Some may think late January is rather a strange time to visit Barcelona, the weather is very questionable. You would be stupid to pack shorts and t-shirts and taking advantage of the city beaches is risky business. But there is also something exciting about Barcelona in the winter. The streets are quieter, there are not as many tourists and you can’t help but feel like a local who stumbled on a hidden treasure. There is a romance to this city that draws me back time after time.
From the boutique shopping of the gothic quarter to discovering hidden bars and restaurants, randomly bumping into world renowned arts and architecture. Drinking world class wines for a quarter the price, The Olympic village, young skateboarders and graffiti artists and that crazy old man who wanders the local streets whistling with his 3 cats in tow. This city has such a gravelly charm it makes even the toughest of east London hipsters feel uncool in comparison.
I have been a total of 5 times to Barcelona and every time is different. My trusty travel companions who were to embark on this adventure with me were my best friend Andrew and younger sister, Jeanette.
With the knowledge that neither had visited before and Andrews ability to entice me to drink wine like water I knew it would be fairly safe to assume I would enjoy myself with the possibility of short-term memory loss.
I was quite excited to march them around and try to give them even a small taste of what this city has to offer.
In previous trips, I have stayed in fancy Hotels and slept on friend’s couches, but my favorite by far is Airbnb.
There is something quite quirky about staying in a self-service house in a really local part of town. My main issue about booking accommodation was that I had originally intended it to be for two and thus it might have been a little squeeze for three of us. Never the less 6ft2 Andrew happily took the small pull out bed and Jeanette and I who together arguably make up an actual human in size had two massive queens beds.
I had selected the accommodation near some friend’s house, I knew it would be by Montjuic and walking distance from a few cool bars I remembered. It was in Plaça del Sortidor and connected to a really funky restaurant called Lucis. The accommodation was quirky, if not a bit eccentric in places. The owner offered good deals for people who stayed and ate at the restaurant and the food was good.
So we arrived, dumped our bags and left in search of Pintxos. I took Andrew to a place I go every time I visit Barcelona, it’s become a tradition. However, every time I try and find this little hideaway it feels like I’m searching for Narnia. Hungry Andrew was less than impressed with our two-hour detour, but it did mean that I could walk him through the Gothic quarter to experience the medieval streets full of boutique shops and tourist inspired bars. During this trip we discovered there are much better places to eat Pintxos. Carrer de Blai in El Poble-Sec, do Pintxos on a grander scale with nicer bars, the whole place is buzzing of an evening with local revelers. A definite recommendation!
One of the best things to do in Barcelona year round is experience the music culture. There is always somewhere to watch live music playing in the city. I thought it would be a quirky treat on St Burns night to watch Scottish rockers Biffy Clyro. So after a lovely meal at Luci’s, we headed up the mountain for a night of entertainment. They were playing in a venue called Sant Jordi club near the Olympic village. I don’t think Andrew was sold at first but it was a great way to end a busy day.
Transport is brilliant in Barcelona, there are buses, trams, tubes and taxis. Most public transport you can get around by buying a T-10 which enables you to take 10 trips on the tube. This is brilliant if only visiting for a day or two as you can pretty much buy one for a whole group.
As we were waiting for Jeanette’s arrival that evening, we decided to leave the museums and Gaudi until she had arrived. So day two was spent walking and exploring, drinking and eating and drinking some more. I think at one point we were drinking dark and stormies at 3pm. Thank you Andrew for your bad influence and terrible headache the next morning. By the time we met Malou for an evening of overpriced Sushi and wine we were more than giddy. I am actually surprised we were still standing at midnight when Jeanette finally joined us.
And enter the minny Fraggle, wheeling her suitcase through the narrow streets of Publo-Sec, with Fo-Mo in the purest form after she missed out on a day drinking session. Andrew and I watched her down three beers in a lame attempt to catch up before we all succumbed to our tired eyes and decided to rest in preparation for the following day’s tourist adventure.
The weather in Barcelona was not our friend as we headed to the world-famous Sagrada Familia but being true Brits we marched on in the freezing rain following our misguided sense of direction which resulted in another 2 hour detour.
Access to the Sagrada Familia interior only opened in 2010 so I was super excited to take the opportunity to explore Gaudi’s masterpiece for the first time. Massive tip, buy your tickets on line and avoid the queues. Don’t forget there is a museum below which is easily overlooked unless doing a tour, which we almost completely missed. The tour gives a much greater understanding of Gaudi’s work and influence in Barcelona. With the building due to be complete in 2020 there is still quite a lot to do. There is a whole new blog I could write about this incredible building but to understand it awe-inspiring creation and history it is best seen in person!
FOOD :- CAN MARGARIT – Carrer de la Concòrdia, 21, 08004 Barcelona
Malou our trusty Barcelona resident guide arrived at our apartment bang on 8.30. She had booked a table somewhere near and was really excited. Bounding up the quiet road she guided us only 3 streets to a traditional Catalan restaurant named Can Margarit.
Upon entering we were greeted by a lovely waiter who seemed amused by our early arrival, we had a table booked at 8.30 which is obviously very early to eat in Barcelona. His giggles were probably a result of 3 very hungry English travelers doing what we do best queued up outside patiently waiting.
The entrance resembled a large old wine cellar, which had all the feelings of a disused function/storage hall, with random chairs placed around and the odd table and decorative barrels on the walls.
Once Malou explained that this was the reception area in which you gather while waiting for friends. It suddenly made a lot more sense.
What we had assumed was disused decorative barrels, were full of wine. As the overly polite waiter attempted his best English to explain. We were all handed a glass and invited to sample the house wines for as long as we would like, until proceeding into the dining room. Now, if there is a weak point for both Andrew and I, it is wine. If handed a bottle we will polish it off no questions asked. So give us a continuous flowing tap is like watching two fat kids in a sweet shop. I was already in love with this place. I have only ever experienced the same euphoria that one time I entered a yo sushi and salmon sashimi was already available on the belt.
And to our delight, the house wine was actually rather nice, so much so that when we did finally enter the dining room we ordered another litre.
The dining room soon filled up with other diners, The food was exceptional. Even being a vegetarian there was plenty of dishes to order which we shared happily. We worked our way through the menu. (I am not even joking, I think we ordered everything but the snails.) Andrew and Malou particularly enjoyed the Rabbit which was apparently, so TripAdvisor tells me one of the best dishes in this restaurant. So in conclusion, If you get the chance then I completely recommend eating here. It feels like a must do experience miles away from the gentrified tourist resturants. However, it fills really quick so book a table!
After dinner, we ended up at a local bar drinking Gin and tonic and before I even knew what had happened it was 5am. I have done this twice in the last 5 years and both times were as a result of nights out in Barcelona with Malou. My last memory of that evening was that of 3 drunken brits dancing down the narrow roads towards our accommodation.
Day 4 –
As you may imagine, our final day was rather a slow one. Waking at midday we headed out for lunch. There were some sorry heads around, as we headed up the mountain to check out the museum and views before meeting our trusty guide and taking a walk through the Jardin’s towards the castle. The views are exceptional from this ariel advantage point. There are cable cars scattered around making movement easier for all types of travelers. It truly was nice to just wander without a plan. Stopping at the bars and having our afternoon beer otherwise known as the British hang over cure.
FOOD:- La Tomaquera 08004, Carrer de Margarit, 58, 08004 Barcelona, Spain
That evening Malou came up trumps again by taking us to a wonderful traditional Catalan restaurant very close to Poble sec. They served us a Catalan winter delicacy called calçots (i realise I can’t pronounce many things in Catalan or Spanish. I struggle in English most of the time.) which were basically large spring onions burnt in a fire. To eat, remove the outer skin dip it in a peanut based dipping sauce and eat. It is very messy business and if you like playing with your food then this is the thing for you. If you are in Barcelona in winter hunt them down.
Now, this trip was very different to past trips. I usually spend a lot more time wandering around the boutique shops and usually come home with some arty camera or element of clothing which I will wonder what the purpose was of it some weeks later. But never the less I really did enjoy myself. It felt like the local experience, where we could just drip into tourist mode if and when we felt like it. I managed to give my friends a bit of Barcelona culture but left them wanting more. My idea of a great city break.