If you have been following my instagram page @nicolealexia, you’ll know that I recently visited the beautiful city that is Barcelona with my boyfriend.
After hours of research and reading up on reviews, I decided that the best location to stay at this time of year was Port Vell.
If that view hasn’t sold the area to you, then maybe the fact that it is a 10 minute walk from both the beach and most of the main sites will. As we were only there for three nights and this trip was my only holiday for the year, being in the centre of both the sites and the beach was crucial so that I could get the best of both worlds.
We stayed at a hotel called H10 Port Vell which was the definition of affordable luxury – minimalistic yet grand, whilst catering to every need you could imagine. You know all those small things you don’t think/forget to take on holiday with you like umbrellas, shoehorns, razors? Our room had it all! We were even given creams and shampoos from Rituals which easily could have cost about £50.
Whilst these were all nice touches, what really sold the hotel was the fact that you had the port and Barceloneta beach on one side and Barri Gotic/ Gothic Quarter and La Rambla behind. It felt so good returning back to Port Vell every night not only because it looked beautiful but because it felt non-touristy and was always buzzing. Definitely the place to be!
On the way to the hotel from the airport, we were told by our cab driver that we couldn’t have chosen a better place to stay in terms of restaurants and bars. Falling for the typical tourist trap, we assumed that La Rambla would have been our best bet for this but how wrong we were. It’s overpriced, not true to Catalonia and far too busy.
This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t visit the gorgeous mile long street, but you should certainly try and avoid eating there. We had a stroll to the end so that we could visit Plaza De Catalunya which sits at the top of the street, got a few pics and that was that. Oh and of course, have your vigilance about you – there are tons of pick pockets down the tourist shopping central. We even had the displeasure of witnessing the aftermath of someone being pick pocketed!
If visiting Barcelona, I would suggest you plan to see La Rambla in the morning and then head into the adjacent side streets which lead to the quaint Barri Gotic/ Gothic Quarter for some lunch. It’s cheaper, better quality and far more authentic.
I would highly recommend a place called Machete for some Latin street food.
Expecting the dishes to be bitesized and tapas style, we really went for it and ordered a number of options. It may not look like alot, but trust me, that nacho basket was never ending – the picture really doesn’t do it justice!
Los nachos favoritos de don Ramon – Nachos with homemade guacamole
On first sight, they look like any average nachos that you can buy from the supermarket. However, the homemade dips took them to another level. The guacamole was so fresh and made even fresher with chopped onions and tomatoes which added a real substance to something that had the danger of being bland and boring.
Sandwich Cubano – Cuban sandwich
When choosing this amazing sandwich, I assumed that it was going to come without sides as there was no mention of it coming with anything on the menu. Therefore I was positively surprised when I saw those crispy wedges.
Although this was a nice little bonus, it was annoying in the sense that I only ordered the humungous bowl of nachos because I thought there would be no sides! In fact, it seemed like every restaurant we went to in Barcelona failed to mention what their meals came with. In attempt to try and avoid an overload of food again, I made it my mission to establish this with each restaurant we visited thereafter.
Antichuchos – Beef skewers
These were hands down some of the most tender, flavoursome skewers I’ve ever eaten. We were confused when they arrived as the menu said they were made-up of a mixture of beef and chicken, but there certainly wasn’t any chicken here and we were glad! Why aren’t these succulent beef skewers a thing everywhere?! Take note kebabs shops.
Traditionally antichuchos are skewers made up of ox’s hearts. I’m not sure if that is what is pictured above and they failed to mention this on the menu, but if it was, I definitely wasn’t complaining. Normally I would gag at that thought, but that may be why the meat was so juicy!
After leaving Machete super stuffed, we decided to walk off all the delicious Latin food. What better way to do that than hiking up a mountain?! OK I may be exaggerating but we did travel way up high to the top of a massive hill to Antoni Guadi’s famous Park Güell.
Barcelona isn’t one of those cities full of skyscrapers and business districts which is what makes it so beautiful. The down side of that though is that there isn’t really any towers or viewing decks you can travel up to see the view from the city up high. Your best bet would be to visit the trendy, cosmopolitan W Hotel and go to the rooftop bar ‘Eclipse.’ However note that if you do this, you’ll feel obliged to buy one of their amazing but crazily expensive cocktails in return for the view (if you do, try the watermelon!)
Alternatively, you could put on your trainers, get a taxi to Park Güell, walk up a few large steps and get a spectacular view of Barcelona all for free!
After our tiring but so worth it trek, we started to head back to our hotel and noticed the amazing, unfinished church that is La Sagrada Familia. I have no words! I’ll let the pictures talk!
As both of these sites are within 10 minutes drive from each other and a bit further out than everything else, I’d suggest seeing Park Güell & La Sagrada Familia on one day like we did. I would HIGHLY recommend booking online if you would like to go inside the beautiful church though as it gets unbelievably packed. There is absolutely no chance of getting in just by turning up on the day. When we turned up, were told that the next availability they had was in 2 days!
Once we had returned to our hotel and re-energised from our power naps, we were hit with an overwhelming surge of hunger. By this point it was 10pm so we thought our dining options would be limited. Nevertheless little did we know that this was the time that Barcelona was at its best and just awakening.
Walking along the port, diners were spilling out of all the restaurants and we struggled to find availability anywhere! That’s when we decided to venture out a bit and head to a restaurant called Boca Grande within the Diagonal area which was recommended to us by a friend. Plus that way, we’d be living like the locals by eating out late. I kid you not, a couple next to us sat down to eat at 11:40pm! How is that possible?!
As we were in no shape to walk for 40 minutes after our visit to the park earlier, we decided to get a taxi to Diagonal which took less than 20 minutes and cost us next to nothing. I am so glad we did this as opposed to getting the metro because if we did, we wouldn’t have gotten to see the different areas we were passing through before we reached Diagonal.
When we arrived, I instantly understood why the restaurant was called Boca Grande. It’s located in what I would describe as the Spanish equivalent of the Champs Elysee. A street full of high end shops and grand restaurants which of course, Boca Grande lived up to. You just know the food is going to be of quality when the whole restaurant is basically made up of wine!
Upon arrival, we were greeted by a well dressed lady who spoke perfect English and invited us to the impeccably decorated bar as we waited for our table. Before we got a chance to admire our surroundings, we were swiftly seated, handed our menus and had napkins placed on our laps. Service or what?!
I’m not normally one for red wine but after being introduced to Sangria in Valencia, I was addicted for life. It’s so refreshing and reminds me of Pimms – great for the summer.
Now that our drinks were sorted for the night, it was time to get down to business. When I opened the menu, I was slightly concerned to see loads of pages in Spanish. So far, Barcelona had been so accommodating to Brits with everything written in English. When me and the boyfriend go away, we really try to blend in and act like the locals so inevitably we began to panic as we didn’t want to have to ask for the English menu and blow our cover!
After scrolling all the way to the back, we finally found a few pages in English. Phew! On first sight, the menu was really confusing as there were starter options, tapas options and main options so we had too much to choose from. In the end we opted for a few tapas dishes and a main meal.
I admit, this was probably the most expensive way to dine at this restaurant but we were in the heart of the “posh” part of town after all, so we thought it wouldn’t hurt to splash out for one night and this was 100% the right choice.
As we weren’t used to eating so late and were starving, we decided to get some bread to start. Everyone around us was eating it so we felt obliged in order to fulfil our “living like the locals” ideology.
Pa amb tomàquet – Tomato bread
When it came, I didn’t think much of it and it was basically garlic bread without the garlic or cheese. However as soon as I tasted it, I knew I’d found a friend for life! The tomato paste was so fresh and even had small chunks of tomato mixed into it so not only did it make us feel super Medditteranean, but it also saved us from having bad garlic breath!
It may sound boring, but the herbs on top gave it all the kick it needed and the bread wasn’t soggy like garlic bread – it reminded me of sourdough bread.
This starter seems to be a Catalonian specialty because every restaurant we went to thereafter had this on the menu.
Cue de llagostins fregides “a l’ajillo’ – Fried prawns
Happily waiting for my next dish, I had no idea that what was being placed in front of me was about to change my life. When eating out and seeing prawns on the menu, I expect them to be deep fried or drowning in some kind of garlic oil/sauce. Consequently when I saw fried prawns on Boca Grande’s menu, I expected a thick layer of batter as I would in an American BBQ type restaurant. You know those ones where all you can taste is batter and no prawn?!
However these only had a thin layer of batter around them, a bit like calamari is served. The lightly crusted batter gave the prawns the perfect amount of crunch on the outside which blissfully transformed into a soft, thick bit of fish in the middle. Best prawns I have EVER had in my life. I would go back to Barcelona in a heartbeat just for these!
Vieires – Scallops
After those prawns, I had really high hopes for the rest of the food and boy did they deliver! These scallops were probably the closest thing to fine dining I’ve ever experienced! They didn’t have that horrible, rubbery texture that scallops can sometimes have – they were cooked to perfection.
I thought that what accompanied them on the plate was just for decoration but it was actually seaweed! I’ve never had seaweed anywhere other than chinese restaurants and what a mistake that has been. This was definiely better. I mean it’s deep fried, how can you go wrong?
Entrepa de llamantol tipic de maine – Lobster Roll
As mentioned earlier, I said I would make it my mission to find out what each of the dishes come with in Barcelona as nowhere seemed to mention anything about accompanying sides. Nevertheless, I soon found out that it was literally the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do!
The lobster roll was under the main meal section of the menu which of course implies that it must come with something or was of a big enough portion for one. Thinking I was being smart, I asked the waiter what it comes with. He looked at me with a slight confused expression and began to list the ingredients which come inside the lobster roll. As a result, I assumed that this meant it didn’t come with anything so ordered some patates braves on the side.
To my horror, as I saw the delightful lobster roll arriving to our table, I saw him walking up with a bowl of chips AND patates braves. Argh! If you are going to visit Barcelona, I strongly suggest learning how to ask this question in Spanish so you know what you are getting yourself into lol!
Patates Braves – Potatoes
Whilst these potatoes look very unappealing and as if they have been smothered in ketchup and mayonnaise, I would choose them over a side of chips any day! The white sauce is called aioli, made of garlic and olive oil, and is traditional to Valencian and Catalonian cuisine. The red sauce on the other hand is tomato-based mixed with vinegar and red pepper which gives the dish a nice heat. I’m glad they served these as any typical tapas bar in Spain would and didn’t attempt to put a modern twist on them, as it shows that whilst Boca Grande is a fine dining experience, it still sticks to it’s Spanish roots.
Last but not least, the most interesting thing about Boca Grande was the dessert menu. We were waiting quite a while for them to bring our menus over and when they arrived we figured out why… the dessert menu was a plate with all the physical desserts displayed! As if trying to narrow down which dessert you want from the menu wasn’t hard enough! Try doing that when they are all oozing with their glorious scents right under your nose!
Whilst Boca Grande is a bit on the pricey side, it’s definitely worth it for one night. Oh and girls, if you get a chance, you MUST pay the toilets a visit. I promise you they are unlike anything you have ever seen. Even my boyfriend picked up on their uniqueness & beauty!
The next day was my birthday and normally I would have been happy to do absolutely nothing and just chill by the pool or beach all day. Unfortunately, just my luck, it was a cloudy, gloomy day so instead we decided to go and get some brunch.
That’s when we realised that brunch in Barcelona is like a rare species! It was so difficult to come across. It seems to be a relatively new concept to them which doesn’t actually surprise me because of the fact that everywhere is heaving so late at night and it’s such a laid-back culture. In the end, I had to get a little bit of help from my good friend google which is when I discovered a quaint little bistro called Milk.
Now brunch to us Brits normally involves prosecco, eggs and bacon. As I was in Spain, I wanted something with a Spanish twist on an English classic, so when I saw Milk which had typical American and English breakfasts I was a little sceptical. What drew me in however was the chorizo hash.
The meal and the surroundings were exactly what I was looking for; a bit of English with a hint of Spanish. Look at that wallpaper! I felt like I was in my nan’s house lol. I also loved the fact that the egg was poached and it was served with a side of sourdough bread – Shoreditch or what?!
If this isn’t enough for you to want to visit Milk, maybe the fact that it is the first bistro to serve brunch in Barcelona will. Retro. Or perhaps the fact that they cater to hangovers with the “recovery brunch.”
I hope that this post has been able to provide you with an insight as to what Barcelona is like and has given you some ideas of where to visit and #DiscoverDifference.
I’d like to pay my respects to those who were recently injured or unfortunately lost their lives in the recent terror attacks on La Rambla. Such terrible news – when will it stop?! However, I’d also like to reiterate what you have just read in this post and to not let the attacks deter you from visiting the beautiful city. Pray for Barcelona!