Traveling to Barcelona: Our Top 10 List
Barcelona holds a special place in my heart. It is one of the few international cities that I know that I could happily call home without hesitation - its welcoming embrace comprised of a mild climate, beautiful architecture, the distinct urban culture, endless nightlife and of course the food, the glorious food. For these reasons Barcelona features much more highly on the tourist scale than our previous stops in Girona and Nimes - making visiting some of the icons of the city slightly less authentic as the crowds of tourists have seemingly grown each time we return. And of course politics and terrorism add a less happy note to some of the new from the region. But at its heart Barcelona is a city filled with inviting and passionate people that make it a destination well worth visiting time and time again.
Coming off wonderful stops in Girona and Provence and having already spent plenty of time on two wheels in the city on previous trips for this visit we left our cycling ambitions behind in Barcelona and instead focused on the food and culture this wonderful city has to offer. Thus this final entry in our Spain and France 2017 journey serves as an ode to Barcelona as experienced through its glorious morsels of food that can be found on the old city streets, bustling markets and beyond the throngs of ipad snapping tourists. As with any large metropolitan city there are a plethora of overpriced and mediocre restaurants in Barcelona, but hopefully if you follow this guide closely you will avoid any such disappointments.
A quaint and modern Mediterranean bistro 90 minutes outside of Barcelona serving up cuisine from the Emporda region. The menu is filled with seafood dishes from the Mediterranean and small creative plates inspired by the Pyrenees. Tasty dessert tops off a perfect long lunch before a nice Spanish siesta.
Paired with: A visit to the wonderfully weird and quirky Dali museum. Filter your way past the throngs of tourists crowded into the main atrium and find a treasure trove of Dali’s works including some inspiring sketches on the upper floors, where you can also condescendingly look down at the masses below all capturing the same Abraham Lincoln/Mona Lisa picture on their cameras.
Old City, Barcelona.
Santa Catarina Market
Barcelona is home to several sprawling markets with fresh meat, cheeses, tapas ingredients galore, the most famous being the Boqueria. While a visit to this Mecca should not be missed once in your lifetime - and specifically a meal at one of the popular food stands like El Quim - once is probably enough given the area is overrun with foreigners and tour groups. Instead check out the much more authentic and local Mercat de Santa Catarina where you can find indoor and outdoor eateries and loads of stalls for all your culinary needs.
Av. de Francesc Cambó, 16, 08003 Barcelona, Spain
Paired with: A picnic lunch in the Parc de la Ciutadella. This is my go to move when visiting a foreign country - pick up local ingredients at a fresh market and enjoy a smorgasbord style lunch while taking in the local scene. If greenery isn’t your thing, find a bench along the old city streets, such as in front of the Barcelona Cathedral and people watch while enjoying the ancient gothic architecture. Also worth visiting nearby are the Palau de Musica for a classical music concert, and the Picasso museum.
El Vaso de Oro
There really aren’t any non-artery clogging options here, the steak and foie must be consumed at this old school boys club establishment. A large bar consumes most of the indoor real estate with a few small tables but the real attraction are the old school waiters who have seemingly been around for decades behind the bar pouring beers and prepping the ofal and beef dishes. There isn’t much English spoken here but if you can say foie and cerveza you can experience a mouth wateringly delicious meal in the heart of the old city.
Paired with: A walk around the El Born and Bari Gothic’s narrow meandering streets and a visit to the lesser known underground Roman city excavation site housed in the Museum of the History of Barcelona - quite a marvel of an old city captured in time. Also worth a visit to one of the many gothic churches in the area such as the Basicilica de Santa Maria Del Mar. There is a great wine bar across the street as well, La Vinya del Senor, which I hear helps with digestion.
La Cova Fumada
I almost don’t want to share some of these hidden gems because they are so small and homey and authentic but if you can find La Cova Fumada you deserve to experience its excellence. A tiny family run shop - grandma oversees the kitchen while the younger family members run the tables and hop into the kitchen to prep on occasion - that pumps out deliciously fresh seafood like grilled sardines, juicy langoustines and mixed seafood frites. Don’t leave without trying their famously hailed creation, the Bomba, a meat filled potato ‘bomb’ topped with a homemade spicy aioli. Paired with some local cerveza it is the best lunch you can have in the area, just make sure to come at the right time.
Paired with: Barceloneta beachfront, a dip in the water or the Olympic village greenway. Or take a short walk north to El Born Centre de Cultura i Memòria featuring excavated city ruins from the 1700's. Either way skip all the touristy dining establishments in the area and stick to the tiny family run operations and you will not be disappointed.
El Paco Meralgo
With so many tapas bars around, its tough to choose with limited time in the city. But El Paca Meralgo should be on the list. Lively and open late but with fewer of the crowds of tourists and exchange students that seem to litter so many other joints in town, the menu is extensive and the service friendly. Try and get yourself a seat around the square bar and watch the chefs work their magic pumping out a myriad of tapas dishes, including one called the Obama (which we aren’t sure is a nod to the former US pres or a racist slight, but it was tasty nontheless). Bonus points for the ability to make reservations on the app Olive, which is super helpful for those with a very small Spanish vocabulary.
Paired with: Pre dinner drinks and a stroll along the Rambla de Catalunya. This road does eventually turn into the car-free Las Ramblas further towards the water, but the best part of the street is more northwest just a few blocks from Paco Meralgo where the entire center of the street has been fashioned into a pedestrian walkway and features outdoor eateries and bars for blocks and blocks. In the winter these establishments are outfitted with tents and heat lamps so they can be enjoyed year round.
Line up early. Grab a seat at the bar. Keep tabs of your toothpicks. Don’t fill up on the cold plates, the hot passed dishes will go fast. Make friends with your comrades at the bar and don’t be shy to ask to reach or pass a dish. This bar focused tiny tapas restaurant serves up round after round of cold and hot ‘passed’ bites each with a tootpick. At the end of the meal you pay by the number of toothpicks you have accumulated. Seating gets picked over fast so its best to line up before opening otherwise you wait and/or hover for seats. Bar seats are the best as you have easy access to the cold bites in front of you as well as first dibs on the dishes coming out of the kitchen. If you find yourself at a table or deeper into the restaurant you’ll need to cozy up to some neighbors for access to the goods. The variety of dishes is appealing and the atmosphere is fun and friendly. The house wine is cheap and that doesn’t hurt a bit.
Paired with: A walk along the Passeig de Garcia, known as the 5th avenue of Barcelona with it’s fancy designer stores. If you aren’t into shopping stroll down the street with your head tilted upwards - littered among the luxury storefronts are intricately detailed gothic and baroque style buildings that were often well ahead of their time, thanks in part to the influence of Barcelona legend Antoni Gaudi.
La Gracia, Barcelona.
An old school, no frills, no scene, homestyle restaurant - think checkered table clothes and burly old waiters serving hearty and delicious plates of stewed rice dishes tucked away in the corner of the Placa del Sol square, a gathering venue for the town youth who pick up a pack of beer from the bodega and drink along the edges of the square. Partake in this pastime while waiting for your table at Envalira and melt into a dish of traditional or squid ink and seafood paella and you won't be mad at all.
Paired with: Skip the now severely overcrowded Casa Mila and Casa Battlo and head straight to the still crowded but more spacious Segrada Familia just before sunset. Make sure to buy tickets in advance to one of the two towers you can now ascend but make sure to take in all the design history of the entire structure, nearly 100 years in the making, and then stroll on over to the Garcia neighborhood to check out the quaint suburb-within-a-city vibe. Oh and make sure to fit in a bodega stop before dinner.
Lastly, it goes without saying, you must eat gelato at every chance you can get. This isn’t Italy but the quality is nearly as good and I haven’t met a Spanish gelato I didn’t like, so my advice is to find shops along your route every single day and don’t feel guilty for indulging. It’s healthier than ice cream!