Perhaps best known for the surreal architecture of Barcelona native Antoni Gaudí, Barcelona is a laid-back, eclectic city with wide leafy avenues, diverse architecture, and a world class dining scene. We recently took a quick city break to this popular destination to explore beautiful architecture, eat some delicious food, and catch some sun. Below are some of our recommendations for the city.
Where to Stay
We stayed at Seventy Barcelona, in the neighborhood Eixample – and we really enjoyed our stay. The hotel also includes a spa where you can unwind after a day exploring the city.
Exploring Gaudí's Architecture
Gaudí's work can be found all over the city and adds a very unique feel. La Sagrada Familia is Gaudi's most famous and arguably most striking work – construction started in 1882 and continues today, funded by ticket costs. It is difficult to imagine that construction on this building started over a hundred years ago, as the design still feels very contemporary today, even futuristic. Visit on a sunny day (not in short supply in Barcelona), and marvel at the stunning ambience of color of light created by the beautiful stained glass windows.
Stroll along Avenida Diagonal, a large avenue lined with shops and restaurants, and tour Casa Mila and Casa Batllo. These two buildings, originally intended as residential homes on the fashionable Avenue Diagonal in the late 19th century, are still striking today. Both offer tours with audio guides that go into depth about the history of each building and the specificities of the design. We especially enjoyed Casa Batllo and learning about all of Gaudi's inventive ideas to allow air and light to come into the building.
We also enjoyed our tour of Casa Vicens, which is located to the north of the Diagonal. One of Gaudi's earliest residential works, you can really see the early manifestation of his later ideas – the strong nature theme, the use of repetition.
Neighborhoods to Visit
A wide tree-lined pedestrian street famed for street performers (and pickpockets!), La Rambla is worth strolling through for its little market stalls and people-watching. We walked down the street from Plaça Catalunya down a stretch of La Rambla, before wandering down to the Gothic Quarter.
The city's oldest barrio, or neighborhood, the Gothic Quarter is a quaint, maze-like neighborhood full of little alleyways and shops. Unfortunately this area was very quiet when we were there (February 2022), but in normal times the neighborhood should be lovely to wander.
On the way up the hill, stop by the former Olympic swimming pool, which now has a bar with a view over the city. We took the cable car up the hill (Montjuic Teleferic) - and from the Montjuic Castle, you can enjoy both a view of the ocean as well as the city. Stay until the evening to view the dancing fountains.
Parc Güell, in many ways, combines some of the best parts of Barcelona – striking and surreal architecture, and a beautiful view. On a sunny afternoon, the park is busy with tourists, but the atmosphere and view are worth visiting.
Of course, a visit to Barcelona is not complete without spending some time at the beach! To see a bit more of the city, walk from the Parc de la Ciutadella down to Barceloneta beach, and spend the afternoon relaxing by the beach and exploring the seaside neighborhood.
For those that love architecture, the Barcelona Pavilion by Mies van der Rohe is a must visit – though the current building is a reconstruction of the original, the design is considered an important example of modernist architecture and has inspired many similar works.
Where to Eat & Drink
This region of the world is known for its cuisine. Here are a few places we discovered and would recommend:
Have a drink or a small bite to eat at El Nacional. We first stumbled across this space at night, when the entrance was lit with strings of overhead lights. This beautiful, expansive space features various restaurants and bars offering cuisine from all around the Iberian Peninsula. We did a little research and discovered that the building used to be a late 1800s textile factory, which was later turned into theater.
La Pepita is a tiny, classic tapas bar tucked into the corner of a building opposite Seventy Barcelona with delicious tapas and drinks. Reserve on weekends!
Besta is a Galician seafood restaurant sourcing organic and high quality ingredients. Delicious and not too expensive for the quality.