Travel Diary: City Guide Barcelona
As if wide tree-lined boulevards, surreal architecture, and an incredible café scene weren’t enough, Barcelona (“Barthelona” to the locals) also lays claim to beach life, mountain views, and a surprisingly big fitness community. I touched down in the Catalan capital recently for five days of sight-seeing, and by “sight-seeing” I mean eating my way through tapas restaurants and cafés, snapping photos of attractions and monuments on the walks in between. There’s an ever-growing list of things to see in this great city, so fuel up with a strong café con leche and let the exploring begin. Olé!
First off, before setting out, I highly recommend renting a bicycle to get around the city. No doubt you’ll be exploring the city’s many narrow laneways on foot, but to get from neighbourhood to neighbourhood, a bike is a great choice. Barcelona has a good network of bike lanes, and you’ll start to feel like a local, getting around on two wheels. There are rental shops all over town, especially in the more popular neighbourhoods of Barri Gotic and El Born. It cost me around 25€ for a 2-day rental, all in. Now that that’s taken care of, let’s get started.
Finding a good brunch spot in a country where breakfast typically consists of little more than churros and a café con leche can be a challenge, but Picnic delivers North American favourites in a simple space with a rustic touch. Pancakes, French toast, eggs Benny – the gang’s all here.
Carrer del Comerç, 1 // picnic-restaurant.com
Paco Meralgo is a sleek modern space a few blocks from Passeig de Gràcia. It’s a fantastic spot for tapas and to check out the workday lunch crowd (and then gloat because you’re on vacation and don’t have to get back to the office). The steak tartare is muy bueno and the “bomba” meatball is, pun intended, simply the bomb.
Carrer de Muntaner, 171 // restaurantpacomeralgo.com
Makamaka Beach Burger Café
This Hawaiian beach bar in Barceloneta describes itself as “a 70’s-inspired watering hole for locals and travelers to share burgers, cocktails, and plenty of besos.” The joint was started by a group of friends and the staff still retains that friendly, familiar vibe. Try the cheesecake in a jar to finish and start your bikini beach diet the next day.
Passeig de Joan de Borbó Comte de Barcelona, 76 // makamaka.es
This tiny bar/restaurant is a wayback playback, featuring menus printed on 1930’s stationery, retro-style wooden booths and a single 2-top outside. Current owner, Manel Palou, is the third generation in his family to run Andorra, a favourite with the locals. His brother Miki is head chef.
Carrer de Sant Pere Més Alt, 74 // facebook.com/barandorra
La Boqueria Market
This bustling historic food market is an excellent place for fresh meat, fish, and produce (and a peek at the display cases is not for the faint of heart), but there are also candy vendors, spice stands, and ready-to-eat counters with a variety of delicious fare. Enjoy a slice of Spanish omelette sitting at the counter at Bar Central la Boqueria, directly down the main aisle.
Rambla, 91 // boqueria.info
In the historic neighbourhoods of El Born and Barri Gotic you’ll find great people-watching and loads of independent boutiques. Here are just a few of my favourites.
This quirky shop is full of home accessories, gadgets, and a selection of wellness products and clothing. I picked up a few cheeky postcards and eyed a canvas tote bag with modern line drawings of the city.
Carrer de l’Argenteria, 78 // naturaselection.com
This curated space displays a collection of vintage eyewear and collector rarities like cufflinks, old Tintin toys, and vintage cameras.
Carrer Mirallers, 7 // lacliniquefinestore.com
This Spanish candlemaker has been in business since 1761, making it one of the oldest establishments in the city. Their soaring display cases are packed with candles of all shapes, colours, and sizes, from classic white pillars to whimsical figurines.
Baixada de la Llibreteria, 7
La Sagrada Familia
This Gaudi-designed church is one of the world’s most contentious works of architecture, with some people loving the over-the-top Gothic-inspired design, and others considering the entirety an eyesore. After five generations, the structure is still under construction. The official website states it “could be finished in the first third of the 21st century” and rumour has it they’re aiming for 2026, the centenary of Gaudi’s death.
Carrer de Mallorca, 401 // sagradafamilia.org
Arc de Triomf
Spain’s version of its Paris counterpart, the red brick structure was erected in 1888 for the World’s Fair. The Arc is a majestic place to pass through and there’s always something happening on the wide promenade to the south.
Passeig Lluís Companys
Palau de la Música Catalana
Everywhere you look there are stunning examples of Catalan modernista architecture in Barcelona – this concert hall is one of them (Sant Pau Recinte Modernista is another). The concert hall exterior features incredible technicolour mosaics and porcelain detail on the balcony columns. Not far away, the buildings at Plaça de Lluís Millet also have some amazing wall murals.
Caller Palau de la Música, 4-6 // palaumusica.cat
There is a cable car that goes up to Montjuïc but it’s crowded and expensive. Instead, hike up and discover sweeping views of the city and sea against the mountainous backdrop. Visit the Fundació Joan Miró to take in some art, then head to the Olympic Stadium (Estadi Olimpic Lluís Companys) for sunset. Along the way, be sure to check out the bronze medallions set in the sidewalk, showing the actual shoe prints of some of the best athletes in tennis, basketball, gymnastics, and more.
If the weather is good, spend some time at Barceloneta beach. Laying out in the sun is definitely an option, but for something more active, join the tall, dark, and glistening runners on the boardwalk for a jog. Or head over to the calisthenics outdoor workout park right on the beach.
Take a walk through Port Vell and let your jaw drop at the sight of the mega-yachts in the harbour. There are often street musicians performing in the area – pick up a crepe at one of the stands, sit back, and enjoy.
This design hotel is amazingly located to take in everything the city has to offer. There’s an in-house gym and hair salon, plus a killer rooftop terrace for sipping cocktails and contemplating where to explore next.
Via Laietana, 49 // ohlahotel.com