We’ve made a food guide to some of Europe’s most delicious cities.
The 4th most visited city in Europe. And with a plethora of things to see – including one of the best beaches in the world – museums, cathedrals and World Heritage Sites, a trip to Barcelona can certainly leave anyone blinded by the light of a million and one things to explore and discover. “But wait” we thought to ourselves, “isn’t the best way to learn about a place to talk to the locals?” Why yes it is we thought back bi-polarly. Fortunately, as HouseTrip has over 4,500 quality properties within the city limits of this melting pot, we were spoiled for choice when looking for a street-smart local who could show us the ropes.
Meet Anna, one of HouseTrip’s Impeccable Hosts. She has kindly offered to share her local expertise with us and help you find some of the best things to see and do in the Catalan capital…
- What are some of the things you love to do in Barcelona in your free time?
credit: Atelier Teee
I love to go out for meals, and finding and trying out new restaurants has become somewhat of an obsession for me since I started living in Barcelona! I also love to go hiking in the lovely Catalan countryside surrounding the city. It’s not something you would really do on a short trip to Barcelona, but for anyone living here a bit longer, joining a local hiking group and getting out into the countryside on the weekend is really a great way to meet other like-minded people and explore places you would never find on your own!
credit: Stephan Geyer
I also love to ride my bike around the city – Barcelona is quite flat and has in recent years become very bike-friendly with many dedicated bike lanes being constructed that are set apart from the traffic. Barcelona is actually quite small – it’s not a large city like Madrid as many people imagine, and you can get almost anywhere by bike quite quickly. And the great weather makes it a bike-rider’s paradise!
- Where is the best place in the centre of Barcelona to escape the tourists and find some quiet time?
Montjuïc is the hill at the side of the old town right beside my apartment in the neighbourhood of Poble Sec. It’s full of small parks which have surprisingly few people in them. There are a few reasons for this. First, the hill is not that easy to get to unless you are specifically looking to go there – it’s off to one side and not directly connected to the old town. Secondly, it involves a bit of climbing, which can put many people off (although there is a funicular and a cable car to take you up if you want), and thirdly it can be difficult to find your way around it unless you have a map (it is not just one big park, but a collection of smaller parks interspersed with roads and buildings, including many buildings built for the 1992 Olympics). Those who have made the effort, and come well-equipped with a map, will be rewarded with peaceful, almost empty parks with breathtaking views of the city and ocean.
At the very top, from June to September there is also a little secret reward for the intrepid climber – an open-air cafe called La Caseta del Migdia that allows you to sit under the trees and enjoy a fantastic ocean view while eating a barbecue of Catalan sausages and salad and sipping a cold beer.
- Where would be a great place in Barcelona to take the kids?
One thing that I think all kids would enjoy is the Tibidabo amusement park in the hills behind Barcelona. It was built in 1889 and retains its old-world charm - don’t expect a modern mega amusement park – but it’s a lot of fun and the Ferris-wheel in front of an amazing view of all of Barcelona will leave you with some great photos and memories. For the adults there is also a beautiful old church there - the Temple de Sagrat Cor - built in 1806, so you can combine fun with a bit of history!
(you can actually see Tibidabo and the amusement park from the terrace of my other apartment, which has views over the whole city and the hills beyond!)
Another thing that’s fun for parents and kids alike is the “Magic Fountain” near Plaza España. At certain times in the evenings several days a week the fountain lights up with a spectacular light show set to music against the backdrop of Montjuic.
- What is Barcelona’s best kept secret?
credit: jueves enmedio
At the risk of sounding biased, I’d have to say it’s my neighbourhood – Poble Sec! The old centre of Barcelona can be extremely packed with crowds and tourists, especially in the summer months, but they rarely make it past the large street – Avinguda de Paralell – that separates Poble Sec and Montjuic from the Raval neighbourhood of the old town, even though Poble Sec is only a 15 minute walk from Barcelona’s main street, Las Ramblas! Those that do make it across the “great divide” will find a quiet, largely residential neighbourhood, built at the turn of the previous century, with tree-lined streets and beautiful old buildings nestled at the foot of the Montjuic hill. At the heart of the neighbourhood lies the cobbled pedestrian street, Calle Blai. Although there’s not much going on there during the day, Calle Blai springs to life after around 8pm when the terraces of its many bars and restaurants fill with locals meeting friends for a chat while enjoying a beer and the cheap local fare. The neighbourhood is generally quite a bit cheaper than the other areas in central Barcelona, both in terms of rent and restaurants, and therefore attracts an eclectic group of “starving” young artists and dreadlocked photographers as well as some of the last remaining Catalan old-timers that have largely been forced out of the rest of the old town by the astronomical rise in rent prices of recent years. Some of my favourite restaurants on or near the Calle Blai are Quimet & Quimet, La Tieta, Carmesi and Blai Tonight.
Another “secret” is the centre of the Poblenou neighbourhood which lies behind the Bogatell beach at a 20 minute metro ride from Plaza Catalonia. Even I had not discovered it until recently as it’s well protected from the casual eye by the ugly suburbia of high-rises that guard it on either side. I had previously taken one look at those high rises and run the other way! But recently I had the opportunity to live in the old centre near the Market of Poblenou for 2 months and just fell in love with the neighbourhood. The buildings in the old centre of Poblenou are cute and small – often only 2 or 3 stories high and also from around the turn of the last century. It has quite a beachy, artsy feel about it (the beach is only a 5 minute walk away) and it has some great cafes, shops and restaurants – and a real community vibe with a lot of young families choosing this as the area to bring up their children. If you’re looking for a chilled neighbourhood in which to have a bit of a beach holiday while still being within a short trip of the Barcelona city centre, you can’t beat Poblenou – but make sure you stay in the streets of the old centre (near the market) and not in the modern soul-less developments that surround it!
- Where can I find the best tapas in Barcelona?
credit: Mirari Erdoiza
If you are in the mood for some beers with friends while getting your fingers greasy over a shared plate of tapas, the Barceloneta neighbourhood can’t be beat. This area was traditionally home to the local fishermen and still retains a very village-ey and low-key vibe, despite being, with its location right between the old centre and the beach, what you’d imagine would be peak expensive real estate and trendy restaurants in any other city. The decor in these ‘bodegas’ will definitely be no-frills and neon lights (and if it’s got nice decor, be warned, it’s probably touristy!) , but as long as that’s what you go in expecting you will really enjoy the atmosphere in these places. One of my favourites is El Vaso de Oro on the Calle de Balboa. It’s a tiny place with a long narrow bar, and you will find it full of locals drinking beer and eating the simple, traditional fare while bantering with the friendly waiters and yelling and gesticulating at each other boisterously from one end of the bar to the other. Some others in the same vein that I love in this neighborhood are La Cova Fumada and La Bombeta.
As an alternative to “tapas staples”, you also have huge variations of local fare from region to region. For example, in the Basque country they are famous for their pintxos which are slices of white bread with a variety of toppings and a toothpick in the middle. These are small and usually quite cheap. The pintxos are pre-prepared and laid out on the bar, and you just put the ones you want to eat on a plate and keep the sticks after you have eaten them. The bartender afterwards counts the sticks in order to know what to charge you. While nothing beats eating pintxos in the Basque country itself, if you’re not able to make it there, there are some excellent pintxo places in Barcelona that can give you a taste. One of the best ones is Gasterea in the Gracia neighborhood. In recent years, many Basque pintxo restaurants have also popped up on the Calle Blai in Poble Sec. One of my favourites is a little place called Blai Tonight which only opened about a year ago and has already become the most popular place on the street. Here the pintxos are tasty and only €1 each, but it’s best to go before 8pm as it can get so packed that you can’t get in. The place won’t win any awards for the decor, but, as in many places in Spain, I have found there is little relation between decor and food quality – in fact, in many cases an inverse relation exists!
There is one last thing you have to try while in Spain: vermouth. It’s pretty much a Spanish institution to have un vermut at around 12 or 1pm, as an appetizer for the main meal. Spanish vermouth is red and drunk on its own or with a spritzer of soda water (sifón), with ice and with a slice of lemon. Check out this great write-up by an American on drinking vermouth in Spain:http://catavino.net/vermouth-
- Any food markets that you know about where I can find great ingredients for cooking in the kitchen of a holiday rental?
credit: Julien LaGarde
Although the Boqueria market on Las Ramblas is the most famous and well-known market in Barcelona, I don’t really recommend it – it has gotten too touristy and at times is so packed that you can’t get to the stalls. As a result the service has gone downhill and the prices have gone uphill…
I prefer the Mercado de Sant Antoni, which is a market at the back of the Raval neighbourhood and about a 15 minute walk from my apartment. Unfortunately the beautiful historical old market building is undergoing extensive renovations (due to finish in about 2016), so the stalls have been moved to a temporary building in a street beside the market, but the essentials are still there. I really like the feel of this market – it’s a lot quieter and mostly full of older locals doing their daily shopping. They also have a book market on the street outside the old market on Sunday mornings.
Featured image by marcp_dmoz
You know what they say. If you can’t make it, fake it… and when it comes to beaches very few places have “faked it” as well as Barcelona. Man-made they may be, but Barcelona’s beaches offer a welcome retreat from a city full of hustle and bustle. From beach bars to beach volleyball, children’s play areas to locals favourite chiringuitos, there is something for everyone along Barcelona’s coastline and the best news is that all of the below beaches have lifeguards, shower and toilet facilities and at least a handful of ice cream shops nearby.
Sant Sebastia and Sant Miquel
- yo DADA
Starting south, close to the Ciutat Vella (old city) is the relatively quiet and expansive beaches of Sant Sebastia and Sant Miquel. Here’s where you’ll find locals running along the promenade and a small naturist area. Ideal for playing games on the sand or getting away from it all – you can easily hop off the Montjuic Cable Car and stroll away from the city for a few minutes to reach it – there is also a massive municipal swimming pool and sports club here should you want to avoid saltwater but still enjoy a swim.
The most obvious and most accessible beach, Barceloneta offers the easiest and quickest opportunity to soak up some sun and stroll along the sand. It’s also, therefore, most likely to be the busiest. However, this does mean great people-watching opportunities and an abundance of seafront bars and restaurants to choose from. That said, it’s widely considered to not have the cleanest stretch of sea so save your swimming for another of Barcelona’s beaches.
Enjoy being in the thick of it all in your own Barceloneta Beach Apartment.
Nestled between Barceloneta and Port Olimpico marina, Somorrosto sees the crowds disperse a little but this doesn’t dilute the atmosphere on offer. Bars and restaurants line the seafront road and sunbathers can enjoy a view of the luxury yachts tucked away inside the marina. . It’s hard to believe that this stretch of coastline was once home to a shantytown built by gypsy settlers, but that’s what Somorrosto takes its name from.
An easy walk from the city, the stroll will take you past some of the iconic modern art and architecture that characterises Barcelona. It may also be worth noting that Somorrosto is where you’ll find an information point for further help about the beaches and maritime activities on offer in Barcelona.
It pays to walk a little further away from the city as Nova Icaria quickly demonstrates. Not only will the beach appear quieter, but the quality of nearby seafood restaurants goes up while their prices go down. A couple of volleyball courts can be found close to the Port Olimpico and there is also disabled access and additional assistance for less mobile beach goers. Arguably Barcelona’s most family-friendly beach, here is where you’ll find families pitching up for the day, so why not do the same?
Enjoy city living and beach access.
One of the newer beaches in Barcelona – it was one of the handful created for the 1992 Olympic Games – Bogatell is surrounded more by suburbs than Barcelona’s city sprawl. This therefore means that the beach is quieter and calmer and close to lots of other amenities like a children’s’ playground, some public table tennis tables and local gardens and parks. Bogatell is accessible by bus from Barcelona centre and it is commonly considered to be the safest beach in Barcelona.
La Mar Bella
The beautiful sea, is how La Mar Bella translates and finally, yes, it’s true. This and neighbouring La Nova Mar Bella are regarded as the best beaches to swim in with warm, clean waters. La Mar Bella is a favourite spot for young professionals who head up here on their bikes to relax and enjoy a swim or a few seafront drinks away from the tourists. But we’re sure they won’t mind if you gatecrash their favourite beach, just don’t tell everyone else. There is a popular nudist area in the most southern corner of the beach.
La Nova Mar Bella
Like La Mar Bella, this is a great beach to swim in and is likely to be hosting even fewer people than its neighbour. Great for both families and young couples, this is a great spot to be based if you want your Barcelona city break to be as much about the beach as culture and Gaudi. If you have the cash to flash you could spend the day (or night) at Boo Beach Club which offers a little luxury, sun loungers you won’t want to leave and long-reaching views of the other beaches stretching out to the south.
Watch over the city and the sea in this luxury apartment.
Tourists rarely enjoy the most northern beach along Barcelona’s main seafront, Llevant, as they just don’t bother to go that far, despite regular buses and an easy cycling route. In actual fact, they may not even know about the beach as it was only opened in 2007. Take full advantage of this by escaping to Llevant’s rarely crowded golden sand and blue waters for the afternoon. Overlooked by Barcelona’s more recent – though equally impressive – architectural offerings in the Diagonal Mar area, Llevant is also home to locals’ favourite “chiringuito” (beach bar) Nueva Ola.
With HouseTrip apartments lining the full length of all of Barcelona’s Beaches, you can pick your favourite and start planning which days will be for the city and which will be spent lying on the beach. Decisions, decisions.
Featured image by Paco CT.
If we were ever in danger of forgetting that we can still be mystified and not everything is explicable, the magic of the maze is always there to remind us.
Whether it’s the legend of Theseus and the Minotaur or the political intrigue and literary inspiration of Hampton Court, a maze can always be counted on to chill and delight us in equal measure. But while the puzzle may be ancient, the art of maze making is still alive and well the world over.
Without the help of Ariadne or even a hint of golden thread we’ve found some of the best mazes to get happily lost in for hours on end. And they’re perfect for children. So step inside the legendary adventure of the maze and create an unforgettable adventure of your own.
Russborough House, Co. Wicklow, Eire
Without a doubt one of the most enchanting aspects of a maze is where you come across them. Russborough House in Co. Wicklow, Ireland is known as the longest house in Ireland and is certainly the country’s finest Palladian Mansion. Russborough is a house of secrets and mysteries (the diaries of the last owner, Sir Alfred Beit, are held in trust in Dublin until 21 years after the death of HRH Queen Elizabeth II). Fitting then that the 2000m² Beech Hedge Maze in the garden is a puzzle that needs a map and still has visitors wandering and lost. The ‘goal’ at the heart of Russborough Maze is a statue of Cupid enclosed in a diamond hedge symbolising The Beit Family’s role as pioneers in the ‘diamond trade’. It is possible to attempt solving the mystery of the Russborough Maze before you step inside – one window on the first floor of the house overlooks the entire design – but you should probably take a phone with you just in case.
Il Labarinto, Villa Pisani, Venice
On the Riviera del Brenta about 20 minutes from Venice and 10 minutes from Padua stands the magnificent Villa Pisani. Often called the ‘Queen’ of Venetian Villas, Villa Pisani is famous for its Rococo interior, the ‘most beautiful gardens in Italy’ and for Il Labarinto, still considered to be the most complex maze in the world. Napoleon Bonaparte got lost here in 1807, Hitler and Mussolini refused to venture in and today’s visitors regularly call for assistance from the depths – this maze does not come with a map. For the intrepid and those with a good sense of direction the reward at the heart of Villa Pisani’s Maze is a charming two storey tower with exterior spiral staircases. This is the perfect vantage point from which to observe the confused and to admire the long expanses of the villa’s formal gardens.
Reignac-sur-Indre, Indre-et-Loire, France
Created in 1996, Reignac-sur-Indre is the largest ‘plant maze’ in the world. Although the design is a classical labyrinth, the planting of the maze uses a sowing and re-marking technique to make a vibrant living sculpture that flourishes with sunflowers in summer and dies back almost to a shadow in winter. This isn’t too puzzling a maze but its sheer size is an incomparable adventure. Indre-et-Loire is also famous for its chateaux, medieval towns and villages, beautiful lakes, forests and rivers and for its hot air balloons. So once you’ve explored the maze and its landscape on the ground you can always sail gently over it and see everything from another perspective entirely.
Parc del Laberint, Barcelona, Spain
This 18 acre garden, part of the Alfarràs Estate on the edge of Barcelona, is the oldest in the city and unquestionably the most romantic. The centrepiece of the garden is a maze of 2m high hedges devised to almost exactly replicate the Minotaur’s mythical Labyrinth at Knossos. Not content to mirror the classical design, the maze also uses statuary, art and friezes to capture every detail of Theseus and Ariadne’s love story – the prize at the heart is, of course, a statue of Cupid. The great romantic idyll is celebrated in the rest of Parc del Laberint too. But all the Temples of Ariadne and statues of Echo pale by comparison with a monument created simply to commemorate, ‘one splendid afternoon’.
Cawdor Castle, Nairn, Scotland
With its crow stepped gables and steeply pitched roofs, Cawdor Castle is at once fairy tale and intrinsically Scottish. Often called the Highlands’ most romantic castle and forever linked to Shakespeare through his wildly inaccurate tragedy Macbeth, Cawdor also has one of the finest walled kitchen gardens in Britain and at its heart lies the immaculately groomed Holly Maze. Designed in 1981 by Lord Cawdor and based on the mosaic maze in the ruined Roman Villa of Conimbriga, Portugal, Cawdor’s maze is not a conundrum or a place to get lost, but it is very beautiful and tracing its intricacies passes some very peaceful time.
Vizcaya, Biscayne Bay, Miami, Florida
In 1916 the agricultural industrialist James Deering built his summer retreat overlooking Biscayne Bay in Miami. A huge, Italianate villa with dozens of rooms and over 10 acres of garden, today Vizcaya is one of the most glamorous museums in the world. Deering’s passion was planting – when he realised Miami’s climate wouldn’t fulfil his desire for abundant orchids he created a ‘secret garden’ specifically for their cultivation. He had orchards built, woodland tamed and, of course, inspired by the true spirit of 18th century Italy he made a maze. Not one of the largest or most confusing, but Vizcaya hosts many elegant evening events so it is one of the few mazes to explore by moonlight.
Featured image by Tim Green.
It’s a funny thing. Love, the most inconvenient and unpredictable of all emotions, is neatly celebrated once a year on Valentine’s Day. Because of course that’s the day the world at large feels romantic. Apparently every single one of us wakes up on the 14th of February with nothing on our minds but roses and hearts and kittens and chocolate and strangely inflammable looking lingerie. Well here’s a handy Valentine’s Day tip: ‘if it’s supposed to be romantic, it probably isn’t’.
Romance is imaginative, sincere, memorable, unexpected – not rings in pudding, that’s just silly and dangerous. Romance isn’t about a gesture or a day, it’s a shared experience that no one else can have in quite the same way.
So in the true spirit of romance we’re leaving Valentine’s Day to the Divine Order of Retailers and laying claim to the rest of the year instead.
Romance is wherever you happen to be. By yoga – photowork.
Giudecca Island, Venice
When it comes to romantic experiences that just aren’t, The Gondola has to be right up there with a carriage ride round Central Park. We defy you to find a pic. (not posed by models) where the ‘happy couple’ don’t look as if they’re thinking, ‘Please Venice sink faster and take us with you’?
True romantics catch a vaporetto and cross the lagoon to Giudecca Island. Giudecca is the best place to see an uninterrupted panoramic view of St. Marks, its breathtaking Campanile and the skyline of Venice itself. The island’s also home to the world famous Hotel Cipriani and, since you saved a fortune foregoing a gondola, you could afford a cocktail and the pleasure of the hotel’s seductively beautiful gardens.
Hotel Cipriani, Venice. By sabinaharlacz.
The Giant Pandas, Edinburgh
We can’t vouch for any romantic entanglement between Tian Tian and Yang Guang themselves as yet, but we can tell you that Edinburgh’s Giant Pandas are now so popular with everyone else you need to book a time to see them. Good news is you don’t pay extra and you can choose your 20 minute Panda Experience time slot on-line and print your pass. Plus you’ve got the rest of one of the world’s best zoos to enjoy while you’re waiting.
Tian Tian. By afcone.
La Musée de la Vie Romantique, Paris
If anything can kill the spirit of romance quicker than a sweltering summer afternoon spent creeping along in a queue at the base of the Eiffel Tower, we’d love to know.
You’ll find us at 16 Rue Chapital, at the foot of Montmartre hill, taking tea in the garden of La Musée de la Vie Romantique. Once famous for its Friday evening salons where Chopin, Delacroix, Georges Sands, Ingres and even Charles Dickens were guests, 16 Rue Chapital is one of only three Literary Museums in Paris. Small (by Louvre standards) the museum is like a perfectly imagined Parisian home filled with eccentric and intriguing art and ephemera where you can wander around for free any day of the week – except Monday.
La Musée de la Vie Romantique. By eraritjaritjaka.
Orange Blossom, Seville
In spring the streets of Seville are filled with the scent of oranges and orange blossom. It’s not too hot just warm and pleasant. And the streets aren’t crowded with tourists ticking one after another of the city’s Moorish masterpieces off the ‘Must See’ list. If you want to make Seville the setting for your own particular romance, Spring is definitely the time to do it.
Orange lined street. By Simon & Vicki.
Vienna On Ice
When it comes to romance Vienna doesn’t make such a song and dance about things as Paris. It’s quite happy to let the city speak for itself. This is where the waltz was born, home to Gustav Klimt’s ‘The Kiss’, chocolate cake is considered part of a balanced diet and just about everyone looks confident, happy and almost unreasonably attractive.
Plus, every winter from January to March the kindly Viennese freeze large parts of the city to let you, and your love, skate. So if you want to leap and whirl or just stumble about try the grand rink in front of Vienna City Hall. Take to the frozen paths of City Hall Park. Go classical at the Wilhelminenberg Palace. Or join everyone else on Friday night for in-line skating – we think you may need to practice this first. It’s outdoors, very Viennese and who doesn’t look desirable in a beanie?
Skating on the Danube. By trbuh.
Wild and Wanton Winter Beaches, Cornwall
We’re the first to admit to a bit of a winter crush on wild British beaches. The weather doesn’t matter because it’s not August so we don’t (foolishly) expect too much sun. And crashing surf make us feel rugged and explorer like.
From windswept Godrevy on the North Coast to the gentler sweep of Praa Sands in the South, Cornwall does beaches – lots of them. And, as an added bonus, almost every Cornish beach comes with a cosy pub not too far away. So once you’ve braved the elements, faced down your fears and made it back from the wild, you can cuddle up and have tea.
Fresh, clear and cold. By grakki.
Night and Day Amsterdam
It doesn’t really matter what they’re showing at Amsterdam’s Theatre Tuschinski book a Love Seat. Then sit back with some food and wine and enjoy the old fashioned romance of this wonderfully grand and eccentric Art Deco cinema.
A Saturday picnic is a bit of a tradition and the best place to pick up supplies is De Negen Straatjes, the city’s irresistible shopping district. Just a short walk from Dam Square and spread out over the network of 17th century canals, De Negen Straatjes is where the very tall, very elegant and very charming citizens of Amsterdam gather at the weekend to make the rest of us feel like a sub-species. For your picnic spot choose nearby Vondel Park; sitting on the grass, holding hands and looking picturesque is almost the law here.
Tuschinski Theatre, Amsterdam. By Kees van Mansom.
Birthplace of Aphrodite, Paphos is known for beaches, glorious weather, secluded swimming coves and wonderful walks. What better way to worship the Greek Goddess of Love’s bounty than by making the most of her home town? Best time to visit is Autumn or Spring when the Mediterranean climate is only perfect for cycle rides, lazing in the sea, long picnic lunches and touring the Temples.
Cyprus sunsets. By sweenpole2001.
Horseshoe Bar, The Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin
The most famous thing about Dublin’s most famous hotel is the iconic Horseshoe Bar. Name checked no less than four times in James Joyce’s Ulysses, just having a drink here gives romance a glamorously louche and Worldly edge.
Horseshoe Bar. By aj842.
A Moment in Barcelona
At about half past seven on a late summer’s evening the crowds, queues and postcard sellers have moved on, La Sagrada Familia is silent and Barcelona is in between day and night. There’s a little park just opposite the Cathedral where you can sit and have a glass of wine in the last warmth of the sun. The Passion Façade is yours alone for just that very brief time. It’s an almost perfect moment.
The Last Supper, The Passion Facade, La Sagrada Familia. By bobcat rock.
Happy Valentine’s Day – and the rest!