I love Barcelona, which is why I was gutted to find out the Pro Tour was scheduled on the last weekend of the English Premier League (which made it impossible to get time off). Most of my time there has been spent on weekend breaks, so we never have time to get bored, but we always make time to eat awesome food. There are beaches, outstanding shopping (Americans will probably think it’s too expensive), and the city itself somehow manages to be historic and incredibly hip at the same time.
As requested, here are some recommendations and thoughts about the city in general. (For those who don’t care about my opinions and prefer something written by actual experts, here’s a link to Guardian’s Barcelona City Guide. If you want a second opinion, here’s a link to the free Frommer’s Guide for Barcelona to boot.)
Note 1) Look up.
Well, Barcelona is a place of amazing architecture (most of which is from the art nouveau movement), so it is packed with buildings that look cool and have incredible feature detail. The problem is that you often won’t notice this at street level. Thus while you are tooling around the city doing whatever, it pays to look up regularly. Next time I go back, I’m probably going to take a tour to see all the Gaudi highlights – they are that impressive.
Note 2) Be careful around La Rambla.
This is one of the central areas of Barcelona and it is an enjoyable stroll, but it’s also the place where thieving rings pickpocket the hell out of tourists. Be especially careful at night, since last time I was there, street walkers were everywhere to either annoy you or distract you while someone else closed in to swipe your wallet. My spidey sense when walking through this area always went bonkers.
That said, the area around La Rambla is super cool. There are tons of funky, gorgeous side streets to meander down. Doing so during the daytime is reasonably safe and you’ll frequently end up somewhere cool. That said, bring a map or a GPS phone, because you will also get lost.
Note 3) Definitely go to the Boqueria if you get a chance.
It’s basically the coolest food market I have ever been to outside of Asia. There are tons of vendors for every type of raw food and a number of excellent restaurants and coffee joints interspersed. The locals bitch that it’s become too touristy these days, but most of the best chefs in the city still shop here in the early mornings so yeah, it’s still got it.
Note 4) The subway in Barcelona is cheap, clean, and air-conditioned.
The food here is cosmopolitan and amazing. The city is blessed with all the gorgeous gifts of Iberia and crossed with the gifts of the sea as well, meaning it’s hard to go wrong just ordering a plate of charcuterie and bread, or any of their sea-based soups/paellas. The other amazing thing about Barcelona is that the city runs really late, meaning good food options are available even past midnight, making it the stone opposite of London. This should be useful for Magic players and party animals alike. The other thing to note is, because this is a giant city filled with both locals and tourists, shit will get busy. This is especially true on Fridays and Saturdays. Expect waits and try to call ahead to find out how crowded things are.
These recommendations all lean toward the expensive side. It’s easy to get great food on a budget in Barcelona as well, but you’ll need to do your own work. The default rule is that it’s hard to go wrong with tapas (bread + Iberico ham = win), but if you put in just the tiniest bit of effort (sort by price here), you can have great food experiences in Barcelona regardless of what your budget is. Oh, and if you end up eating only in chain restaurants during your visit, you’re an idiot.
The first place I recommended to LSV was Tickets, which is Albert Adria’s tapas bar. It’s prooooobably impossible to get reservations (and you can only do it via their website), but if you can, you’ll be eating tapas made by the family that gave the world el Bulli, which is the greatest restaurant of modern times (RIP).
Comerc 24 is also a hot recommendation for the Michelin star crowd (their tapas bar is good too, but if I remember correctly, it does not take reservations), as are Abac, Cinc Sentits, Manairo (which has likened to St John in London, and St John is extraordinary), Koy Shunka, Sauc, and Enoteca. You cannot go wrong with any of these (details for the listed ones can be found here), but if I were picking two I’d go for Abac (just got its 2nd Michelin star this year and supposedly dynamite), and Koy Shunka (Asian + Mediterranean fusion). Sauc is in the centrally-located Ohla Hotel, and also has a pretty slick rooftop pool, bar and terrace. Drinks are not cheap, but that’s because you are paying a premium for the view, which is da bees.
I haven’t been to El Lobito, but I will definitely go there next time I’m in the city. Despite the name Little Wolf, the emphasis is on seafood feasting of the highest order. If you are in a group with someone who doesn’t like seafood for some reason, leave them behind for a night. Avoid Fridays and Saturdays though, because it’s just too damned crowded.
Oh, and for those Europeans who ended up flying in to Girona airport instead of Barcelona (about an hour bus ride away, and where airlines like Ryan Air and EasyJet seem to have routes), you can find #2 of the Top 50 restaurants in the world there in El Celler de Can Roca and another Michelin-starred place in Miramar. Charlotte and I got stuck in Girona overnight after a flight snafu, but didn’t know these were around and I am now distraught we didn’t get out for one more amazing meal.
Assuming no one steals your stuff, you will likely have an amazing time in Barcelona. My only sadness is that I will not be there to hang out and eat all the good food with you.