Following a month in Barcelona we can reveal the best time to get a sandwich, how not to get pickpocketed, and why not to waste your time waiting for a dog to do anything exceptional.
November and December are totally underrated times to visit
You know how you look on TripAdvisor/Yelp/Foursquare (in ascending order of how cool you are) and you find a restaurant which the reviews say is awesome but “you have to wait like two hours for a table”?
Barcelona is full of places like that. Except that in November, you can just saunter straight in at peak time and spread yourself out across three tables.
Seriously: the place is empty of tourists (well, relatively), but the skies are still gloriously blue and it’s often t-shirt weather if not sunbathing weather.
We pass this information on to you in good faith. Please don’t abuse it, because if we find ourselves waiting in line at our favourite spots behind a bunch of blog readers we will take you down.
The best place to get a sandwich is Bo de B
At Bo de B, you can get a massive bocadillo for €3-4. Like at Subway, you can choose your main filling (we recommend the chicken, steak or beef), your sauces and a variety of toppings. Unlike at Subway, they’re also extremely high-quality, huge and amazing.
The only thing to bear in mind is that there are only about two tables inside to eat in, and the queues at the take-out window are pretty substantial – even in December. So by the time you’ve factored in the cost of your time, it could be the most expensive sandwich you’ve ever eaten. Still though – worth it.
Again, I refer you to my earlier remark about the sharing of this information – if we spot you in line ahead of us, we will take you down.
The beach is, like, right there
Unlike most “beach cities” – which involve sitting on a train or bus for at least 10-15 minutes to get from the city to the beach – in Barcelona the city suddenly stops and the beach begins.
Given that most of our favourite cities couldn’t be much further from the coast if they tried (Chiang Mai, Madrid, Paris), this was a novelty we didn’t come close to taking for granted.
If you’ve been to Barcelona and didn’t enjoy it, we know why
Since getting back, we’ve had roughly a zillion conversations that went like this:
Mish or Rob: “Barcelona is amaaaaaazing! Have you been?”
Other person: “Yeah, I didn’t think it was that great. We stayed just off Las Ramblas and it was just super-touristy and not that special.”
M/R: “Well duh! Did you go to Montjuic or Park Guell or Barceloneta, or the Gothic Quarter?”
OP: “Err no.”
We don’t often end conversations with “QED” (especially as it’s very hard to actually use accurately rather than being a fancy way of saying “Ha!”), but in this situation we can’t help it.
Thing is, the Las Ramblas area is rubbish: it’s basically an even crappier, more touristy version of Oxford Street in London, with a couple of palm trees chucked in to throw you off the scent. If you visited for a day or two and based a significant proportion of your time around that area, you won’t have enjoyed it. But you should go back, because Barcelona has so much more.
Pickpocketing isn’t as rampant as is made out
I read so much about pickpocketing when we were researching Barcelona that it almost put me off going: it’s no fun to be somewhere where you have to constantly be on your guard.
Accordingly, I spent the first couple of days stalking around, glaring at anyone who came within a few feet of me – which Mish loved. But it didn’t take long to realise that pickpocketing in Barcelona is just like everywhere else: very common in touristy areas where people are toting expensive gear and paying no attention to their surroundings, but not city-wide and not hard to avoid.
So stay away from Las Ramblas (which is a good idea anyway), keep your wits about you on the metro and exercise basic common sense everywhere else, and you should be fine. It’s certainly not something that should put you off visiting, as it nearly did for me.
Eixample is where the wifi action’s at
We stayed in the old city, which is stunningly beautiful – and a very convenient place to be based for the beach and all the main attractions – but there’s really not much in the way of wifi cafes.
We mostly worked from home, but towards the end of our stay we discovered that Eixample (just to the north of the old city) has far more options for places to bust out the laptop – and there are a few co-working spaces too.
When we go back we’ll still stay in the old city and just get the metro for a couple of stops to Eixample to work, but it could be a good place to base yourself all the same. And apparently Gracia – to the north of Eixample – is where the cool kids are hanging out these days.
They’re stingy with the free tapas, but that’s OK
Tapas just aren’t a Catelonian thing. In Madrid, it’s common to get some kind of croquette or meat on bread – and in Seville, apparently you get a full-on meal (we plan to investigate soon). in Barcelona, however, you’re lucky to get a lonely-looking olive or an apologetic crisp or two.
But that’s OK, because the wine is cheap and they know no other way of pouring it than “right to the top of our biggest glass”. Getting hammered for €3 is entirely possible – and indeed unavoidable, if you’re lightweights like us.
Pintxos – basically a tapa with a spike through it – are a big deal here, although you don’t get them for free with your drink. And you can get paella too: for some reason, Thursday is the day when paella normally appears on most restaurants’ menu del dia.
The bus tour is totally worth it
We tend to do a bus tour in most cities we visit, as a means of orienting ourselves and deciding which areas we want to return to later.
In many places, it’s an expensive disappointment. In Madrid in particular, you just sit in traffic while the recorded information drones on about which architect designed a certain building.
But in Barcelona the bus tour is great, because it takes you to lots of spots that aren’t particularly easy to access by public transport – like Montjuic and Park Guell – where you can just hop off and explore before catching the next bus to continue your tour.
There might be others, but we used City Sightseeing which has three routes covering every part of Barcelona. If you plan to jump off and explore rather than just sit on the bus for the duration, it’s worth paying a bit extra to get a ticket that covers two consecutive days rather than just one.
There’s a reason why every film set in Barcelona leans heavily on Park Guell
In Vicky Christina Barcelona and L’Auberge Espagnole (as well as plenty of others, I’m sure), every other scene seems to be set right up at the top of Park Guell.
Which is unrealistic, as it’s a massively inconvenient place to spot your wife cavorting with another man or to have a heart-to-heart with your mother-in-law, but it makes sense from an aesthetic point of view because the scenery is beautiful and truly unique.
The park was designed by Gaudí (you have to say “gaud-EEE” to make clear that you could in fact speak fluent Catalan if you wanted to) in his trademark “utterly bonkers but nonetheless very enjoyable to look at” style, and it has a phenomenal view across the whole of Barcelona.
It’s a must-visit, whether you plan on doing anything to advance the plot or not.
There is nothing in particular to remark on when it comes to dogs
In our previous lists of “10 things I now know”, we’ve almost always had something to say about dogs: either being full of personality (Madrid), extremely obedient (Berlin) or running in pairs (Budapest).
But in Barcelona…there’s just nothing that remarkable. The dogs are a fairly typical canine selection. Sorry.