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The best of Barcelona, a local's guide

The best of Barcelona, a local's guide

Whenever I reveal my hometown, a positive reaction is guaranteed. Barcelona is a ravishing city with history dating back to centuries B.C. Combine that with its beach-like atmosphere, the Mediterranean breeze and fantastic food- what more could you ask for? I’ve put together an itinerary not as a guide or a tourist but as a Catalan who grew up here. The recommendations I’ve carefully compiled is how I would share my city, my land and my culture.




Day 1 in Barcelona

The historical Barri Gotic

Begin where the city used to be enclosed within Medieval city walls. Although the walls are no longer there, the area still beats with the energy of its extensive history. Wander consciously along the narrow pedestrian alleyways and cobblestoned streets. Start the day early at Placa Catalunya before heading to the Cathedral, the area right of Via Laietana and left of Les Rambles.

Do look out for:

Cathedral

The Cathedral was built in waves beginning in the 4th Century A.C. The building was mostly completed in the 1300, with paleo-Christian foundation, Romanesque accents and an obvious Gothic influence. The facade has eight-stained-glass windows, some modernist and some from the renaissance. Appreciate the ceiling, the tainted glass windows and the cloister- accessible from a side street. Touring the back of the church and the Crypt is only allowed if a mass isn’t being conducted.

4 galleries surrounded by pillars create the cloister. The traditional “ou com balla” (the dancing egg) takes place in the garden each year for the celebration of Corpus Christi. Do attend the Blessing of the District if you happen to be visiting on the 3rd of May. The municipal district of Barcelona is blessed from the rooftops of the Cathedral at 9am on the occasion of the Day of the Holy Cross and the Cathedral is named after this day. During Christmas, the esplanade is filled with stalls selling wares for the festive occasion. Check out the opening, visit and confession times here!

Museu d’Historia de Barcelona

Barcelona has a long history of various cultures occupying its land. Today, its a cosmopolitan city. In an effort to preserve the stories of its past, the MUHBA conserves and promotes a significant number of heritage sites. Make a stop by the Placa del Rei, an interesting site that allows you to visit the preserved Roman Barcino under present streets. Walk along the houses the Romans used to live in and admire restored mosiacs. The 4000 sq meters of historical ground is fascinating and well worth a visit.

For more information, click here. If you’re interested, MUHBA has compiled an itinerary that includes visits to other heritage sites here.

Caelum

Caelum is a narrow space that only sells sweets and goods made by monks and nuns in monasteries across Spain. The cakes and wines are exquisite! This is the perfect place to try traditional sweets like ‘Angel’s Hair’, egg yolk sweets or some specialities like fried milk, bread of charity or the all saints Panellets. Panellets are almond and sugar pastries we eat in the last week of October during the time All Saints. More information here!

Placa Sant Jaume

The Sant Jaume Square is the political and cultural center of the city. It is guarded on one side by the seat of the Catalan Government, El Palau de la Generalitat, and on the other by the Town Hall of Barcelona. The Catalan police is called the Mossos d’Esquadra and wear the traditional Catalan barretina hat. El Palau is open to the public on occasions like St. Jordi (23rd April), La Merce, the city’s patron saint (24th September) and on the Catalan National Day (11th September).

On a regular day, you can request for a 60 minute long guided tour on the 2nd and 4th weekend of each month by filling out this form. Visit the Town Hall for free every Sunday morning. The square is often lively with demonstrations and cultural events such as the human tower show- always a sight to see!

Placa Reial

Take the Carrer Ferran toward Les Rambles and wander to the Placa Reial on your left. The fountain and lanterns in the middle were designed by Gaudi in the 19th Century. Nightlife is lively here with a number of well known clubs in the area, but do be wary of pickpockets!

Lunch at Bar Pinotxo

Have lunch at La Boqueria, the city’s wet market famous for their stunning Modernist design. Bar Pinotxo serves traditional Catalan food based on whats seasonal and selling at the market- the ultimate market cuisine! The owner Juanito has a habit of serving what he feels is best, so be prepared to have a portion of the menu dished out quickly in front of you.

There is no formal system to follow when getting a seat, so simply wait around for a table to be available- but do be considerate of anyone who has arrived before you. It is a known rule to leave as soon as you’ve finished your meal so others don’t wait for too long. If you prefer not to wait, visit outside of the usual lunch hours of 1pm-3pm, but don’t come too late or ingredients may run out. The food is hearty and honest just like the lively owner- a must visit in Barcelona!

Open Mon-Sat, from 630am to 4pm.

Placa del Pi and Placa Sant Felip Neri

Head back to Carrer Ferran and left towards the old Jewish ‘call’ Quarter. Jews had a significant contribution to Barcelona’s cultural development and their well preserved buildings are worth a look. The landmarks to look out for are Sant Felip Neri square and Pi square. Sant Felip Neri is a small square that can only be accessed through a narrow alleyway off the Neri Hotel, a Medieval Palace full of history. The walls of the square bear the marks of the Spanish Civil War. The La Plaza del Pi is a much more joyful square and gets its name from a large pine tree planted in it. The square usually includes Bohemians and artists painting or sketching in the tree’s shade, and sometimes hosts the occasional arts and crafts fair.

Porta Ferrissa

Porta Ferrissa is a commercial and historical street that used to be one of the main entrances to the Medieval city walls. ‘Porta’, or door, gave entrance to the second wall of the city that was built in the 13th century. ‘Ferrissa’ comes from the word ‘iron’ that refers to the longitudinal iron bar that kept the door closed. Some of the stores that line the street contain historical products although high end international brands have sadly been taking over. The tiled walls of a fountain at the end of the street tells the door’s fascinating story.

Churros at Granja Dulcinea

With dinner usually at 9pm or later, a mid-afternoon tea of churros and hot chocolate is essential. Grandja Dulcinea is one of the most famous and longest running institutions offering this classic treat. The wooden chairs, narrow spaces and low ceilings create a picture every Catalan would recognise! Do give the ensaimadas a try, a power-sugar topped soft pastry that can be dipped into the thick chocolate as well. In Spain, hot chocolate is thickened with maize flour so the churros can be covered without making them soggy. More delicious details here!

Open daily from 9am to 1pm, 5pm to 9pm

Day 2 in Barcelona

Passeig de Gracia

Passeig de Gracia is a favourite amongst locals for a Sunday stroll. Luxury stores and two of Gaudi’s most famous Catalan modernism buildings are located here in the main commercial artery of the city.

Begin at Gaudi’s La Pedrera, also known as Casa Mila for its owners. The wavy building on the upper part of Passeig de Gracia was declared a UNESCO heritage site in 1984. Like most of his constructions, this building draws from nature and was the artist’s last piece of civil architecture. I recommend getting the auto-guide and exploring at your own pace.

The cafe on the ground floor is a pleasant pit stop for some tea. As this is one of the tallest buildings in Barcelona, make sure you head up to the rooftop for an unobstructed view of Eixample District’s checkered layout. Keep an eye out for the rounded urban planning squares, we call them ‘islands’. Do check La Pedrera’s schedule for summer concerts on the rooftop, the views are stunning when the sun sets behind the sea. Also get a Gaudi Card to make the most of the main landmarks- more details here!

Continue to make your way down Pg. de Gracia towards Casa Batllo on the other side of the street. Despite the queues, go on a self-guided visit of what I think is the most beautiful Modernist building. The dragon rooftop of La Casa Batllo filled with intricate details create a surreal work of art that never fails to impress. Casa Batllo is also special for its marvellous use of colour and stained glass windows, creating a masterpiece. It is a foundation today, but used to be a home. Next to it stands La Casa Ametller, a piece of pretty Modernism architecture that gets its name from almond trees in bloom.

Stroll down the street wandering into any store that catches your eye, many are from Spain.

Lunch

On the left of Pg. de Gracia stands Txapela, a great place for Basque montaditos and tapas. Or if you would like to try famous Spanish sandwiches, try Pans & Company next to Casa Batllo. Pick a classic like a jamon or fuet cured sausage sandwich or go adventurous with their constantly changing creations. It is customary in Catalunya for cold sandwiches have fresh tomato rubbed against the bread. Combine this with virgin olive oil and cured meats and you’ll have a delicious taste of Catalonian childhood.

Txapela opens daily from 730am to 130am

Placa Catalunya lies at the bottom of Pg. de Gracia, a place locals consider the centre of the city. One of the main buildings is a large department store called El Corte Ingles, famous for their no questions asked buy and return policy. Buy food to feed the pigeons at the square if you like, or drop by the Tourism Office for any information you may need. The Police and the metro can be found there as well.

La Rambla

Make your way down the 1km long promenade from Placa Catalunya to the Port. Take a day to wander around the area, admiring the kiosks and flower stalls that give Les Rambles its beauty. Artists, painters, performers and human statues can be found here! La Rambla is famous for being lively, colourful and constantly busy. A word of caution- be exceptionally careful with your belongings! La Rambla is unfortunately filled with pickpockets looking for a wallet to snatch.

Do look out for these landmarks:

Canaletes fountain

A famous fountain can be found at the top of Les Rambles, the La Font de Canaletes. The newspaper La Rambla used to publish the results of every FC Barcelona game in front of the fountain in the early 1930s, making this where FC Barcelona’s many fans celebrate after a victory. It is also said that if you drink from the fountain you will return to the city.

The Miro circle

Walking down the promenade, you will most probably be walking on art made by an artist born close by. A blue, yellow, red and white mosaic on the floor is an original piece of art by Miro.

Casa Beethoven

This music store sells beautifully old music scores, a paradise for music lovers.

El Gran Teatre del Liceu

The El Gran Teatre del Liceu was set on fire several times and bombed by Anarchists at the start of the 20th century. Built in the 1800s, this opera house of the city stands as a symbol of wealth. After a fire in 1994, the opera house reopened in 1999.

Guided visits you can join start at 10am.

Columbus Monument

A monument of Christopher Columbus stands at the end of Les Rambles. During his return from America in 1492, Christopher Columbus stopped in Barcelona. Feel free to enter in and up to a splendid view of the city that includes the Gothic Quarter, the beach, the sea and the port.

The monument is open daily from 830am to 830pm.

El Raval

Travel back up from Columbus and explore inside the Raval Quarter. Previously a red light district, the area has transformed into a centre for Bohemian and alternative artistic expression. El Raval continues to the main district for immigrants, mostly to those of Muslim and Arab descent. Drug dealers and prostitutes lurk around the corners and the bottom of Les Rambles at night, so don’t be surprised at the ‘offering’ of certain services. The word Raval comes from the Arabic word ‘Rabad’, meaning neighbourhood.

The first factories at the beginning of the industrial revolution were located in El Raval, making it an attractive location for immigrants. They were also attracted to El Raval’s proximity to the port. For the same reason in the 1930s, the area is sometimes called Barrio Chino, which means Chinese neighbourhood.

The government has made great efforts to clean up and rebrand the area by opening two art centers: Centre de Cultura Contemporània and MACBA (Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona). Creative spaces, innovative bars and restaurants line the streets- a hipster’s paradise. I recommend a leisurely walk along the streets and giving MACBA’s unusual exhibitions a visit.

Find Barcelona’s alternative record stores at Carrer Tallers, located at the top end of the Raval.


Day 3 in Barcelona

Sagrada Familia

If something takes a lot of time in Catalan, the locals say ‘it is like Sagrada Familia’. Its date of completion is estimated to be in the year 2030, almost 150 years since construction first began. The most beautiful Cathedral in the world continues to be built according to Gaudi’s designs and interpretations, using funds from public donations and ticket sales. Words fall short to describe Sagrada Familia, you have to pay it a visit! To avoid the queue, book tickets in advance and use an auto-guide. Appreciate this architectural masterpiece from one of the towers, the view is spectacular and will definitely make an impression. Sagrada Familia’s main facade and crypt are designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Today, a consecrated Cathedral Sagrada Familia can host masses. Get information and opening times here!

Michelin-starred lunch

Barcelona is also a food haven, full of experimental cuisine and Michelin-starred restaurants! Restaurants with 3 Michelin Stars are either in the Basque Country or the province of Girona, a 1-2 hour journey from Barcelona. If you don’t have the time, don’t fret! There are 4 restaurants with 2 Michelin Stars in the city.

ABaC

Located in the hills, in the wealthy part of the city, ABaC is found in a hotel of the same name. At the age of 24, ABaC’s chef was the youngest Spanish chef to win a Michelin star. The 15 dish degustation menu features his main creations.

ABaC is open daily from 130pm to 430pm, 830pm to 11pm.

Enoteca

The Ritz-Carlton houses Enoteca, a Mediterranean-inspired restaurant and chef Paco Perez’ third Michelin masterpiece. The restaurant is also known for its extensive wine list that includes over 500 names.

Enoteca is open Tues-Sat, 1pm to 3pm, 730pm to 11pm.

Lasarte

Lasarte opened in 2006 by Berasategui. Orginally from Basque, Berasategui combined the flavours of his home with Mediterranean and Catalan cuisine. You can find Lasarte in the Hotel Condes de Barcelona.

Lasarte opens Tues-Sat, 130pm to 330pm, 830pm to 11pm. Closed Sundays, Mondays & Public Holidays.

MOments

MOments is a wonderful restaurant that serves traditional Catalan cuisine with a twist. Directed by the son of awarded Carme Ruscalleda, this restaurant in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel is pleasantly airy with an internal tiny garden. The golden ceiling and thick carpets give an aura of warmth, and the food never disappoints. Service is personal and friendly, and sometimes includes a chat with the chef!

MOments opens Tues-Sat, 130 to 330pm, 830 to 1030pm.

The city has 19 restaurants with 1 Michelin star. Highlights include Cinc SentitsTicketsRoca Moo, Via Veneto, Hoffman, Beichel and Gaig.

Park Guell

Park Guell is a colourful oasis away from the city. Being up on a hill, it offers a breathtaking view of the sea and the city. A dragon made with Gaudi’s trencadis technique greets you at the entrance, it has since become a symbol of the city souvenir industry. The large park is divided over several levels. Be sure to visit the balcony made with an undulating collection of benches covered in ceramic pieces, just like the dragon.

The Park Guell is named with an English ‘Park’ instead of the Catalan equivalent, ‘Parc’. This is because the owner wanted to design a city-park that mimicked an English park. Although the park was never fully completed, it remains one of Gaudi’s most fantastical creations.

In an effort to preserve the area, tickets are required to visit the monumental part of the park. To avoid the queue and acquire cheaper rates, I recommend buying tickets online. Park Guell is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. More information here!

Dinner

Visit one of the many awarded restaurants in the city mentioned earlier for a fantastic dinner.

Day 4 in Barcelona

The beach

Begin at El Born, walking from Via Laietana into Carrer Princesa, towards Santa Maria del Mar Cathedral. Explore the beautiful interior for a real tour of this architectural masterpiece. Continue along the cathedral towards the main promenade. El Fossar de les Moreres stands next to the cathedral, the Catalan tribute to the fallen during the 1714 Siege of Barcelona. The monument stands as a reminder, but unfortunately is mostly unnoticed by visitors. To Catalans, the fossar is more than a mere memory. It is where authorities pay their respects on National Day, the day the city fell to the siege in 1714.

Continue walking till you reach El Paseig del Born. ‘Born’ means jousting field in Catalan. Jousting matches and tournaments were held in this square. El Born has a long tradition of commerce- merchants, artisans and guilds were previously located here. Guilds used to be grouped by areas, and the street names today reflect this. You can find artist’s studios, galleries, and Barcelona’s most important museum- Picasso Museum! Picasso spent a long time in Barcelona, resulting in many of his more important pieces being kept in this museum. Check here for opening times.

Lunch

Have a typical Catalan market dish on offer at Mercat de Santa Catalina.

La Barceloneta

Follow the smell of the port and descend at La Barceloneta. This fishermen’s town is no longer in use but remains lively with fishing boats, charters, large luxury cruise ships and private yachts. A decision was made in 1988 to demolish old beachfront restaurants and public baths, beginning the process of opening the city up to the sea. With the Olympic Games in 1992, this part of the city changed dramatically, kickstarting Barcelona into a new phase of stardom and of a cosmopolitan city. Today, the area is both charming and modern, packed with both locals and tourists.

Have a relaxing afternoon walking along the sea board, before stopping for a drink at one of the many bars. Eventually make your way to the Vila Olimpica, where the Olympic athletes stayed at during the games. Using the Hotel Arts as a reference, have a good dinner at any of the terraces by the beach.

Other places of interest in Barcelona

Camp Nou

Definitely get tickets if Barca is playing- it will be an experience to remember. You can also visit the Museum but nothing beats the energy in the stadium during a game.  Camp Nou is the second largest stadium in the world, and the mosaic created by individual pieces of cardboard held by fans is an emotional sight to behold. More than just a Club, Barca is the identity of Catalunya and the Catalans. Check out this review of the Camp Nou experience to see what to expect on a tour. And if you go to a match in winter, be sure to dress warm!

Maremagnum

When everything is closed on a Sunday, the Maremagnum in front of the Columbus Monument is a pleasant and uniquely designed area to shop around.

Montjuic

A small mountain by the sea, Montjuic hosted the Olympic Stadium, the flame and various competition grounds. You can also find the city’s cemetery, the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya (MNAC), and the Fundacio Miro.

The Magic Fountain leading to the MNAC is used for beautiful shows of light dancing to music. Performances occasionally occur in the summer, with the most significant show closing the celebrations of Patron Saint La Merce on the 24th of September. This show is exquisitely beautiful and includes a spectacular display of fireworks. The most famous show was when Soprano Montserrat Caballe and Freddy Mercury sang the theme Barcelona, celebrating being chosen as the 1992 Olympic Games destination. A Catalan cannot watch that performance without shedding a tear. The song was released in 1987, but unfortunately Mercury passed before the Olympic Games opening ceremony. The recording was still played.




Places to stay in Barcelona

Affordable

It is difficult to find truly budget-friendly hotels in Barcelona, but Catalonia Born Hotel is an economy-priced hotel set in a refurbished building located in the heart of the city, with access to the best Barcelona has to offer. It includes all the amenities you would expect in a hotel, with rates starting at SGD$199 per night, book here.If this is too steep, Praktik Garden is an alternative with rates starting at SGD$150 per night. With a great location and even a rooftop terrace, it is a welcomed budget-friendly option. Book here now.

Mid-range

Hotel Onix Liceo is located in the hipster neighbourhood of Raval and has adequate facilities, providing a place to escape to within the city itself. Reservations start at SGD$209 per night. Book here now!

High-end

If you truly want luxury-living in Barcelona, booking into the W Hotel Barcelona is the best choice for you. With rates starting at SGD$646 per night, this hotel located next to the beach at Barceloneta offers stunning views. There are even recreational facilities such as a private beach and a sauna! If you can afford it, go ahead and book here!

If you’d like to be closer to the city centre, the iconic El Palace Hotel is another 5-star option for you. A fireplace and a Roman bath can even be found in the Royal Suite Salvador Dali, paying homage to the renowned painter who used to stay at the hotel regularly. Rates start at SGD$427 per night. Book here now.

Getting to Barcelona

There are plenty of airlines flying to Barcelona from Singapore. However, Singapore Airlines is the only one that flies directly to Barcelona and does so on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays, departing Singapore at 1:20am. On Tuesdays and Sundays SIA flies to Barcelona with a stopover in Milan, although the flight timings differ. The direct return flights operate on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays. Check out their flight schedules here.

If you don’t mind stopovers, alternative flight options include Emirates which flies to Barcelona daily with a stopover in Dubai, and Swiss Air which also flies daily but has a stopover in Zurich.

Getting around Barcelona

Barcelona is a temperate city that enjoys mild weather throughout the year, perfect for walking. If you get tired, the bus and metro is available to you. Information on bus routes can be found at any bus stop- it tells you which bus stops at that particular stop and their itinerary. You can transfer between bus and metro within a 1 hour period with the same ticket and fare. Or if you’re in a hurry, a taxi is not unreasonably expensive.

Other things to note in Barcelona

Stay safe

Despite all its charms, Barcelona is still Europe’s pickpocketing capital. So make sure to be extra vigilant, especially at tourist hotspots and on public transport. Never keep your wallet, phone or important documents in your pant pocket where they can be easily stolen. Pickpockets will also try to distract you, so pay attention. Travelling with others so that you can keep a lookout for each other is also a good practice. Women travelling alone in Montjuic also need to be cautious about bag snatchers.Another concern is the scams that take place in Barcelona, your best defence is to just ignore and walk away from anyone you don’t know who tries to speak to you.

Using credit cards

Credit cards are accepted at most major hotels, restaurants and attractions in Barcelona, but you may be asked to produce a photo ID to prove that you’re indeed the owner of the card.

Sundays

Many places are closed on Sundays, including shops, restaurants, markets and bars. So remember to stock up before Sunday rolls around!

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