1 September 2018

HOW TO SPEND 7 DAYS IN BARCELONA // WHERE TO GO AND EAT // THE NON-TRAVEL BLOGGER CITY GUIDE


When the idea of a city break to Barcelona came up, I was a little unsure about what the city would offer. Through a complete lack of research and education on my part, I'd made up my mind that it was a city not worth getting crazily excited about as I would with say, Paris or New York. And it was only after I had dinner with a friend who adores the city and gave me a page full of recommendations, that I started to feel like Barcelona could well be up my street. Let's just say upon my return home, I was not disappointed and quite cross at myself for being so narrow-minded in the first place. 

Obviously, I'm not a travel blogger, so this post is simply a collection of recommendations, observations and thoughts from myself who visited the city desperately ready for a break away from the norm. Nothing was 'for the gram' as they say, and the purpose of the break was to spend some quality time with my boyfriend and to experience the sounds and sights of a new place. There are tons of 'Barcelona travel guides' out there if you want a slick rick blogger guide, but this was my memorable experience of the city.
Where to stay in Barcelona
We spent just under a week in Barcelona and for a price that wasn't particularly bank-breaking (all thanks to Expedia deals!) we booked one of the most swish hotels I've ever had the pleasure of staying in. I could not fault the location, the facilities, the food, or the staff at the Olivia Balmes Hotel and if you're looking to stay in the L'Eixample district, definitely check this hotel out. The aesthetic is hyper-modern, everything is glossy and black with clean lines and an air of luxury. As soon as you step through the imposing glass doors, you are treated like royalty.

What the Olivia Balmes Hotel offers

The room, which I believe was a premium double, was filled with lovely little touches such as a full set of good quality toiletries as well as bottles of water, coffee and essentials, which included amongst other necessities, toothbrushes, toothpaste, cotton pads and a comb. If you'd forgotten to pack anything, it was unlikely that you'd miss it for too long. 

Every day, we came back to the room to find chocolates left on the bed and on our first night, we arrived back to the room to find a chocolate and fruit salad assortment and a welcome note. All very nice touches. Other things to mention about the hotel is that upon arrival we were treated to a complimentary welcome drink and a 15% discount voucher off lunch or dinner, which we, of course, put to immediate use. I can confirm that the food at the hotel's 'Seven Restaurant' is pretty decent and the tapas is good.



One of the attractive attributes of the Olivia Balmes Hotel is the gorgeous roof terrace pool, not a huge pool mind, but enough to enjoy a few strokes of a swim. It also includes submerged sun loungers which look out over the Barcelona skyline, perfect for laying in with a cocktail. Caipirinha for me. There is a bar up there also as well as a few sun loungers, but be mindful as it is very expensive for drinks and there aren't many sunloungers which are available in the sun when it's busy.
Where to go and what to do in Barcelona


1. Hop On - Hop Off Bus Tour

On our second day in Barcelona, we decided that the open top bus tour would be an ideal way to get our bearings of the city and to judge just how far away each of the main attractions were situated. For around 28 euros each, we chose the 2 hour 'East Route' which begins at the cities main transport and shopping hub, Placa Catalunya.

The East Route took us everywhere from the Sagrada Familia, to the beach, to Park Guell, to Port Vell and many more notable (and some not so notable) destinations. In fact, we hopped off the bus at Barceloneta beach and headed straight to a beach bar for a cocktail, before hopping straight back on the bus to continue the tour. I would say that the tour gives you a pretty decent overview of the city and also gets you around from A to B, but isn't the best way to truly experience the city, not compared to losing yourself in the Gothic Quarter and discovering hidden architectural gems, shops and restaurants. 


2. Park Guell | Gaudi's House | The Sagrada Familia | Casa Batllo

We decided to dedicate an entire day to the life and work of Antoni Gaudi, a Spanish architect famed for his work which is known more prominently as Catalan Modernism. It has to be said that Gaudi's work is what has propelled the city of Barcelona into a major tourist attraction.


I really appreciate Gaudi's colourful, wavy style which is comprised of ceramics, stained glass, intricate carpentry and ironwork. It seemed that an apt place to start our tour of Gaudi's work was Gaudi's House based in the heart of Park Guell. We decided to walk to Park Guell, which with a coffee in hand, took around 50 minutes and i'm sorry to say, it's mostly ALL up very steep heels. We prebooked our tickets for this one so we didn't have to wait to view the house.


Park Guell and Gaudi's House

Park Guell itself is free to enter, though if you want to take 'that' Instagram picture, then you have to book to get onto the Monumental Core, a preserved area of the park.  I'm actually glad we didn't book this as the views from the top of the park are exactly the same, if not with a better panoramic scope. There was also a lot of building work going on around that area so it was quite dusty and noisy at this time. Even if you don't wish to see the Gaudi work at Park Guell, it's definitely worth a visit to explore the various trials.

After Gaudi's house, we snaked down the steep, winding roads towards the infamous and unfinished Sagrada Familia basilica. Again, we had tickets booked for this one which meant no queuing hooray! I have to say I was absolutely blown away by the Nativity Facade which is the side of the Sagrada Familia you can see below.

Inside the Sagrada Familia

I was so surprised when I stepped into the basilica, I'm not sure what exactly I was expecting, but the sheer modernity of it was not what I thought. Immediately you are blown away by the explosion of colour pouring through the tallest stain glass windows I've ever seen! The stained glass is comprised of both cool toned blue and green glass, with the opposite side featuring warm tones of ruby red and orange stained glass. In the middle of the temple, there is a mixed colour window which was incredible to look at. We sat and contemplated inside the Sagrada Familia for a good hour and a half, just absorbing the beauty of it and taking in the vast space around us.

Casa Batllo - My favourite example of Gaudi's work


I booked the Casa Batllo tour without doing much prior research into what exactly it was (sounds familiar lol), but I am so glad I did because it was truly extraordinary! Considered one of Gaudi's masterpieces, entering the Casa Batllo is like walking through a fantasy storybook. Owned by the Batllo family, Gaudi was commissioned in 1904 to design the home in his signature style. 

You really have to see this one to understand it and the museum offers a super nifty way of exploring the house all through artificial intelligence. When you arrive, you are given a smartphone which, when held up in each room gives you an idea of how Casa Batllo looked in its heyday. There is also an audio narration which explains the architecture in great detail with some commentary on what may have inspired this unusual building. Walking through this home it is hard to believe it's real, nevermind that people actually lived there.


3. A Day Trip To Montserrat


This was one of my friend Jon's recommendations and I am so, so glad that I made the effort to visit Montserrat. This day turned out to be one of the best experiences I've ever had, it was just one of those days that lined up perfectly. 


How to get to Montserrat

We booked our travel tickets to Montserrat at the Tourist Information Office based in the centre of Placa Catalunya. We chose the Aeri Cable Car ticket, which meant we would reach the top of Montserrat mountain via cable car rather than funicular. I believe that the tickets were around 32 euros each and included a return train ticket, a return cable car ticket and access to two funiculars. You can get other deals which include food and ones that skip the cable car ride altogether, but I feel whichever option you chose, it is really good value for money!



It was about an hours train ride from Placa Catalunya to Aeri De Montserrat, the station where you board your cable car to take you to the top of the mountain where there is a functioning monastery called Santa Maria de Montserrat Abbey. 





The cable car ride to the top of the mountain uncovered the most amazing scenery, truly breathtaking. Though, if you're a little fidgety about heights, definitely don't travel via cable car because it is the steepest ride of your life. I thought Blackpool's Pepsi Maxi rollercoaster incline was bad but this was something else and coming back down is certainly not for the faint-hearted!

Once you arrive at the top, you can find the monastery, shops, cafes and plenty of hiking trails to follow. We were lucky, as we went later in the day, a lot of the early crowds had passed so the place was pretty quiet to explore!



4. Barcelona Zoo in Parc De La Ciutadella


Adam suggested a day trip to the zoo and at first I was a little uncertain, I generally don't like the idea of zoo's but after some convincing I honoured his wishes and accompanied him to Barcelona Zoo based in the beautiful Parc De La Ciutadella (Home to one of the worlds numerous Arc de Triomphe's) I have to say, I thought the zoo was fantastic and included what felt like nearly every animal, bird and reptile around.

The enclosures were very clean and there were plenty of vets and experts on site. Sure, there were some animals I felt really sad for and didn't like to see in the zoo such as the rhino and the brown bear, but others, particularly those that lived in groups such as the flamingo's and the Capybara's looked super happy.

 I was particularly blown away by the African elephants eating apples and having a swim which I've never seen up close before. Definitely set aside an entire day for the zoo and check online for discounts and offers before buying your tickets on the day to save some money.  We saved 50% just by booking online outside the zoo gates.


Where to eat in Barcelona



We found the food very hit or miss in Barcelona, we used Foursquare to find out where served up good food around us, but I'd say we had as many disappointing meals as we did good meals. In fact, in one restaurant, which is rated highly on Foursquare and has rave reviews, we had one of the shittest meals we've ever had including a plate full of ready salted crisps?!, cold muscles and rude service... and it cost the earth. Anyway, back to the good stuff, I can definitely recommend.

A late night bite at Oval 

For incredible burgers that you construct entirely yourself via a cool little worksheet, the vibe is chilled and lowkey, the service is very good and they have refreshing Radler on tap. SO GOOD.

Brunch at El Arbol and La Esquina 

Both excellent choices for brunch, food is great, coffee is good and reasonably priced with good service. Choose homemade chocolate and nut spread on artisan bread at La Esquina and the green smoothie at El Arbol.


Honourable mentions also go to

La Tagliatella Enrique Granados for pizza and pasta that is apparently just like what they serve in Rome (According to Adam).

Bodega Granados for the best chips and egg ever, trust me this is a recommendation you CAN'T miss, they do something seriously magical with this dish!


Be sure to just spend time 'getting lost' in Barcelona, particularly in the gothic quarter, or head to the beach late when it's quiet to take a swim in the ocean. Barcelona, you stole my heart.


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More Travel?
Berlin // Alvor, Portugal // Bath


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