Of all the cities I visited in my seven months under the European sun, the only place I could imagine myself living in long term was Barcelona. It was sunny, laid back, vibin hard, and also the only place that I nearly got pickpocketed. The story goes something like this:
INT. NIGHT. THE COUPLE walks down the steps to the underground metro.
Jem, could you check your bag right now?
Jem checks her backpack and all seems to be in order.
Oh, nothing. The two women behind you were being suspicious and one of them had her hand in your backpack.
WELL WHY DIDNT YOU TELL ME SO I COULD CONFRONT HER AND HAVE MY SHAOLIN SHOWDOWN?!?!?
Baby, you know it. That city had character. Grit. Which, on hindsight, might probably just have been sand. But I loved it – I’ve always sworn vehemently that I’d never venture into teaching with my English degree (cliche! cliche!) but I was sorely tempted by the idea of living in Barcelona for a year, giving English classes by day and wandering down the beach in search of the perfect sangria by night. Mmmm. So ridiculous. But aren’t we all?
In any case, Barcelona remains one of my top recommendations for European summer destinations and a general favourite all round anyway, so I thought I’d pen my favourite spots in Barca down for those of you looking to go!
1. Have Seafood at La Paradeta
Why is the first thing on my list a food item? Because 1. we are gluttons and 2. this is only the best seafood you will ever eat in your life.
La Paradeta is the kind of place I have dreams about. One thing you should know about me is, prior to La Paradeta I was never really a seafood kinda person – i liked fish a lot, but that was about it. La Paradeta was where I was truly initiated to the wonders of seafood, and it was probably the best place in the world for it to happen – everything was freshly caught and prepared to perfection, and incredibly delicious.
How it works: you basically pick whatever you want, decide how you want it done, and they prepare it for you on the spot. It’s so fresh that your food is literally still scuttling around minutes before it’s served up to you on the plate. The food is charged by the kg, so tell them exactly how much you want or they’ll give you the whole kg and charge you for it. Eg. 100g of mussels in tomato sauce, 150g of tuna seared, etc. We had.. so much, I don’t even know. Every kind of seafood imaginable. And the entire spread cost us less than 50 euros in total – I imagine you’d have a much better time of it coming with a whole gang of friends so you could try a greater variety of stuff and split the bill – but I had a pretty damn good time.
I cannot even begin to emphasise how important it is that anyone who goes to Barcelona eats at La Paradeta. Doors open at 8pm for dinner, but the queue starts forming before that as you can see, so go at 7:30/45 to be safe. It’s near the Sagrada Familia, so you can get your culture fix before or after heading over anyway.
Address: Carrer Comercial, 7, 08009 Barcelona, Spain
Phone:+34 932 68 19 39
Hours: 1:00–4:00 pm, 8:00–11:30 pm
2. Spend an entire afternoon by the beach
Honestly, I feel like the one thing I regretted about Barcelona was not staying there longer. If I had my way about it, I would have spent an entire week there and dedicated whole days to just lounging by the beach. I loved the way the city seamlessly blended into the beach – you could be walking along the boardwalk, admiring the palm tree rows, and then the next thing you know you’d be in the middle of the cheeriest scene known to man: the Barceloneta beach.
As with all tourist destinations, you’ll have to pay for a beach umbrella/ chair. I say go ahead and do it – but come early to make the most of it, because they pack up their chairs at about 7-8pm no matter how long you’ve been on it. Bring a book, an iPod, whatever, and just spend the day slipping into a sort of lazy daze. Men wander the beach trying echoing the siren calls of sangria for 5 euros a glass (price negotiable) and duck under your beach chairs the minute a police boat sails past. It’s all part of the experience, and it’s one of the best beach experiences I’ve ever had. Before Barcelona I always thought of myself as a city destination kinda girl – but now I’m thinking twice.
3. Seek out some sick Paella
When I instagrammed my touchdown in Barcelona, I got a flood of people moaning enthusiastically about paella all over my photographs. I was confused – what is wrong with people, and what is this paella?!
Such is the sound of ignorance. It turns out Paella is the Spaniard’s gift to mankind. A sort of western take on something resembling asian fried rice, it’s a rice dish prepared with olive oil and supplemented with various ingredients, and presented in a specialised shallow cooking pan. It is also the most delicious rice I have ever had… ever. I’ve always been slightly dismissive of western-style rice dishes, probably a result of my fiercely asian upbringing (RICE IS OUR TERRITORY), but this dish blew me away.
I didn’t even go anywhere special for this. On the long climb up to Park Guell, we ducked into an unassuming little cafe for lunch and ordered the seafood paella with some nachos on the side. It was incredible. Definitely, definitely put Paella on your Barca Bucket List.
4. Local Art
Barcelona is/ was home to many incredible artists, some obscure, some not so. It would be sacrilegious to visit Barca without popping into at least one of it’s famous museums or parks – and this is coming from someone who had had enough of museums after five months of European history. We visited the Picasso Museum on the way to the Barceloneta, which didn’t allow photography so no pictures there, which was interesting but not the best museum I’d hit. I feel like after the Louvre and Anne Frank’s House it’s a little difficult to find a museum that matches up in terms of character and emotional resonance, even if it does revolve around the sick wonder that is Picasso.
Either way, we also hit Park Güell, one of the major works of Gaudi. The entire place is a strange, strange wonderland reminiscent of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory – all coloured glass and weird sculptures. Still, it was quite a must-do in terms of tourist attractions, so we made our way down to the Park one sunny afternoon in Barca. It’s pretty far out from the rest of the to-dos so you kinda have to dedicate an entire afternoon to getting there and looking around, and if nothing else, it gives you a pretty good view of Barcelona’s cityscape.
It gets quite crowded, so I definitely recommend booking your tickets online the night before. You have to pay first, but at least you guarantee a spot there instead of queuing like the grumpy sunburnt tourists you’ll laugh at on your way in.
Carrer d’Olot, s/n, 08024 Barcelona, Spain
5. That huge gothic structure that still hasn’t been completed
There is no visiting Barca without visiting the Sagrada Familia. It arguably put Barcelona on the (tourist) map of the world. I didn’t go in, although most people do, but standing outside it and admiring it’s everlasting facade was good enough for me. The best time to catch the Sagrada is probably at sunset – the golden light bounces off the gothic walls and the entire thing glows. It is quite magical. In summer this is about 730pm – we oohed and aahed at it but didn’t get a proper photo as we were rushing to make La Paradeta (see point one), and only returned after dinner.
At night it is majestic, that’s for sure, but we found ourselves still thinking wistfully of the golden magic we saw a couple of hours before. Still, it was pretty incredible. Standing in front of the Sagrada with the full moon conveniently hanging over – there are few experiences that beat that.
Carrer de Mallorca, 401, 08013 Barcelona, Spain
And then you can also go get a burger after if you haven’t had dinner, because Anauco Gourmet is around the corner and serves splendid burgers.
Carrer de València, 428, 08013 Barcelona, Spain
+34 936 24 07 97
(Very popular, you might need a reservation.)
6. Ultimate tourist experience: light and water magic show.
Disneyland has their nightly fireworks show, and Barcelona has.. Font Màgica. To be fair though, despite the cheesy name, it was quite spectacular. The nightly show features lights, water acrobatics, music, and if you’re lucky – fire. It draws a crowd too, so be careful with your belongings – someone tried to pickpocket me here, again, and I missed out on my showdown fantasy again because Shane magicked me away before any real harm was done. Boys.
The Font Màgica is located near the Plaça d’Espanya, which was super near where we stayed (check here for more details), so it was easy to catch the show as we walked back to our apartment nightly. The shows run two or four days a week depending on season, but you should check the magic fountain website for the exact schedule before going down. Quite worth it though, I think. You can always have dinner in the area and then walk around after.
SPRING – SUMMER 2014
From 31 March to 30 October (Both included)
Thursday to Sunday, 9 pm – 11:30 pm. The shows start at 9, 9:30, 10, 10:30 and 11 pm.
AUTUMM – WINTER
From 31 October 2013 to 30 March (Both included)
Fridays and Saturdays, 7 pm – 9 pm. The shows start at 7, 7:30, 8, and 8:30 pm.
Pl Carles Buigas, 1
And there you have it – my favourite things to do when in Barcelona. You’ll notice that I didn’t include any shopping in there, because I felt that the other experiences outweighed it, but shopping in Barca can be pretty damn attractive, what with it being the home Mango and Zara. I actually got a sweater in Zara for 7 euros. 7 Euros! Unbuhlievable. The main street in Barcelona has quite a few outlets, so you can actually dedicate an afternoon to wandering down it and having lunch in the area – I had tapas at Txapela, which was not bad, but I believe you can’t go wrong with food in Barcelona either way.
A short note on accommodation.
Before I leave off, here’s something I think you might wanna factor in when planning for Barcelona, and Europe in general. I know a lot of you follow my Broke Student’s Guide, being.. well, broke students, like myself, but there are exceptions to every rule. Sometimes the cheaper option may not necessarily be the safest. The types of accommodation you can check out are quite extensive for Europe: I wrote on couchsurfing awhile back, and then there are hostels, then airbnb apartments, then hotels.
I don’t know about couch surfing in Barca, not having done it myself, and I’m generally quite game for budget hostel living. Thirty people mixed dorm? Bring it. Usually, I’d encourage you to choose whichever option suits your budget. However, in a few places I definitely advocate getting an airbnb place over a hostel. Southern Italy is one. Barcelona is another. I’ve heard of too many people being pickpocketed and robbed blind while in hostels, and in certain otherwise lovely cities, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Airbnb apartments afford you a kind of privacy and safety that you don’t get in a mixed dorm – and it might actually work out cheaper if you have a couple of friends sharing the apartment / private room with you. Since it charges by unit, it might even work out cheaper than getting a bed in a hostel, which charges you per pax.
I stayed in a private double room on Plaça d’Espanya for only 34SGD/night total (divide that by two, do your math), and I felt like my belongings were safe at all times even when leaving my laptop and all in the room because 1. It was a private room 2. I had the keys to the room and 3. I had a real conversation and connection with the host, so if anything went wrong, I knew who to deal with. I suggest you do this for cities that are known to be slightly more dangerous in terms of theft – Naples, Rome, Barcelona, whatever. Evaluate your finances, read up on your destinations, and make an informed decision.
I loved Barcelona, sandy beautiful city that it was, and I would return in a heartbeat. I hope all of you headed over to Europe on grad trips look at it as one of your destinations – but remember, keep your belongings close, and eat your heart out. You’re going to love it.