Finding the familiar in beachy city Barcelona

Chances are, if you live in Brighton, you are someone who loves exploring cities that are situated on the coast. Brighton has that in common with San Francisco, Sydney, and Barcelona. These cities are, expectedly, full of tourist attractions and fine-dining restaurants amongst the hustle of business and apartments. However, they also boast that sea-breeze air with beach bars serving nachos and iced tea, plus quaint streets for hippies to congregate and create art. Barcelona is the ideal city for walkers keen to do a spot of sightseeing, but also perfect for sipping sangria and snacking on tapas in the harbour, if that is more your forte. 

I spent three days and four nights in the city. Our accommodation was close to the Sagrada Familia, but our first meal was surprisingly close to the tourist attraction. As in, close enough for a view of the impressive architecture in its nightly glow. The lesson learnt was that no matter where you order tapas from in this city, the food is likely to be authentically delicious. Ordering tapas at an Italian restaurant was kind of oxymoronic. But we savoured the flavours of garlic prawns and crunchy patatas bravas as if it was our last meal, not our first. Glasses of sangria were poured as me and my bestfriend and travel partner planned our next few days in the city. 

Flavoursome food and stunning architecture

We had a delightfully filling and healthy breakfast at Green Kiss (Avinguda Gaudí 87): smoothie bowls topped and loaded with berries, banana, nuts, chia seeds – all the fibre and goodness. Then, we walked to Las Ramblas. Maps told us that this would take an hour, but if it did take that amount of time, the minutes flew by. While observing the gorgeous architecture of the apartments above us, the walk did not feel long; it was simply part of the exploring. With every block, we became more familiar with the city scape’s pedestrian noise and recognised that there were probably more patisseries in Barcelona than in Paris. Not a fact, just a mere guess based on how many times we pointed at custard tarts and flaky croissants. 

Crossing the road at Gaudi’s house, we now felt like we were at a central point. Paths were busier with people snapping photographs, and no sign says ‘city centre’ quite like a Starbucks, Five Guys and Primark all within a 1 mile radius. Ignoring such familiar brands, we headed towards La Boqueria instead. You will quickly realise, if not already, this trip was structured around our love of food. 

Absorbing the smells and colours of La Bocqueria

Forty-five minutes were spent slowing mooching up and down the market before even buying anything, attempting to walk in as straight a line as possible so as not to miss one sight or smell. We had to take it all in, memorising which stall had the juiciest looking olives, or the most golden empanadas, before jumping in and letting desire take control. We were playing the game perfectly, strategizing wise food choices. It sounds dramatic, but when you love food as much as us, these decisions are crucial. No one likes food envy or regret. 

Of course, we will never know if we truly had the juiciest olives on offer based purely on sight, but we were satisfied with our cup of green olives stuffed with raw garlic. Plus, we shared a chorizo empanada, chicken empanada, and a gourmet cup of cured meats, creamy cheese and breadsticks. These little cardboard mezze cups are all over the market and selecting the best combination of cured ham is a mission. A mission, we think, we passed. La Bocqueria also impressed us with its vibrant fruit juices and chocolate stalls with designs and flavours that could compete with Willy Wonka’s imagination. Dried fruit and nuts never looked more appealing in their pick n mix organisation, and even the stalls with interesting fish mongery or butchering kept my gaze in pure fascination. It’s not every day you see a sheeps head. 

Head to the seafront for picturesque paella

While our picnic of snacks appeased the curiosity of trying different things, I recommend Barcelona seafront for the most picturesque spots to eat. Sauntering from Las Ramblas to the harbour is like you have entered an entirely different destination. That is the pure joy I find in beach cities. Marina Port Vell is where you want to be, beside the Museum of Catalonian History, Here we found pure Baleric sea and sun, and the largest glasses of Aperol Spritz to accompany the blissful vibes. The restaurant that stood out to us was Brisa Palau de Mar where the tapas was more high-end, with alternative large plates sounding devine too. We tried squid ink croquettes, honey glazed aubergine, crispy mustard chicken and more. Provided were the textures we could only ever dream of recreating back at home. It was a restaurant experience which makes travelling truly wonderful, knowing that I will be thinking about that food for a long time, but unable to reach it again unless I take a flight. 

Discovering quaint and quirky streets

Between the beach and another attraction, the Arc de Triomph, were what we called ‘The Lanes of Barcelona’ as we accidentally stumbled across these cobbled roads on a detour. A place where resident’s washing floats from balconies, instigating pure sonder, or you will find dimly lit bars, tucked away vintage stores, and quaint galleries. Streets like Carrer del Rec and Carrer de la Princesa are where you will want to be. The trick is, the deeper you go into these twisty roads, the more you will be pleasantly surprised. I shan’t say anymore, because these are the secret gems you should discover for yourself. 

Other things people probably do not usually tell you about Barcelona is that the beach itself, sitting on the sand, is not a peaceful experience. You will be offered mojitos and massages non-stop. Instead, go to one of the cafes on the decking and watch the waves from there, or immerse in colourful beach hut vibes and soft house music at Makamaka restaurant (Pg. de Joan de Borbó, 76). They serve cocktails, burgers and Mexican food. And, if walking is not your thing, the metro is incredibly easy and inexpensive to use. There is always a metro station nearby, and every station just has one direct route meaning you cannot get confused about which train you are getting on. We paid for a ten euro ticket which you can use as many times as you like on the metro, and buses too, in twenty-four hours. Two and three day passes are also available to purchase. 

A brunch fit for Brighton

On our final day in Barcelona, we had a delightful brunch at Granja Petitbo in Eixample (Pg. de St. Joan, 82). With its rustic interior (think, concrete walls and wooden furniture, tin cutlery pots and posters of faded maps, plus decor complete with table flowers) and long list of coffees, this was clearly a trendy spot for locals. A classic plate of scrambled eggs and bacon was exactly what I was craving. This establishment certainly would not feel out of place on Brighton’s Sydney Street. Our lovely waiter asked in broken English if we would ever move to Barcelona, and you know what, maybe I would. Perhaps I will buy a pleasant apartment where I can hang baskets of flowers over the balcony. In the morning, I will cycle to the bakery to buy baguettes so crusty that they grate the roof of my mouth with each bite. Working in a local gallery, exploring the museums, and going on late night ice-cream walks. But then again, who says this Barcelona lifestyle cannot be created from your own home, no matter where in the world you are…

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