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Barcelona can be crowded with tourists, but don't let that stop you. One way to think about it is that there is a good reason why so many people flock to this Catalan city on the Mediterranean coast. Although touristy, or maybe because of it, you don't get the sense that you are bother to the people, the feeling I sometimes get in London or Paris.
Tourist Exploitation: For the ultimate in tourist exploitation or fun, depending on your perspective, visit La Rambla, where one liter masses of beer are sold on the central pedestrian causeway and gold painted humans do their best to freeze for long periods of time for the coins in your pocket.
But Barce is much more than that
The city offers top notch restaurants, sandy beaches, eclectic shopping, engrossing districts, a bustling nightlife and jaw dropping architecture. This city has style. From the people, across the building facades into the shops themselves, this place exudes cool. You can find plenty of bohemian types and sharply appointed business men crossing each other's path on the wide Avenue of Diagonal.
Tip: If you make your way outside of the old gothic quarter and Barceloneta, the density of tourists lightens noticeably and you can really start to enjoy the fresh air and balmy weather in a more relaxed atmosphere.
It is the old city center and contains many of the attractions that you will want to see. The narrow cobblestone streets pave your way to the old gothic cathedral, trendy restaurants and a vast array of designer and boutique shops. You can always find something going on here, night and day. During the night the Plaças are electric with activity and alcohol.
Main Drag: La Rambla, the main tourist drag, cuts Barri Gotic off from its more seedier cousin, El Raval, (which during the day is totally OK and a must see!). Overall, Barri Gotic is the top district in Barcelona because its the cultural heart of the city. Prices tend to be higher here.
Located on the waters edge, this district houses the beach closest to the city center. A little more relaxed, its an ideal location for families. There is an imax and aquarium nearby as well, not to mention the very popular Catalunya History Museum. If seafood is the order of the day, this district is where you will want to be.
Scenic transport across the city: Furthermore, there is a great connection to Montjuïc through a suspended cable car, provided you are not afraid of heights. Originally designed in 1926 to link the maritime section with that of the 1929 world's fair area, it received funding too late for it to be ready for the bustle of crowds. Instead, it was finished in 1931. Great idea, poor execution.
Personal note: There is a great beach that I would normally have taken pictures of. Unfortunately, I tripped over a park bench while walking through the marina area, banging the crap out of my leg and landing flat on my ass in a puddle - all because I had my eye in the view finder. I decided that for health reasons, I should put the camera away for the night.
Gracia - Recommended!
I stayed most recently in St. Gervasi Galvany, a more residential area located right next door, so I frequently traveled through this district. Gracia is popular with artists and has a bit of a bohemian flair to it. If you can find accommodations close to Avinguda Diagonal, a chic boulevard with 4 separated thorough fares, a 20 minute walk will get you into the city center.
Diagonal also insulates you from the throngs of tourists (who stay primarily in Barri Gotic) and the price of accommodation is more reasonable than downtown. Additionally, there are great restaurants including Tragaluz and the Speakeasy in the area. Sagrada Familia and La Pederera are not to far away as well. Prices tend to be a bit better than Barri Gotic or Barceloneta.
Main Drag Tips: Diagonal is filled with shops of the upscale variety, including trendy housewares' stores of Mason Du Mond and Zara home (that's a tip from the girlfriend). Go for a jog in the morning or a stroll in the late afternoon on the main pedestrian walkway in the middle of the avenue.
A sophisticated, yet unpretentious Restaurant, Tragaluz serves up what they call traditional but modern fare. Their website further clarifies this rather oxymoronic statement by saying "the usual with lighter ingredients". To enter the dining room, you have to make your way through the open kitchen into the airy dining rooms (one upstairs and one on the main floor).
What I had: Iberico ham and Oysters for starters and filet Mignon for the main. They served the steak with french fries and dipping them into the creamy béarnaise sauce was the ultimate in class warfare that ended in mouth utopia.
Price: A bit expensive. Expect to pay about about 20 to 30 euros for the main and 10 to 15 euros for a starter.
Tip: To keep the costs down you can order Oysters a la carte and the ham in half portions (full portion is 21.50 euros).
A favorite for both locals and tourists, Catalana is a fast paced Cerveceria located in the trendy Eiample district that serves a variety of tapas. Don't expect the server to be very patient, he will have a ton of tables to serve. Even so, the food makes the somewhat gruff service worthwhile.
What I had: The salted green peppers (Pimientos) reminded me a lot of Edamame and are a dish popular with the locals. My favorite Tapa by far though was the montadito de solomillo (little mini steaks on crispy bread). Another crowd favorite are the Patatas Brava and little, mini hamburgers with sautéed onions. Man, just writing about it is making me hungry.
Price: Reasonable. The bill can become expensive quickly as you can be easily tempted by the parade of tapas being delivered to eager patrons right next to you. I found myself ordering "just one more" Tapa on three separate occasions. In total we (two) paid about 60 euros (tip included) with 3 drinks a piece and we were stuffed.
courtesy of http://www.planterspunch.com/
In total there are three different spaces all housed under the same roof: Dry Martini (voted as a top 50 bar in Europe), The Speakeasy (a secretive restaurant located in a storeroom that you can only gain access by a password at the Dry Martini bar or alternately you can make a reservation here) and The Academy (which we visited). The Academy is half lounge and half restaurant. Great service and the restaurant itself is trendy with a speakeasy vibe to it
What I had: Risotto with pine nuts, Taleggio cheese and prawns for a starter and the Lamb Chops Villeroy. Fantastic on both ends.
Price: Excellent value. Since the Speakeasy restaurant in the back serves 6 course meals, the Academy mixes it up with half portions. Don't let that throw you though, we were quite full after a starter and a "half main". The prices are very reasonable, about 7 to 10 for a starter and 15 euros for a main.
Take a look around the store Vincon
Its like Ikea and some random internet shop that sells cool stuff that you don't really need had sex and birthed a store-baby. The ground floor carries assorted small decorations and designer functional items. If you venture up to the second floor, your hit the elegant but hip furniture section. Step through to the patio on the second floor for your final surprise; a view of Gaudi's La Pedrera that a lot of people miss.
Tip: Head back to the end of the store and search for a black staircase, which leads to an open gallery that quietly displays works from local artists or photographers.
Take in the street Performers
Barcelona is a tourist city, so it comes as no surprise that there are tons of Street Performers here. But what will surprise you is that most of them are good. From opera singers to break dancers to a swearing guitar player in a leopard print suit, the city has you covered on impromptu performances. Wandering the city and stopping to check out a performer for 5 minutes before we moved on was a great way to break up the walks between attractions. So stop and listen.
Tip: To find the opera singer, go out through the courtyard in the back of the Gothic Cathedral (where the geese are) and continue into the alley way outside.
He was the leader of the Modernista movement and Barcelona was his home and canvas. He put his lifeblood into his works which featured nature, religion and architecture. Seven of his works have made the UNESCO World Heritage list.
Visiting Park Guell is like stepping into a fairy tale board game that features gingerbread houses, spiraling towers, elaborately formed structures and a huge lizard, all in vibrant colors. Additionally, don't miss either of his famous buildings, La Pedrera or Casa Batllo or the impossibly intricate La Sagrada Familia, a cathedral unlike any other in my mind.
Tip: If you walk all the way up to the top of Park Guell, there is a great panoramic view of the city. Definitely worth the 10 minute hike to the top.
Go to a Flamenco Show
Don't make a fuss that Flamenco does not originate in Catalan (it traces its roots to Andalusia), going to a show is still a great way to spend an evening. In my book, not everything has to be original for it to be good. However just to add some credibility, Carmen Amaya, a famous Flamenco dancer was originally born in a Barcelona slum.
Tablo de Carmen: pays homage to her and regularly has top notch talent come through their doors. An hour long show costs between 39 euros (with a drink) and 77 euros (with dinner).
Los Tarantos: If you are in the mood for Flamenco but you would rather save your cash, Los Tarantos is a great option. For 10 Euros, you get a half hour show. Drinks are available at the bar for an extra charge. The only problem is you will wish it was a longer show.
Chill at some Plaças
The Plaças are a great place to kick back and do one of my favorite activities, people watch with a beer in my hand. If you decide on Los Tarantos, you exit directly into Plaça Reial, a popular tourist destination.
Or try sitting outside Bar Lobo like we did and enjoy a more laid back attitude in the heart of El Raval, off of Carrer del Pintor Fortuny.
Enjoy some live music
In almost every city I go to, I want to know where I can hear some live music, especially blues or jazz. Every Thursday night, Casa Fuster offers a jazz concert. Try to book ahead. The food is overpriced, but what do you expect when dining inside of a world heritage site. Casa Fuster is a hotel built by the modernist architect Lluis Domènech i Montaner.
If you need something a little classed down or want a little more variety, try Harlem Jazz Club. Every Tuesday they have a blues session, but they regularly feature, R & B, Flameco Rock, Funk, Latin and Swing.