Barcelona is long established as one of the best city break destinations in Europe. In 2018, more than 19 million international tourists made the trip to the Catalonian capital. Barcelona’s appeal is obvious: a bustling cosmopolitan city bursting with stunning architecture, amazing food and brilliant nightlife. Oh, and it helps when you’re drinking your Sangria on the shores of the Mediterranean, basking in the sunshine. For many Spanish destinations you must choose between beautiful city or beautiful beach. In Barcelona you have both. You lucky little NInja!!
Another reason for Barcelona’s popularity is how easily accessible it is. Airport traffic has almost doubled in the last 10 years with connections throughout Europe. More than 700 cruise ships dock at the port each year, and it’s very well linked by train and bus to the rest of Spain. Whatever your mode of transport, all routes lead to Barca.
For NI travellers you have 2 main options as ever; Belfast or Dublin. From Belfast International Airport you can grab a return flight for around £150 on average but beware flight times aren’t always ideal on the return leg. You can generally catch a flight 5 times per week out of Belfast with Easyjet. You have way more choice flying out of Dublin. Ryanair, Aer Lingus, Vueling, Iberia and British Airways all fly direct to Barcelona. For those looking for a bargain, Ryanair have been known to provide return flights from Dublin to Barca for as little as £50 return. If you don’t mind the early start it’s worth checking that out. Once you get the Barcelona El Prat airport, you can be in City Centre in 30 minutes by bus or taxi. Simple.
A big draw to Barcelona is the weather. The Mediterranean climate means it’s almost always guaranteed to be better than home! From May right through to October temperatures are normally 20 degrees and above. As usual in Europe, July and August are the warmest and driest months (and also the busiest!). Even in Winter, average temperatures hover around 11 or 12 degrees. Want more good news? It rarely rains. Yay! Even in the Winter months it only rains on average 5 days per month. In Spring and Summer it’s considerably less. The ideal time to visit Barca? Anytime between March and October will rarely let you down!
You’re really spoilt for choice in Barcelona for places to stay, and there are lots of options for different budgets. There are a few things you’ll want to consider when making a decision. Barca is both a beach and city destination, so choose your accommodation based on the type of holiday you want. There are some terrific beach resorts along the northern coastline which are ideal for family beach holidays, but wouldn’t be a great idea for someone looking to explore the city every day. If you’re more interested in a city-break amongst the hustle and bustle then there are 2 options. You can stay right in the heart of the city, amongst the Gothic Quarter. You’ll pay a little more for the privilege of proximity, but all the sights and sounds are literally on your doorstep. If you travel a little further outside the city centre, you’ll find a plethora of brand new hotels at some great prices. Barcelona is well connected by bus, subway and taxi so it’s very easy to get back into the city centre.
The NInja stayed at the Hotel Barcelona 1882. It’s just a few years old and is literally a stone’s throw from the Sagrada Familia. You can see the stunning Gaudi cathedral from the rooftop pool. The rooftop is really stunning, offering a panorama across the entire city. Sun loungers are dotted around, amongst cosy nooks. In the Spring and Summer months, the bar is open on the roof, right beside the pool. There’s also a #selfiepoint. Here’s a top tip, selfies at sunset are EPIC. So yeah… many hotels in the Barcelona suburbs have rooftop pools and bars. Treat yourself!
Hotel Barcelona 1882 caters for a range of guests; an ideal hotel for both business and pleasure. There is a terrific restaurant in the basement and a fantastic lounge just beside reception. The décor is top drawer and creates a brilliant atmosphere in the hotel with guests spending a lot of time in the communal area. In fact, the hotel makes a real effort to build this ‘community’. Free wine and tapas at 5pm everyday is a great way to get guests talking. If that’s not your thing, well, it’s just free wine. The hotel is absolutely family-friendly, but it does tend to attract DINK couples (double-income-no-kids) and an older crowd.
The décor throughout is modern, artistic and chic. The trend continues throughout the 6 floors of rooms. The Double Room is really quite large and is absolutely spotless. As you’d expect in a brand new hotel, everything is perfect. My favourite? The rain shower. Yeah, think about that. Rooftop pools and rain showers …. epic!
Despite being so close to the Sagrada Familia, the neighbourhood itself is quiet. However, a 5 minute walk in any direction will take you to a range of local tavernas, bakeries and wine bars. The city centre is so accessible, but you may be tempted to hang around the local area some nights too.
Things to Do
As we’ve discussed, Barcelona is a tourist mecca for a range of different reasons, and it therefore attracts a broad range of people. There really is a Barcelona for everyone so find whatever works best for you.
Walk and Explore – Barcelona is bursting with great architecture, culture and entertainment. In this NInja’s opinion the best way to see it all is simply to walk. Get yourself to the Placa Catalunya (one of the main squares) and bring some comfortable shoes. I’d recommend starting with a stroll down La Ramblas (Barcelona’s most famous street) towards the bustling port. On the way you’ll see markets, bars, street entertainment, art and loads more. Once you reach the Christopher Columbus column turn left, and walk towards the stunning Barcelona Cathedral nestled in the gothic quarter. The architecture is beautiful and the quarter is a hive of activity. Next head up towards the Parc Ciutadella. This stunning park is full of parrots (yes parrots!) and people. You’ll see the Catalan Parliament alongside loads of great modern art. You might also want to try Montjuic and the cable car between the park and the castle overlooking the port.
Shopping – You’ve a few options in Barca for shopping. For the local and artisan, make your way into the tiny winding streets of the Gothic Quarter. For the luxurious and international, there is no better place than the Passeig de Gracia. It’s one of Barcelona’s main thoroughfares and leads directly onto the Placa Catalunya. You’ll see some of Guadi’s most fascinating buildings while you move between the luxury fashion chains. Want to be seen in Barca? You’re in the right place.
Gaudi – Barcelona is Gaudi, and Gaudi is Barcelona. Someone famous once said that. Probably. If you want to see Gaudi in all his glory then I suggest you check out the Sagrada Familia and Parc Guell. The Sagrada Familia is the Eiffel Tower of Barcelona. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is the most visited spot in the city. For that reason, you need to book days in advance to get access. It’s worth every penny. It’s guaranteed to be the most unusual but spectacular church you’ve ever seen. Parc Guell is further north but is also worth the visit. The park itself is free and offers a brilliant photo opportunity overlooking the rest of the city, never mind the flamenco dancing, traditional Spanish guitar and stunning scenery.
Food and Drink
This is where Barcelona really begins to show off. The food, drink and nightlife is simply incredible. Barcelona is fiercely loyal to its Catalan roots so most of the really great restaurants and wine bars put amazing local produce at the heart of what they do. I mean, you could go grab a burger easy enough, but why not roll up your sleeves and jump in the deep-end with some tapas and seafood? I strongly recommend you simply follow your nose and stumble into some little taverna, but as a starting point the below are just brilliant.
RAO – This restaurant is situated down a tiny innocuous street in the Gothic Quarter, nestled into the walls. Step inside and you’re in a rustic taverna serving Catalan-infused tapas. Strictly only Catalan ingredients, but mixed by international cooking styles. The food is breath-taking, the staff are knowledgeable and the wine is top drawer. Order 3 or 4 small plates each, settle on a bottle of wine and spend 3 hours in what is now recognised as one of Barcelona’s best restaurants. A meal for 2, including a bottle of wine, is around £80. You won’t find better in Barca. Be sure to book as it’s always full. Do it like the Catalans do and don’t eat until 9pm at night.
Baluard Barceloneta – Need breakfast? This place is the best of Barcelona’s bakeries. So good in fact that people happily queue outside the door. £10 will get you coffee, a breakfast sandwich and a sweet pastry. All you need to set you up for the day. Want to be like the Ninja? Double espresso, chorizo and swiss cheese panini, and ANY type of pastry with pistachios. Everything is baked onsite and you can even see the bakers at work. (*the NInja’ mouth is salivating thinking about this!)
La Boqueria – This market is without question one of the greatest spots in Barcelona. Set just off La Ramblas, this open-air market is a brilliant spot for lunch. There are literally hundreds of vendors in a traditional street-market style venue serving up the widest range of local produce. Down one row is fresh-caught fish (beware the fish heads!), down another is some of the finest quality cured meats you’ll see anywhere in the world, and down others still is fresh fruit and spices from around the world. It’s a visceral experience – the sounds, the smell, the colour. Take some cash and treat yourself to nibbles from each vendor. You can get a real quality lunch here for less than £20.
Tips & Tricks
Barcelona is big city, with so much on offer, so my first tip is to work out which Barcelona you want to spend most time in, beach or city, then build your plans around that. You can take a day-trip to the beach very easily, but if you want to spend time exploring the city, stay in the city.
If you are staying in the city, another trick is to stay a little way out. 10 minutes in a taxi (about £7 will take you) will mean you can stay in better hotels, rooftop pools, at a lower price. You definitely get more bang for your buck. And, each little neighbourhood has plenty to offer.
If you choose to stay in your locality for an evening, you’ll still find great food and drink, but at a lower cost.
The other really important trick in Barca is to always book ahead for the things you really want to do, ideally by a few days. You simply cannot turn up outside the Sagrada Familia, for example, and hope to walk right in. Way too many tourists!
So, I recommend you pick your top attractions, book them, then spend the rest of the day meandering the streets and stumbling upon all the little gems this Ninja just didn’t have the time to see on this trip.
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