I have just got back from spending a weekend in Barcelona, with a swiss girlfriend of mine who had never been there before. I was already pretty familiar with the city, having first visited back in 2004 during my erasmus year in Salamanca when I came to stay with a local family of a friend of mine and hear some DJs bang out the ones and twos at the Sonar electronic music festival. Subsequent visits brought more memories and good times; couchsurfing en route to Cuba where I stayed with a trapeze artist and partied with hippies on a rooftop terrace; my most recent visit last year with another lady friend from Colombia where we rode around on a motorcycle with a side car.. most people know about the main sites i.e. the ramblas, the gaudi buildings and the sagrada famillia, here are some other recommendations and pieces of advice based on my experiences I thought would be worth sharing for anyone planning to visit:
When to go
This time was the first I had been in December i.e. the off-season – this meant less tourist crowds, lower prices on the positive side, but on the other hand it also meant colder weather and less entertainment on offer e.g. street performers on the ramblas. Personally I think any time of year is fine, just depends on your preferences..
This time around we decided it would be more fun (and my Swiss girl trusted me enough) to go for the option of renting a scooter. I had previously rented one on a trip to Rome and got hopelessly lost, so one of my prerequisites was a scooter with GPS system – there were several scooter hire companies I came across on tripadvisor, but the one which stood out with the GPS option was the Vesping company. It turned out to be an inspired decision – the staff, in particular one of the Italian brothers we met, Vittorio, who founded the company, was very welcoming, friendly and helpful. It was apparent that they had really thought through the concept of the business, and that rather than being purely scooter hire, they provided services geared towards their customer base – the GPS came with the option of several pre-programmed itineraries of the sites, waterproof jackets and gloves were provided.
One of the sites I had never been to previously was the Tibidabo mountain with a church at the top (and a funfair next to it odly) which I had often seen from the plane and been curious about. I had suspicions whether a vespa would be powerful to take us up at anything more than a snail’s speed. In fact, the vehicle was more than up to the task, and it was quite fun winding up the roads and getting out of the city for a bit, whilst taking in the spectacular views. I would definitely recommend the vesping company, especially if you are planning to visit the park Guell and Tibidabo which would otherwise be a lot more of a pain to get to. Like we did, if there are two of you going, taking the one vespa between you can wprl out as quite good value as well.
Another thing we thought would be a good idea was to take a cable car. However, even though it looks totally awesome from down below, actually in reality up above it really sucked. We took one from the port up to Montjuic mountain, hoping it would take us to the top, when in fact it only took us to the base (there is another cable car which does take you to the top from the centre of town, leaving from near the “parallel” station which might have been a better idea). Although the views in the tiny, tightly packed cable car were pretty nice, it was all over pretty quickly and probably not really worth ten euros each and the hour and a half wait.
Eating & drinking
We visited 2 tapas (or pinxos as they are known locally) bars in Barcelona serving very delicious traditional food, called Euskal Etxea and Irati. Both were great and cheap.
Make sure you keep the toothpicks on the plate so they know how many to charge you for (I always wonder how they know how to trust you not to pocket them). Another place serving tapas of a different variety was the Xampanyeria Can paixano which is more well known for it’s own pink variety of cava. This place is awesome – very rustic, boisterous, packed to the rafters, it’s a great place to go to start a night out. Another fun place we went drinking was the Ovella Negra (the “black sheep”) on the other side of town, where they serve cheap sangria and beer by the gallon.
Impromptu live music & performances
The ramblas is well known for it’s street entertainers during the day and prostitutes touting for business at night. However you can also find a lot of really interesting groups playing at the parks and other public spaces – the video below shows what we came across – two Manu Chao-esque bands playing at the park Guell and at the port near the beach, as well as a group of tap dancers at the park de la Cuitadela.
In the park de la Cuitadela we also saw groups of amigos chilling out playing the guitar all over the place, so if you’ve got an instrument with you, no shortage of jamming opportunities.
Other bits and bobs
There are a lot of interesting, independent boutique shops in barrio gotico which are worth looking for which sell all sorts of unusual design objects, toys, ceramics, indian textiles, you name it.
Opposite the casa batillo a few blocks up on the passeg de Gracia is a five star hotel called Hotel Majestic. Go in, take the elevator to the top floor, and you’ll find a rooftop bar with a pool, offering some of the best skyline views of Barcelona and a great vantage point of the Sagrada Famillia. For free.
Still more to see
Of the various places I haven’t yet seen there are a couple of late night semi legal lock downs in Raval I’d like to go drinking in, the type that only open at 3am. There’s one called el armario (the closet) which sounds pretty cool, where the initial room you step into leads to a closet within which lies the real bar (from the name I would imagine the place is gay friendly as well).
A couple of unusual museums also tickle my fancy- the unusual museum of funeral carriages which just sounds bizarre, and a couple of music ones.
Additionally, Barcelona has a very active events program with a bunch I have managed to miss so far, namely Primavera, Sonar by day & la Merce to mention just a few.
Disclaimer: Vesping gave me a discount, although this was irrespective of whether I recommended them or not. All opinions here are my own.