Back from a week in Barcelona, here are my trip notes for those that asked.
Staying in Barcelona, being a major European city, is not as cheap as some other destinations. So balancing the books for a relaxing holiday was a bit tricky. In the end, we ended up staying in a B&B for the majority of our time there, then switching to a hotel for the final few days.
So the first 5 nights were spent at El Balcon Del Born, which occupies two quaint, airy flats in a century-old building in the relaxed, easterly El Born district. It came to 85EUR a night, including breakfast.
El Born was a great place to start the holiday - it’s away enough from most of the tourist hubbub to be relaxing, but right next to a good selection of restaurants, the Metro station, a 10 minute walk to the beach, and in fact walking distance to lots of great sights.
In contrast, the final 3 nights were at Yurbban, a modern hotel a bit north of the city centre, at about 180EUR a night including breakfast. At time of writing it was in the top 10 of Barcelona hotels on TripAdvisor. The rooftop pool was worth the price of entry alone, but everything about this hotel was superb. Super cosy, modern, a vast breakfast buffet, fantastic staff, pretty much the perfect way to unwind in a foreign city.
Flied with EasyJet, took about 90 minutes in the air. Barcelona Airport is a little bit dated (coming from Gatwick), but plenty serviceable.
Taxi from airport to the B&B was about 35EUR. Driver didn’t speak English but understood printed map of the location.
An open-top bus tour helped greatly getting our bearings and seeing all the major sights very rapidly. The red route on Barcelona Bus Touristic was probably the better of the two we tried.
Bought a T-10 ticket to get around on the metro and the bus. It’s a paper ticket that can be purchased at any metro station, and gives you 10 trips within the city. Brilliant thing is, you can share it with other people - just put it through the ticket machine/barrier the appropriate number of times (i.e. twice if you’re with one other person). There’s no Oyster-style contactless system that I could see.
Barcelona is very walkable. Rarely used the metro and bus and left with two trips left on the T-10!
For some reason tourists seem to flock to Las Ramblas (the main high street through the centre of the city). I couldn’t see the attraction unless you enjoy overpriced gifts, tourist traps, street sellers, and the constant threat of pick pockets. The neighbouring Via Laietana and its side-streets were much more pleasant to explore and appeared to have higher-quality stores and restaurants.
Barcelona is filled with alleyways and small streets connecting them all together. It’s easy to get lost down these twisting, identical tunnels of tiny shops and graffiti-laden shop shutters. A map is useful - I had Google Maps on my phone (free roaming on Three!), but Maps.me would probably have sufficed. It took a few days to get a ‘feel’ for the city to navigate without.
Note that cars and motorbikes often zip up and down these tiny, thin alleyways. Be prepared to jump out of the way.
There were a lot of tourists on rented bicycles, Segways, and battery-powered scooters, especially along the beach. Didn’t use any of them, but seemed to be quite a few drunken British tourists trying to find their top-speed with little regard for pedestrians…
Three restaurants stood out during our stay. Barcelona is awash with a paralyzing choice of places to eat, so the star rating on Google Maps became my preferred way to pick out the gems. They were:
Tosca - modern Tapas, cheap Sangria. Went there twice. I want to go back right this second just for their Danish meatballs and potato wedges dipped in onion mayonnaise sauce. Just round the corner from Yurbban.
Zirhab - hidden gem of Tapas-Asian fusion food, in a lesser-visited sidestreet of El Born. Wish we discovered this one sooner, as we ran out of time to visit it again. Spicy Lamb Cous-Cous was perfect. Had the most genuinely warm, welcoming, cosy, family-run feel to it of anywhere I’ve ever eaten.
Teresa Carles - I’m usually a carnivore, but this is a vegetarian restaurant. Their lasagne was easily one of the best lasagne I’ve ever eaten (including the meaty ones.)
We intentionally avoided restaurants obviously filled with tourists or sending their staff out onto the street to drag customers in (good advice for any popular destination, really.)
There are bakeries and pâtisseries and ice cream parlours *everywhere, generally all serve the same stuff, and since I allowed myself sugar and alcohol just for this holiday, I got to try a fair bit of it. Best delicacy was probably a ‘Braçet’ (not sur about exact spelling/accent), which was like a swiss roll filled with cream, although that’s all I know about it (and Google isn’t much help either.) Had a few jugs of Sangria, too…
As I mentioned before, get an open-top bus tour to get around all the major sights. Your tour bus ticket also grants you worthwhile discounts and offers at a bunch of of places. They’re hop-on/hop-off buses, so a single ticket will last a day or two depending on the ticket you buy.
Walking around and exploring the city is definitely worthwhile to get into all the nooks and crannies the buses don’t cover.
It’s hard to visit Barcelona and not visit the Gaudi exhibits. Of those, my favourites were Casa Battló (as Gaudi’s mastery of light is incredible) and Sagradia Familia (as required by law.) The former I booked tickets on my phone at the door, the latter I booked a couple weeks ahead, as the queues there are almost as huuuuuge as the cathedral itself.
In El Born, pay an early-morning visit to Meseu Picasso and the (free) ruins at El Born Cente Cultural, just a few minutes apart. And just a few minutes from there is a chocolate museum where the ticket itself is an edible bar of chocolate.
There’s a Zoo and Aquarium to the east of the city. The Zoo was under partial re-construction, but still a worthwhile way to spend 3 hours. The Aquarium was a bit underwhelming, and felt dated. Probably better with kids.
Lots of museums are free on the first Sunday of every month.
Barcelona is a modern city, so WiFi is easy to find, but nearly all the connection portals they use require you log in using Facebook. Fortunately I have Three as my mobile provider and therefore had free roaming. Generally I had a good 3G signal, although wasn’t as fast as in London (not sure if that was due to poor connections or just throttling.)
While away (the first real holiday in a few years), I disabled background sync on my phone, and turned off everything work-related on the recommendation of a colleague. Best advice I’ve ever received and I can’t believe I thought it was a joke at first…
On return journey back home we took the Aerobus to the airport, which dropped us off at Terminal 2B. What we didn’t realise was that to get Terminal 2C (where EasyJet live), you need to exit Terminal 2B, go outside, and walk down the road for a few minutes to reach the other terminal building. It’s not particularly well signposted, and we only discovered this by following other tourists.