A travel guide for a lovely vacation to Barcelona, Spain that covers the best eats, drinks and things to do.
If your first thought is – “weren’t those crazy kids just in Europe?” The answer would be yes, yes we were. But after we booked the trip to England and France for my Mom’s 70th, we stumbled across some tickets to Barcelona for just $400 and could NOT resist (honestly we’ve paid more to get to Utah)! This is the site where Dave caught wind of the deal, though I warn it will likely cause impulse purchases abroad (but YOLO): Scott’s Cheap Flights.
We’ve always wanted to visit Spain as we’ve heard it’s stunningly beautiful and of course we love Spanish food and wine, so we were excited to go. We decided to spend the whole vacation (6 days) in Barcelona with only one quick jaunt out to wine country, and it ended up being a perfect plan for us as we never ran out of things to do and we allowed ourselves time to actually sit back and relax with no pre-planned, crazy schedule.
Since we set out on this vacation with a bit of a wandering mentality, we were able to explore so much of the city just by walking about without a firm destination, taking a left here and right over there – my favorite way to adventure. We got to see so many lovely bits of the city this way – the architecture, museums, churches, adorable shops, orange trees, small cafes, cobbled walkways and more. It’s a truly enchanting place that was so easy to fall in love with.
So, check out me gushing below about all that we did and all that we ate, and you’ll see why this quickly became a new favorite destination.
I’ve divvied up our trip below to the important bits if you’re looking for a guide or inspiration. I’d also love to hear if you’ve been and have any other recommendations as I imagine we’ll be back! 🙂
- Bar Castells
- Mercado de La Boqueria
- Cal Pep Tapas
- Casa Rafols
- Lomo Alto
- El Chigre 1769
- Pastisseria Hofmann
- Restaurante Martínez
To Stay: I highly recommend the hotel that we stayed at – H10 Casa Mimosa. It’s a beautiful and modern space with impeccable service and affordable rates (especially in the off-season).
There was also a lovely outdoor courtyard that we visited quite often for delicious gin and tonics.
And I’d be remiss if I didn’t let you know that they have a fabulous mirror for selfies.
To Eat: The first meal we had in Barcelona was breakfast just a few doors down from our hotel. It was a cute little cafe called Mixto that had amazing coffee and a breakfast perfect for starting out my plan for mega-ham consumption. It’s a lovely place for a sit-down breakfast.
Next up as we explored the city we came across an adorable little bar called Bar Castells that had locals bellied up to the bar having an afternoon beer (always a good sign when you find little gems not packed with tourists), so we decided to pop in for a ham-snack and a glass of vino. I’m getting the meat sweats just looking at this again!
For a totally different experience, we wandered on into the Mercado de La Boqueria – a huge market showcasing local vendors specializing in Spanish food and produce. Any time there are large food markets like this, I have to hit them up as it’s a great way to taste a bunch of flavors by nibbling on a bit of everything (another favorite market was in Budapest).
While not the most flattering picture, this accurately shows our MOOD while in market.
Next, for our first real tapas dinner, we headed to Cal Pep, as it was recommended by a good friend. This was such a fun experience as it’s a small and intimate space where we got to sit at the bar and watch the dishes get prepared. And I love that there is no menu. They simply ask you if you want to go fish heavy or meat heavy and then voila, out the dishes come. We said “We’d like plenty of both please!” – and we were delighted with every dish.
This omelette with garlic cream sauce was one of the best things I ate on the whole trip.
Another one of the best bites I had while in Barcelona was at Orvay – another place we passed by that had an intriguing menu so we stopped in for a pre-dinner bite and glass of wine. I wish this was an everyday occurrence. 😀
The duck cannelloni with truffle cream sauce was exceptional. Had we had more time I would have gone back here for a full tapas dinner. I’m still thinking about this dish.
Our next adventure in tapas-ing was at Casa Rafols where we ate all the things. We had ham and cheese croquettes, bread with grated garlic + tomato, tomato salad, beef cheeks, grilled shrimp, and the best risotto I’ve ever had.
And this is the third and final best dish I wanted to call the heck out for being INSANELY good. Risotto with black truffle. I practically picked up the bowl and licked it, manners be damned! I will be trying to come up with a make-at-home version of this bad boy because I truly cannot live without it.
We decided to do the tasting menu as we just couldn’t choose, so we figured getting a lil’ bit of everything was the ticket. Despite being so meat-heavy, the flavors were all very different, with each dish impossibly being better than the last. If you’re a meat-eater, don’t miss this stop.
Alright, now it’s time to talk about a sweet treat! We decided to get some gelato at Rocambolesc. It was a tad chilly on our visit, but I’m not opposed to digging into some ice cream while wrapped in a giant winter scarf. This was a perfectly creamy, delicious chocolate gelato topped in coconut, caramel chips and nuts. YUM-O. A must-visit.
For lunch one day we visited El Chigre, which is one of the most charming restaurants we visited. The menu is unlike any other restaurant in Barcelona – we had a giant oyster (well Dave did), the patatinas with cabrales cheese and hazlenut praline and the smoked sardine with charred vegetables. A wild flavor adventure!
And y’all we weren’t just eating good for lunch and dinner – we were hitting up that yummy breakfast-eatin’ too! One morning Dave went to Pastisseria Hofmann and brought back stuffed croissants that were hands-down the most amazing pastries I’ve ever had.
Okay, I promise our eating does come to an end. We had our last meal at Restaurante Martínez, which is known for their fabulous paella. We ordered oysters, croquette, a fresh delicious salad and a giant lobster paella with crispy rice. It was the perfect meal to end on – an incredible high note for sure.
To Drink: Oh guys, what a fun city Barcelona is for cocktails, vino and more! One of our first nights we headed to Paradiso, which is a hidden bar you can find behind this fridge door.
The atmosphere is super fun, the bartenders are welcoming and the cocktails all come with their own little bit of magic. As an example – Dave’s drink glowed in the dark and came with an “electric flower” that actually made your mouth zing a bit. I’d go back here in a heartbeat.
Next up, Dave and I always like to check out the local beer scene to see what’s shaking – so we headed to BierCaB, a craft brew pub with tasty burgers. I had a fantastic sour beer and a lovely burger with goat cheese and peppers. It was a perfect break from ham as we were getting a little hammed out (I didn’t realize that was possible).
And now, we must talk about the vino! We’re slight newcomers to the wine world, so we have really enjoyed travelling and tasting the local wines. The most wonderful place to do this in Barcelona in my opinion is Zona d’Ombra. It’s a small, romantic, dark and moody little cafe and wine shop. I ordered some delightful cava and Dave asked for a sample tasting (which is crazy affordable for what you get). And the folks working were really sweet in explaining where each wine was from and what to expect in terms of flavor profiles. Dave was in heaven.
Alright, are you guys still with me? I hope so – because visiting the Artcava winery was the most fun day we had in Spain. The winery is just a train trip outside of the city, and is well worth the trip. The winery is gorgeous and the people who run it are just so dang fun, I honestly told our tour guide to give me a call to hang out if she was ever in Chicago (and I meant it)! We had a wonderful tour, an incredible tasting of several different varieties, a show-stopping lunch and then we even got to bottle our own cava, how cool is that?
OH and there was a cat that lives on the grounds, is this place perfect for me or what?
To Do:One of the first things we did was visit the Picasso Museum. I was really impressed with this museum as the pieces included in the exhibits told one of the most complete depictions of an artist’s scope of work, from early sketches to what we now know as his famous style. It was really comprehensive and was perfect for a rainy afternoon.
Next, if you do only one thing while visiting Barcelona, I sure hope that it’s visiting Sagrada Familia. I don’t think any other place on earth has moved me as much as Sagrada Familia did. I recommend getting a guided tour if you can because the history and ongoing build of the church is so complex and fascinating, it’s really worth it.
I don’t think photos really do the space justice, but hopefully this gives you at least a glimpse of how breathtaking it all is.
And while I think the Sagrada Familia is Gaudi’s ultimate masterpiece, Park Güell is another must-experience space designed by the famous architect filled with lush gardens, classic Gaudi-style buildings and spectacular views of the city.
And just when you think we coudn’t Gaudi anymore – we did! We took a tour of Casa Batlló, which was simply stunning. I think the design of this home captured the pure magic of Gaudie’s imagination.
Whew! I think this is the longest tour I’ve taken you all on yet! But before I let you go, I want to pop in just a few more fun sights we took in just by walking around this gorgeous city. We never walked the same way twice so we got to see parts of the city that I think were a little off the beaten path, which I just loved.
And with that my friends, I wrap up our adventure in a new-to-us city that we have come to absolutely adore. Barcelona has big-city options, but quaint historical European charm that is hard to beat. If you’re thinking of heading to Barcelona, add my vote to the “GO, GO, GO!” pile.
Now – off to try and make that yummy risotto!