Trip Snapshot: Barcelona, Spain – September 2018
Reason for trip: Holiday! After our Berlin jaunt in 2017, Sara and I decided to pick another European city that neither of us had been to before. We toyed with the idea of Rome but in the end, Barcelona won out.
Stayed for: 6 nights – Wednesday to Tuesday
Flew: London Heathrow > Barcelona El Prat: Terminal 1 with British Airways
If you need to wait on arrival at El Prat: T1, there are a couple of cafes to grab a drink. Some general seating areas are available, but when I arrived, the airport was busy so I had to sit on the floor until a spot became available.
On departure, note that the vast majority of duty-free stores are in the Schengen zone departure area, down the escalator when you come through security. If you want to browse or pick up some last minute gifts, don’t head straight through passport control immediately but make sure you leave yourself enough time to do so.
Free Wi-Fi is available & works well.
Transport: To & from the airport, we used the Aerobus service – an express shuttle that goes direct from T1 (& T2) to the city centre, Plaça de Catalyuna, with a few stops along the way – we returned from Plaça España. Buses leave every 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the time of day and cost €5.90 for a single ticket & €10.20 for a return. It is possible to purchase a ticket upon boarding the bus.
For day to day travel about the city, we got a 4 day/96 hour card for €28.80 – this allows for unlimited travel on the metro, buses & trams, though we solely used it on the metro. Overall I found the system to be good, trains were frequent but often crowded at peak times.
Stayed: Hotel Denit & B Hotel
Hotel Denit, Gothic Quarter:
Stayed for: 3 nights
If you’re looking for a super central base with a small price tag then Hotel Denit is ideal. Tucked on an alley off Carrer de la Fontanella, the hotel is moments away from Plaça Catalunya and the winding, mysterious streets of the Gothic quarter. Our room was modern but small, with two large suitcases it was often a struggle to move around! The bathroom was so tiny that the sink had to be housed in the main room! We were offered an upgrade for a nominal fee at check-in which in hindsight we should have accepted.
As for amenities, there aren’t many – no pool or gym here. We didn’t make use of it, but there is a small area in the lobby where you can buy coffee, wine and some basic snacks. The WiFi worked well. Breakfast wasn’t included in the room rate so we picked up items from the Carrefour supermarket on Las Ramblas, a five minute walk away.
For those who want to spend a lot of time luxuriating in their room, then this isn’t the place. For those who want to maximise their time exploring the city then it’s perfect.
B Hotel, Plaça España:
Stayed for: 3 nights
On this trip, we split our hotel stays, moving away from the city centre for the last 3 nights.
At B Hotel, what we lost in location, we gained in space & a small rooftop pool. The room, again with modern styling, was at least double the size of our Hotel Denit residence for a negligible price difference. Journey time to Plaça Catalunya is less than 15 minutes via metro.
While we were there, the hotel was undergoing renovations so we had to walk through a service corridor to reach the elevator. The lobby bar was also shut, so we didn’t see the place at its usual standard.
B Hotel is almost next door to the multi-level Arenas shopping mall, a building which once housed a bullfighting ring. On offer in Arenas is a wide range of shopping, restaurants and a supermarket in the basement. On the top floor, there is a viewing deck which overlooks B Hotel’s roof pool. While at the pool, we would quite often look over and see people waving at us! You might not get much peace & privacy at the pool, but for a short dip, some sunbathing & Sangria, it does the job.
B Hotel is a great option for those who need a little extra space & don’t mind some travel time.
Designed by Antoni Gaudi, Parc Güell is an iconic Barcelona attraction and a must visit.
Entrance to the park is free, but the most picturesque sites are housed within the monumental core which requires a ticket. It’s wise to book online in advance, particularly during peak tourist season. Self-guided tickets are €8.50 per person and allow you to explore the mosaics and marvel at Gaudi’s design genius at leisure. The core is also home to Gaudi’s former house, now a museum. We didn’t check it out on this occasion because an extra ticket was needed to enter and the lines were long.
We spent around an hour in the monumental core & visited mid-morning. The park was crowded, so if you want a more solitary experience or to get pictures which don’t feature multiple other tourists, early arrival may be preferable.
If you travel to the park via metro, be warned that it’s a steep trek uphill to reach the monumental core so reaching the site by bus may be preferable.
Another must-see Barcelona emblem & Gaudi work. We did the double by visiting the same day as Parc Güell.
Coming out of the nearest metro, (also Sagrada Familia,) I was awestruck by the gothic spires and nearly as amazed by just how many tourists were swarming in the area. It seemed that many were choosing to only admire the building’s imposing exterior & not the inside of the church. Still under construction, the ticket price for entering this magnificent piece of design (€17 online for a self-guided tour) goes towards finally completing the project.
Having pre-purchased our tickets online, we were able to skip the queue and head inside at our allotted time via a brief security check (metal detector & X-Ray.) I was immediately glad that we had chosen to go inside – the late afternoon sunlight flooded through the stained glass windows creating a magical glow throughout the Basilica. Inside you’re able to get up close and admire the thoughtful details in a way which isn’t possible outside the building. If you want to get a true impression of the scope and imagination of the building design then I’d definitely advise an inside visit.
Before or after your visit, there is a great photo opportunity across the lake in front of the Basilica.
Palau de la Musica Catalana
After the Gaudi-fest, we were on an architecture kick. La Palau de la Musica Catalana is an art nouveau music hall, built between 1905 & 1908 to house performances of the Orfeo Catala. It was designed by Catalan architect, Lluís Domènech i Montaner.
Probably because it isn’t a Gaudi building, La Palau doesn’t attract quite the hordes of tourists. You can visit on a self-guided tour but we opted for the group guided tour to learn more about the history and importance of the building. I recommend purchasing the ticket in advance online, it’s €16 when purchased 21 days in advance compared to €20 on the door. English language tours start at the top of each hour throughout the day.
We had a great guide who seemed very passionate about his subject. Taking us through each area, we were shown the symbols of Catalan nationalism which are interspersed throughout the building and amazing details which enhance the music for both the listener and performer. The concert hall is magnificent, with the star of the show being an inverted dome skylight composed of panes of stained glass.
The tour takes just under an hour and there is time to take photos in each area.
Walking & Wandering
Barcelona is a city for walking. We often walked with no real goal just to see what we would stumble across. In El Raval and the Gothic Quarter, we found picturesque balconies, courtyards and churches galore!
On our final full day, what started off as just a walk turned into a hike, past the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya and up the hill to Montjüic Castle and it’s views across the city on one side and to the sea on the other. Definitely worth doing if you feel energetic! (If you don’t there is a cable car.)
This was more of a beach couple of hours than a beach day. It was breezy, cloudy and a threat of rain was in the air so we didn’t linger for long. We picked Bogatell beach over the more famous Barceloneta but it was still crowded despite the weather. During the peak summer season, I’d advise arriving early to secure a good spot. The nearest metro stations, Llacuna & Bogatell are quite a walk from the beach so it may be better to travel to and from via bus.
L’Antiquari, Gothic Quarter – Charmingly situated in the Plaça del Rei, this bar claimed to serve the best Mojitos in Barcelona. While I can’t vouch for the veracity of that statement as theirs was the only one I drank in BCN, it was very tasty.
Teresa Carles, El Raval
We ate at three of Teresa Carles’ restaurants while in Barcelona, the other two being under the ‘Flax & Kale’ brand. Billed as a vegetarian restaurant, there is plenty for plant-based eaters. I had the ‘Tacos al Pastor’ made with jackfruit. They were pleasant but on the salty side. However, for dessert, Sara and I split the ‘Vegan Millefeuille’ which was delicious, the perfect combination of crunchy and sweet.
Dolce Pizza y Los Veganos, Gracia
Bright neighbourhood pizza restaurant Everything is vegetarian with plenty of vegan options, healthy juices and smoothies. The tables are upcycled from packing pallets. I had the ‘Vegana’ pizza & found it so filling that I couldn’t even make it halfway through. The staff were more than happy to box up the leftovers which I ate for breakfast the following day.
Surya, Pau Claris, Eixample – The star feature of this Indian street food restaurant is the design, with a colourful bus shaped bar running the length of the place. It’s a shame we didn’t get to appreciate it, we were stuck in an outside lean-to area. The food was average and the vegetable Vindaloo was lacking in heat. Not a memorable meal.
La Isabela, Hotel 1898, Las Ramblas
We largely avoided Las Ramblas, only venturing down there for our wine & breakfast buying trips at Carrefour and for the visit to La Isabela. Located on the rooftop of Hotel 1898, it’s so peaceful up there that you barely realise that you’re above one of the most bustling tourist streets in the city.
We visited at lunchtime on a weekday and while it was quiet, the service was on the slow and disinterested side. Some tables have a view over the Barcelona skyline, including Sagrada Familia but we had a large sofa area to ourselves in the central portion of the terrace. Drinks, unsurprisingly are on the more expensive side for the city, with a cocktail running around €13. I had the ‘Desire’ a fruity raspberry, rum and rose confection which was delicious so I didn’t begrudge the price. A good spot to while away a sunny few hours.
Chök, The Chocolate Kitchen, El Raval
Chök is a delightful little shop selling handmade pastries and chocolate products. There are a few branches in the city, we visited the one on Carrer del Carme. Choices available vary from day to day, I had a vegan carrot cake Berliner doughnut, which was sweet, squidgy and a perfect treat. Eating it in lieu of lunch, it kept me full for several hours.
Flax & Kale Passage, El Born
Flax & Kale Passage was our second visit to a Teresa Carles restaurant & our Saturday brunch spot. Just down the road from La Palau de la Musica Catalana, it’s a spacious restaurant with an extensive menu. No meat is served, but it’s billed as ‘Flexitarian’ so there are some fish & egg items available. We split a coconut milk parfait with fresh fruit & granola and I had a tofu and vegetable scramble. The latter was perhaps a shade oily but it was delicious so i’ll forgive it. They brew kombucha on site here, so it’s fun to take a look at the back and peep in the room at all of the apparatus.
Mon Viet, Sant Antoni
Mon Viet is a neighbourhood Vietnamese restaurant in Sant Antoni with an industrial style and great value, fresh food. We went on a Saturday night and the place was buzzing. Plenty of vegan options available here so we had summer rolls and Banh Khot mini pancakes to start, both fantastic. I ordered the smaller size of the Pho Chay and was only able to eat about half of it because I was so full up. The broth wasn’t exceptional but decent. This would be a good spot for those with allergies as the menu has a clear chart explaining which allergens are contained in each dish and where they can be adapted to be allergen free.
Vai Moana, Playa Bogatell
Vai Moana is an on-beach restaurant on Playa Bogatell. As usual with these types of locations, I would say that the food is overpriced for what you get, you’re paying for the view rather than the cuisine. I had a vegan Poké bowl which was fine but nothing special. My main issue was that all of the ingredients were soft and squidgy. The dish was crying out for some texture other than the 5 peanuts included. I did have a great strawberry daiquiri, so maybe come here for drinks only.
Flax & Kale Tallers, El Raval
Our third visit to a Teresa Carles restaurant. We came on a Sunday evening as the kitchen staff were changing over so had a short wait before we were able to place our order. No problem as we snacked on kale chips and sipped on Cava. I had the ‘Green Power Raviolo” – baked eggplant with raviolos stuffed with spinach, mushroom, tofu and cashew ricotta. Incredibly delicious.
At the entrance to the restaurant they have a small area of takeaway items, so picked up a vegan glazed doughnut and smoothie to have for breakfast in the morning.
Our final meal of the trip was at the beautifully decorated Japanese restaurant, Watatsumi on the top level of Arenas mall. We wanted something close to the hotel as we were leaving for the airport in the morning. There isn’t a huge choice of vegan options but had some tea, sushi and somen and everything hit the spot. Maybe not somewhere to go out of your way for but a good choice if you’re in the area.
Overall it was a fantastic trip, 6 days was the right amount of time – we left feeling like we’d seen plenty but had more to come back for in the future.
There have been some negative headlines about Barcelona & pickpocketing. Being aware of this, I took extra care and didn’t have any problems. I primarily used my Emily bag by The Kooples which is made of thick leather and has a secure twist clasp. I always kept it across my body with my arm covering it.
I’d also heard a lot about harassment from street vendors and hawkers. While we certainly saw a few, we were largely left alone. At no point during the trip did we ever feel uncomfortable or unsafe.
So don’t be deterred by news stories; if you take sensible precautions, Barcelona is a wonderful, vibrant city filled with culture & opportunities to eat great food and marvel at some of the world’s greatest architectural masterpieces. Can’t wait to return!