We love Barcelona for it’s food, interesting bars on every corner, the market, art and architecture. Eating in Barcelona is a delight, with so much delicious local produce to choose from.
For Paul and I, this was our second visit to Barcelona, we’d been 18 months earlier in January, with a friend for a long weekend from England. Barcelona in January was cool but sunny, the streets were mostly quiet. Barcelona in July at the height of the tourist season and in the summer heat is a different place.
Is Barcelona safe?
Sometimes I felt a little bit unsafe in Barcelona. It was so busy and crowded it was easy to see how public spaces such as La Rambla have become a target for terrorists. So many people, it is impossible to move quickly at any time, let alone in an emergency.
Our previous trip was before the La Rambla terrorist attack of August 2017. On that trip I felt nervous because of many warnings about pick pockets and hand bag thefts in Barcelona. There are so many fantastic places to visit in Barcelona, but they are crowded and it makes it a bit harder to enjoy being there when you are stressing about watching your things and your children. It’s not necessarily any more or less safe than any other big city, but it does require you to be a savvy traveler and keep your wits about you.
Over-tourism in Barcelona
It is not only the tourists that find Barcelona overwhelmingly busy. The residents of Barcelona are tired of being crowded out of their own city by tourists. Apartments are being turned into short term lets for travelers rather than homes for residents. Rental prices have sky rocketed, pushing many local families out of the city to make way for more tourists. That Air BnB apartment might seem like a great deal, but spare a thought for the person who was evicted so the landlord could make more money from tourists.
Anti tourist graffiti can be seen around the city.
Tourist go home. Tourist you are the terrorist.
We didn’t personally encounter this negative attitude in our interactions with people. The staff in restaurants, shops and museums were welcoming and friendly, tourism is their livelihood. But I can understand how frustrating it must be as a local, going about your day, having to step around tourists taking selfies and stopping to look at google maps every few metres.
Trying to negotiate the local market for your shopping, through crowds of tourists taking photographs, many not actually buying anything from the stall holders. That frustration brews into negativity and impatience towards tourists in general. I wouldn’t say ‘don’t visit Barcelona’, that wouldn’t help the many people that depend on tourism income. Instead consider visiting outside of peak season, be mindful of where you stay and where you spend your money.
On that note here is where we stayed and what we did and what we ate, in beautiful Barcelona:
20km outside Barcelona, just past the airport, we camped at Tres Estrellas. We chose this campground because it was right on a beautiful beach. We wanted to have a bit of beach time, as well as time exploring the city. Being able to come back in the afternoon and enjoy a cooling swim, at 6pm, when the sun was a little less harsh, was fantastic. A holiday in Barcelona really does offer the best of both worlds, when you can stay next to a stunning sandy beach, and enjoy all the culture that a city like Barcelona has to offer. Tres Estrellas was busy when we were there. It wasn’t the nicest camp ground in terms of modern facilities, but the beach more than made up for it! From the camp ground we were able to take a bus into Barcelona each day.
The most famous street in Barcelona, the middle section is a wide pedestrian boulevard, stretching all the way from Plaça de Catalunya to the waterfront. La Rambla is crowded everyday until the early hours of the morning. There are street kiosks selling souvenirs, snacks and flowers, as well as hawkers and ‘blanket sellers’. A fake handbag, football top or watch is never too far away. Street artists and living statues add to the atmosphere. Walk, explore, take it all in, visit in the morning and the evening.
About halfway down La Rambla is Barcelona’s fabulous indoor market.
This was my second visit to the market and it is still one of my favourite markets in the world. Loads of stalls sell fresh fruits and juices, very refreshing for the tired traveler.
Further inside there are butchers, sesafood, vegetables, cheeses, bakeries, and so much Spanish jamon. It is easy to buy the ingredients for a picnic to enjoy while sightseeing.
Inside the market and around the edges are a number of busy tapas bars where you can grab a stool and enjoy a snack with a beer or glass of wine.
La Boqueria is a perfect place to start the day with a fresh juice, or end the day with a drink and a snack. Eating in Barcelona doesn’t get much better than this.
After the relative success of our visit to Madrid’s art gallery with children we decided to visit the Picasso Museum in Barcelona.
The Picasso Museum is located in the El Born district, there is lots to see and lovely streets to explore in the area. It is a good idea to book tickets in advance, with a prearranged time slot, this will help to avoid the long queues at the entrance. We arrived without tickets so I got my phone out and booked on the spot, then we went for lunch while we waited for our slot! Much nicer than waiting in a queue.
It was in Barcelona that Picasso spent his formative years and began his career as an artist. The Museum has many pieces from his early years. When we were there they also had an exhibition titled ‘Picasso’s Kitchen’. The exhibition takes a chronological walk through Picasso’s life using paintings, sculpture, literature and photography. Themes around food, cooking, and restaurants as meeting places, are touched on. The exhibition made it easier for us to learn something, and for L & S to follow the progression of his work in a small way.
Later that day S set herself the task of painting all her soft toys…
There was more artistic inspiration to come… when many people think of Barcelona they think of Gaudi and his famous architecture.
Gaudi Sites in Barcelona
The famous Sagrada Familia is a not to be missed part of Barcelona for many people. We decided not to visit the inside this time. In peak season the queues and crowds in the heat were just too much. We saw the outside on a previous trip and it is impressive, although was covered in a lot of scaffolding. Perhaps on a future trip it will almost be completed?!
We walked to Casa Batllo, a modernist Gaudi building, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is another place where it is a good idea to pre-book your tickets online. It is quite expensive too.
Casa Batlló is on the Passeig de Gràcia, about 10 minutes walk from Placa de Catalunya. As a bonus the street has a great shopping scene in case you need to make a detour on the way.
As it happened we did need to do a bit of shopping. After 6 months of wearing the same t-shirts, the kids and I told Paul we would no longer be seen out with him if he didn’t buy some new clothes. In typical man style he walked into a shop, tried on a pile of t-shirts and purchased them all at once. Once he saw the new ones, he realised just how tired the old ones were looking. So from this point forward on the blog you might notice Paul in some new shirts!
eating in Barcelona – Where to go
We loved Casa Guinart, right on the edge of La Boqueria market. Take a seat at the bar and watch the action in the kitchen, or head upstairs for great views of La Rambla or the market.
Casa Guinart had some of the best Patatas Bravas we had in Spain.
Irati Taverna Basca
You can either join the locals and tourists at the bar for drinks and tapas, or eat in the restaurant. The bar serves Pintxos, small bite sized portions, often on bread, secured with a toothpick. Help yourself from the bar, hot pintxos are offered regularly by staff. Keep your sticks and the staff will count them up to calculate your bill. Delicious with a glass of cava.
More suggestions for eating and drinking in Barcelona…
At the top of La Rambla, this is a great spot to sit outside and people watch with a coffee. If you are after a simple coffee and pastry breakfast to start the day this is a good option too.
La Granja 1872
For authentic chocolate and churros and good coffee in a genuine Spanish cafe.
More places to visit in Barcelona from our previous trip
For a change from eating in Barcelona, try wine tasting! Visit the Freixenet Winery and caves at Sant Sadurní d’Anoia. You can take a train from Barcelona to Sant Sadurní d’Anoia. The station is right by the winery, a 1 minute walk. A professional tour will take you through the history of Freixenet as well as the cava making process. If you want to stay longer the small bar sells glasses of cava and small snacks of cheese and olives.
This hill overlooking Barcelona harbour was a strategic defense point for the city for many years. Now it is an ideal place to come for views over the city and the harbour, or to explore the castle. There are a number of ways to get up the hill, including a funicular, bus and cable car. We took the cable car to enjoy the spectacular views at a leisurely pace.
From Montjuic you can also take the Barcelona Port Cable Car. A short trip that carries you 70 metres above the port directly down to Barceloneta beach. I think this is a must do in Barcelona, particularly on a clear day. The views back towards the city from the water give a totally different vantage point compared to Montjuic hill, you can see Sagrada Familia and the tree-lined La Rambla.
I imagine the cable car and funicular would be very busy in summer but in January it was quiet and we didn’t have to queue at all.
Barcelona Cathedral is an impressive gothic cathedral in the gothic neighbourhood of Barcelona. It is very central to the main tourist areas so you are likely to come across it while exploring Barcelona. We popped in during our January visit, it is yet another place that is very busy in the summer.
This Cathedral has a secret that not every visitor discovers. As you walk around the cathedral, on the left hand side, you will see a small booth selling tickets for 3 Euros. Purchase one and hop in the lift. It will take you up into the roof of the cathedral where are staircase takes you out onto a walkway on the rooftop. It is very special to be on the roof of a Cathedral in a city like Barcelona. In January we had it to ourselves for most of the time.
Barcelona was the final destination for Backpacks and Sunhats camping in Spain, from here we had a couple of long days driving into the South of France. The lavender fields of Provence, a Roman aqueduct, Cannes and more wine…