The best two meals I had in Barcelona were at Taller de Tapas (Argenteria location). We ate there one night, and then wandered by hungry a couple days later and joked that the city was full of restaurants; we couldn’t go to the same one again.
And then we did. There is this thing on the menu that involves spinach, chickpeas, and ham. In fact, I just looked it up on their menu: “Pan-fried spinach, chickpeas, and pancetta.” €3,80. Eat this. Eat this even if you think you don’t like spinach—Tim did. Twice.
The best meal I didn’t have in Barcelona was either at Cal Pep (walked by, saw the line, walked away) or Tragaluz. We planned to eat at Tragaluz on our last night, and because we’d adjusted to Barcelona time by then, we went out around 9:30. If you want to go out for dinner at 6:30, you can eat wherever you want (that’s open) and people will know you’re a tourist. This is fine. But the locals are not dining that early. We stayed a few nights with friends, and one of the nights we ate with them, dinner was consumed well past 10 PM. (I sneaked a granola bar.) We had gotten the sense that at least for parties of two, reservations weren’t required/taken. The end result was that we arrived at Tragaluz, loved the menu, loved the vibe, and then found out they were totally booked for the rest of the night.
The hostess pointed out a little place down the street, and with no other plan (plus, we were really hungry and tired) we wandered in and sat there at the bar. Because of my disoriented state, I did not write down the name of this restaurant. If you are facing Tragaluz, and you walk to your right, it’s about a one-minute walk on the opposite side of the street. There’s a counter in the front and a little grocery take-away area, and then the restaurant is behind, and much larger than it looks. You should try it because:
This dessert was grilled strawberries with cream: hot strawberries floating in a kind of non-solid creme brulee. Creative. Delicious. Gone. Maybe the fact that the Netherlands isn’t known for its ravishing cuisine was involved, but we devoured Barcelona: the food, the culture, the arts-beach vibe. I’d love to go back.
If you go:
Buy the T-10 card at the train station at the airport. Use it ten times for the train from the airport, metro (subway) rides in the city, or bus rides. It is a fantastic deal at less than €8 and shareable–you can pass through the turnstile, pass the card to your friend, and they can use it too (until you run out of rides, of course). The metro is convenient and easy to follow, but I strongly disliked the long, long, hot, sketchy underground connection walks when I changed subway lines. Negative marks for that, and I almost forgot: more negative marks for lack of escalators in stations frequently used by tourists (people with suitcases).
Food shopping: If your souvenirs commonly include edibles, do some wandering all around the area of Santa Maria del Mar church. Wine shops, nut shops, olive oil shops… this area was foodie shopper bliss. Look for shops at no. 1 and 23 Sombrerers (#1 is a wine shop; #23 loose nuts, spices, coffees—amazing); another wine shop at no. 7 Agullers. I didn’t write down the names, unfortunately, but marked them on my map. We’ve moved to buying unique or local food products as souvenirs from our trips rather than items that will clutter our house, and also find that these items make good gifts.
Beware the pickpockets! (And also the guys on the beach who are selling cold sodas but when they come close offer you drugs!) We heard so many stories of thievery from both personal and public sources about Barcelona. Stories along the lines of:
- “I went in my purse and my camera was just gone. I have no idea when it happened.”
- “I opened my wallet and all the cash was gone. I don’t know how someone got it out and back into my pocket!”
- “Some guys tried to stand way too close to me on an escalator and I realized they were trying to rob me. My wife yelled ‘police’ and they ran away.”
- “I realized a little girl was going through my friend’s backpack.”
Going into our trip with these reminisces in our ears, we were absolutely hardcore paranoid about pickpockets. We both emptied our wallets of everything that wasn’t essential, in case they should be stolen. Tim mostly didn’t carry his whole wallet—only some cash tucked flat in his pocket. I carried my purse so tightly under my arm that I got a cramp. But at the end of the day, we had no problems. Tim witnessed an attempted pickpocketing that very much fit the descriptions we’d heard of “some people create a diversion and someone else robs you.” He was boarding a metro with some colleagues when a couple stood in front of his (Tim’s) friend and blocked his way. Every time the guy said, “Excuse me” or such, the people ignored him, so that it appeared he would miss the metro, and then he had to get a little more forceful and then the people became confrontational with him, and then he realized the whole thing was a diversion while an additional person tried to grab his wallet. He loudly accused the people and the whole scene dissipated.
If you’ve read or heard that petty crime is a huge problem in Barcelona (like we had), and it’s intimidating you, I would say to go anyway and just be smart. Regrettably, there are plenty of tourists who are not being smart, and you will be more difficult prey.
The only Gaudí sight we didn’t love was Parc Güell. It’s a long, nauseating uphill bus ride away from most other things tourists are interested in, and I would say to skip it if you’re short on time or only a moderate Gaudí fan. The park (above) was originally intended as a kind of utopian housing community, with upscale residences and everything the residents could ever want (school, market, hospital) all contained nearby. This never came to pass.
There were parts of the park that featured more stunning nature-inspired architecture. But overall I felt more like I was in a desert rather than a park, and on a hot day I just didn’t feel like hiking around in the dust. The park was also swarming with 1. large tour hordes and 2. the ubiquitous trinket-sellers. We didn’t stay very long (groan, return bus ride).
Skip the Maritime Museum until it fully reopens from renovations. I was so excited to visit this medieval shipyard, and when I arrived learned that it is being renovated and only a small portion is currently open. The entry to the open segment was only €2, so I figured OK, but it wasn’t even worth that. There was hardly anything about Barcelona’s shipbuilding; instead the small exhibit contained TVs playing clips from “Titanic” and “Master and Commander” and text about why people go to sea, that seemed to be aimed at fifth-graders (maybe it was?). Sigh.
Oh! I almost forgot a first for me on this trip: I booked something through a third-party discount site! I know this is routine for a lot of people, but I have always been suspect. However, Barcelona’s hotel prices finally drove me to DHR.com (Discount Hotel Reservations). They had good marks from BBB and a good price on a snazzy-looking hotel, and I went for it. Despite my fears that when we arrived at said hotel, the clerk would laugh in my face and say they’d never heard of us, everything went ridiculously smoothly and I’ve already used the site a second time—hopefully the experience is similar.