Twelve months ago Franca put together her five travel tips for Barcelona based on her personal loves and recommendations. A year down the line and a return visit to the city, it’s now my turn to find five things to do, based off our latest "off the path" experiences.
I must admit that on my first visit to Barcelona I really didn’t fall in love with the city. For years Franca and many of my friends had recalled all of their stories about how amazing the city is, how alive if feels, and each one of them had to tear themselves away at the end of their holiday.
On the last day of our first visit I couldn’t wait to leave.
Seemingly Barcelona is a bit like Marmite – you either love it or hate it.
It was only after our return visit this year for just over a week that I began to fully understand all of the poetic and dream-like descriptions of Barcelona. It IS incredible, from every perspective, and there’s really nothing that the city doesn’t contain. There’s always something to see or something to do in Barcelona no matter what your tastes are.
For architecture lovers there’s the Sagrada Familia. For couples romantic walks by the beach to take. For families there are more museums and art galleries than you can possible cover in a weekend. For solo travellers there are tapas bars and clubs where the party never stops. For foodies there are more restaurants and cafes than you could possibly visit in five years of daily visits, and for shopping-addicts there are some of Europe’s best known and luxurious brands.
My personal highlights of course relate to my loves and likes.
I’m fond of history, so I’ve picked something old. I’m fond of vegan food, so there’s no surprise that I’ve picked a great vegan-friendly and vegetarian restaurant.
I’m also quite fond of alternative and counter culture, so once I got to know the streets of the city there was only ever going to be one of a few areas that I’d want to "hang" in.
There’s no one more surprised about my complete 360 turnaround on my feelings about the city than me, so there really must be something about all of the hype that is centred in truth and hopefully this latest addition to our Five Travel Tips… series will be an example of that.
5 MORE Travel Tips for Barcelona
1. Monastery of Pedralbes
Still standing after almost seven-hundred years, the Monasterio de Pedralbes is a large three-story complex and adjacent church in which the nuns of the Order of Saint Clare (Franciscan nuns) went about their duties of praying to God for the sake of their wealthy benefactors, or anyone from the region of Catalonia or beyond who needed Gods mercy.
We were recommended to visit the monastery by the owners of the apartment we were renting at the base of Montjuic as they knew that we were keen on both modern and classic architecture, with this particular grande location being a highlight of the latter in Barcelona.
Of all the interesting aspects of the large estate on which the monastery stands, the central courtyard is by far the most memorable. The two tiers of arches that surround the large open green space in which the nuns would have meditation or have grown the necessary herbs needed are incredible. It’s the quiet solitude of this courtyard and many others I’ve visited through several European countries that makes me adore religious buildings such as this so greatly.
Whilst much of the collected buildings are open for observation or as rooms to house small exhibitions, the monastery is still lived and worshipped in today, so be mindful of that when you’re finding your own corner of peace there.
For more great pictures and more historical information, visit the Monasterio de Pedralbes website.
2. Teresa Carles Vegetarian Restaurant
All of our vegan and vegetarian friends were recommending this fantastic restaurant to us on our previous visit to Barcelona, however it was only on our return this year that we found time enough to share a lunch at Teresa Carles.
Only five minutes away from Placa de Catalunya, this vegetarian restaurant offers some of the best high end healthy food in the city and has done so for over thirty years.
Named after the chef who opened the restaurant with her husband more than thirty years ago, Teresa Carles is focused solely on providing a combined and mixed meal that draws inspiration from not just local Catalan cuisine, but also from the chefs on experiences of travelling around the US and Europe to discover great raw, macrobiotic, and lacto-ovo vegetarian food.
As vegans we had to trouble whatsoever enjoying lunch there and had one of the best variations on pizza we’ve tried outside of Italy.
Made from a rye dough base, this thin and delicate pizza was extraordinary and made me realise with every bite why not only my friends were recommending it, but why I would be too.
3. Torre Bellesguard – A Gaudi Masterpiece
As a first experience with the work of Gaudi, the relatively unknown Torre Bellesguard has left a deep impression.
Built as a family home under the patronage of Maria Sagués – a long time admirer of the Catalan architects work – it’s an incredible example of Gaudi trying to marry the elements of the Earth together with the latest methods in construction, plus a healthy handful of symbolism and spirituality.
You can see more pictures from inside by reading our Torre Bellesguard tour review.
4. Observe Barcelona’s Counter Culture
The lifeblood of Barcelona is the culture within it. The alternative and counter culture of Barcelona doesn’t just inspire people throughout Spain, but also across Europe and the rest of the world.
Young adults walk around, hang about, and pass the hours throughout districts such as Universitat and Raval, and in turn inspire everyone around them whether they like it or not. You only have to look at major high street Spanish fashion houses like Desigual to notice the influence local culture has.
One of my favourite areas to watch an example of Barcelona’s youth of today enjoying each moment that comes there way is outside of the MACBA (Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona), just a short five minute walk away from La Rambla.
Every day without fail people of the city meet outside of the contemporary museum to talk, eat, drink, and skate. It’s really quiet interesting to sit and observe the comradely between both boys and girls, woman and men as they applaud their friends after finally nailing the flip or kick they’ve been trying to achieve for the past day, maybe even weeks.
If ever you’re looking for somewhere to grab a seat to rest or for a bite to eat, why not choose to watch the counter culture show? It’s free admission.
Don’t forget that the Visit Barcelona tourism website contains tonnes of recommendations for things to do in Barcelona, plus a list of all of the festivals, shows, and events that are on during your stay.
5. Stay at a Barcelona-inspired Design Hostel
Barcelona’s outstanding design and architecture isn’t just restricted to the clothes people wear or the outside of buildings.
The people live and breath great design and it’s one of the many reasons people like Franca and I visit in the first place, but when we do, wouldn’t the best experience be spent inside a building that exemplifies the Catalan style?
Generator Hostel Barcelona is exactly that.
We stayed at this great design hostel during our last visit to the seaside city and the impeccable interior design has stuck with me ever since. The combined hotel and hostel experience that Generator now offers across Europe is very distinct and luxurious, yet they remain budget friendly regardless of how population the destination is, and it makes it all the more easy to recommend as my choice as possibly the best design hostel in Barcelona.
There’s Never Enough Time
Barcelona is clearly one of those cities that grows with you over time, and sometimes over multiple visits. Hence why I’m now so fond of returning for a third time in the future to maybe spend a longer period of time and explore more of what secrets the city has to share with us.
Maybe next year we’ll be able to return and explore enough to create a third travel tips collection?
We can only hope.
What’s your travel tip for Barcelona?
In actual fact instead of waiting to return we put together another travel tips post for Barcelona, but this one is full of 20 Free Things To Do in Barcelona