How to Have a Brilliant Time in Barcelona!

I may be slightly biased but I like to think that I do holidays really well (yes, that may be the sound of distant horns blowing).  Recently Mr Flavour and I set sail to Barcelona for the first time and we had a really great time.  Famed for its shopping and eating opportunities, Barcelona is a busy bustling city packed with art, culture and a love of eating and socialising but sadly also a troubling propensity for petty crime. 

I may be slightly biased but I like to think that I do holidays really well (yes, that may be the sound of distant horns blowing).  Recently Mr Flavour and I set sail to Barcelona for the first time and we had a really great time.  Famed for its shopping and eating opportunities, Barcelona is a busy bustling city packed with art, culture and a love of eating and socialising but sadly also a troubling propensity for petty crime. 

Thankfully, we used our noggin in that regard and came away with all our personal belongings intact.  You wont even get robbed blind by the restaurants as thankfully, eating out and drinking are both cheap and fantastic in this city by the sea that never seems to rest.  Step aside New York, Barcelona is the place to be….


How we got there?

We decided to slightly elongate our journey time by flying via Heathrow.  We got a cheap flight with Aer Lingus Cork to Heathrow and then upgraded our economy flights with BA to Business Class by cashing in some of our Avios points.  All in all, for both of us our return flights, with business class return LHR to BCN was about €150.

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Upgrading to Business Class means you get access to the executive lounges in LHR and BCN with unlimited complimentary food, drinks, papers, wi-fi etc.  Priority boarding and then complimentary food and drinks on board during your flight.   It’s well worth cashing in those points to get a taste of how the other half live!  I also got to meet Bill Nighy – bonus!


Where we stayed?

We poshed it up a bit on the accommodation front and stayed in the 4-star Vinci Gala.  It has a Metro station right outside and is just a short walk to the famous Las Ramblas.  We stayed 3 nights B&B.

How did we get around?

Easiest and cheapest way to get around is to buy a 10 journey pass for the Metro.  Covers all areas and lasts for the total number of journeys rather than by time.  Excellent service: clean, reliable and as safe as any other Metro service.  Well worth it.  Also, bring flat shoes – walking a lot is de rigueur I’m afraid!  Bonus point is most of it is flat – except for the hike up to Parc Guell, but it’s not that bad and is totally worth it!

What did we see?

As far as sight seeing goes, we kept to the main sites of La Parc Guell and La Sagrada Familia.  Both are well worth a visit, especially La Sagrada but note that you should book your tickets in advance.  We travelled the last weekend in January and if you hadn’t pre-booked your tickets online the queue to buy them was an hour and a half long.  Imagine what it would be like in the height of summer!

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We also went out to see Camp Nou, the home of FC Barcelona.  Again, I’d advise pre-booking the tickets – we were lucky the queue was short when we arrived but it didn’t take long to get very big!  The tour is great if you are really into football; the museum especially is quite interesting but expect to have the patience of a saint and jostle with earnest if you want your photo taken alongside Messi’s golden boot etc.

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We also visited two of the markets.  The most popular is the Mercat Boqueria and is located adjacent to Las Ramblas.  It’s great craic as they are used to the tourists, but if you want a more authentic Barcelona market experience beat a path to its smaller sister market Mercat Santa Caterina.   This market in particular is open til later and is a great time to visit for a less frenetic Spanish market experience albeit with the same passion and colour.

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What did we eat?

Before we left, we decided we would shun the Michelin-starred restaurants that abound Barcelona’s Eixample district and instead spend our days grazing seeking out great little tapas places.  Our favourites were this:

Tosca Barcelona, Carrer de Sant Pere Mes Alt 8

Great little Tapas y Vino place serving great sharing dishes.  We indulged in some of the best marinated olives I’ve ever tasted flavoured with chili oil, garlic and thyme; goats cheese caramelised onion and walnut empanades; baked provolone with chimichurri sauce; Iberico jamon and a platter of cheeses and breads.  We washed all this down with a beautiful bottle of house red from a vineyard about an hour outside of Barcelona.  All in for both of us about €50 and we were stuffed to the gills!

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Tapas 24, Carrer de la Diputacio, 269

The offspring of Carles Abellan’s Michelin starred offering elsewhere in the city, Tapas 24 offers top end style tapas in a relaxed informal canteen style restaurant.  Bookings are not taken, and you should prepare to stand and wait in the doorway of this modest looking place.

The food here is exceptional, with an open kitchen and the hardest working and most polite informative staff you could find anywhere; this is Michelin standard without the price tag.  A great wine list also helps to accompany the food.

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We ate: Deep fried baby squid with the ink sack intact, busting as you ate them like fishy popcorn; Gambets (red shrimp) grilled and served simply with sea salt; smoked chicken croquettes; steak tartare with horseradish cream, crostini and pickled cabbage and gherkin wraps and the piece d’resistance (or whatever the equivalent is in Spanish!), milk chocolate mousse quenelles with sea salt, the most amazing olive oil and butter crostini – hands down the best dessert I have ever had!

This feast complete with wine and coffee came to about €80.

Pinotxo – Mercat Boqueria

The place to go to eat when you visit this Mercat, right at the front and a firm favourite among locals and tourists alike.  You will struggle to get a seat at the tapas bar, and we arrived late so they rustled together whatever they had left which by itself was stunning!  The food is literally market fresh and once it’s gone, they shut up shop!  We were treated to marinated sardines with peeled grapes pickled in sherry vinegar – a great counter balance to oily fish; and grilled gambas with sea salt and the best olive oil.  We enjoyed it immensely, only wishing we could have been earlier to sample more.  Washed down with a glass of beer and a photo with Pinotxo’s old but sprightly owner, we were set for another few hours!

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Milk – Gignas 21

Owned by an Irish couple (allegedly) but most definitely not a twee Irish bar, Milk is famous in Barcelona for two things: Brunch and Cocktails.  We skipped brunch (shock horror) and cruised right onto the cocktail menu, arriving at a Leche Martini for me and the worlds strongest Old Fashioned for him.  We didn’t feel the need to venture any further, having both found our cocktail nirvana with these beautiful things.  To say we left the shabby chic and chandelier adorned establishment with flushed cheeks would be an understatement.  Well worth stopping by!


Fargas – Jaume

Opposite the entrance to Jaume I Metro Station, this sweet shop is old school Barcelona at its best!  All types of confection under the sun, but I implore you to gravitate towards the in-house made jellies – and especially the raspberry ones.  Just trust me on this!

These sweet shops are a dying breed in Barcelona, so make sure you visit them and support them over the modern brightly coloured travesties that are replacing them in this city.


Any Decent Café!

You simply should not leave Barcelona without indulging in churros and chocolate!  Thick sweet and milky hot chocolate served with warm freshly cooked churros – a type of long thin doughnut.  Dunk, dunk and dunk again and be very, very happy indeed.


Also, every café will serve freshly squeezed orange juice.  Spain is home to the sweetest oranges and are a staple of the Spanish breakfast to have a glass of freshly squeezed juice every morning.  Go native and never look back!

What did we buy?

Well, we were too busy eating to really spend time shopping, but Barcelona’s shopping culture is ready for you if that’s what takes your fancy!  Seek out the 7-storey El Corte Ingles and spend an entire weekend browsing and buying.

The Gothic Quarter is the best place for independent shops selling beautiful leather goods (check our Iriarte Iriarte) and home-wares (check out Home On Earth).  Spend as little or as much as you want.


If you are a lover of quirky printed t-shirts like Mr Flavour, head to Typographia (on the way to Park Guell) for unique designs printed by their own in-house press.


What did we think?

We both loved our whistle stop tour of Barcelona and would definitely go back again to dine on some more of their amazing cuisine!  A solid 9/10!


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