Barcelona has been on our list for several years, but for some reason we always ended up somewhere else. Quite frankly, when planning new holiday spots, we would choose other places over Spain – I now shake my head at that. Since we’ve been, I can’t even begin to explain how happy and grateful I am we finally went.
We heard for years from friends that Spain is the most amazing place and Barcelona was one of the best cities in the world, and it proved to be true once we experienced it. As a matter of fact, it’s flown to the top of our “favorites” list. Cadaques, a fisherman town that's an easy 2 hour drive from Barcelona, is reason enough Spain is one of our new favorite places. If visiting Barcelona I cannot stress enough – make time for a little visit to Cadaques. That little town made our trip complete perfection. I’ll talk more about Cadaques later, but I’ll start by giving my Barcelona must-eat, must-drink, must-do list.
Barcelona: What to Eat & Drink… and do along the way
El Quim de la Bouqeria
This amazing “restaurant” is in the middle of a lively market. Take a stroll through the market first to experience some of the most unique meats, fish, and food items you’ve ever seen. You can eat oysters right off the ice and try samples from different vendors. El Quim de la Bouqeria isn’t easy to find, but once you spot it, you’ll know you're at the right place. It’s a bar in the middle of the market with stools – not easy to find a seat but worth waiting out. The seafood and tapas is out of this world - this is the best lunch you’ll have in Barcelona. Get the oysters, oxtail risotto, and olives.
4 Gats in the Gothic Quarter
You’ll definitely want to spend time walking around the Gothic Quarter – it’s beautiful, dynamic, and there are lots of fun restaurants and bars to hop in and out of for quick bites and drinks while exploring. 4 Gats is a quintessential stop because it’s historic – a common working place for Picasso and Dahli. Worth grabbing a drink in here and taking in the past.
Grand Hotel Central bar
Not far from 4 Gats, the hotel bar here has some of the best cocktails – Tres’ mojito was literally the best one ever and my Aperol Spritz was over the top. There's a rooftop bar with some of the best views in the city, but you have to be staying at the hotel or have dinner reservations to go, however, the downstairs hotel bar was fantastic.
BEST DINNER IN BARCELONA. PERIOD. I could have eaten here every single night. The tapas is just ridiculous it’s so good. The razor clams here are still the best ones we had – and we ate them everywhere. The head-on fresh shrimp was delightful. And the Burrata is unique and melts in your mouth. Get reservations – you will definitely need them.
Tandem Cocktail Bar
We went to this cocktail bar every night after dinner. Literally every night. The vibe is old-school, cozy and the bartender is so talented. There is no menu and only one bartender. Yes, you’ll have to wait a hot minute for your cocktail but don’t leave – you won’t regret waiting it out. The bartender will ask you what you like and go from there. These are masterpiece cocktails.
Quimet y Quimet
Get there as soon as the doors open or you’ll be sorry. And don’t go here if you’re looking to sit down. This is one of the most recommended, authentic tapas places in Barcelona – the food comes out quick and the people pour in quicker. If anything, go for the salmon toast with truffle honey. Drink a red vermouth with soda for what my favorite chef, Jose Andres, calls “the ultimate tapas experience.” I agree.
The Hemingway fan in me will tell you to go here. It’s very divey and don’t expect fancy drinks – they’re known for their absinthe drinks that make every person drinking one look like they’re going to run out and be sick. We stuck to bottled beer and admired the old, authentic walls, floor, photos, etc. It feels very 1920’s and it’s worth stopping for a quick drink.
Rias de Galicia
The fanciest, priciest meal we had in Barcelona. It was a perfect dinner spot with a romantic, white-tablecloth vibe and delicious food. We had champagne and a mix of Spanish and French oysters to start – we favored the French ones, however, both were delicious. The octopus was smoky, paprika-spiced and extremely tasty. The raw, tartare-like lobster was different and delectable. This is an upscale, date-night place you'll want to dress up for!
Tapas Crawl on Blai Street
JUST DO IT. This neighborhood, El Pablo Sec, is off the beaten path and if you like food a lot a lot, it’s a must-do. Spend an entire afternoon one day walking this street, jumping into different tapas places, and sampling everything. The number of tapas bars are never-ending and all the tapas sits open-air – you just walk into a place, pick out a few to several bites, find a table inside or outside on the patio, grab a drink, and eat your face off. This is a food lover’s dream.
Beach Bars and Paella at Xiringuito Escriba
Escriba is THE beach-side spot for traditional Spanish paella. I can’t recommend enough to set aside one day on your Barcelona trip for a “beach day.” The beach-side of Barcelona is like driving into a completely different city – you go from old-world charm in the city to a Miami-ish beach setting on the water in less than 10 minutes. I’m not the biggest beach person, so for me to recommend spending an entire day at the beach means you should probably do it.- This is THE beach-side spot for traditional Spanish paella. I can’t recommend enough to set aside one day on your Barcelona trip for a “beach day.” The beach-side of Barcelona is like driving into a completely different city – you go from old-world charm in the city to a Miami-ish beach setting on the water in less than 10 minutes. I’m not the biggest beach person, so for me to recommend spending an entire day at the beach means you should probably do it.
Barcelona Beach is a wee bit touristy and a little crowded – so we stuck to Nova Icaria Beach, a lively, sandy stretch with an endless line of beach bars and water-front chairs to rent. Choose chairs in front of the beach bars, and you’ll have servers bring you drinks right on the beach. I do recommend walking down to Barcelona Beach and all the way to the W Hotel (the one that looks like the sailboat hotel in Dubai), as there are even more beach bars, plus that hotel is a showstopper on so many levels. But before you get too far from Nova Icaria Beach, eat paella at Escriba – it’s beachfront, festive, and the food is yummy.
Palosanto in Gothic Quarter
Pork Cheek with Truffled Mashed Potatoes. That’s all I have to say about that. The other bites of food here are ok, but the wine list is superb and the pork cheek dish is reason enough to jump in, have a bite, then maybe go somewhere else.
Omg this gin and tonic bar is just FANTASTIC!!!! Great late night place to slip in and grab a night cap... small space, great folks, amazing drinks. Another one of those great bars you can just tell the bartender what you like, and they'll fix you right up. These drinks came in the typical gin and tonic "fishbowl glasses" with heavy ice cubes and flavored with fresh spices, herbs, and fruits... quickly made us want to become gin and tonic drinkers on the regular 😬 We have refrained since we got home though... ha! But now we know how to make the best drinks!!
Fantastic beer bar and atmosphere... loved the selection of craft brews. I even had an Elvis themed beer... The King is everywhere. You can't visit any city without seeing The King.
Cadaques and the Costa Brava
The Costa Brava is the coastal region of northeastern Spain that displays the most gorgeous landscapes from beautiful beaches and rocky cliffs to mountain scenery and boundless vineyards. If you make any daytrips from Barcelona to one of the little Medieval towns, unique beach towns, or divine wineries, you’ll more than likely drive much of the Costa Brava. However, I recommend spending a small (or large) part of your vacation in one of the lovely towns – Cadaques to be exact.
There are so many unique towns, vineyards, and beaches lining Costa Brava that you could choose from, but I am going to go ahead and tell you to book at least a two or three night stay in Cadaques – this is a place where you have to constantly pinch yourself to make sure you’re not dreaming. Now that I’m back home, Cadaques will cross my mind from time to time, and I still wonder if it was real, if it actually happened. I am sitting here in a trance as I write this because I still can’t believe how spectacular this place is. We are wine people, so anything with that focus will always be at the top of our list but imagine wine AND ocean.
Picture this: a hotel that’s actually inside a winery, set atop a massively high mountain – down the rocky, cliffy mountain on one side, you have a quaint, colorful, picturesque fisherman town and down the other side, you have vineyards galore with a long stretch of wineries at the bottom of the mountain. No, you’re not dreaming, you’re in Cadaques, Spain. I never want to return anywhere – I always say there are too many places on earth to be seen – but Cadaques, I want to visit 100 more times in my lifetime. Not to mention, the people – look around Cadaques and you’ll see people living life simply the way it’s supposed to be lived. I’ve never seen people doing life so right than right here in this town. Here’s a list of what we did, where we stayed, what we saw, and what we ate. It couldn’t have been more perfect, so I would be more than happy for anyone to steal this itinerary.
Mas Molla Winery
On our drive from Barcelona we stopped here for a wine tasting – unplanned. I’ll be the first to tell you, this is not easy to find, but like all treasures, once found, so worth the journey. The winery started in the 1300s and is still ran by the same family – can you imagine knowing what your ancestors from the 1300s did for a living and continuing to live out the tradition?! One of the daughters gave us a quick little tour and tasting. Her English was better than our Spanish, but we all had to work at understanding each other. We bought wine for GREAT prices, and to gather our purchases, she took us into the caves, pulled the label-less wine bottles right off the stacked shelves, and boxed them up for us. It was such an authentic, unique experience – one that is engrained in my mind forever as one of my best travel memories.
This Medieval town is an Instagramer’s dream. The pictures you get from this stone-covered, charming little village are breathtaking. Tours are available, but we just walked around and enjoyed the scenery – it’s a quick stop, only taking an hour or two to see everything.
There’s a great little restaurant at the bottom of the elevated town called Antic Casino. It’s quaint, cozy, and has a 3-course lunch menu with dishes off the charts. I had the BEST Squid Ink Paella I ever had – on this trip and ever. The mint soup for dessert was delightful, too!
This winery is also a hotel, and it’s seriously one of the best places we have ever stayed. You can look it up online, but the pictures don’t do it justice. This place is amazing on so many levels – wine (and friendly dogs to greet you) upon arrival, a fun and informative wine tasting, immaculate rooms with modern amenities, the most relaxing breeze and scenery perfect for enjoying a glass of wine or coffee outside daily, and their 5-star complimentary breakfast spread each morning is enough to make you want to live there.
Honestly, I have never wanted to live in a hotel, and I NEED this place to be my home. The owner also has a few restaurants around town that are superb and the recommendations and helpfulness of the staff are just wonderful. It’s also very reasonably priced, which is shocking for what you get with this place. The town of Cadaques is a scenic, easy 10-minute drive from the top of the mountain – this hotel is absolute perfection!
We went here twice for the oysters, once for a large dinner spread – the menu here is just amazing. If you wait, you can snag a great water-front seat on their covered patio and people-watch all night.
Late night (not too late – Cadaques is not a late-night town) place with the best music ever. We sat on the water-front patio, drank wine, and listened to the coolest band that played everything from 90’s rock to Dire Straits to Dolly Parton. I hope when you go, that same band is playing, but if not, this place is known to have great music all the time.
We did a half-day boat rental and tooled around the Cadaques coastline – this was the best day of our trip.
We packed several bottles of wine, stopped at one of the markets for cheese and snacks, and had a little picnic on the boat. Not to mention, swimming in the Mediterranean was crisp, cool, and just as beautiful as anything in life could ever get. If you do this trip, I HIGHLY recommend renting a boat.
A must-do for dinner. This place is hip, cozy, romantic, all the things - with a really playful menu and great wine list. Try to sit outside – it has such a lovely ambiance.
Espelt Tasting Room
On the other side of the mountain, on the way back to Barcelona, we stopped at Espelt Winery and had the most wonderful experience. We did an impressive tasting of about 7 or 8 different wines and the girl who helped us was so wonderful, friendly, and accommodating. The big glass windows you sit in front of gives you a complete view of their vineyards out front, and the wine was delicious. If I could change one thing (and when we go back), I recommend staying one more day and doing a winery day – there are so many on this stretch of road. We only had time to stop at one, but I'm glad this is the one we picked! My favorite part of the day was when the gal pouring our wine found out we were from Memphis, the first thing she said was, “I love the Memphis Grizzlies – Pau Gasol is from just a few towns over.” SO NEAT!
Another wonderful little beach town just down from Espelt. If you’re hungry or want to explore after wine tasting, this is the place to go. Lots of cute restaurants and bars line the tiny beach. The town is known for the restaurant Miramar, but there are so many great little patio tapas places as well.