The Heart and Soul of Catalonia

Barcelona is the best city to be a tourist – the city is full of life, quirky and unexpected at every turn. It’s a city for explorers: go back in time as you wander around the Gothic quarter, feast your eyes on Gaudí’s surreal Modernist architecture just a few streets down and walk along Las Ramblas until you reach the sea! Barcelona’s not a large city, but it’s so full of experiences that you’ll want to come back.

For those more gastronomically inclined, Barcelona is known for its innovative restaurants and excellent seafood. I had too much fun eating, exploring and shopping and here’s what I enjoyed the most:

Explore the Best of Barcelona

1. Relax on the famous Barceloneta Beach

Barcelona is right next to the sea and it’s one of the best places to get your tan on. The most famous of all the beaches is Barceloneta Beach. Stretching 1.6 km from W Hotel to Passeig Maritim, the scenery is beautiful – clear blue skies, endless golden sands and hot Spanish people.

You can even join the fun. Summer is a great time to be active in Barcelona – we spotted people playing beach volleyball, football, rollerblading and cycling.

Morning yoga beside Barceloneta Beach.

If you’re content just watching others have fun, you can lean back on a picnic mat and just look at people going by.

2. Enjoy the freshest seafood at La Boqueria

To the right of Las Ramblas, La Boqueria is a vibrant open-air market that you shouldn’t miss. It’s pricier than local markets, but the experience is worth it. Rows and rows of fresh produce jostle with seafood and little tapas joints, you can’t help but sit down for a quick bite.

Get your paella fix here.

One of my travel companions who’s no stranger to Barcelona recommended the seafood at Universal Kiosk – Barcelona’s right beside the sea, so you know that everything you order is super fresh! You can also get your pick of jamón (Spanish cured ham) in the market.

3. Visit the homeground of FC Barcelona

Just your friendly Barcelona policemen playing a game of football.

Even if you’re not a football fan, you’ll still have to visit Camp Nou at least once in your lifetime. Camp Nou more than FC Barcelona’s home stadium – given its rich tradition and history, it’s been known as a cathedral to football. Barcelona is one of Europe’s best football clubs. They’re so good that they won the La Liga, Copa del Rey and the Champions League in one season, AND this is the second time they’ve done so in the last 6 years!

Mes que un club = more than a club

The stadium is huge! Looking up at the highest seats is dizzying – just imagine the whole stadium filled to the brim with 98,000 supporters. The atmosphere would be incredible.

4. Ramble along Las Ramblas

Las Ramblas looks like any other street, but it’s your gateway to the rest of Barcelona. Stretching all the way from the city centre, Plaça de Catalunya, to the sea, it’s always bustling and colourful.

As you walk down the street, you’ll notice that every section of Las Ramblas is different – you’ll see many florists along Rambla de les Flors, while Rambla de Santa Monica used to be a convent, but is now an arts centre.

For fans of FC Barcelona, don’t miss the Font de Canaletes fountain. Every time Barça wins a major cup or triumphs over eternal rivals Real Madrid, tens of thousands of fans gather around this area to celebrate! Legend also says that if you drink from this fountain, you’re sure to come back to Barcelona.

I’ve seen enough of Barcelona to know that even if I don’t drink from it, I’ll be back!

Or you could pop by the Erotic Museum, if you’re into that sort of thing ( ͡~ ͜ʖ ͡°)

5. Shop till you drop at La Roca Village

Even if you’re a pure adrenaline junkie, the Singaporean in you must be screaming for a day when you pamper yourself and shop for the best deals in town. La Roca Village is a little out of the way, but with transport options aplenty and great prices, how can you resist? Be sure to visit during the sale seasons: mid January to end February or mid July to end August.

Since you’re already in Spain, look out for brands that are quintessentially Spanish, or brands that you can’t find at home. We all know Bimba Y Lola and their eclectic prints, but try Castañer, a hand-made espadrilles retailer, or Aristocrazy, known for their bold and trendy jewellery.

Source Or shop at Spain’s iconic luxury brand – Loewe!

6. Step into the Gothic Quarter

Barcelona is so unique because of the stark contrast between old and new. As you’re walking along Las Ramblas towards the sea, turn into any one of the narrow side streets on your left and you’ll find yourself in the midst of quaint old buildings.

The most striking sight is the Catedral de Barcelona, an incredible, imposing structure that must be seen with your own eyes. It was consecrated 700 years ago and you can still see some ruins of Barcino, the colony founded by the Romans.

The cathedral is beautiful from all angles!

It can get labyrinthian if you don’t know the place well, so it’s best to take a walking tour with a guide. The Gothic quarter is a place of stories – the streets may look peaceful today, but they’ve seen their share of bloodshed and tragedy.

Wander along Baixada de Santa Eulalia, where the Romans tortured Saint Eulalia, or explore the Jewish Quarter, which has survived persecutions, massacres and bombings. There’s a plaza in the Jewish Quarter that will send chills down your spine – the pockmarked walls are reminders of the firing squads that killed many Republicans during the Spanish civil war.

Go Gaudi-Hopping

Gaudí isn’t gaudy at all. You can’t spend a day in Barcelona without hearing about Gaudí, one of the craziest, most creative and most forward-thinking architects that ever lived. The early 20th Century was characterised by interesting, avant-garde architecture, but Gaudí stood head and shoulders above the rest. Looking at his creations, I couldn’t help but wonder whether he was a bit mad, or a genius, or both.

7. Park Güell

Inspired by the Garden of Eden, it seems as though Gaudí created this fairytale-like park without any straight lines.

If you’re tired, sit down and rest. The mosaic benches are designed to be comfortable – Gaudí created ergonomic benches even before the concept was invented.

Gaudí is basically every Singaporean’s ideal penny pincher. These mosaic benches are beautifully decorated… with broken ceramics obtained for free. The columns are impressive and super cool, and also double up as a rainwater catchment system. Beautiful, yet functional!

Gingerbread houses Gaudí-style

The park is usually crowded, so watch your bags, but there’s something so refreshing about it that makes it so special. It’s worth a visit – take a stroll around and spot all of Gaudí’s touches of genius!

8. Casa Mila

Casa Mila is one of the houses that belonged to the very rich. So rich that they could afford hiring Gaudí as their architect. And he delivered, creating the weirdest roof in all of Spain.

Winding, undulating and confusing, Gaudi threw the staid flat roofs out of the window and decided he liked curves and oddly shaped rooftop sculptures. The result is a house unlike any other.

9. Passeig de Gracia

Grand, opulent buildings line the sides of Passeig de Gracia, the Barcelona equivalent of Singapore’s Sentosa Cove. The bourgeois of the past were unbelievably rich, and of course they wanted to show it.

But how do you make your house stand out from the other equally massive buildings along the street? Hire the wackiest architects to make your home special. And don’t forget to make the windows on the second floor super large. You want to be able to see and be seen.

10. La Sagrada Familia – the craziest church in the world

As I was walking around La Sagrada Familia, dazed and disoriented from its splendour, I overheard a tour guide say that it’s the work and pride of many lifetimes. It’s far from finished and may not be completed while I’m alive to see it, but even incomplete, it’s a masterpiece.

I could stare at the ceiling all day.

Gaudí supervised and dreamt up most of La Sagrada Familia’s structure, but it’s the result of the combined efforts of Spain’s best artists. From intricate sculptures to towering hyperbolic pillars to immaculately crafted stained glass, every inch of La Sagrada Familia is a work of art.

Look up – doesn’t it take your breath away?

Eat All the Spanish Food

11. L’Eggs

Steak tartare with Mexican shades on grilled bone marrow

As you can probably tell by its name, L’Eggs serves up eggs in all shapes and sizes. A casual dining joint opened by two Michelin-starred chef Paco Pérez, you’re in for a treat, especially if you love eggs.

Octopus cocotte with turnips and “tetilla” cheese

The dishes are innovative and playful, but every bite is flavourful and addictive, yet familiar. It’s some of the best comfort food I’ve tried.

Don’t forget the dessert. Chocolate soufflé with hazelnut ice-cream

For the avid foodies, take a pilgrimage to Miramar, Paco Pérez’s legendary avant-garde restaurant in Costa Brava.

Address: Passeig de Gràcia, 116, 08008 Barcelona, Spain
Opening Hours: Lunch – Monday to Sundays 13.00 pm – 23.30 pm
Telephone: +34 932 38 48 46

12. Escribà Pastry Shop

Their macarons are drool-worthy

Escribà prides itself on quality and tradition – their pastries are hand-made everyday in their in-house bakery. They’re incredibly popular, so you’ll have to go there early in the morning before everything runs out! Escribà is famous for making beautiful creations out of chocolate and baking some of the most delicious pastries around.

Cardenal Escribà con salsa de chocolate – decadent cream sandwiched between flaky pastry, topped with hot chocolate sauce.

If you’re interested, they organise cake workshops for the aspiring baker. Check them out here.

Address: Escribà Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes 546, 08011 Barcelona, Spain
Telephone: +34 93 454 75 35

13. Take a tapas tour

Croquettes and bread at Orio

You can’t leave Spain without an evening with a glass of sangria, a savoury side dish and some good company. Any bar or tavern is bound to have tapas, or you can try a bit of everything by going on a tapas tour.

Tapas treats on our tapas tour!

Our guide from Food Wine Tours led us through the narrow streets of the Gothic Quarter to tapas places and introduced us to the most popular dishes, along with some good old alcohol.

Spanish sangria is always a hit, or you could try the local cava, a light Spanish wine from Catalonia.

14. BistrEau de Ángel León

Marriage – pumpkin ravioli, pickled anchovies and “ali i oli”

Squid Noodles in its ink hollandaise sauce

I love seafood and there’s nothing better than well-prepared seafood that retains that salty taste of the sea. After all the meat-heavy meals, it was nice to sit back and enjoy a light lunch.

Fisherman’s Coconut – balsamic and exotic flavours

Apart from seafood, the dessert is excellent – Fisherman’s Coconut is the perfect combination of sweet, savoury, melt-in-your-mouth and crunchy. Even if you don’t have a sweet tooth, you’ll enjoy it. Get your seafood fix at BistrEau de Ángel León here.

Address: Passeig de Gracia, 38-40 | Mandarin Oriental Barcelona, 08007 Barcelona, Spain
Opening Hours: 7am – 11pm
Telephone: +34 931 51 87 83

15. Salt Restaurant and Beach Club

Grilled vegetables on a summer’s day. Yum. ◟(◔ั₀◔ั )◞

Summer’s the season for al fresco dining and there’s no better place to dine by the sea than at the W Hotel.

Salt Restaurant serves up great burgers and fries at a reasonable price – sip on some cocktails and enjoy the sea breeze.

One of my travel companions proclaimed their beef burger one of the best she’s ever eaten. If you’re less traditional, try their Seabreeze burger, grilled fillet of salmon with lollo verde lettuce, citrus tartar sauce and crunchy onions, served in a wasabi bun and with a side of fries. Sinful, but good.

Seabreeze burger

Address: Passeig del Mare Nostrum, 08039 Barcelona, Spain
Opening Hours:

  • April: Sunday – Thursday 1pm – 5pm, Friday & Saturday from 1 pm – midnight
  • May – October: Monday – Sunday 1 pm – 1 am

Telephone: +34 932 95 28 19

16. Disfrutar

The beet that comes out of the land

Disfrutar means “to enjoy”, and this newly-opened restaurant most certainly lives up to its name. We spent 3.5 hours eating and I do not regret a single minute.

“Disfruta de la aceituna”. Looks like olives, not exactly olives. Bite into one of these for a burst of flavour in your mouth.

Crispy egg yolk with mushroom gelatin

Eating at Disfrutar requires skill, delicacy and plenty of instructions. A waiter is always on standby to introduce the dish to you and tell you the best way to eat it. Seriously, follow what they say – the food combinations may seem strange but they’re so interesting and different and satisfying.

Veal with foie gras and black truffle

Olives and orange blossom essence! Pork and mackerel! Beet and rosewater! For the adventurous eater, it’s a delightful foray into the world of the unexplored. Your tongue will be confused, but fascinated.

27 courses later, we were stuffed, but oh-so-happy.

Address: Calle Villarroel, 163, 08036 Barcelona, Spain
Opening Hours: Tuesday – Saturday 1pm – 3.45pm & 8pm – 10.45pm
Telephone: +34 933 48 68 96

Take to the skies with Qatar Airways

Qatar Airways also has good taste in football teams

Flying to Barcelona is tiring – you’re looking at a 13h flight and that doesn’t even include stopovers! I flew Qatar Airways and I can honestly say that it was the best flight of my life. You’re treated like a king and they feed you really good food. And really good alcohol.

Fit for a king.

Qatar Airways’ new fleet of A350s is ready for action! Your flight from Singapore to Doha is so much better – the new planes are quieter, roomier and most importantly, more comfortable.

Photo courtesy of Qatar Airways

From Singapore, Qatar Airways has three daily flights to their state-of-the-art Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar. Singapore-based passengers can then connect seamlessly to destinations in Europe, Americas, Africa and beyond.

Qatar Airways currently flies double-daily from Doha to Barcelona and Madrid in Spain. For the latest fares and flight schedules, check out Qatar Airways here.

Visit Barcelona Today!

On my last day, I spent half a day just walking around the city, breathing in the sights and sounds and soaking in the atmosphere. History buffs will be fascinated with Barcelona’s colourful history, backpackers will love the convenience of touring the city, and everyone will enjoy the gastronomic pleasures Barcelona has to offer.

There’s never a dull day in Barcelona. The weather reflects the spirit of the city – it’s always sunny, cheery and welcoming. Leaving was heartbreaking – I had barely scratched the surface of this delightful city, barely tasted what it had to offer. I’ll say it again, with conviction: Barcelona, I’ll be back!

This post was brought to you by Qatar Airways and the Spain Tourism Board.

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