I first visited Barcelona when I was 21 and had just completed my final year of university – in fact, I received my degree results while frantically searching for Wi-Fi inside the Picasso museum. Despite a few cultured activities (that museum included), it goes without saying that most of my time was spent dancing in nightclubs and laying on beaches. Although a great place to party, Barcelona is so much more than that, offering up stunning architecture, delicious food and enviable sunshine. Now at the mature-ish age of 23, I decided to return. What did I discover? Well, a city that is bursting at the seams with places to eat and things to do. See how I got on below.
Where to stay in Barcelona
On my previous trip to Barcelona, I stayed in an Airbnb aparment with some friends, which was six floors high – tragically, there was no lift. This time around, I was much happier to reside in the comfort of a five-star hotel, complete with very fancy lifts. Having only opened in 2018, Almanac Barcelona is a newcomer to the scene, but there are already plans to expand the brand across Europe, with a Vienna opening scheduled for 2020. It’s not hard to see why, as the top-tier hotel comes equipped with glamorous touches, hi-tech finishes and plenty of amenities (including a brasserie and rooftop bar).
I stayed in an Almanac Room, boasting views overlooking the bustling Gran Via, which is the longest avenue in Catalonia – thankfully, thick windows meant that any outside activity was barely audible from the comfort of my bed. The chic design of the room is impressive and it featured gold fixtures, marble streaked counters and a cosy chaise lounge underneath a light-flooded full-length window.
Despite the grandness, at Almanac, the devil is in the details. In the bathroom, I found shower gels and shampoos that had been made especially for the hotel, while my room also boasted forward-thinking tech elements – you can hook up the television’s audio to the bathroom so that you can listen to music while you shower, and each room comes equipped with a smart phone which you can take around the town with you, and use to make free international phone calls. These features, and other elements such as the nifty blackout curtain, are all controlled by an in-room portable tablet, making this a chic and thoroughly modern hotel experience.
www.almanachotels.com, Alamanc Room from €350 per night
Where to eat in Barcelona
Anyone Googling the above phrase will surely be directed to the Sangria-tinged street of Las Ramblas, or the frenetic and colourful La Boqueria market. I'd recommend only paying a brief visit to those tourist-trap spots though, as Barcelona has plenty of other top-tier restaurants worth exploring.
Why: This unashamedly old-school joint filled me with pleasure. It was bustling on my lunchtime visit, with tables taken up by a smattering of tourists, as well as Barcelona locals enjoying the tapas menu (which is always a good sign of a restaurant’s authenticity!). Friendly waiters decked out in crisp white uniforms set the tone, as do the tiled floors and red leather banquettes. I dined from a menu of classic Spanish fare – think crispy crumbed lobster croquettes, sizzling prawns swimming in garlic sauce, and fresh burrata served with diced tomatoes and a spoonful of pesto. Dining here makes you feel like a local, and although it's not exaclty a cheap eat, the quality of the food is second-to-none.
Meal for two, around €50 per person
Azimuth Rooftop Bar
Why: Found on the eighth floor of Almanac Barcelona, and overlooking the bustling Grand Via, this chic rooftop bar stays open until 1am on Saturdays, with the buzzy atmosphere bouyed along by music from a live DJ. There was a chill in the air when I visited, so the glass-encased lounge was the safest bet. I'm a sucker for a view though, so I couldn't stay away from the outdoor terrace – luckily, the plush booths provided a comfortable retreat, and the addition of heaters and (faux) fur blankets helped to keep out the cold.
Azimuth’s list of cocktails includes a mixture of cheekily-named sips and updates of the classics, including the Bourbon-infused Meet Me On The Roof and a Popcorn Star Martini: Belvedere vodka infused with butter popcorn, lemon juice, butterscotch liqueur, passion fruit purée and egg white. My hunger pangs were satiated by an accomplished menu of bar snacks, which included the likes of smoky pork belly buns pepped up with teriyaki sauce, served alongside sweet treats such as a brownie topped with raspberry and peanut butter cream.
Rice Sundays at Línia Restaurant
Why: Línia Restaurant is Almanac Barcelona’s upscale brasserie, which serves a Mediterranean-style menu designed for sharing. On the first Sunday of every month, the restaurant pays homage to the Spanish culinary staple of rice, serving up a selection of rice dishes to share, alongside helpings of the hotel’s own signature beer.
The feasting begun with a buffet selection of cold dishes which included breads, dried meats and salads. There was also a dedicated station for the ubiquitous avocado, which is served both raw and roasted, alongside your pick of dressings. Once I'd made a few trips to the buffet (three, to be exact), I readied myself for the main, which sees diners pick one decadent rice dish from a selection of five – varieties include black rice topped with cockles in their shells, but I was tempted by the sticky Iberian rice, which arrived studded with intensely smoky strips of Wagyu and crumbly morcilla (black pudding). To round things off in the most gluttonous of manners, I made the most of Linia's sweet station, which included heavenly riffs on classic desserts such as carrot cake, chocolate brownies and apple crumble.
Rice Sundays menu, €55 per person
What to do in Barcelona
Other than the obvious, such as scoffing copious amounts of tapas and topping up your tan, Barcelona has plenty of other activities to keep you entertained. Determined to see more than just the strobe lighting inside of Pacha, I ventured out in search of cool things to do in the city, and I was happy to find that both affordable and blow-out luxury options weren't in short supply.
Take a helicopter around the coast
Why: A jaunt in a helicopter may sound like an activity that is reserved for the Kardashians and Real Housewives of our world, but those visiting Barcelona have the chance to hop on a chopper for some seriously cool sight-seeing. Courtesy of BCN Travel, I enjoyed a six-minute flight across the city’s coastline, taking in stunning panoramic views. Six minutes may sound like a very short amount of time to be up in the air, but it feels far longer when you’re in the moment. We were also pleasantly surprised to discover that our journey wasn’t full of shakes and bumps – the helicopter was reassuringly steady and the whole experience was strangely serene. Who knew? We'd also argue that those stunning vistas are worth the (pretty punchy) price tag, and make for some prime Insta-fodder too.
Helicopter rides from €79 per person
Visit La Sagrada Familia
Why: Arguably the most famous building in the city, the awe-inspiring La Sagrada Familia is a must-see when visiting Barcelona. Originally the vision of Francisco de Paula del Villar, the currently unfinished Catholic Church has since been added to by various other renowned architects, including Antoni Gaudi and Josep Maria Subirachs. As a financially-challenged student, I relucted to pay to see inside the chapel, but this time around, I was certain that I wanted in. It's just as well, as the interiors are just as jaw-dropping as the outside, featuring an array of stained glass windows - make sure to visit when the sun’s up to get the full effect – and intricate design details.
Once completed, the building will stand at 170 meters tall, just one metre shy of Montjuïc, the mountain in Barcelona which is the city’s highest point. This is because Gaudi believed that no man-made sculpture should be higher than the work of God – the building is currently predicted to be completed in 2026, the centenary of Gaudi’s death. With so much work left to do though, I think it might be a little while yet before we see its completion. The good news though? It's another excuse to return to the city and see the finished product.
Basic ticket, €17 per person
Go vintage shopping at Palo Market Fest
Why: The most famous food market in Barcelona is undoubtedly La Boqueria, and it's definitely worth a brief visit to tick off your bucket list. If you’re looking to avoid the crowds though, there are tonnes of other markets which are worth exploring. One I stumbled upon is Palo Market Fest, which features a collection of vintage clothing stalls alongside bespoke art pieces and knick-knacks from independent traders, as well as more street food outlets than you can shake a cinnamon-dusted churro at.
Set among lush greenery and with plenty of tables and chairs to rest on, the outdoor market is a good shout for a relaxed afternoon in the city, and it’s not too far from the beach either. In the sunshine, you can enjoy a drink from the dedicated Aperol Spritz bar while tucking into casual street bites from the likes of cheekily-named Eat My Sausage.
Entry fee, €4 per person (children under 12 go free)
For a taste of Barcelona without having to leave the capital, cast your eye over our pick of the best Spanish restaurants in London.
Eamonn was a guest of Almanac Barcelona