Barcelona: A snapshot of one of Europe’s finest cities
City breaks don’t get much better than Barcelona. You can spend all day pretending to be cultured, eyeing up the many architectural works of Gaudi, or visiting art galleries, and then all night getting drunk in some of the coolest bars and restaurants Europe has to offer. I have visited this three times now, and I love the place a little more each time.
I stayed in the Ayre Hotel Rosellon on my last trip, which is conveniently situated a few blocks away from the Sagrada Familia. It’s a decent enough four star, with comfortable rooms and friendly staff, but the main selling point is the roof terrace. Offering an unbelievably close-up view of the city’s most famous landmark, it’s the perfect way to enjoy a cocktail or cold beer before you hit the town.
If you want to see the many sites on offer in a short space of time, I can highly recommend the Barcelona Touristic Bus. I usually cringe when I see these things (especially in London where the traffic is terrible and there’s bugger all to see), but as Barcelona is so compact, it’s a cheap, quick and easy way to get around, and you can hop on and off as may times as you desire.
Highlights for me were Park Guell, where you can check out some of Gaudi’s incredible work, visit his house and take a leisurely stroll around the gardens. Casa Batllo and Casa Mila are also well worth seeing; both can be viewed for free from the tour bus, or you can jump off and pay to go in for closer inspection.
Montjuic is another Barcelona must-see, with several attractions to enjoy. It’s essentially a flat topped hill which overlook the entire city, and is home to The Palau Nacional and Monjuic fortress, which you can access via a nifty cable car. The area was also chosen for the 1992 Summer Olympics, and the various stadiums and pools are open for public viewing even today.
No trip to Barcelona is complete without visiting La Rambla, which is a lengthy tree lined street filled with shops, restaurants and entertainers. It is also very crowded and therefore rife with pickpockets, so make sure you keep bags in front of you and valuables out of sight.
When it comes to eating out, you are spoilt for choice. Tapas joints are ten a penny, but choose carefully, as many of them are fairly average. This was definitely the case with places we tried surrounding our hotel, so after seeing some decent reviews for Cera 23, we jumped in a taxi to the Raval district to see what all the fuss was about.
Try and get your driver to stop as near to the entrance as possible, as Raval isn’t the prettiest part of town, and its mass of winding streets and crappy shops are easy to get lost in. Step inside the restaurant, and you feel like you’re a million miles away. It’s small, but nicely decked out with an open kitchen, and has an incredibly warm and intimate vibe kitchen – perfect for couples or groups.
The food is the most important thing of course, and I have to say it was some of the best I’ve had. The tempura prawns with chilli mango sauce, the steak, the sides – all amazing. My companion ordered the squid and decided it wasn’t her thing when it arrived – I tried it, and it was delicious – if you like squid of course.
The staff were so accommodating and took it away and replaced it with the duck, despite the fact we’d both tucked in – no questions asked. Cera 23 has become famous for its signature Blackberry Mojito, and it’s easy to see why. You’ll turn your nose up at every other watered down, ice-filled, bog-standard mojito after you’ve tried this gem.
Next, we headed to the Eclipse Bar, which is located on the 23rd floor of the swanky W Hotel. You need to call and reserve a place to drink here, but you don’t have to pay a fortune for bottle service unless you want to. It’s very expensive for drinks (approx. 50 euros for two beers and two cocktails), but worth going in for a couple for the amazing interior and night time view of the city. They played great music too, and the crowd were surprisingly unpretentious.
Next onto the bustling Marina area, where we decided to hit the Ice Bar. This place is a complete novelty and an obvious tourist trap, but fun all the same. It’s 15 euros to get in, which includes rental of a an awful silver puffa jacket, and a cocktail served in a glass made from ice. As you would imagine, it’s absolutely freezing inside, so once you’ve marvelled the ice statues and drank up, there’s little else to do other than move on.
Next door is the fantastic Bar Shoko, which is up there with one of the best bar slash clubs I’ve ever been to. I’d enjoyed a night there on a stag do back in 2006, and it was nice to see the place is still at the top of its game today. It’s actually a Japanese restaurant that switches to a club after 11pm, and despite being a magnet for cool kids and celebrities, it’s a place where people let their hair down and everyone is welcome – well, unless your Kerry Katona or a football yob of course.
The professional dancers in this place tend to spend most of their time on the podium posing, as opposed to actually throwing some shapes, but as they all look like they’ve just stepped out of an Agent Provocateur lingerie photoshoot, nobody cares. Whilst the drinks are by no means cheap, they are a lot less than the aforementioned bars and well worth it for the atmosphere.