I can honestly say that Professor M and I have been to Barcelona dozens of times. That is, once (sometimes twice) a year for the past 10-12 years. So, you might assume I know the place quite well by now. And to some extent that is true. I certainly have my favourite places (shops, restaurants, museums etc), but there are lots of areas I’ve never been to. But that’s OK because Barcelona is one of those places I keep going back to, and I like the idea that there is always something new to discover.
And this time we chose a hotel in an area we were not familiar with (Barceloneta), to get us out of our comfort zone. However, we still had time to visit some of our old haunts, too. And this is why I thought I could share with you some (purely subjective) insights of some of the wonderful areas that make up this incredible town. This is by no means a comprehensive account of what there is to see in Barcelona; just sort of ‘Tiina’s highlights’…
The sun, the sea, the beach… That pretty much sums it up. The beach goes on forever, and there are plenty of bars and beachfront restaurants. It’s all very touristy, yet a million times classier than the tourist traps of Southern Spain. For example, swimwear is not considered proper attire in beachfront restaurants, and you don’t see drunken tourists running amok. Think trendy, hip, and family-friendly.
This is not one of my favourite areas in Barcelona, for several reasons. First, as self-confessed snobs, Professor M and I avoid anything overtly touristy. And second, I don’t sunbathe, and I cannot swim. In other words, aside form beachfront walks, Barceloneta has little to offer to people like Professor M and me. However, we did find a rather trendy beach front restaurant with a cool 60’s-inspired decor and delicious tuna burgers…
Parc de la Ciutadella
Parc de la Ciutadella is a huge park bordering El Born. An oasis in the city, this is where the locals spend a lazy Sunday afternoon, sunbathing, picnicking, or feeding birds. There are impressive fountains and a beautiful pond with boats and ducks.
The park also houses the Barcelona Zoo and the Museum of Natural Science.
El Born is urban, modern and probably the coolest place in Barcelona. The narrow streets are teaming with avant-garde shops, trendy restaurants and incredibly stylish bars. In other words, this is the place to go shopping.
But forget fast fashion giants: if Zara and H&M are what you’re after, any shopping centre will do. This is Hipsterville: cool design, Spanish and Catalan fashion brands and local artisans are the order of the day.
The restaurants in the area are affordable, innovative and hip. Think traditional with a twist. Or Nouvelle Cuisine with local ingredients. Or just simply fantastic. Professor M’s favourite burger joint is here: Pim Pam Burger has a burger for everyone, but also serves other dishes. And while vegetarian / vegan food may be difficult to find in Barcelona, El Born would be the best bet.
This is the Old Town of Barcelona. And like all ‘old towns’ everywhere, it has narrow streets, medieval buildings, and hordes or tourists (and pickpockets)… But it also has lovely little coffee shops with cakes and pastries and chocolates, and some really interesting shops.
I’m not talking about souvenir shops, or the shops selling cheap clothes. Yes, they seem to be everywhere…
There are interesting antique shops (particularly in the area between the Cathedral and the Basílica de Santa Maria del Pi), art galleries (we’ve bought works by local artists at Carré d’Artistes) and a few small museums.
Just stay clear of anything too close to La Rambla or Placa Reial (a.k.a the most obvious tourist traps).
Modernist (= Art Nouveau) architecture, boutique hotels, bourgeois charm and luxury boutiques… That’s Eixample in a nutshell.
This is the place to go architecture spotting. Not only are some of the most famous Gaudi buildings, Casa Batllo and La Pedrera situated there, but there are plenty of buildings by other modernist architects in the area, too. Not to mention the dreamiest jewellery shop in the whole world: Masriera (housed in the fabulous Casa Amatller, nextdoor to casa Batllo), with its re-issue Art Nouveau pieces. A warning, though: you need serious cash to afford anything in the shop, but fortunately swooning in front of the window display is free…
As for restaurants, Professor M and I always make sure to include the Mandarin Oriental Sunday brunch as part of our travel itinerary. Other than that, we tend to avoid the more touristy places on Passeig de Gracia as there a plenty of interesting eateries tucked away in the side streets.
|The reliefs outside Mandarin Oriental|
What would you like to do in Barcelona?
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