Wintertime in Europe can be bleak – gray skies, lots of rain and frigid temperatures. So when I found myself working in Germany for the umpteenth time during late January, I talked my parents into meeting me for a weekend in Barcelona to shake off the chill.
A little background on my relationship with Spain – we did not have a particularly fond introduction. While resting at a café in Madrid’s Plaza Mayor, a young gypsy girl stole my iPhone from under my nose. Even though I experienced excellent weather, great food and traditional flamenco, my view of the city was, admittedly, tainted. I know, get over it, right?
It was up to Barcelona to change my mind about Spain. My parents, also jetsetters, took the opportunity to go for a week and when I arrived, found the city had worked its magic on them – they were shouting “Hola” to friends in the neighborhood, raving about cafés and talking about all their walks through the beautiful, seaside city.
A few things about Barcelona: the architecture is beautifully eccentric thanks to the imagination of Antonio Gaudí; the laid-back vibe is what you would expect from a coastal town; and it’s the capital of Cataluña - a unique region of Spain that has been vying for independence for years.
Barcelona, we only had a weekend, but that’s all I needed for you to win me over. Viva España!
PJ Pants: My parents and I stayed in an apartment and it was perfect for our little getaway, especially since they had settled in for the week. (A friend recommended the neighborhood surrounding the Sagrada Família.) Plus, I was still recovering from long work hours, so I was all in for some R&R. However, I won’t leave you empty-handed when it comes to hotel recommendations, so here are some hot spots from travelers I trust: Hotel Jazz is modern and cosmopolitan while Murmuri is your chic and sophisticated boutique experience – both ideally located either on or near Las Ramblas.
Fat Pants: This is where I could go on and on ... and on. Bar Mut is hands down one of the best dining experiences of my travels and I discovered it on Find. Eat. Drink. (FED), an app where local chefs and sommeliers recommend their favorite places. Intimate and cozy, this spot offers 8pm and 10pm seatings, impeccable service, simple yet perfect dishes and excellent local wine pairings. It was so fun to treat my parents – we oohed and ahhed over dishes such as Charcoal Grilled Corvina, Bison Meatballs and French Toast with Goat Cheese Ice Cream. Our wine pairing from Priorat is one of the best bottles ever (there’s a theme here) – so good that we tracked it down the next day to stash in our suitcase. I’m still waiting for the perfect occasion …
SiBar was my first lunch stop in Barcelona, recommended by the apartment manager, and also a stellar choice. The atmosphere is wine cellar turned restaurant and the traditional Spanish food, Jamón Ibérico and Croquetas, were fantastic. And you can’t forget to try the Crème Catalan, a local take on the decadent French dessert.
If you’ve read my other guides and blogs, you know my love for local markets, so visiting La Boqueria, or Mercat de Sant Josep, was high on my list. We walked from our apartment, lured by the local olive oil, fresh fruit, pizzas and piping hot empanadas. It’s a great place to graze tapas style – grab a table and some wine and get to it!
TIP: We’ve all heard that Spanish people eat on the later side. They are not kidding! Even at 9pm, you’ll likely be the only people in the restaurant (Bar Mut was an exception). So get in the spirit – take a siesta and eat like a local. Kudos to my parents who hung in there!
Ants in Your Pants: There is nothing quite like the majestic Sagrada Família, Gaudi’s masterpiece over 130 years in the making. It’s now in its final phase of construction and set to be completed in 2026-2028. I loved the stained glass and the gothic architecture, and unlike other churches in Europe, I found it inviting, reverent yet approachable. Definitely make sure you climb the towers for some of the best views of Barcelona.
TIP: Get tickets for the towers in advance so you can skip the line. You can get them onsite or online and return at the designated time.
Now on to the beautiful monastery at Montserrat, dating back to the 11th century and only an hour and a half outside of Barcelona in the serene landscape of the mountains. It’s a trek up to the top, but once you arrive, you’re treated to the sounds of an amazing choir in the main cathedral, beautiful scenery both inside and out and great hikes if you’re up for it. Take in the views with wine and cheese, of course. How else?
TIP: Take the train from Barcelona and transfer to the cable car. You don’t need all day unless you’re going to hike, but it’s well worth the trip, especially if you want a day in the countryside.