Barcelona, Spain travel tips

Where we ate:

Goat heads at Mercat de Sant Joseph
Shrink wrapped goat heads at Mercat de Sant Joseph | Photo by Lauren Girardin

  • Origens – Classic Catalan dishes made with local and mostly organic ingredients. We enjoyed the sausage stuffed onion, spinach with pine nuts and fresh cheese, the meat stuffed squid, and the ribs baked with peaches. The wine list was a little pricey for Barcelona, but worthwhile no less: YEH
  • Los Caracoles – We didn’t eat here, but the large open kitchen looked like it would put out a divine dish. Watch out though, their drinks are incredibly overpriced. This is not a place to linger at the bar: MEH
  • Le Quinze – Might be off on the name, but it’s listed in all the guidebooks in Plaza Real. There’s always a line outside for their affordable, nice enough dinners, but the line exists because they’re trying to not overwhelm their staff. The house wine is a watered down joke. Better off elsewhere: MEH
  • Cafe Colon – Greasy food and beer by the quart: NAH
  • Jai-Ca Bar – A traditional-style and very popular tapas place. They made one of the most impressive tinto de veranos, getting the ingredients to layer. The razor clams were a tasty, if small, plate of weirdness: YEH
  • Ciudad Condal – A nice selection of hot and cold pintxos. For Las Ramblas, it’s a find: YEH
  • Rosa Negra – Well off the tourist-trail, their Cal-Mex menu will be a welcome taste of home to anyone from San Francisco. The décor is hipster-eclectic-urbanist, and will be very familiar to anyone that’s been to Lolos in SF. The burritos were just ok; the menu-promised refried beans were MIA and there was way too much lettuce for the burrito to be truly satisfying. But still, it was a burrito: MEH
  • La Xampanyet – Cava, beer, house-cured anchovies and seafood from cans. A great place to meet Germans (see previous postcard post): YEH
  • La Champañeria / Can Paixano – Read our travel story about how much we loved this place: YEH!!
  • Petra – If I lived here this would probably be one of my favorite restaurants. If we’d found it before our last meal in Barcelona we would have gone back. The gazpacho with cucumber ice cream was unreal. We couldn’t figure out how they made the beef (with plantain chips and mustard sauce) so tender yet so thin: YEH!!!
  • Cafe Bubo – Portions at this tiny tapas place are small but very enjoyable. Most tables have a view of Santa Clara del Mar. Their chocolate shop hidden a few doors down is fantastic: YEH
  • Cafe del Born – Quiche for breakfast at an affordable price, with free WiFi to boot: YEH
  • Mercat de Sant Joseph – Both a place to see and a place for food. Packed to the nines since it’s also an attraction right off Las Ramblas; if you’re not squemish, be sure to spend time wandering the aisles, checking out the meat-parts vendors. Pick up some very affordable picnic fixin’s of fresh cut jamon, cheese, bread and other nibbles: YEH

Where we stayed:

  • Hostel Nuevo Colon – Truly nothing special. Clean enough for backpackers, a little sad, but reasonably priced. The bonus for us, just steps away from the wonderful El Born neighborhood: MEH

What we saw:

  • La Pedrera a.k.a. Casa Mila – Spend time scoping the exterior before heading inside for the over-wrought museum (they have to justify the high entry fee somehow) and Gaudi’s fluidly beautiful roof-top chimneys: YEH
  • Montjuic – Panoramic city views and access to museums. What more can you want?: YEH
  • Parc Güell – Gaudi’s crazy public park, packed with tourists, it’s still a wonderful place to acclimate to Barcelona and Gaudi’s mad architectural mindset. Best of all, it’s free: YEH
  • Sagrada Família – Gaudi died with this massive church incomplete, and decades later it’s still a mess of construction equipment and blocked views of what has been built. Depending on what part they’re working on, you will either “yeh” or “meh” your visit, as with all Gaudi, they’re overcharging by half. You can see a lot of the exterior without paying from the sidewalk. When we were there, it was a: MEH
  • Arc de Triomphe – It’s a nice arch near a wonderful open park space: YEH
  • House of Bones – While we were in Barcelona, they were charging 16 Euros each for entry. If you are an architect like the Baroness, it’s an “affordable indulgence.” For year-long budget travelers like ourselves we were appalled at the greedy price point and just appreciated the colorfully mosaiced facade for free: MEH
  • Palace Güell – Ah, dear optimistic Let’s Go guidebook, you thought they’d be done with the restoration by now, but you were wrong. This was the Gaudi I most wanted to see and the rooftop was closed. But, you could check out the facade and basement for free (limited hours): MEH
  • Joan Miró mosaic on Las Ramblas – I don’t think any tourists that literally strolled across this piece of street art even noticed they were walking on a master: YEH
  • Santa Clara del Mar – If you’re nearby, it’s a nice example of Gothic churchery. If you sit on the steps facing the plaza, you can pick up free WiFi: YEH
  • Picasso Museum – Maybe not the best museum for casual art appreciators, but if you are fans of Picasso, the museum does an excellent job explaining his physical techniques and his concept development: YEH
  • El Born neighborhood – We’d move here if we could. It’s got everything but isn’t in the middle of everything: YEH
  • Las Ramblas – Run away! Filled with drunken Bridiots, tacky buskers, gouging restaurants, and the uglier side of tourism. The only stretch we found tolerable was in the very north: NAH