I'm referring to Barcelona the city, not the FC Barcelona football club. I love Barcelona. A coastal city on the western part of Spain. Barcelona always bring thoughts of beautiful weather, good food and wonderful people. Should you go to a Barça game to see Messi, Iniesta and Xavi? Yes of course! Should you go to Tickets to experience Spanish Molecular Gastronomy? Hell yes! Should you see everything Gaudi? You can't avoid it! (Just kidding, every park and sculpture is a mind blowing) Barcelona is a city where you are so overwhelming because you want to smell, taste and see everything.
WHEN TO GO?
Millions of European holiday makers go there during the weekends. Those of you in the tech industry know that Barcelona is home to the annual GSMA World Congress gathering of the tech and telecom elite. So when is the best time to go?
If you go during the summer, you will compete with the Europe and the rest of the world. Personally, the best time to go is during post GSMA World Congress lull. The global tech and telecom elites descend upon Barcelona for a week in February each year. Barcelona is a city that needs to be experienced by getting lost and exploring. You don't want to see GSMA advertising everywhere. You don't want compete for seats at restaurants or worse great venues are closed for private parties. Unsurprisingly, hotel room prices sky rocket and and cheap and cheerful AirBnbs disappear faster than you can say mxxda!.
Is weather still cool then? Sure but the cloudless skies will keep you warm as you explore the city. Unless you are planning to go to Ibiza off the coast of Barcelona to get your Balearic beat on. Dress in layers and you will be just fine.
WHERE TO EAT?
Those of you who are molecular gastronomy acolytes of Ferran Adrià will of course want to go to Tickets Bar - the empire built by Ferran's younger brother Albert. El Bulli is closed and Ferran has moved on to become the global-ambassador-cum-godfather of modern Spanish cuisine. So book early. When I say early, I mean two months ahead. Reservations via online booking go here. Adrià has opened several other restaurants in Poble Sec neighborhood with the Iglesias Brothers under the aptly named ElBarri umbrella. Reservations for all their locations are found here.
While you could empty your wallet on all things Adrià, Barcelona has other chefs you should visit. Carlos Tejedor (culinary director of El Nacional) has a mighty meaty menu at Lomo Alto & Lomo Bajo. Its all about dry aged meat. It will blow your mind whether having dinner at Alto or getting a sandwich at Bajo. Warning: when the waitstaff comes to tell you about your meal try not to think about that episode from Portlandia.
Barcelona has joined the global trend of craft brews. Fortunately, this has happened with out the hipster facial hair and vintage clothing. Now that La Cerveteca is closed, Ølgod reigns. But lets be honest, you're not in Barcelona to drink craft beer. You are there for pintxos and tapas!
Most of you already know what tapas are so I won't bother. Pintxos are the those tasty tasty snacks on a toothpick found in every bar in Barcelona. Served hot or cold, these savory morsels are a perfect accompaniment to a glass of wine, vermouth or any drink of your choice. There is an entire street devoted to pintxos and tapas, Carrer de Blai. Go there, eat and thank me later.
WHAT TO SEE?
There is art everywhere. Barcelona is an architectural and artist haven. The city contains more than just Spanish architecture and Moorish influences.
Palau Nacional - MNAC, or Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, is located there. There is a trove of art that spans a thousand years both within its walls and the park that sits upon the flank of a hill called Montjuïc. It also happens to be one of the best places for photographers to shoot wide views of Barcelona and the surrounding hills. You want an Instagram-able shot of the Venitian Towers or the Sagrada Familia. Go there.
La Sagrada Familia - a church in the making nearly a hundred years, is a must for any itinerary. When to go? In the late afternoon, the sun transform the inner sanctum that will leave you in awe. It is unmistakably Gaudi in style and puts every other cathedral in the world to shame. The first time, I stood there during golden hour, the beauty of the space with a kaleidoscope of lights had me in tears.
Mercat de La Boqueria -The market is located at the nearly mid-point of Las Rambla, the pedestrian walk that connects Plaça de Catalunya to Port Vell. It is a wonderful place to get breakfast or lunch. I've enjoyed many happy mornings eating my way from stand to stand. If you like the night markets of Taipei, you will love La Boqueria. There is plenty of tasty treats (like jamon iberico, meat from the free ranging acorn eating Iberian pigs) to take as a snack as you explore the city. Joselito is an amazing producer but there are many other producers you can try in the Mercat.
Park Güell - Located in Carmel Hill over looking Barcelona, the public park is a testament to the organic and natural forms of Antoni Gaudí. When I first read Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll, this is the world imagined. Come to think of it, I can't imagine what the conversation Count Güell was like with Gaudi when he asked the artist to develop a unique mini-city for the wealthy. While it was a commercial flop. Gaudi had built 3km of roads, gatehouses houses and the plaza you see. If you look carefully, Gaudi even sneaked a cleverly designed system to clean and store water in a giant cistern. The man was forward thinking when it comes to climate change!
Mini-trip from Barcelona - The Balearic Islands
When traveling in Spain, I won't bounce around the country. The transit time between cities doesn't make sense. I will pick an area and explore it to my heart's content. That being said, the Baleric islands are worth taking the time to visit during any time during the year. Its more than just fun in the sun, the influence of the Moors is unmistakable. The quality of the food and wine makes you want to leave the tourist traps of Barcelona. And German is spoken everywhere! (more on that later) While my light stick swinging clubbing days are over in Ibiza, I have found a second home on the island of Mallorca.
Mallorca is the largest of the Balearics just off the coast of Barcelona. You can take a ferry there or fly. Palma is well serviced by all the European carriers. Mallorca its the home to sobrassada (Oh myyy), ensaimada (Damnit, I can't fit both in my pockets!), local cheeses (Get in my belly!) and amazing wines (Did I mention that they are in heart of a UNESCO World Heritage site?).
Serra de Tramontana is a UNESCO World Heritage site and it is a must to any visit to Mallorca. The mountain range runs along the northwest cost of Mallorca. The people, farms and vineyards that within this area have survived for generations by building a complex system cisterns and water channeling systems. Experiencing the contrast between Andratx on the coast and the heart of Serra de Tramontana in Puigpunyent will fill your belly with amazing Catalan food and memories of majestic landscapes.
Barcelona & Palma are cities that you explore over and over again. Don't try to visit the cities as part of a bucket list of places to go. These cities are to be savored and enjoyed over time like fine glass of wine made from tempranillo grapes. It gets better and better over time.
Kent is a management consultant who has spent years traveling for work. His refuge is looking for the perfect meal so that he can reproduce it at home with his wife and friends.