I lived in Barcelona for about 3 months recently, and I have to tell you it’s one of my most favorite cities in Europe. It is completely laid back, it has great nightlife, really good food, wine, art, architecture and shopping. Also it has palm trees, and the Mediterranean. What more could a girl ask for? It won’t push you around like London or Paris, but it won’t bore you either. It’s highly “walkable” and has managed to draw the tourists to very specific areas, so you can avoid the crowds easily if you’d like. It’s also very safe and the people are generally very friendly.
I’ll tell you what I learned about the place during my 3 months there, and hopefully you can arrive with the knowledge of a short term resident and go straight for the good stuff.
If you are flying to BCN the airport is about 20 minutes from Placa Catalunya – basically city center. Taxi’s add a fee fro airport pick-up, so they can be expensive. I think I paid nearly $30 USD to get to my apartment near Parc de la Ciutadella (10 minute walk to Placa Catalunya). There is also a very cheap and convenient bus called Aerobus to Placa Catalunya where you can catch the metro or hop in a taxi to take you to your destination. It runs every 5 minutes, and you can buy your tickets online – http://www.aerobusbcn.com/.
I stayed here one night. It was a decent location, not amazing. Frankly I found it a bit overpriced. There are no doormen to assist with lugguage which was a hassle for me with 3 bags. Someone to simply hold the door while I lugged them in would have been much appreciated.
Mid-range + is the Le Meridian. A trusted Starwood property (with a great rewards program) is just off Las Ramblas, and a quick walk to Placa Catalunya and multiple metro stops.
If you are willing to spend the big bucks, The Mandarin Oriental is one of my most favorite hotels in the world. First, Mandarin service is just perfect, every time (in my experience) and the rooms in this historic building are modern and luxurious! Love, love, love this hotel.
Another luxury property is Cotton House Hotel, it’s a part of the Marriott Autograph Collection. My friends stayed here for NYE 2015. It feels very classic Barcelona in decor. Lot’s of Marble and wood. they enjoyed their stay.
It’s really difficult to eat poorly in Barcelona, in terms of Flavor and quality ingredients. Generally you will eat small plates called tapas. Below are a few restaurants I was taken to by locals. I found food and wine to be very reasonably priced everywhere I went.
Jai-Ca -I was a little underwhelmed, but it worth noting because of it’s location in the tucked away neighborhood of Barcelonetta. This area used to be a fishing village, so you will find many seafood restaurants here. It’s a nice area to walk around a bit before or after dinner as well.
The Centric – It’s a great little bar, serving really nice tapas. I ate here many times over my 3 month stay.
Flax and Kale – A great option for a healthy meal.
Barcelona also has excellent shopping. It seems like there is a Zara or Mango on every corner, but there are also many smaller boutiques and vintage clothing shops (look for those in Raval neighborhood). Clothing is generally less expensive in Barcelona than the US and other EU cities.
The Metro is super easy. I highly recommend it as a means to get around the city. Only thing to note is that there are 2 separate rail companies. I was told one was run by the Spanish government, and the other by the Catalonian government. And like their politics, they never quite meet up. You will have to leave one station and walk above ground to another when changing between these two lines. This can confusing because on some maps the stations appear to be connected. Once you know, it’s easy to work around this. I had to ask a station manager (in English), and he was very helpful.
Go see all the Gaudi stuff you can. It is fantastic. You can buy a pass that gets you entry into most of his buildings. Expensive but worth it. Have a picnic in the Parc de la Ciutadella. There are outdoor pinpong tables! Also a zoo and some botanical gardens. Also I really enjoyed walking around Gracia, it’s the neighborhood near Parc Guell – also worth a visit. And so is Parc Montjuic. Both parks have great city views.
There is endless nightlife in the Gothic Quarter and Raval. Raval is in the process of gentrification, the city recently finished several improvement projects there. Yo only need to stroll through those neighborhoods to find fun and interesting places to drink. Rumor has it, for noise control, the city has shut down many of the music venues in Barcelona. There are a few left, one of them being the Macarana, in the Gothic Quarter. Great DJ’s and a low key dance scene.