When the heat strikes hard, that’s all you need to know to survive in Barcelona. A good cold beer. Best enjoyed in one of the thousands terrazas that you will find at every corner and square througout the city.
If I had to choose between Madrid and Barcelona I wouldn’t have any doubt: I am madrileña inside, but I have to admit that Barcelona has got something that Madrid hasn’t (and unfortunately, despite the efforts to bring the Manzanares river back, will never have): the SEA. Not so much the sea itself, but all that comes with it: a wide and well kept beach walk starts almost from the very downtown and stretches further out to sun-blessed city beaches, lovely terrazas facing the sea offering amazing seafood and in general a far more relaxed atmosphere than Madrid. It must be the sea breeze. In summer (and even before and after) it does get hot and very humid but you have always got the sea handy for a dip, so BCN is a good bet for an all year round trip.
Not to miss while you are there:
- Sagrada Familia, Park Güell, Casa Battló, La Pedrera…: basically, everything that the great Antoni Gaudí has designed. Visits to Gaudí’s houses are not cheap but are well worth a visit, at list once in a lifetime. Try to visit the Sagrada Familia early in the morning before dozens of buses (with hundreds of tourists) arrive.
- The Cathedral (known as La Seu): this stunning Gothic cathedral built in 3 stages over 150 years absolutely deserves a long visit. Check out on its website since there are some time slots throughout the day when access is free of charge.
- Eat out in a terraza: I love the Born area, with the Picasso and Textile museums and Santa Maria del Mar Church…so you could combine a delicious outdoor lunch with excellent sightseeing (great shopping with plenty of individual and original boutiques, too). All over the neighbourhood there is an excellent choice of terrazas where to sit, share a few tapas and people-watch. It’s a very good spot to hang out in the evening as well and it’s just a few steps from La Barceloneta beach.
- In Barcelona (as in almost every corner of Spain) from Monday to Friday restaurants and cafes generally offer a menu del dia (daily menu) where sometimes for less than 10 € you can get a starter, a main and a drink. Quality depends (as always) on the establishment you choose. Generally the menu is advertised on a board outside the restaurant and it should change daily, as the name suggests.
- Spend a few hours in the Mercado de la Boquería, on the Rambla. A bit touristy and pricey but still a good place to admire its colorful stalls offering a wide range of jamones, quesos, aceitunas y pescado for which Spain is famous for.
- Get the underground to Barceloneta or Ciutadella/Villa Olimpic and start you long walk on the beach side. In theory you wouldn’t even need to get your feet sandy since the boardwalk is all paved. Just so you know, the beach side restaurants and bars get very busy at night time so if you are up to a nice dinner out and a bit of boogie boogie you know where to head to.
- If you like partying, factor in to have a big night out. Barcelona is a party city and you shouldn’t leave it without having experienced good fun. Time Out Barcelona is a good source to check the trendiest clubs in town. To me, even though many years have passed, La Terrraza still holds some of the best memories of my time in BCN. A magical open-air club with top quality house music (some of the world best DJs have played here), set in the charming replica village of Pueblo Español. I have visited plenty of times and had a blast every single time.
- An evening stroll on Passeig de Gracia to admire the beautiful evening lights of Casa Battló and La Pedrera.
- Watching the sunset at Museu Art Nacional de Catalunya and stay there to grab a good spot to enjoy the Magic Fountain show.
Safety wise, I have to say that my feelings towards Barcelona have always been very mixed. Its streets and alleys, particularly in the old barrio Chino (Raval) and barrio Gótico are very narrow and poorly lit. Both barrios are busy in the evenings (plenty of restaurants and bars to choose from) so just hang out where other people are and you will be fine. The Rambla is to be avoided in the night (again, plenty of other places to go in BCN unless you are particularly fond of pickpockets, drug-dealers and prostitutes) or if you go there exercise precaution. If you decide (I wouldn’t, but up to you!) to sit down in one of the cafés on the Rambla, keep your bag on your lap anytime.
I think my aversion for the Rambla comes from the fact that when I was 17 I decided (together with a group of 3 other girls) to travel from Lloret de Mar (one of those places that you shouldn’t visit under any circumstances and that I will not mention anymore) to Barcelona, without booking an hotel – of course. We thought we could have stayed out partying all night. But we didn’t take into account that 1) our budget was not unlimited and 2) clubs closed at a certain hours and at that time I was not ready for matinee sessions yet (it took me just a year more!!) so we ended up literally on the Rambla from 4 AM until probably 7 AM, when we finally entered a coffee bar and waiting to board our bus back to Lloret. And what we have seen on the Rambla, we would like to forget.
Having said this, during the last decade BCN town hall undertook several actions to try to clean up many of the areas where drug dealers, prostitutes and pick-pockets where moving around freely so a lot of previous no-go areas are now a lot safer and therefore busier with tourists. I lived in BCN for a few months back in 2000 and gone back almost every year since then and I have never experienced any issue so just keep your eyes open and enjoy this fascinating city!