Our red fold-up bicycles wavered over the cobblestone surface as the four of us each rode in small circles, getting acclimated to our new mode of transportation. Soon, we would be following our guide Pablo, navigating the narrow, serpentine alleys of the old city, slowing to a crawl to avoid the pedestrians or bursting forward in our attempts to keep up. We made our way through La Ramblas and into the heart of the Gothic Quarter. And then we made larger circles around Barcelona, covering more and more ground until we had seen architecture both old and new and been through parks, city, and beach. The weather was perfect, and people commented that we were lucky; it had just started to get warm.
This was the beginning of our Europe trip with my boyfriend Jesse, his brother Jon, and Jon’s wife Christine. In total, our trip would span 10 days and include Barcelona, San Sebastian, and Copenhagen, (an itinerary largely driven by food, as you will see). Our Barcelona bike tour was our main activity on day two of our stay in Barcelona, Spain, and it was a wonderful way to see the city. Of course Barcelona is famous for its architecture, especially the imaginative work of architect Antonin Gaudí, but I will save all of the Gaudí for another post. Instead, we kick it all off with some beautiful glimpses of the city.
We were so centrally located with the airbnb apartment we selected next to La Ramblas, a central pedestrian shopping area. It was wonderful to be able to walk everywhere and be next to all of these beautiful courtyards like Plaça Reial pictured below.
Christine and Jesse on our awesome Dahon bikes.
I love the old architecture of the Gothic Quarter. Much of it is medieval and some of it dates back to Roman times. I also got to do a portrait session with another photographer here in the Gothic Quarter, which I’ll soon be sharing as part of my Art for Art series!
The entire city of Barcelona is basically built over Roman ruins. In the corner of an alley, here are some large Roman columns surrounded by new construction.
Outside the old city, Barcelona’s version of Central Park: Ciutadella Park.
Our bike tour guide Pablo and Barcelona’s Arc de Triomphe.
Barcelona is also right on the water with plenty of beautiful beaches, many of which were constructed for the ’92 summer Olympics.
And now we venture into the food. Overall, the food in Barcelona was good but not great. Then again, we kept trying to eat paella, which is not local to the Catalan region. On our first night, we stopped by a small place we found on Tripadvisor, Tacon Roja, which had great sangria and ordinary tapas. (Our favorite was a simple burrata + tomato dish which is Italian.) Then we had a reservation at EspaiSucre for desserts.
The desserts were listed on the menu by their flavors. They were all adorably presented. Many of them were good, some of them were very tangy, but we had a great overall experience. We also chatted a bit with the group on the other end of our table who was also all from the United States.
Our first attempt at paella was at 7 Portes, which was recommended to us by Pablo and we later found is often rated the best paella in Barcelona.
It was only ok. I’d avoid trying to get good paella in Barcelona in the future. Also, as we were slow to figure out, all restaurants charge for bread in Barcelona. So if they ask if you want bread or if they try to force you into paying for bread by leaving it on your table, refuse! It was 2 euro per piece of bread, meaning we unwittingly spent over $11 just on bread at each meal. Also, they charge for bottles of water rather than providing tap water, so that’s another added expense to consider.
Our dinner on night two was at Saboc, which had caught our eye the first night. This was my favorite meal in Barcelona, despite it not being particularly Spanish. Their concept is “temperature cuisine,” and they do small dishes organized by the temperature of the dish.
All of the food was delicious, but my favorites were probably the egg at 62 degrees with potato and the grilled duck breast.
Day three kicked off with a brunch meal at La Boqueria, the market down the street in La Ramblas.
Pinotxo bar came highly recommended for its tapas, but the breakfast food they served us was pretty ordinary. We would later go on an entire pinotxo tour in San Sebastian, so that definitely overshadowed these tapas.
Coffee shops ARTiSA and El Magnifico.
Our new favorite patisserie: Bubo. We went there two nights in a row.
A great local restaurant just a block from our apartment: La Fonda.
We thoroughly enjoyed the squid ink pasta even though it stained our teeth black. The paella was ok but I’d still skip Barcelona paella. And the creme de catalan was a delicious custard-y creme brulee.
We had reservations on the last night in Barcelona at Cal Pep, which is known for local tapas. The waiter was a jokester who liked to play tricks like pretending to knock over wine glasses while picking them up, and the ambiance was nice and cozy. The food was good but heavy, but my main critique was that it was all chef’s choice, and rather than bringing out the best of the best for ever round, they clearly try to stuff you with fillers in the beginning such as a huge plate of fried calamari before getting to nicer fish and veggie entrees.
Finally, some more beautiful views of Barcelona, from dusk to night.
Visit Barcelona, Spain
- We stayed in an airbnb apartment right by La Ramblas in the heart of the city. The only downside was that the place was rather dark and musty, but the location could not be beat.
- Make reservations, even if it’s in person earlier in the day. As with many European places, restaurants often do not take walk-ins.
- Barcelona tap water is drinkable, but you have to ask for it. Otherwise, you’ll pay for bottles of water at every meal.
- Refuse the bread unless you are prepared to pay up to 2 euro per piece of bread! We were a bit slow to figure this out.
- Saboc offers modern “temperature cuisine,” and though it is not particularly Spanish, the delicious and inventive food was my favorite in Barcelona.
- La Fonda was right around the corner and was my favorite local Spanish restaurant. Skip the paella and go for Catalan dishes.
- Pinotxo Bar (also listed as Bar Pinocho) is a cute little pinchos (tapas) stand in La Boqueria, the market in La Ramblas. Go for lunch or an afternoon snack.
- Bubó was an unexpected treat. The shop is very cute, and all of the desserts were delicious.
- EpaiSucre is a nice dessert restaurant with all sorts of dessert tasting menus. Be prepared to spend quite a bit, as there is a per person minimum.
- Cafés El Magnífico is a nice coffee shop with a quality selection of single-origin coffees.
- Bike tour. We all loved the three-hour ride around Barcelona. We were able to cover a surprising amount of ground and get the lay of the land, plus see some things we wouldn’t have gone out of our way to see otherwise. Tours are customizable, and our guide Pablo was great with both pacing and casually doling out information.
- All of my Gaudí sights are going to be in my second blog post, but of course go to La Sagrada Familia and Park Guell and stop by Casa Batlló if you have the chance. More on all of that soon!
Anna Wu is a wedding and portrait photographer based in San Francisco but often jetsetting around the world. Follow her on facebook for more photography and travel adventures.
Part 1: Barcelona, Spain | International Travel Photography
Part 2: Gaudí’s City| Barcelona, Spain | International Travel Photography
Part 3: Arzak | San Sebastian, Spain
Part 4: San Sebastian, Spain | International Travel Photography
Part 5: Noma | Copenhagen, Denmark
Part 6: Copenhagen, Denmark | International Travel Photography