Back in September last year, I finally made it to a city I’ve always wanted to visit, Barcelona. It was my husband’s idea to tag it on to the end of a weekend away celebrating a friend's wedding in nearby Costa Brava. Laurie had been before but was very happy to go back . He said Barcelona will always surprise and inspire. Like Paris, New York, or Berlin — there’s always something new to discover.
Our trip to Barcelona was a whirlwind 36 hours. Considering the short time we had, there wouldn’t be much time spent hanging around the hotel. However, I still wanted a reasonably priced hotel and one that offered character and charm, a clean room, bathroom, nice sheets and interior design plus soft towels and goodies … who doesn’t want that? After lots of searching, I finally came across Hotel Praktik Garden Hotel. Very often we associate low price with low quality, especially when we talk about accommodation. But that’s not the case with Praktik Garden (and what seems the whole Praktik chain). The prices can start from less than €50 off-peak season and €120 peak season.
The hotel rooms were immaculately refurbished in 2015 with a minimalist design in one of Barcelona’s stunning historical buildings. Each room has a different design thanks to the Spanish architecture and the great work of Lázaro Rosa-Violan. We chose the Garden Room, which as a superior room, has large beautiful balcony doors overlooking the street.
Staying at The Praktik Garden is an experience in itself that begins long before you reach your room. Luscious plants spilling out from ceramic pots will welcome you at the hotel entrance, while the reception features an immense wall of books and abundant flowerpots. Inside you’ll discover a beautiful outdoor terrace where you can relax in loungers, read, and unwind after a day in Barcelona or simply sunbathe. It was the perfect place to relax from the bustling city and be conveniently located right in the heart of Barcelona city centre. In my opinion, the breakfast area is the coziest room – a big kitchen with a large dining table, fireplace surrounded by books and beautiful leather chairs. Here you can grab a complimentary coffee and enjoy a takeaway breakfast from the local bakery if you’re not ready to venture out.
We arrived in Barcelona in the afternoon, so quickly dumped our bags and went for a wonder down Las Ramblas where you start to get a real sense of what Barcelona’s is really about. It’s the most central boulevard which cuts through the heart of the city centre. It’s a vibrant, lively promenade and it stretches for 1.2 kilometres. It’s a great place to get your bearings but the shopping, food and drinks are overpriced, poor and touristy - head a couple of lanes or streets either way for better options.
El Born and the Gothic Quarter, can be dirty, smelly and sometimes dangerous (watch out for pickpockets), but nothing can compare to these rustic streets. You simply can’t say you’ve seen Barcelona until you’ve seen, and got lost in these ancient streets. Quirky little cafés, tapas bars and shops make these areas the ideal place to spend an afternoon and get a feel for the real Barcelona.
This is where we found the best tapas we’ve ever tasted at Bodega Biarritz 1881. Big statement but true. It’s everything you would want, quirky, full of character, delicious and cheap. You can select their most expensive menu for €39 for two people. You’ll start with the best Iberian ham and Catalan bread with fresh tomato and olive oil. Next you’ll be served eight tapas surprises (you can guide them if anything catches your eye) which all have a modern twist and are mouth-watering. You can’t book this restaurant but the queue goes down quickly and you can enjoy a drink outside, people-watch and meet new friends. The last thing to add is they that do not serve fish.
Barcelona is just as beautiful at night. On our way home we walked through a busy, fun square located just off Las Ramblas. It’s a must see for anyone looking for great bars and it also has traditional Spanish/Catalan restaurants. Placa Reial (Royal Plaza) is also home to some of Barcelona’s best nightclubs. We didn’t actually eat here. We were a bit worried it was a tourist trap but it’s a great place to wonder, soak up the atmosphere and have a drink.
Our hotel, the Praktik Garden, doesn’t serve breakfast. As long as we have coffee to kick-start us, this isn’t a problem on a city break – we’re usually desperate to get out and enjoy our new scenery. There are a couple of great options within a two minute walk of the hotel. You can grab a pastry from Forn De Pa Pastisseria and take it back tom your room or eat on the go. Or there’s a great local restaurant Betlem which is delicious and great value for money. You can have orange juice, coffee, pastry and eggs all for around €8.
At the first opportunity in Barcelona you should visit their iconic landmark cathedral, the Sagrada Familia. The masterpiece of Barcelona’s favourite architect, Antoni Gaudi, is like something from a dark fairy-tale. Each of the three grand façades are themed to an incredibly detailed extent, carved with scenes and characters to tell the age-old stories of Christ in the most dramatic way. Whether you find this famous cathedral to be unbelievably creative or strange and garish, it simply must be seen. There's not many things that will stop you in your tracks, and this certainly does. The cathedral is still unfinished and is expected to be completed in 2030!!
We would have loved to have seen inside but unfortunately due to the queue’s there wasn’t enough time. So my tip would be definitely book the tour in advance.
To help with the disappointment of missing the tour my husband came up with the idea of going on a Gaudi treasure hunt. So we spent the next few hours googling and wondering through the streets of Barcelona finding these incredible buildings. They really are a sight to be seen and I highly recommend it.
Antoni Gaudi’s famous Casa Mila building on Passeig de Gracia.
With only a couple of hours left before our flight we decided to walk down to the port and breathe in some sea air. We didn’t get a chance to see the beach but the port was a good enough hit. I loved my trip, it exceeded all my expectations. The only thing I’d change is that I had more time. So see you soon Barcelona!