Barcelona is a gastronomically wonderful city, but it is expensive. The main tourist strip is aligned around Passeig de Gracia – which also happens to be where the cities luxury stores are, so, you know. If you are happy to stay in the tourist centre and are keen for convenient, trendy bars, I highly recommend El Nacional, a sort of bar-tapas-foodcourt with an array of fashionable watering holes and upmarket restaurants shining brightly under a thoroughly fashionable glass ceiling. To give you an idea of the prices – there is a dedicated Mumm oyster bar, a restaurant serving Chuleton at 85€ per kg (Txuleta in San Sebastian – 40€ per kg), and at the tapas bar wine is by the bottle. Sangria starts at 20€ a bottle. It is good, though, and if you’ve got a bit of budget to spare I really recommend the experience. Expect to wait for a table on Saturday night – it’s packed.
On the upside you can get pork rinds as a bar snack for like, 2€.
For a still somewhat up-market (literally, it’s a market) tourist-zone but somewhat more down-to-earth experience the Santa Caterina markets in the Born district are basically my idea of market heaven. Combined with a stunning architectural wave-form roof, this market has a glowing array of fresh food colours in a sparklingly clean market hall. I couldn’t resist a punnet of plump blackberries even though they weren’t in season.
At L’Univers market kitchen, you can also get fresh market produce cooked on the spot right in front of you. We witnessed the largest prawns I’ve ever seen being grilled away, and had the freshest crispiest calamari you could hope for. 3 dishes and two drinks set us back a reasonable 20.40€ Bread is complimentary, of course.
I also visited Tickets bar, currently rated #29 in the World’s Top 50 restaurants, which was a mixed experience – but that will come in a separate post.
TOURISM & ARCHITECTURE
Because this trip for me was also largely about architecture, I’ll add a little snippet about that too – the Gaudi buildings are expensive. But they are truly unique in the world. Having said that, there was also lots of beautiful architecture to be seen all throughout the centre of Barcelona that wasn’t a Gaudi monument. If you don’t feel like shelling out a cool 20€ each, I would recommend Casa Batllo over Casa Mila (La Pedrera) as it’s just a stunning building, although it lacks the history of Gaudi that is found in the Casa Mila attic museum – so it depends if you’d rather look at the building, or learn the history and theory behind his designs.
The Sagrada Familia cathedral requires booking to get in at a certain time (the 2 apartments technically do as well, but depending how busy it is you may not need to – we didn’t). Check the tickets at a few different times, particularly late in the day, as sometimes there are special offers – I got in for only 7€ instead of the normal 13€ for under 30’s. You can look at the most interesting parts of the architecture from the outside but the inside is astonishing for the sense of space and play of light. I went at sunset and the colours dancing throughout the hall were truly astonishing. There’s a museum here as well, but it’s only about the Sagrada Familia.
Parc Guell is very enjoyable without paying to enter the monumental area. You can climb up to the top of the hill behind it for a great view of Barcelona, and spend an hour or two just wandering the park and enjoying the multitude of excellent musicians busking in the gardens, which makes for a truly pleasant experience when the sun is out. In addition I highly recommend the Sant Pau hospital complex, which is an incredible example of practical Art Nouveau architecture by another architect of the time – Lluís Domènech i Montaner. It’s significantly less crowded than the Gaudi monuments and only a short stroll from Sagrada Familia.
If you’re willing to stroll a little further you’ll also find food at much more reasonable prices than around the Gothic Quarter and Passeig de Gracia, it’s simply a matter of keeping your eye out!