It is not a hard thing to fall in love with Barcelona. In fact, it is quite easy.
This combination of a civilized European city with a Catalan sort of rudeness can make anyone fall in love with this city immediately.
If you are about to spend few days in Barcelona this summer, here are few tips for you.
Last summer I spent (only) five days in Barcelona mainly for work (photography) and partly to walk in the footsteps of Gaudi, Miro and Picasso. I did some homework to know what I wanted to see, though when I travel and visit another city, I hardly if ever make any plans and prefer to go with the flow and find my own way back. My only agenda was to take on Barcelona as much as possible, eat tapas you can't find anywhere in the world, follow the Arts of Picasso, Gaudi and my favorite Miro and feel like I was one of the actors in one of Almadovar movies.
And my plan worked!
I spent most of my time in the Gracia neighborhood, the magical area between Avinguda Diagonal and Passeig de Gracia. For me, Gracia was the Barcelona equivalent to the West Village in New York, so in a way, I was a bit biased.
Gracia is, without a doubt, the playground or the backyard of Gaudi. In a short radius in the neighborhood, one can find the Casa Mila, Casa Batlló and the "will never be completed" church, La Sagrada Familia. My important recommendation, which is valid everywhere in Barcelona is to keep your head up and eyes open, exploring the balconies with the colorful tiles, the paintings on the buildings, the sculpted rooftops and the good looking Spanish guys walking toward you in the streets. Of course I recommend to keep your eyes open on your bags and valuables because Barcelona is well known (unfortunately) for its streets muggers.
I stayed in a cute and well designed boutique hotel, located right on Mallorca street. Like most of the streets in this area, Mallorca is such a pictorial street. A tree-lined street with several cafes, it most importantly has a bakery which sells delicious home-made cakes and chocolates. Do not let the front of the hotel fool you. This is not another building in a residential neighborhood. The hotel rooms look like they came out of any European design magazine and everything is full of chic and class, as only the Catalans know. There's nothing like waking up every morning in a room with a huge window overlooking the street and smell the bread being baked in the bakery below.
Note to self: Do not even think you can see all of Barcelona in five days, by foot. As a typical New Yorker who walks a lot, I am often amused when I see a crowded tourist bus passing down Broadway. I promised myself that when I visit a city, I would never get on a tourist bus. Well. I couldn't keep my promises, and I found myself one morning on one of these buses. As someone who always prefers to walk the streets, I highly recommend riding one of these buses at least once, to explore the city.
These buses can be found on Placa de Catalunya and all bus companies offer more or less the same routes, perhaps with minor changes in ways and turns. This is an excellent opportunity to reach the hills of Barcelona, Park Guell, Tibidabo and the area of Sarria, an old neighborhood, a little further from the center. Wandering the alleys of Sarria made me feel like I was in a picturesque rural town from old times. It was also during the siesta time, so maybe that's why...
No doubt that all the wandering in the streets have increased my appetite. I was still keeping my agenda to explore Barcelona but also discover its food and eat.
Gracia is packed with great restaurants and tapas bars. In fact, I think most of the well-designed and high-end restaurants are concentrated in this neighborhood. Unfortunately, five days were not enough to sample and taste all the places I have marked to myself as a "must visit," but the ones I did visit were really worth it.
Moo restaurant in Hotel Omm and Principal restaurant, which are both located near Casa Mila, were great choices. Combining the dining with a view of the city from Casa Mila's rooftop at dusk was a winner!
Bar Lobo, with its long communal tables was also a great choice and alternative for late lunch or an early dinner. Watching the people walking by while munching on tapas and drinking red wine is a "must do."
And don't forget the beach, which is a great experience by itself. Five days are not enough in Barcelona, but if you skip the siestas and somehow manage to skip the long lines, you may see plenty.
To read more about Barcelona, please visit my blog.