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Barcelona Retrospective: Highlights of a Magical City

Barcelona is an incredible place, and we loved our time there. We probably could have stayed for many more moons. So, to celebrate our first month and a half of living abroad – and to start a habit of reflection and consensus after each of our major stops along this crazy journey – I give you:

Joe and Abbey’s Barcelona Favorites!*

*Now, a wise woman named Ginger Johnson (beer guru and educator extraordinaire) once told me that she doesn’t use the word favorites, because, basically, that implies the end of a search – ta-da, you’ve found it! The best! No need to sample/search for more…so she uses “highlights” instead, which I quite like. Therefore, more accurately:

Joe and Abbey’s Barcelona HIGHLIGHTS!**

**This is by NO means an exhaustive list – just a smattering from our personal (and still limited) experience. Now, when you go to Barca for a few days or a week, you can squeeze in as much awesomeness as possible (also: “Tips and Tricks” at the end!).

Food and Drink

  1. Bier Cab’s bar and fantastic décor

    Bier Cab: cool, laid-back vibe with elevated tapas/pub fare; largest selection of taps in the city; many local beers, many imported from around the world; great interior decor and very helpful staff (near Plaça Universitat)

  2. La Castanya: if you sit at the bar, they make the food right in front of you! Every dish was scrumptious (made by Chris from Germany, he’s fantastic); the drinks, made by Pipo, were some of the best we had; dark, modern interior, gets crowded later (Gothic quarter)
  3. Hoja Santa: if you want to spend a lot of money and have some of the best haute-Mexican food in your life, GO HERE; inventive and deliciously flavorful cocktails, superb 18 course meal (but à la carte menu is available, too), incredibly attentive and unobtrusive (but so helpful) servers – a true experience (Sant Antoni near Plaça Espanya)
  4. Black Lab: marketed as Barcelona’s first brew-pub, their beers offer a nice variety with something for everyone; good, eclectic food selection as well, and a nice outdoor patio (by the port)
  5. Gran Torino Garage Bar: craving a great panini or fresh and unusual salad? This is your spot; right across from the promenade by the port, this tiny, Italian-owned spot has a few tables outside and just a few more in; good sangria, too (edge of Gothic quarter)
  6. Refreshing tapas at La Pepita

    La Pepita: for some of the best tapas with a modern twist and the coolest atmosphere/decor, go here. The walls are covered with scribbles and notes and the servers are excellent and fun; it’s pretty affordable, too, and just really high quality (between Eixample and Grácia neighborhoods)

  7. Bo de B: the BEST sandwiches and plates in the city as far as I can tell; line out the door every day for lunch; affordable, fresh, fully customizable; huge sandwiches or plates with meat, spreads, veggies, etc; total hole in the wall, just go there (Gothic quarter, near harbor)
  8. Green Bamboo: yes, I’m listing an Asian-inspired restaurant. Started by two South Americans and an Italian, this tiny spot in a small alley serves delicious ramen, bao, and other treats at affordable prices; the cocktails are also insanely tasty, and the server/bartender/co-owner is very sweet and helpful (Gothic quarter)
  9. NaparBCN: this renegade yet upscale beer bar and restaurant serves delicious food and a great variety of beers on tap and in bottles; cool, punk décor (think: lots of motorcycle parts), plus a number of their own tasty beers (Eixample/Gothic quarter)

Sites, Museums, and Monuments

  1. Museum of Catalan History: informative and well-illustrated special exhibits, cool interactive displays, covers a lot of ground (near the port)
  2. Joe in the fortress on Montjuïc

    Sagrada Familia: Gaudi’s crowning achievement, one of the most awe-inspiring pieces of architecture we’ve ever seen…you sort of have to see it to believe/understand it (between Grácia and St. Marti)

  3. Montjuïc: definitely worth the hike – don’t take the bus/tram up, walk! Your legs will burn, but you’ll be rewarded with an epic castle/fortified camp at the top, and stunning views of the whole city (El-Poble Sec)
  4. Chocolate Museum: if you love chocolate, you kind of have to go; lots of history about chocolate making, but also many elaborate sculptures made all out of chocolate (El Born, near Parc de la Ciutadella)
  5. Park Güell: another Gaudi-designed masterpiece, this lovely park and its wonky architecture beg you to linger; multi-colored tiles, towering columns, twisted spires, mosaic animals, incredible views, etc (Grácia)
  6. Arco de Triunfo: just outside the Parc de la Ciutadella stretches a broad, palm-lined pedestrian avenue leading up to Spain’s version of the Arc de Triumph; made of brick with a distinctive middle eastern flair, it’s a beautiful spot to walk and hang (near El Born)


  1. The Arco de Triunfo

    Barceloneta Beach: it’s crowded and huge, but the people watching, sun-bathing and relaxing can’t be beat; you can even buy beers and mojitos from the beach vendors (or bring your own); there’s also a free, open-air gym if you need a break from relaxing (north of the port)

  2. Beach Bars (any, really): set right in the sand, these perpetually crowded little bars aren’t inherently that special – but the location is. Sit with toes in the sand and sip relatively affordable drinks (including cava – it flows like water in Spain); the food isn’t bad, either. But the view can’t be beat. (Barceloneta beach)
  3. Wander around El Born: and leave yourself time to stop in every adorable, intriguing little shop, bar, restaurant, and hole in the wall; the tiny, twisting streets are beautiful and you’ll never want to leave
  4. Parc de la Ciutadella: a very large park/garden in the middle of the city, you’ll find many pathways, fountains, benches, playgrounds, statues, etc – bring a picnic and blanket and relax, take a jog or walk, and enjoy the scenery (Edge of El Born)
  5. Have a drink on La Rambla: order a massive chalice of sangria or a humongous beer at one of the cafes with tables in the middle part of the wide street and people-watch; the food isn’t great at these spots so save your appetite for La Boqueria…

    Meat stalls at La Boqueria
  6. La Boqueria: huge indoor market on La Rambla, come hungry! Many little tapas restaurants are scattered throughout the market, in addition to endless stalls selling fruits, veggies, meats, seafood, canned goods, wines, etc!

Tips and Tricks

  1. Buy tickets in advance for everything (at least a day) – you’ll need to pick a visiting time (eg. to the Gaudi monuments, etc) so make sure to plan ahead.
  2. Make reservations everywhere you go – seems silly, but we were denied several times because we hadn’t booked.
  3. The metro is cheap! 1 euro per ride…take it everywhere. It’s very easy.
  4. Spain has excellent wine under 5 euros/bottle – don’t be afraid to try the cheap, local stuff! Better yet, get a bottle of red for under 2 euros, buy a nice cold Coke, and pour together over ice with a squeeze of lime = Callimocho. Trust me.
  5. Take the Aerobus to/from the airport – it stops at a few places, and the end of the line is very central (Plaça Catalunya – metro from there). It’s clean, fast (35 min) and affordable (12 euros r/t) – and even has free wifi.
  6. Accept the schedule: lunch is closer to 2-3pm, dinner around 9:30-10. Go with it (snacks are ok, too). Fun fact: this is because Spain is on the “wrong” time zone. During WWII, Spain’s dictator Franco wanted his country more aligned with Nazi Germany, so he moved Spain to Germany’s time zone. They’ve stayed ever since, and are an hour later than they should be.
  7. Explore less-touristy neighborhoods like Eixample, Grácia, and Sants (among others) – many hidden gems, better quality, fewer mobs (or mobs of locals).

Have your own tips or info to add? Comment below!


Ex-archaeologist, business development and networking wiz, people person, aspiring author and travel writer. Loves horses, the sea, exploring, history, good food and wine, and Joe.

One thought to “Barcelona Retrospective: Highlights of a Magical City”

  1. Thanks for all the great info on Barcelona. Your mom put me onto your blog after chatting about Hoja Santa a couple of days ago. Doing my second exploration of Barcelona next week. Sandy Friend

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