The historic capital of Catalonia is famous the world over as a beach and party destination – but it was the incredible cuisine, unique history and architecture of the city that had me wanting to stay.

We booked in for the 3 am Euro-lines bus from Nice to Barcelona as it was the only one that would get us there at a reasonable hour. Checking out of our hotel at 11 pm we took the last train from our accommodation to the bus terminal and managed to convince a local hotel to let us wait in the lobby for the bus. Falling asleep on the comfy couches, we woke up at 2.30 and made the short journey back to the closed and empty bus terminal. We were starting to worry the bus wasn’t even going to stop but 20 minutes before the bus was due, it arrived and the bus driver, who had no idea he was picking anyone up at this stop, checked our tickets and ushered us on board.

We passed out for most of the journey and were surprised when we arrived into Barcelona Nord Station early. We grabbed our bags and got a map from inside the terminal and made the short walk to Ant Hostel. Still too early to check in, we left our bags and set off in the direction of the beach. Across the road from the hostel is the city park, Parc de la Ciutadella, home to a stunning fountain presided over by a large archway and several dragon statues, as well as a large lake and the city zoo. In front of it the fountain, a man was blowing huge bubbles and a group of local children were chasing them with glee.

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Passing the zoo, we found our way down the beachfront. Stretching across the sand is a huge Boardwalk filled back to back with restaurants and clubs of all kinds. We walked along searching for one and settled on the outdoor bar Palmito. Taking a seat at the bar we ordered amazing strawberry, banana, coconut and pineapple smoothies, soaking up the salt breeze and relaxing vibes. We settled in for the afternoon trying out the drinks on the cocktail menu and even grabbing dinner there. Chatting to our bartender who told us how a short vacation had turned into him living in the city for 9 years. Sitting by the beach sipping on cocktails – I was already trying to work out how I could stay longer.

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We headed back to the hostel and were finally able to check in. We were impressed with the set up – the hostel has been newly renovated and each bunk is furnished with a light, power and USB outlets as well as a curtain for privacy – definitely designed with travelers in mind.

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The next day we set out to do the Sandeman’s free walking tour. So incredible to hear the rich history of the city as we explored the restaurant district of Born, the narrow winding streets of the Gothic and Jewish Quarters, to the immense boulevard La Ramblas, all the while being careful to be quiet on the residential streets – the locals like to douse tours and tour guides if they get too loud. The guide was nothing short of excellent and it definitely enriched our experience of Barcelona.

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For lunch we took advantage of a local tradition we learned about during our tour – many restaurants offer what is termed a ‘workers lunch’ – a set three course menu with a drink included for prices as cheap as 10 euro. Walking the backstreets off La Rambla we found Ménage a Trois and the food was incredible.

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For the afternoon, we went shopping along the winding alleys of the Jewish quarter and Passeig de Gràcia. Even though our feet were killing us, I had been eager to see the nightlife.  We went with some locals to the bars and danced into the night.  The city has so much to offer in terms of nightlife –  from dive bars to wine bars, indoor and outdoor clubs, live music, something for every taste.

For our last day in Barcelona we wanted to spend some more time taking in the sights. No matter how many photos you have seen of La Sagrada Familia nothing quite lives up to seeing it in person. Part genius, part monstrosity, the epic church envisioned by Antoni Gaudi is still under construction to this day.

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Aside: if you want to see inside you will need to book well in advance here.

We walked on through the city, passing another Antoni Gaudi marvel, La Pedrera, all the way to La Barceloneta. Walking through the village, we picked up some presents for family before stopping at Rebelot for an authentic Spanish tapas lunch.

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That night we were able to meet up with some friends from home who were currently living in Barcelona. They had been living in Spain almost a year and a half and introduced us to an amazing tapas style restaurant.  Trying Patatas Bravas (French fries with egg, garlic aoli and tomato sauce), Chipirones (Deep fried baby squid), Croquetas  and more paired with a sweet Cava (Vermouth) we definitely felt we received a first hand experience of Barcelona cuisine. Such a warm evening we walked the streets and ended up at night at the bar 33/45.

Next Stop: San Sebastián

Written by Aimee C