Barcelona has been steadily climbing up the rankings of European cities since rejuvenation of the Catalonian capital began before the Olympic Games in 1992. Today, despite some recent political troubles, Barcelona is a thriving hub of nightlife, culture and great cuisine, and has to be up there with the likes of Berlin, London and Paris for a weekend city-break, particularly considering the comparatively low cost.
A fairly compact and well-organised city with good public transport links, Barcelona makes it easy for visitors to see much of what it has to offer in a relatively short time. Having spent a few wide-eyed weekends careening through Barcelona’s many barrios, I thought I’d share my tips on making the most of a short-trip here.
Barcelona is very much a city with its own unique personality and heritage, and art and culture makes up a big part of that. There are museums and galleries aplenty, offering everything from extensive Picasso collections, to ultra-modernist creative spaces boasting live performance art and workshops.
Of course, no trip to Barcelona is complete without taking in some of the city’s impressive architecture, some of which happens to have been designed by the world-renowned Antoni Gaudi. The headliner among his works is the still-unfinished Sagrada Familia, which is super-impressive and worth the time if you’re doing more than passing through, but for those who want to see some good Gaudi without the killer queues, check out Parc Guell, Casa Batllo or La Pedrera.
Ultimately, Barcelona is an artists’ city, and the best way to see it is from this point of view. There are a number of tours available, many hosted by local street artists, who’ll guide you through the city and tell the story of Barcelona through the impressive array of street art and graffiti on display.
Before we get into the details of what you should and shouldn’t be eating while you’re in BCN, there’s one golden rule: don’t eat on La Rambla. La Rambla is Barcelona’s busiest and most tourist-y street, and for this reason you can pretty much guarantee that eating there will leave you unsatisfied and out-of-pocket.
There’s an ever-changing list of awesome restaurants to check out in Barcelona, and your choices will likely depend on your personal taste and budget. To do things like a proper Barcelonan though, sit down late one-night somewhere like Bar de Pla or Bar Ramon, order a few bottles of locally-sourced wine or sangria, and slowly work your way through the tapas menu.
If you have the time and inclination to prepare your own meals while you’re in Barcelona, then a trip to one of the many markets is an absolute must to pick up your ingredients. Markets are the beating heart of any city’s food-scene, and Barcelona has a number of great ones. La Boquiera is certainly the most famous, and with good reason, but if seafood happens to be your thing then head to La Barceloneta Market, just off the waterfront, for the one of the most varied and freshest selections you’re likely to come across.
Nightlife in Barcelona breaks down into a few different types. You can, and definitely should, spend the late afternoon wandering aimlessly through winding backstreets and sunlit courtyards, stopping wherever takes your fancy to enjoy a cold cerveza and a small plate, before moving on again and doing the same. If you’re looking for something a bit more high-energy though, then there’s no shortage of clubs and bars which will be pumping out whichever type of tunes it is you’re into until the early hours.
Razzamatazz is a club which shouldn’t work, but does. First-off it’s huge, with 5 distinctly different areas, each offering something different. The last time I was there I spent the first few hours on the top floor taking in a pretty racey burlesque-type show set to 80’s mega-cheese, wandered downstairs into the main area to find Johnny-fu*king-Ramone playing to a crowd of frenzied teenagers, and finally ended up in a huge, dark hangar-type room swaying to blissed out house beats until the sun came up. It was somehow one of the best nights out I’ve ever had.
Admittedly, Raz is a little bit mainstream – you’re not likely to impress your trendier mates by telling them you spent your nights here. So if you’re looking for something a little more under-the-radar, let me personally recommend Sidecar and Moog; the former is a gritty rock-bar in the Gothic Quarter, and the latter is a tiny techno-mecca, tucked away in the trendy El Raval area.