The beauty of Barcelona is the effortless way it unfurls itself before you, making it ideal for wandering around and diminishing any need for worrying, plotting, or planning every detail of your holiday.
Although a city of 1.6 million, it is a very relaxed place – perfect for ambling, meandering and stopping in the honey-coloured Mediterranean sunshine here and there for a coffee or a drink and a snack – one of the simplest pleasures in life.
An up-and-coming, lively neighbourhood with an edge, the Raval is home to some fantastic finds. La Pizza del Raval serves arguably the best pizza in Barcelona and is open late and priced to please.
Popular grunge-rock-skate-punk bar Nevermind has opened a second location in the Raval, this time with a skate ramp inside!
La Bodega is a hidden little gem with great cava at great prices. Get a huge plate of jamón and pan con tomate to accompany your bubbly.
Then there’s the ironically named Betty Ford’s with stellar beverages and Marmalade, a restaurant/bar with refreshing and creative cocktails.
Poble Sec is often overlooked, which makes it a nice reprieve from popular, but packed tourist spots.
Hike around Montjuic to build up an appetite, or watch the sunset over Barcelona from the castle walls, then hit Quimet & Quimet, an old-school tapas bar. There’s no menu, no reservations, and it’s standing only. You just tell them what you want or point at what looks good and they create custom-made dishes featuring high quality ingredients in a confident, but simple preparation.
Also try El Rincon de Cava a few blocks away, a friendly and affordable place full of character serving tasty traditional tapas and delicious house cava.
On the other side of Parallel, you’ll find XiX Bar, a swanky retro place specialising in gin, with an impressive and unusual selection.
With its wide streets meeting in rounded corners, this more modern area means business with some of the best (and most luxurious) shopping in Barcelona.
Revive with La Flauta, an always busy restaurant named after a deceptively simple sandwich, the flauta, which is a long, thin, crusty baguette stuffed with fillings ranging from the traditional to the daring, but always delicious. Also try the huevos cabreados (frites with fried eggs and allioli on top). Well worth the wait (they don’t take reservations).
For a sophisticated nightcap, head to Dry Martini, a classy Prohibition-themed bar where the bartenders wear white gloves and serve your drinks on a silver platter.
Once a separate city, Gràcia is a bit off the beaten tourist track and maintains an independent air with a bohemian and laidback vibe.
After getting your Gaudí fill in Parc Güell, make a pilgrimage to Gata Mala to feast on succulent sundried tomatoes, perhaps the best patatas bravas in the city, amazing plates of grilled meats, and free, lovingly made tapas with each drink.
Afterwards, get cosy in the romantic, candlelit confines of La Baignoire, a lovely wine bar in the neighbourhood.
In the Barri Gòtic, a wonderful area to get lost with its ancient streets so narrow you can barely see the sky above, Café de l’Academia serves gourmet Catalan cuisine at reasonable prices in a stylish setting.
Down the street is El Salon, a romantic spot for delicious modern Catalan food. Head to Milk Bar to enjoy the international bistro style menu with some original and perfectly mixed cocktails.
In El Born, Euskal Etxea is a busy Basque restaurant serving pintxos washed down with sidra or txakoli (Basque white wine). Nearby is El Xampanyet, a very old, tiny place specialising in their house cava and seafood tapas.
Or head just north of El Born to Doble Zer00 for great service, inventive sushi and Asian fusion fare.