If the conference you’re going to is the International Trademark Association annual meeting in April or May, then I recommend you fly to Spain early to make the best of the free time you’ll have. You’ve been to Barcelona before. You’ve seen the Sagrada Familia, and Gaudi’s Casa Batlo, and you’ve meandered through the Parque de la Ciutadella. You’ve also walked with me to Park Guell, and we pushed through the mass of people along Las Ramblas. So I’m not going to suggest that you see these things again; I’m going to tell you what to do in Barcelona that is specific and meaningful. I’ve lived here for a year and a half; these are visits that I can vouch for.
Roughshod tapas and beer
[edit: they’ve moved locations, and I don’t know where :(]
I’ve written a detailed article about this place, which I call the best tapas in Barcelona. Unfortunately I only discovered it after you had already left from here. It’s located in the neighborhood Sants, and it’s the only Andalusian tapas bar I’ve found in Barcelona. You buy a 2 euro lager, and it comes with a hefty serving of batter-fried bocarones, which are anchovies. Sprinkle fresh lemon juice over them, and they go down the gullet nicely paired with an Estrella beer. If you’re going to have fancy friends, perhaps this is not the place to take them–but I would go here at least once, and not too late as it fills at night.
The beaches of Barcelona
When last you were here we never made it to the beaches. Find your way to the Port of Barcelona. Walk out to the path along the beach, turn right, and stroll down toward the big sail on the shore, the W Hotel. This is a fine stroll and the weather will be mild in May. Don’t be lured by the restaurants here–stay away.
The best Pulpo a la Gallega in Barcelona
Now we can involve those fancy friends of yours. Cera 23 is the place to splurge. It’s in the Raval neighborhood, off the Ramblas de Raval (remember?) Mayra took me here for my birthday. You must make reservations if you want a table. We enjoyed several dishes, and they were all excellent. Cera 23 has superb Galician octupus (11 euros), pulpo a la gallega in Spanish (polbo a feira in Gallego, which is a language similar to Portuguese). Also, Cera 23 is renowned in the gastronomic community for its cocktails, especially this 8 euro treat: the blackberry mojito. Do not miss this place. Get some buddies of yours together, make dinner reservations, and splurge. The menu is eclectic, the ambiance decidedly Blade Runner designer-label somberish, with sharp lights that accent a mostly dark theme; really the perfect place to dream of electric sheep.
A day in El Born
As you know, I lived in the neighborhood called Born. You’ve been there, though only briefly. My recommendations will be off-kilter for Barcelona as here I will favor El Born, but for good reason: there’s plenty to see and do, and after having experienced it all myself, I can vouchsafe these suggestions. El Born is like something in between the tourist-congested Barri Gotic, and my old neighborhood that you know, Gracia. You will like the Born, and so I will give you a list of places to visit, that will fill half a day and leave you satisfied–trust me, I know your tastes.
Start in the cafe near my old apartment in El Born. It’s called Mudanzas. I went here with Mayra almost every day. The managers are mostly women, and they’re a sweet lot. Patrons are mostly middle-aged, some young folks come in from time to time. Grab one of the small round white marble tables, sit back on the black bench slats and take a cafe con leche. The best part about Mudanzas? It’s the music selection, especially if you go around midday. Apart from the good coffee, there’s also excellent sandwiches. I like the chicken curry sandwich, and Mayra enjoyed the slender bocata (baguette sandwich) with truffles and avocado. This is a great cafe to feel that European vibe that is so elusive anywhere else in the world.
One thing that you did not try when last you were here is the “Chocolat”. Now that you’re reading this, you might see it often once you’re back visiting Barcelona. In May, it’s still not hot enough to avoid the hot chocolate. Now, you need to bear in mind that this is not hot chocolate as we know it with marshmallows, Christmas sweaters and crackling embers. This is pure, thick chocolate that will fill you more efficiently than a meal. I recommend splitting a small mug with someone else. There is a place nearby the large Born cultural center (you’ve been there–it’s free to go in–it was an old market building, and now it is a place to view Roman ruins from suspended walkways), it is called La Xocolateria. They also claim to have the best croissants in Spain. I would not know.
Cathedral of Santa Maria of the Sea
Do you remember the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Mar? I prize this building above all others in the city. Go at night, but not before the doors close. Have some coins ready because there are always beggars at the gates to the church. This church you will remember because it had been bombed during the Spanish Civil War, and all the intricacies of its interior were burned, gutted out, leaving only barren rock that gives the cathedral a peculiar cave-ish aspect. It’s warm inside, and smells of candles. Have a seat here for a moment. Anyone would appreciate a cathedral like this.
Just beside the cathedral is one of the best shops in the city. It’s called Casa Gispert. I don’t know how long it has been around, but it feels like a long time. The people who work there are especially vetted Catalans. They sell all manner of grain, chocolate, cheese, olive oil, coffee, tea, and any other bulk product you might not find anywhere else in Barcelona. It is worth entering just to see, but it’s likely you will not leave empty-handed.
Turn left out of Casa Gispert, walk to the end of the lane and turn left. You’ll be at Euskal Etzea. This is another place you would do well to visit with your friends. I’m sure you’ve noticed these places around Barcelona they have myriad assortments of toothpick-ed delights on display for the taking. This is the place to try them. They’re called “pinchos“, and you pay by the toothpick. This is a traditional from the Basque Country, so you’d be right to partake in a Basque establishment like Euskal Etxea. I believe each toothpick will cost 1.90 euro. You can be confident that the food here is good. You can eat until you’re full if you want to, but I recommend using such a place as a sampler of the cultural culinary elements before moving on. That’s what’s great about small portions, anyway–that they allow for diversification. Don’t miss the caviar pinchos.
Now you’re in the early evening, perhaps. You’re tired from standing in Euskal Etxea and want to sit. Walk back toward Casa Gispert. You’ll find the aptly signaled “Bodega” sign nearby. If the gentrification continues, if well-to-do foreigners continue to buy up real estate in Barcelona, places like this will not survive. It’s a small vermouth and wine bar, run by a man who does not strike me as someone who greatly cares for the trendy designer BS that’s replacing other establishments like his. The tables are old wine barrels. It’s cramped, and the counter space ringing the rustic brick-walled, old Barcelona photograph-adorned place is not sufficient. It’s perfect. Order a vermouth “sin gas” (without carbonated water). You’ll get a glass of vermouth with ice (2 euro), and a free tray of green olives. Sip the vermouth, and add carbonated water from the dispensers there on the counter as you please. If your friends prefer wine, his wine is all from the country, and pulled from barrel taps. Vermouth is not a nighttime drink but a midday to early evening drink. Still, this doesn’t matter to me and I drink it happily in the late hours.
Now or later, you’ll want to stop in at the purported best coffee place in Barcelona. Of course I can’t validate their claim, given that reviews on TripAdvisor tend to experience the snowball effect, which is sad for those establishments that can’t get up in the rankings. But I can say that the coffee is indeed good. I went there and they had me try their best coffee, a Panamanian Geisha variety at 160 euro a kilo, because I mentioned I was writing this. It was like drinking flowers. There is no place to sit–you get this coffee to go. You can also buy the typical Spanish coffee mugs here–which I think is something you’d appreciate. To get there, it’s just a 30 second walk from Bodega.
Bo de B
Are you hungry yet? I know that you love Greek food. I found a very budget-friendly Greek sandwich shop, called Bo de B. It’s just across an avenue from El Born, technically in Barri Gotic. But I don’t recommend you get the sandwich. I recommend you get a table beneath the big flat screen that has soccer playing, and order a chicken or meat tzatziki. It comes on a endless glass platter with sharp tastes that you’ll recognize and enjoy. Here’s the stickler: this place is extremely popular, and I promise that you’ll feel somewhat out of place among the strangely hostel-ly crowd of young people. Don’t let that scare you off. Luckily for you, they have only read the reviews about the cheap sandwich that just happens to be near to wherever they were staying. They don’t know that the sweet spot is at a table, with a big plate of tzatziki (7 euro) in front of them. Go with a friend, the place is quite cramped, but the tzatziki is worth the wait (which there will likely be, unless you go early).
Hopefully night has fallen by now. La Cerveteca opens later in the evening. It’s just one block from Bo de B. This is where you must go for artisanal microbrews and Belgian ales. They have a number of German and Belgian beers on tap, which change weekly, so I can’t tell you what there will be. I can tell you to expect a diverse selection, from your very extra special bitter Indian Pale Ales to thick stouts, softer porters, and ambers and reds. A pint will usually cost around 4.50 euro, and sometimes they have specials that allow you a good beer high for just 2 euros of Belgian bottle goodness. I went here with my tutor after I had finished my master’s thesis. He bought.
No visit to a European city, especially one as fine as Barcelona, would be complete without deciding on your favorite plazas. You’ve seen Plaza Real, Plaza Catalunya, and Plaza de Colon. But there are a few plazas you haven’t seen, and which you should make the time to. You can try to fit some of these into your Born walkabout, but you would not be wrong to split them into separate days–there are cafes aplenty near most, and one of the best experiences is finding a place for yourself. So, I present the venues of your searching.
Placa dels Traginers
If you leave the Cerveteca, then this plaza should be your next stop. It’s one block away. Go in the evening, when the two bars there are open–otherwise it’s dead. There are other plazas in Barcelona with Roman walls to accompany your cafe, but few are as hidden as Placa dels Traginers, and few put you in such an intimate setting. The wall has been chewed out by time, and looks like wormwood under the shine of amber lights placed at their base. There is a depression, a moat of sorts, between the outdoor seating of the bars and the lit wall, and somehow this gives the plaza even greater presence. I hope you can get a table and enjoy a beer or a coffee here, and you can do so alone or in company.
Placa de Sant Agusti Vell
Very late in our Barcelona stay, Mayra and I happened upon what has become one of my favorite plazas. It’s called Plaza de Sant Agusti Vell. I’d tell you that it’s hard to find, but your generation is very into these “smart phones,” are they not? This plaza, as every plaza in Barcelona, has its dedicated brass water fountain, painted industry black, with polished ornaments affixed (yes you can drink the water). Trees line the cobblestone lanes that encircle a raised stone level that comprises Placa de Sant Agusti Vell. There are short arches that together create an arcade where little cafes are tucked away. I’ve not had of coffee here, but the scene is romantic enough for even the hardest man to melt in nostalgia. If you walk here from elsewhere in the Born, it will be a very good walk–all the neighborhood is a delight to take in.
Plaza de Sant Felip Neri
As you can see on the map, if you walk to this plaza from the Born, it will bring you to the central place of the Barri Gotic, which is right in from of the Cathedral. This small plaza will be down a lane that runs perpendicular into the side of the monastery. I don’t recall many cafes in this plaza, but you won’t go there for that–you’ll come for the brief bit of history it affords. It’s a plaza enclosed by buildings, a tight squeeze, and probably to blame for all these banners you see exclaiming that the residents want some peace and quiet, please. Here, you’ll find a plaque bolted to the wall, describing what happened here during the Spanish Civil War. Barcelona was bombed. One bomb fell here, while children from the school that still exists in the corner, played. Many died, I believe, and the walls were gouged by shrapnel. You can still see the marks.
Walk south into the narrow lanes, which once housed the medieval Jewish quarter, before they were expelled. There are many unlikely bars and restaurants here. And these maps will guide you:
Costa i Llobera Gardens/Placa de l’Armada
The transbordador cable car departs from the port; it’s not to be confused with the teleferico, which is on Montjuic mountain itself. The transbordador is the big red gondola you’ll see zip-lining above the water. It leads to midway up the Montjuic mountain, so named for its ancient role as the Jewish quarter, and for the cemetery on its backside. The ride costs 11 euros from the Port to its terminus, a plateau decorated and denominated Costa i Llobera Gardens. This plaza sits at the foot of Miramar Hotel, and gives you views down onto Barcelona and the industrial port to the west. There are two restaurants here, Miramar Restaurant and Restaurante Martinez. Both afford awesome views while you sip on whatever spirit fits the mood, but I can’t say I’ve been to either. If you’re feeling up to a small hike, continue upward on Montjuic following the signs to Castell Monjuic, the old fort. It’s 5 euro entry. Or, if you get there after 3pm on a Sunday, then it’s free. I would say yes–go. The fortress has awesome vistas over Barcelona and the industrial port, and its history is intriguingly portrayed in myriad installations set up within old stone-vaulted cellars.
I know that INTA 2017 will probably be a 10-day affair. If that’s the case, maybe you can stretch yourself beyond the Born and Gotic. There are a few other places I would recommend to you, some of which you’ll need good walking shoes for.
I’ve written about the bunkers before. These are high above even Park Guell, and will give you a 360 degree view of Barcelona–the Barcelona you know and the Barcelona you won’t have time to know. If you’re feeling youthful, take a bottle of wine like the young crowd does, and make a toast to your days with friends. You can take a taxi almost to the top, if you’re not feeling energetic enough to make the climb. I recommend you go for sunset.
Mayra and I made our way one day to the oldest park in Barcelona, the Labyrinth Park. These were the grounds of a marquis’ neoclassical jardiniere affectation. The park is called Parc del Laberint d’Horta, and its dotted with lakes, water fixtures and waterfalls, coiffed flora and creative sculptures. It costs 2 euros to enter, and is worth it. In May, you’ll find red-eared turtles sunbathing in the canals. Walk up far enough, and you’ll come across a labyrinth. Mayra and I got ourselves lost in there for a little while. Don’t worry–we got out. Eventually. The park is a breath of fresh air not only because it is on the outskirts of Barcelona (don’t let that deter you, it does not take any longer to get to than anywhere else), but because very few tourists convince themselves to come.
San Feliu de Guixols
You may hear chatter in Barcelona about the “Costa Brava”. They’re talking about the emerald coast that runs north from Barcelona. Hop a Safra bus at the Estacion del Norte. For 15 euros it will take you the 45 minutes to San Feliu de Guixols. The only reason you’d go here and not elsewhere is because from where the bus drops you, if you make your way to the water, and then find the footpath north, you will be regaled with beauty on a 40-minute walk that snakes through hidden inlets of crystal water and cascading rock faces. This is worth it if you have the time. You can make a day out of it and return to Barcelona without staying over. It would be even easier and must quicker if you had a rental car–and the drive along the coast is wonderful.
I’ve never been in it. But I know you, and I think you’d feel good here, despite the exorbitant prices. Do you remember when we went to Harry’s Bar in Venice? This is similar, though the prices are not quite as steep. It’s in this bar that the intellectuals of the first half of the twentieth century, Picasso included, hung out. Let me know how it goes.
Fira de Barcelona
Your INTA 2017 meeting will most likely take place at Plaza Espana. I reckon it’d hold court at Fira de Barcelona. You’d been past here, in that tour bus from last time.
National Museum of Catalan Art
The National Museum of Catalan Art is the big neoclassical building sitting high at the foot of Montjuic, looking down between the two towers at Plaza Espana and the old Bull Ring. If you’ll be at the Fira, then the museum is just a short walk and escalator ride up the hill, past the expansive fountains. The museum is free after 3pm on Sundays.
I know you like boats. The museum is free on Sundays after 3pm. I’ll just leave this here for you to consider:
The map! Refer to this map to find ALL the places above
I’ve written many articles on Barcelona. It might be worth your time to peruse these:
Things I Wish I Know Before Living in Barcelona
What is there to see at the Barcelona Aquarium?
How is Catalan Different from Spanish