whole of Barcelona in a weekend then you might end up doing nothing much at all except sitting on public transport. You’re far better off basing yourself in the area most suited to your interests; getting to know that part a little, and then working outwards from there.
Stay like a local
One great accommodation option for weekend or even a week in Barcelona is an apartment. We stayed in one on our trip earlier this year. It meant our bags weren’t squashed into a small hotel room and we had cooking facilities so could breakfast like kings before we set out in the morning. It also came with a host who was generous with her recommendations, helped us translate the blue triangle that was left on the street when our car got towed away, and generally made us feel less like strangers in a strange land.
We’ve always used our our hosts where we can to get some local low-down from someone in the know; they’ve recommended restaurants and shown us their favourite places for a family to visit, helped us out when we were in trouble, even welcomed us for Christmas dinner, and last summer transported our bikes across Croatia when Matthew fell ill and couldn’t cycle. Another advantage to staying in a private house or apartment is that you will probably stay in a local district; further away from the tourist throngs, the pickpockets and the traffic than those who are staying in a city centre hotel. You may discover the authentic city that you came to see, and not just the honey traps.
Accommodation and travel tips from people in the know
There are many sites offering apartments in Barcelona, but one company you might want to check out if you are visiting the city is Apartment Barcelona. Unlike many sites that offer accommodation around the world, Apartment Barcelona is based in the city. Established for 8 years, it offers a multilingual service (currently in seven languages), a huge range of choice and extensive knowledge of the districts (locally known as barris) that are scattered around the city. Here’s our rough guide to the Barcelona Barris with some great insider tips from the folks at Apartment Barcelona about the places they love. And remember, no-one knows a city like a local knows a city…!
Barri Gòtic or the Gothic Quarter:
The Gothic Quarter is the oldest part of the city and if you love architecture, history and being part of something ancient and special then this could be the place for you. There are Roman remains (at Plaça del Rei and C/ Paradís) a striking cathedral and numerous beautiful churches. There’s a medieval atmosphere in the narrow dark streets by night, while you can bask in the sunny squares by day. Great spots to visit are the arcaded Plaça Reial, Plaça del Pi and the museum of Barcelona at Plaça del Rei.
The busy Las Ramblas divides the Gothic quarter and El Raval and it’s pretty much compulsory to promenade here. Not only is it packed with stalls but it houses the famous La Boqueria Market where you can buy almost any food under the Catalonian sun. (Keep an eye on your wallet though- there are professional thieves at work here.) Check out our post on food in Barcelona for food tips. One of this area’s show piece attractions is the magnificent Gran Teatre del Liceu; it is well worth investing in a tour or concert here but book first, especially at peak times.
In the Know Tip 1
Fave place: Gothic Quarter
Best: The winding alleys mean you discover something new around every corner, from quiet little plazas to unique shops. It’s also filled with history!
One great thing to do: Visit the courtyard of the Casa de L’Ardiaca with its fountain and Medieval walls (secret tip!)
El Born/La Ribera
The El Born area (also called La Ribera) is one of the trendiest areas of town. It is fairly small and manageable on foot or by bike. But if you wear out your shoes walking from one attraction to another you can always buy some more – it’s famous for its shoe shops as well as its boutiques, tapas and cocktail bars and restaurants. On a summer night this district stays up late! It also enjoys dancing; visit on a Sunday and watch the locals do the traditional sardana dance outside the huge medieval cathedral; Santa María del Mar. We managed to capture a little of this enchanting community dance on video one Sunday morning; check this out.
Food wise, El Born hosts a market favoured by locals who believe the Boqueria is just for tourists. Santa Caterina Market, designed by Enric Miralles, has a Gaudí style ceramic roof shaped like a wave and some great tapas bars to eat in. It can also be cheaper than its Ramblas counterpart. Buy a baguette and some cheese and wine and head for the famous Parc de la Ciutadella and enjoy the Catalan vibe.
In the Know Tip 2
Name: Anne Marie
Fave place: Parc de la Ciutadella
Best : It is so relaxing and there is so much to see on any day (fountain, lake, performers)
One great thing to do: Rent a little paddle boat; have a picnic with friends
The city of Barcelona is located on the northeast coast of the Iberian Peninsula, facing the Mediterranean Sea and Barceloneta is its seaside playground. Barcelona’s first modern urban renewal project was in 1992 when the area north of Barceloneta was redeveloped for the Olympics. The beach side is now studded with cafés, restaurants and the fabulous Olympic Port; a seafood lovers paradise.
In the Know Tip 3
Fave Place: Vila Olímpica
Best: The beach!
One great thing to do: Strolling down the sand and sipping a cocktail at one of the ‘chiringuito’ bars at the beach.
There’s plenty to look at apart from the fish on your plate though; Frank Gehry’s giant fish sculpture sparkles in copper above your head and the twin towers of Hotel Arts and Torre Mapfre (Vegas or The Village depending on your point of view!) punctuate the clouds. Meanwhile the promenades are perfect for cycling and roller-blading.
In the Know Tip 5
Fave place: Barceloneta
Best: The beach!!
One great thing to do: The drinks and atmosphere in Absenta Bar
While in Barcelona we took a guided Fat Tire Bike Tours ride around the city centre including the Gothic Quarter, Born and Barceloneta. Click here to catch some of the vibe, the architecture and the landscape of this smart Catalonian city…
In the Know Tip 4
Fave place: Port Olympic
Best: Crazy atmosphere, a lot of visitors to Barcelona, very cosmopolitan
One great thing to do: Party at the clubs, beach, relax
El Eixample is cosmopolitan and upmarket with posh brands like Dolce and Gabanna and Armani providing the shopping bags. But it also feels real. This is where we stayed, and where I got happily lost many times wandering the grid like road system where one street looks pretty much like another. Two of the most famous hangout streets are Passeig de Gràcia and Rambla de Catalunya which is filled with open air cafés. You should stay in Eixample if you like art and architecture; Gaudí’s Casa Batlló and Casa Milà are here. But the main reason to stay has to be La Sagrada Familia; Gaudí’s ultimate masterpiece. If you stay nearby I guarantee you’ll be drawn to it by day and night. It’s simply magnetic.
In the Know Tip 6
Fave place: Dreta de l’Eixample
Best: Walking home at night and suddenly seeing the Sagrada Familia right around the corner
One great thing to do: Take a bike ride through the neighbourhood
Gràcia is the local’s village and is often described as the real Catalonia. It is filled with narrow streets and small squares, terrace bars and cafés serving food from around the world. It’s lively at night, especially at a weekend, but quieter in the daytime so this is the place to head if you like to wander in peace and quiet.
In the Know Tip 7
Name: Laura J
Fave place: Gràcia
Best: The amazing café culture
One great thing to do: Sitting in a square with a ‘relaxing café con leche’ watching the world go by…
Gràcia is home to the UNESCO World Heritage Site Parc Güell, and also the lesser known Casa Vicens. Our kids particularly loved the outdoor escalators that transport you up the steep hills; we’d never seen those anywhere else in the world. Gràcia is also famous for its eight day Festa Major, celebrated mid-August every year. Gràcia was an independent town until the late 19th century and has a clear sense of community, including a lot of elderly people.
In the Know Tip 8
Name: Laura DS
Fave place: Gracia
Best: It is cozier, more like a little town. The little bars where you can drink a glass of wine.
One great thing to do: Take a walk while eating a piadina (Try Plaça de la Virreina, 1)
Sarrià-Sant Gervasi is an upper and upmarket area of Barcelona. It is set in a beautiful spot, surrounded by the Collserola Mountains. Although it has kept some of its small town charm it is a wealthy district filled with parks and green spaces. The most notable is Tibidabo. This is a mountain and an amusement park (the oldest in Spain!), with the most extraordinary church (Sagrat Cor) perched high above the city. There is a fee to get in the main amusement park but you can wander around the smaller park for free. It’s an enchanting place. Check out this short video which we made when we visited.
Sarrià is less popular with tourists as it’s further out of the city centre, but it is very well connected by bus and metro and might be a rewarding place to stay if you fancy escaping the crowds.
In the Know Tip 9
Fave Place: El Parc del Putxet
Best: Off the beaten track – a local secret
One great thing to do: Admire the beautiful skyline of the city
For more tips and ideas
So that’s it. A brief guide to Barcelona, with the help of some of the people who live and work there. If you’d like more advice about the city then you could visit the Apartment Barcelona blog which offers everything from advice on beaches by day to sightseeing at night. And if you’ve got a tip to share from your own experience, please do leave a comment below.
Disclosure Note: This feature post is brought to you in a collaboration with Apartment Barcelona. The research, opinions and experiences described are, as ever, entirely our own and in our own words. The tips from those “in the know” are from staff working at Apartment Barcelona.