In the spirit of Slow Travel, we rented a flat in Barcelona for six weeks and took our time exploring the city. We saw lots of art, found some favorite spots, went on a few day trips, got robbed on the metro, and ate lots of tapas.
After starting the summer of Spain in Madrid and Ibiza, we headed to Barcelona. We arrived the day before the Festival of Sant Joan, summer solstice celebration, which was a nice surprise. On this two day festival, it seemed like everyone (including kids) got their firework fix by setting them off just about everywhere (really). On June 23, there were neighborhood celebrations throughout the city. We checked out the intimate gathering down the street in front of Sagrada Familia where there was a drum band and food. Then we headed to the big celebration at Barceloneta beach. It was a great way to kick off our six week stay.
Sightseeing and Exploring
Barcelona Neighborhoods and Plazas
Like many European cities, Barcelona is divided into neighborhoods with different personalities. Here are some of the more popular neighborhoods for tourists. Eixample is home to the high end / brand name stores on Passeig de Gracia. Barceloneta is the place to go for a beach fix – there are ten beaches in the city. Raval is one of the oldest parts of the city and it shows. We enjoyed wandering through the narrow streets in this gritty neighborhood because we like to see all sides of a city, not just the big grand buildings and boulevards. We found a cool local bar and hung out for a while before heading home. Barcelona Tourist Guide website gives a good description of El Raval.
Our favorite part of town is the Born – also one of the older neighborhoods. This neighborhood is very popular with tourists due to the Picasso Museum, Santa Maria Del Mar church, unique shops, and cafes. In the Placa del Pi, there is a weekend art fair and farmers market.
We found a few plazas to relax and people watch. A favorite was Plaça George Orwell in the Barrio Gotico. It is a bit run down, but has a lot of character and is a popular spot for families and dog owners. We stopped at Bahia to get a drink and watched a cute dog doing tricks to get a treat from his dad.
Gaudi architecture is one of Barcelona’s most popular attractions. Our flat was on the same street as Sagrada Familia and we walked by it nearly every day. We visited Park Guell, Casa Batllo, Sagrada Familia, and popped by La Pedrera. See the blog post about Gaudi Architecture in Barcelona.
Outdoor Art in Barcelona
Barcelona is a great city for viewing free outdoor art. Some of the greatest spots are near the water in Barceloneta, Port Vell, and Port Olympic. There’s an impressive Roy Lichtenstein called Cap de Barcelona (Barcelona Head) near the Barceloneta metro stop. In Port Olympic, you’ll see the shining copper peix sculpture by Frank Gehry. Go one street up from the beach and stroll down Passeig Maritim Nova Icaria toward Barceloneta and you will see several cool sculptures.
Lori got into street art when we visited Berlin, so she often keeps an eye out for images painted on store shutters and building walls. There were many great finds in Barcelona.
There are several well-known museums in Barcelona. The last time we were here, we went to Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya and Fundacio Joan Miro. This time, we decided to focus on the lesser known (and less crowded) museums and found some wonderful places to view art. We did try to see the Museu Picasso twice, but got turned off by the giant line to get in.
Fundació Francisco Godia
Inside a beautiful building, the private art collection of Francisco Godia includes modern paintings, sculpture, Spanish ceramics, and medieval religious art. We were the only people there – it was like having our own private museum visit. Fundació Francisco Godia
If you like boating or the sea, or even if you don’t, the Museu Maritim is an interesting place to visit. See our blog post on the Museu Maritim.
Museu del Modernisme
Inside this small space you will see gorgeous modernista furniture and art from Gaspar Homar, Joan Busquets, Antoni Gaudi, and more. If you like this style of art, don’t miss the Museu del Modernisme.
Shopping in Barcelona
July is the month of rebaixes (sales) in Spain, which makes the stores packed with bargain-seekers. Many tourists head to the main shopping street Passeig de Gracia, a wide boulevard with beautiful buildings and international brand name stores. There is one spot with small boutiques, an indoor mini mall, Bulevard Rosa. At the end of the street in Placa Catalunya there is a giant department store, Corte Engles. If you like the Spanish brands Desigual and Camper, you will find their shops everywhere. There are also several Custo stores and outlets.
Lori’s favorite area to shop is the Born because it is filled with unique shops (many are one-of-a-kind). Take your time and wander through all of the small streets and passages – you never know what you will find. Don’t miss Carrer Flassaders, also home to Mercat Princesa (see Eating and Drinking section). Here are a few favorite shops…
- The 40s music sets the perfect tone to browse vintage clothes, gadgets, and household items at Loisaida. Even if you don’t want to buy, it is a fun place to check out.
- Montfalcon has an awesome jewelry selection along with quirky art, bags, and gadgets (be sure to go upstairs to see the sale items).
- Helena Rohner jewelry
- Joi d Art jewelry (multiple locations)
- Mos has fun clothing – no website (Carrer Banys Nous near Placa de Sant Miguel).
- Beaskoa Galeria de Arte has beautiful art and interesting jewelry (across from the Picasso Museum)
- Custo has an outlet in Placa del Pi.
Day Trips from Barcelona
Barcelona is in an ideal location for some fun day trips. The last time we were in town, we rented a car and went to Sitges and the Penedes wine region. This time, we went on three day trips – two by train and one by car: Girona, Cava, and the truffle region (well, this was an overnight trip).
Food and Drink
We liked the food scene in Madrid better, but Barcelona is also a great city for eating and drinking. We didn’t go to any restaurants for full meals – we stuck to tapas. Here are some of the spots we liked.
- Bouqueria: A visit to Barcelona would not be complete without a stop at the Boqueria. This large outdoor market sells fresh produce, meat, fish, candy, spices, and more. There are also a few tapas bars where you can grab a drink and snack. Go during the day because the market closes in the evening.
- Seaside bar hopping and people watching: Head over to Passeig Marítim in Barceloneta where you can relax with a cocktail beachside. Bestial makes a killer pitcher of white sangria with cava and tons of fresh fruit. Shoko is also a cool place to hang out. Many of the bars turn into nightclubs at night.
- Tapas: Lonja de Tapas has several locations in the Born neighborhood. Try the artichoke, sun dried tomato, and parmasean cheese; patatas bravas, and bomba.
- More tapas: Taller de Tapas is another nice tapas bar with several locations throughout the city.
- Sweets: If your blood sugar gets low while shopping on Passeig de Gracia, stop by Pastisseries Mauri or Cacao Sampaka.
- A little bit of everything: We stopped by Mercat Princesa to check it out on our last day in town. It’s too bad that we were not hungry at the time. This cute, cozy air con space has 16 food stalls with options ranging from Andalusian style dishes, Italian, Asian, pastries, and more; there’s also a wine bar.
- Quiet drink or meal: One day we were walking through the Born and got really thirsty. Right after we said to each other, let’s have a drink, a friendly guy handed us a flyer for My Way. So we said, sure – we’ll come by and he replied, wow it usually isn’t that easy. We turned right and walked down a narrow passageway to find a quiet, intimate restaurant with nice art and air con.
Tourist Crime in Barcelona
We learned first-hand that Barcelona has a very high tourist crime rate – check out this article, Where tourist crime happens the most. Lori was robbed on a crowded metro – a pickpocket took the phone from her closed purse. We locked the phone by contacting our cell carrier and filed a police report, although we don’t expect to recover the phone. We also purchased a new phone and had it shipped to us in Spain and learned a very hard lesson about the EU’s import tariffs. We also learned a lot about how you can protect your data. Read about the robbery and lessons learned about travel safety >