Whether you’re the kind of traveler whose trips are governed by historical sites and monuments, culinary offers, or your hedonistic side demands an oceanside, sangria-in-hand, Barcelona – where medieval meets ultra-modern – offers a something-for-everyone appeal.
Before even deciding what to pack, I suggest downloading the travel app, Porter & Sail, for seasoned travelers and those discovering their adventurous side for the first time. This mobile concierge application operates as a travel buddy for all aspects of travel, coming to your aid whether you’re looking for a high art evening or an atmospheric hole in the wall taco shop.
After landing at El Prat airport, it’s a brisk 20-minute taxi ride to the centre of town, though if you’re travelling light, there’s a convenient airport bus which drops you in Plaza Cataluna, one of the city’s central points and busiest squares, where the old city meets the 19th century. Additionally, there’s a train that runs from El Prat to downtown.
A couple of blocks away you’ll find the Grand Hotel Central. This luxury boutique hotel with its 1920s edifice is located on one of the main streets, Via Laeitana. It offers a rooftop infinity pool and bar, appropriately named Skybar, and boasts a postcard-like view of the city. Relax in a lounge chair, order an assorted plate of delicious tapas and one of the hotel’s signature cocktails.
If you’re a foodie, there’s lots to love about Barcelona. For old school traditionalists try the Four Cats (Quatre Gats), situated in the Barri Gotic (moderately priced). This cafe opened its doors in 1897 and was regularly visited by Picasso and Gaudi. In fact, Picasso’s first commission was designing the front of the menu. Alternatively, take a stroll along the old port (Port Vell) where an array of seafood restaurants beckons. La Mar Salada, whose house paella is to die for, is one of the city’s staple restaurants and offers mid-range prices. Try El Xampanyet, popular with the locals and is a few minutes from the Picasso museum where you can enjoy a house cava (homemade champagne/sparking wine) and classic tapas including strips of ham, cheese stuff peppers, anchovies, and octopus sprinkled with paprika. My go-to place to eat is in the marketplace, La Boqueria at Bar Central. Order the grilled sardines, octopus with a glass of Rose and for a total of $25, you’ll eat, drink and watch the locals shop for their fish and produce. It’s a quintessential Barcelona experience.
Traditionally, a three-course meal at a fixed price can be found anywhere throughout the city during lunchtime hours (2pm – 4pm) which range from 10 to 15 Euros for a moderately priced cafe and 25 to 30 Euros for the higher end restaurants. If you wanted to sample the same menu items for dinner, the cost is around double where you’d have to order per dish.
One of the main streets, La Rambla, is a tree-lined pedestrian mall which cuts through the centre of its main districts as Barri Gotic, Le Ravel, and the Port Vell. There is also the magnificent Palau Guell (Guell Palace), designed by Antoni Gaudi. One thing to keep in mind, particularly on La Rambla, is to be aware of pick-picketers regularly casing the avenue. Speaking of Gaudi, a visit to La Sagrada Familia, a monument to Gaudi’s idiosyncratic architectural leanings, is a must-see in the same way one doesn’t travel to Paris without a trip to the Eiffel Tower. Book tickets in advance to avoid spending hours in a long queue. More of Gaudi’s colorful whimsical work can be seen in Park Guell located at Carmel Hill, a sprawling park which UNESCO declared a World Heritage Site under ‘Works of Antonini Gaudi’.
For those inclined to take the path less travelled, Parc Del Labyrint d’Horta, an historical garden in the Horta-Guinardo district is one way to spend an unforgettable afternoon. The 9.1 hectares comprise an elegant garden museum featuring an elaborate labyrinth constructed by architect Domenico Bagutti.
Taking a break from sight-seeing and the hustle and bustle of a big city, I suggest the little-known ocean side town of Cabrera de Mar, 40 minutes by car (assuming you don’t get lost) or 20 minutes from the airport, north of Barcelona on the Catalan Coast. I sat down with actor and entrepreneur, Nick Loeb (Precious Cargo) who has two upcoming films: American Brawler, and Barcelona Baby, and Day of the Dead to get a perspective of the city from a local’s point of view.
The New York-born Spain resident waxes lyrical about his newly-adopted country on our drive to his favorite haunt, Ca’Estrany, a family-owned restaurant in Cabrils, specialising in Catalan cuisine.
“I think of Barcelona as LA without the attitude,” he says. “The climate is similar and you have the topography of northern California with hills that overlook the water. And also, if you want to go skiing it’s just a two- and a half hour drive to Baqueira Beret, where the King of Spain goes skiing, in the Spanish Pyrenees.”
We sit down to a feast of assorted local specialties of fish and beef dishes (langosta o bogavante de arenys frito, roast beef de ternera con pure de patata ahumado) and a bottle of Pruno wine (okay, two). The chef and owner escorts us into his fastidiously clean kitchen to proudly reveal his catch of the day – a 10-pound tuna (see photo).
Loeb divides his time between his homes in Spain, Florida and New York City. “I love being here in Spain to get away from the hectic pace of the U.S. I particularly love the food in Cabrera de Mar. It’s organic, most of it’s locally grown. I’ve even started to grow my own vegetables which is something I wouldn’t do in the US,” he laughs.
“In Spain, people are super nice and friendly. Everyone’s very down to earth and laidback.” He tells me about his preferred local restaurant in his picturesque village. “After going to the gym, I have lunch at Palomares, a seafood restaurant on the beach and typically go there in the morning after the gym and order a dish of ham omelet and sausage (Tortilla de jamon and butifarra). I later took his recommendation and ordered a fabulous dish of grilled sardines and calamari.
Unlike other European countries or the U.S,. Barcelona is an attractive travel destination on many levels and relatively easy on the pocket. Loeb agrees. “People don’t realise how inexpensive Barcelona is. It really is an amazing city.”