Home to Camp Nou superstars Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez, Barcelona is one of the world’s most attractive and vibrant cities.
Thronged with summer sunshine seekers who want the buzz of a European city break, a retreat to the Catalan capital promises everything from architecture, culture, shows and sophistication to beachside bars, nightclubs, restaurants and relaxation.
But for first time Tipperary visitors in holiday mode, Barcelona’s dark underbelly can become your worst nightmare if you let down your guard. Dodgy dealers on the famous Las Ramblas are up there with Europe's most infamous street rogues.
Planning a trip to Barcelona in the future? Below are some tips that might be useful on your travels:
Where to stay?
The El Born neighbourhood by the Arc de Triomf will give you a real Catalan experience on the doorstep of the city’s beating heart. The narrow cobble streets are full of families and friends enjoying dinner and drinks into the early hours. Irish bars and traditional tapas are a stone's throw away on Via Laietana. The Gothic Quarter, Las Ramblas, Port Vell and the popular beach area are 5-15 minutes walking distance. Some hotels have rooftop pools, fantastic views and a free buffet throughout the day.
Where to have dinner?
Restaurants on Plaça Reial and around the Gothic Quarter tick most boxes with outdoor seating offering a bird’s eye view of what’s doing the rounds on the menu. The square is alive with street performers and is a popular hang out hotspot for tourists.
Hard Rock Cafe on Plaça de Catalunya is full of good vibes and is a great place to kick off your stay in Barcelona before divulging in more local cuisine.
However, real quality and quantity at a reasonable price is hit and miss in the city centre. Restaurants with hour long queues on Rambla de Catalunya are amongst the city’s biggest tourist traps and could let you feeling hungry and out of pocket.
Also, be mindful if ordering steak as some restaurants bring out a pricey, less than satisfactory blood soaked portion on a sizzling platter and expect you to cook it to your fancy.
Barcelona is home to some of Europe's finest ice-cream.
Las Ramblas - a story of two tales
Las Ramblas is Barcelona’s most famous street with its stalls and street performers giving tourists from across the world a glimpse at life in Catalonia. Wandering through La Boquería public market is a joy to behold - a sensory experience that captures everything that is unique about the city.
However, the popularity of La Rambla brings with it a blatant vice element that can become very intimidating at night. Many dealers try to lure tourists to “coffee shops”, while others offer drugs and sex. All this is going on in front of families enjoying ice-cream after dinner.
Embrace the Las Ramblas experience but at the same time mind your belongings and expect constant pestering at nighttime.
Worthy of TripAdvisor's #1 status?
The outside of Sagrada Família is phenomenal - a great backdrop for the picturesque part of your Barcelona photo collection. Take the time to admire and appreciate the masterclass from a distance, snap happy and go explore Barcelona because the inside and ‘panoramic experience’ aren’t as spectacular. Tickets, which range up to €29, are a rip off.
Sagrada Família is TripAdvisor's #1 of 719 things to do in Barcelona.
The Camp Nou Experience should top football fans ‘to do list’ in Barcelona. The tour takes you inside one of the world’s biggest football clubs, the away dressing room, museum, tunnel and pitchside. Compared to other disappointing stadium tours such as Milan’s San Siro, tickets at €20-€25 represent value for money.
Barcelona has something that will appeal to everyone - city life at a more chillaxed tourist resort pace. Most of Barcelona’s attractions can be explored by foot and there is also the option of taking the sightseeing hop on hop off buses that run like clockwork across different tourist routes. The city’s port, beach and Magic Fountain are particularly spectacular in summer.
Flaws aside, Barcelona has plenty of culture, character and charm. It can rightfully claim a stake alongside London and Paris as Europe's top city destination.