I love visiting new places but it’s also great to revisit an old favourite and Barcelona will always be on that list. My New Year trip featured blue skies, warm sunshine and some great food and drink – perfect ingredients for ending one year and seeing in the next.
As with my last visit to Barcelona I stayed in the El Raval area which was once a bit seedy but is now home to some really good hotels, bars and restaurants. The Leonardo Hotel Las Ramblas is in a quiet side street, Carrer de la Junta de Comerç. We booked a triple room which was a really great size for the three of us and even came with a handy mobile phone that we could take out and use for calls and data.
It’s just a few minutes walk from the hotel to Barcelona’s most famous street, Las Ramblas and after checking in we headed across Las Ramblas and into Placa Reial, a grand square filled with palm trees and ringed by restaurants and pavement cafes. We quickly bagged an outside table to sit and enjoy some sun while we had lunch and a glass of Rose.
Just around the corner from here is quite a good Barcelona shopping area, particularly if you’re looking for shoes. We popped into La Manual Alpargatera in Calle Avinyo which stocks a huge range of handmade espadrilles. They are pretty much floor to ceiling and you can see into the workshop where the shoes are made. So that was my summer sandals sorted.
Next we headed back across the Ramblas and into La Boqueria, Europe’s biggest food market. I just love the colour and the smells bursting from the packed stalls. There’s so many tempting treats to buy and having just had anchovies with lunch we quickly snapped up a great deal for three jars.
Later that evening we walked over to the Born area which is one of my favourite parts of Barcelona for great restaurants and bars. Carrer de l’Argenteria is a good place to start and we had dinner at Taller de Tapas. They offer tapas dishes with a more creative twist which never disappoint, and the Albarino white wine was very good too.
Just across the street from here is Sagardi BCN Gotic which is a good place for trying pintxos as the bars has more than 80 varieties. Pintxos are a Spanish snack that are essentially small pieces of bread with delicious toppings.
Around the corner in Carrer de Montcada is the famous cava bar, El Xampanyet. It’s fab but not always open so check before you try it. Also nearby is Vinya del Senyor in Placa de Santa Maria – a great place to sample a range of wines on outdoor tables opposite the Gothic Santa Maria del Mar church.
After dinner that evening we decided to try Dux Gin & Cocktail in Carrer dels Vigatans, which is just off Carrer de l’Argenteria. It’s a bit of a narrow dark street, but don’t be put off walking down as the bar is well worth a visit. We had fab cocktails, including one that involved a duck in a bath!
We didn’t opt for the hotel breakfast as we were so close to La Bouqueria, so the next morning we headed into the market and had delicious omelette baguettes at Portic Boqueria. Another option is to pick up something at Escriba, a pastry shop on the Ramblas which is regarded as the best bakery in Barcelona.
Turning off the Ramblas we walked along Calle Nou de La Rambla to see the outside of Palau Guell, a townhouse designed by Barcelona’s most famous architect Antoni Gaudi. I’ve been inside on a previous trip and would really recommend a visit. It has a beautiful chimney strewn roof terrace and a basement that was previously a stables.
We were heading to get the Funicular from Paral-lel Port Vell up to to the Olympic Stadium on Montjuic hill. It was out of service but the replacement bus was easy enough to find and soon we were exploring the 54,000 capacity stadium. Originally built in 1927 it was completely renovated for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and now hosts major music gigs.
Outside is a huge concrete and marble terrace with water troughs and great views of the city. Also part of the Olympic Park is the landmark Santiago Calatrava communications tower, the Santa Jordi sports and concert hall and a huge swimming pool.
Montjuic hill covers quite a large area with lots more to see including the Fundacio Joan Miro museum of modern art, Montjuic Castle which you can get to by cable car and some lovely gardens and parks. Lots of open space which is quite a contrast to Barcelona’s city centre that you can see amazing views of below.
Another cable car takes you down to the Barceloneta part of the harbour. It’s fun to do it you don’t mind heights, but this time the queue was very long so we walked down to ground level, then along passed the World Trade Cente to reach La Rambla de Mar. That’s a wooden walkway that stretches around the Maremagnum shopping centre and restaurants and into the Port Vell marina.
There are lots of very nice boats to check out in the marina and at this time of year some interesting Christmas trees made from blue water bottles. But the star attraction was definitely Dilbar, a vast super-yacht. We hung around it for a while but sadly an invitation to explore wasn’t forthcoming.
After a fish lunch near the harbour we walked up through the Born area to swing by the Picasso Museum (well worth a visit). Then crossed Via Laietana near the Jaume 1 metro station and found the gorgeous Subira Cereria candle shop in Baixada de la Libreteri. I love candles so enjoyed some very happy shopping time in there!
That evening we decided to stay on our side of the Ramblas and head further into the Raval area. We ate tapas at the quirky and cheap Cafe de les Delicies in Rambla del Raval. The nearby Barcelo Raval Hotel has a great rooftop bar which wasn’t open that evening, but I’d recommend going if you’re in the area.
Instead we headed for Marsella in Calle Sant Pau which opened in 1820 and is the oldest bar in Barcelona. If you’re brave enough Absinthe is the drink of choice at Marsella, as well as peeling wallpaper and a huge amount of atmosphere. We rounded off the night with cocktails and 1980s sounds at Zelig, a small but cool bar in Calle de Carme.
New Year’s Eve brought more blue skies and a walk through Placa de Sant Jaume which is right in the centre of the Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter). Barcelona’s City Hall is there along with seasonal decorations including a large Christmas tree and a display with oversize chairs that kids were having a field day playing on.
Ten minutes of meandering later we found ourselves in pretty Place de Sant Agusti Vell, a shaded square that houses a convent with a 13th century cloister. But it’s an old convent with a very modern approach as has initiated neighborhood improvements including a community centre and cultural programme.
We were headed towards Parc de la Ciutadella with its impressive Arc de Triomf, studded with ceramic figures and two pairs of domes on top. Also in the 19th century park is the Catalan Parliament building and the Palau de Justica. There’s also a large zoo, rowing boats on a lake and the huge Cascada fountain which created by an architect with a young Antoni Gaudi as his assistant.
Just behind the park is Port Olympic with its huge copper fish constructed for the 1992 Olympics in front of Hotel Arts. Wharves below are packed with restaurants and bars surrounding the marina and there’s a beach in both directions. On my last visit to Barcelona we walked along the beachfront going away from the city to have lunch at a fantastic seafood restaurant, Xiringuito Escribà.
This time we had another visit to do before lunch. So we hopped on the metro to the Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudi’s masterpiece which was started in 1882 but is still unfinished. Gaudi took over the project two years into the build after the publisher who commissioned the church fell out with original architect. It became Gaudi’s obsession – he even lived in a small studio on site until he was tragically run over by a Barcelona tram in 1926. Only one facade was complete when he died and it stalled during civil war, then restarted very slowly.
Saying that it was hugely different to the last time I visited – in that there is now an inside and wow its something special. An immense space designed to feel like a forest with columns are like trees and a main altar filled with natural light.
We booked in advance online which reduces the waiting time and we paid extra for the audio guide which is excellent and you’ll get much more out of the visit with it. The current aim is to finish the church by 2026 which is the centenary anniversary of Gaudi’s death. Not sure if they’ll make it by then, but I’ll definitely be going back to Barcelona for another look once it’s completed.
We planned to see a few more Gaudi buildings while we were in the L’Eixample area but first we tracked down La Bodegueta in Rambla de Catalunya, a brilliant traditional tapas bar. It’s about 20 minutes walk or you can jump on the metro to Diagonal and it’s well worth the effort. We had some excellent tapas in that little basement bar!
A short walk from there is Casa Mila, popularly known as La Pedrera, an apartment building which was the last private residence that Gaudi designed. You can pay to visit and as with Palau Guell it has a really stunning rooftop terrace.
Just across the street is the Mansana de la Discordia or Block of Discord which includes three of Barcelona’s most important modernist houses designed by different architects.
Casa Batllo is another Gaudi masterpiece with balconies like carnival masks while Casa Amatller was designed by Josep Puig i Cadafalch and rises in steps covered with ceramic tiles. The third building Casa Lleo Morera by Luis Domenech i Montaner is equally impressive and now houses a Lowe leather goods store on the ground floor.
Back in the gothic quarter our last visits of the day were to the Basilica de Santa Maria del Mar with its wide nave, narrow aisles and beautiful stained glass and then Barcelona’s Cathedral La Seu. It’s soaring towers make it one of the great Gothic buildings of Spain. Inside is very impressive too but the queues can be long so go when you have time.
We didn’t as it was New Year’s Eve and we there were preparations to be made including buying a bottle of Cava to drink while we got ready for our night at Marmalade in Calle Ribera Alta. It’s a great Art Deco bar that we’d been to on a previous visit and they put on a really fun New Year’s Eve party. Welcome cocktails were followed by a delicious meal, wine and dancing. What more do you need to end a fabulous return visit to one of my favourite cities and see in the last year of the decade.
Click on an image below to scroll through extra photos in the gallery and check the Europe section of my blog for more city break ideas.