by niki Ramblas and around It is a telling comment on Barcelona's character that one can recommend a single street (or strictly streets) - the Ramblas - as a highlight.
Ramblas and around
It is a telling comment on Barcelona's character that one can recommend a single street (or strictly streets) - the Ramblas - as a highlight. The heart of Barcelona's life and self-image, the Ramblas are littered with cafés, shops, restaurants and newspaper stands, a focal point for locals as much as for tourists. Heading down from the Plaça de Catalunya, you gradually leave the opulent facades of the banks and department stores for a seedier area towards the port where the Ramblas cut right through the heart of the notorious red-light district, with side streets at the harbour end packed with dimly lit clubs, bars and sex shops. It's much less threatening than it once was, however: the Olympic clean-up and the transformation of the Port Vell area has meant new hip bars and clubs now rub shoulders with sleazy old ones.
On your way down there are plenty of interesting buildings, some of them open for visits: don't miss the glorious La Boqueria, the city's main food market (Mon-Sat 8am-8pm), a splendid gallery of sights and smells with several excellent snack bars and a restaurant at the back selling market-fresh dishes. Almost adjacent is the shell of the Liceu, Barcelona's celebrated opera house that went up in smoke in January 1994 and is now being rebuilt. More or less opposite is the famous Café de l'Ópera, an opulent high society meeting place - though not as expensive as you might imagine. A few minutes' walk north of here is the stunning new Museu d'Art Contemporani (Tues-Fri noon-8pm, Sat 10am-8pm, Sun 10am-3pm; 600ptas, 300ptas on Wed) with exciting, evolving displays by international and national artists. Exhibitions focus upon photography, film and video.
Not much further, hidden behind an archway just off the Ramblas and easy to miss, lies the elegant nineteenth-century Plaça Reial. It's decorated with tall palm trees and iron lamps (by the young Gaudí) and is the haunt of punks, bikers, Catalan eccentrics, the odd drunk and hundreds of al fresco diners and drinkers.
Gaudí's magnificent Palau Güell (Mon-Sat 10am-2pm & 4-8pm; 300ptas) stands just off the Ramblas, towards the bottom, at c/Nou de la Rambla 3. Much of Gaudí's early career was spent constructing elaborate follies for wealthy patrons, the most important of whom was Don Eusebio Güell, a shipowner and industrialist. In 1885 he commissioned this mansion, an essential stop, where Gaudí's feel for different materials and textures is astounding. Wrought iron supports blend magnificently with granite, marble, ceramics, woodwork and stained and etched glass. Don't miss the roof.
Right at the harbour end of the Ramblas, Columbus stands pointing out to sea from the top of a tall, grandiose column: the Monument a Colom (June-Sept daily 9am-8.30pm; Oct-May Mon-Sat 10am-1.30pm & 3.30-6.30pm, Sun 10am-6.30pm; 250ptas). Risk the elevator to his head (it fell down in 1976) for a fine view of the city.
Dining and Nightlife
There's a huge variety of food available in Barcelona and even low-budget travellers can do well for themselves. The most serious problems that you're likely to encounter are that a lot of places close on Sundays and throughout August, and that the cheaper ones often have no written menu, the waiter reeling off the day's dishes at bewildering speed. Also note that the menú del día is rarely available in the evening. If you want to buy picnic material the covered market (Mercat Sant Josep/La Boqueria) off the Ramblas is the place to go. A couple of supermarkets to know about are Centro Comercial Simago, Ramblas 113 (food department in the basement), and Drugstore, Passeig de Gràcia 71, the latter open all night.
Amusing yourself in Barcelona is unlikely to be a problem. There are hundreds of excellent bars and cafés in the city centre to start your evening, including the lively tapas places in the Barri Gòtic. Around the Museu Picasso is a particularly good area: the Passeig del Born, the square at the end of c/Montcada behind Santa María del Mar, is crowded with popular bars. Gràcia, north of the centre, is full of little squares; the main one, Plaça del Sol, is bordered by café terraces. It's the most studenty area in Barcelona and ideal for low-key, lateish drinking.
If the views from the Castell de Montjuïc are good, those from the top of Mount Tibidabo which forms the northwestern boundary of the city are legendary. On one of those mythical clear days you can see across to Montserrat and the Pyrenees, and out to sea even as far as Mallorca. The name is taken from the Temptations of Christ in the wilderness, when Satan led him to a high place and offered him everything that could be seen: Haec omnia tibi dabo si cadens adoraberis me (All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me). At the summit there's a wonderfully old-fashioned Parc d'Atraccions (1800ptas funfair, unlimited rides), and all around there are pleasant walks through the woods. To get there, take the Ferrocarriles Catalanes rail line from Plaça de Catalunya to Avda Tibidabo; from there a bus connects with the funicular rail line to the top.
Moll de la Fusta (93 221 55 61)
Metro Drassanes/ bus 14, 36, 57, 59, 64, N6, N9. Open noon-4.30am Tue-Sat; 11am-4.30am Sun.
Committed fun-seekers like to start here, at this modern outdoor bar overlooking the old port. At 1am on a Friday or Saturday, the place is jammed to the walls. Inside, it's steamy and tight, but there's a good-sized terrace outside where you can walk and watch the lights reflected in the water of the harbour. It generally serves as a crossroads for those gearing up for further dancing later on at such places as Fellini, Apolo-Nitsaclub or La Terraza.
C/Nou de Sant Francesc 7 (93 302 70 26)
Metro Drassanes/bus 14, 18, 38, 59, N6, N9. Open 9pm-2.30am Mon-Thur, Sun; 9pm-3am Fri-Sat. Closed some days Aug.
A new dance-bar in the dark and alley-like back streets around the Plaça Reial, with a coolness that has made it one of the most popular in the old city. Calling itself a `light club', Dot consists of two spaces, a red-lit bar area for chat, and, through a futuristic door to the back, a small but functional dancefloor. The sound system is top, as is the music - drum 'n' bass, lounge, space funk and club/dance.
C/València 166 (93 323 67 59)
Metro Hospital Clinic/ bus 20, 21, 43, 44, 63, N8. Open 10.30pm-3am daily. Closed Aug.
A lively place in the Eixample, El Otro, unlike some design bars, feels genuinely relaxed, and is regularly packed with a chatty young crowd. In shape, it's the same as most Eixample bars: a long bar on one side with small dancefloor at the end.
C/Arc del Teatre 11 (93 318 28 78) Metro Drassanes/bus 14, 18, 38, 59, N6, N9. Open 7pm-3am Mon-Sat. Closed Aug
An old red-light American bar left over from the 1960s, when Barcelona was a port of call for US Navy ships. The bar looks essentially unchanged since then: a long, narrow space with an old juke-box, which has a surprisingly large selection of music. The Kentucky is popular among an assortment of foreigners, Raval locals and slumming uptowners.
Miami Bar C/Assaonadors 25 (93 319 25 92)
Metro Jaume I/bus 17, 40, 45. Open 10pm-3am daily.
Painted lizards on a sheet-metal ceiling look down on the dark décor of this one-time girlie bar, currently owned and run by a young English DJ and his Basque wife. The excellent selection of music ranges from soul and funk all-nighters with heavy doses of reggae, to dance/house, and drum 'n' bass, with some Latin lines and speed garage to keep your pulse up.
That was the bars, here's the cafes an' stuff !!!!
C/Sant Lluís 24 (93 213 70 58)
Metro Joanic/bus 21, 39, 55, N4. Lunch served 1-4pm, dinner served 8pm-1am, daily. Average 2,000ptas. Credit MC, V.
Branches: El Glop Jardi C/Albert Llanas 2 (93 218 21 43); El Nou Glop C/Montmany 49, torre (93 219 70 59).
Air-conditioning. Booking essential. Disabled: wheelchair access.
El Glop (`The Sip') is a long-running success, serving char-grilled meat and seasonal vegetables at good prices. Specialities include snails cooked a la llauna and xoriço al vi (chorizo in wine). One of few restaurants in Barcelona to serve the strong vi de Gandesa, a good table wine from western Catalonia. In summer the ceiling is opened up to create a kind of indoor patio. It's often very crowded, but the more spacious Nou Glop is nearby, a few streets away.
C/Hostal d'en Sol (93 315 21 59)
Metro Jaume I/ bus 17, 40, 45. Lunch served 2-5pm, dinner served 8.30pm-midnight, Mon-Sat. Average 2,500ptas. Credit AmEx, MC, V.
Air-conditioning. Booking advisable. Disabled: wheelchair access.
With antique couches, mirrors and high-backed chairs, El Salón has the feel of an elegant bohemian living room. The cuisine has French overtones, with a fair amount of creamy sauces, but the base is Catalan and very good. Try roast guinea-fowl with chestnut comfit and creamy clove sauce, or aubergine tart with goat's cheese and pesto.
Ronda Sant Pau 55 (93 441 10 46)
Metro Sant Antoni or Paral.lel/bus 20, 64, 91, N6, N9. Lunch served 1.30-4pm Tue-Sun. Dinner served 8.30-11.30pm Tue-Sat. Closed public holidays, Easter. Average 2,000ptas. Set lunch 950ptas Tue-Fri (not holidays). Credit AmEx, DC, JCB, MC, V. Branch: Can Lluís C/de la Cera 49 (93 441 11 87).
Air-conditioning at Els Ocellets. Booking advisable.
This comfortable restaurant and its older, more picturesque parent Can Lluís, a little way up a narrow street across the Ronda Sant Pau, share the same menu and the same popularity, but lately the Ocellets has had the edge in cooking. Try the spicy romescada, the esqueixada or the filet de vedella al cabrales (veal fillet with a powerful goat's cheese sauce). Note that bookings are only taken for large groups, so it's necessary to get there early to avoid queueing. Menu prices do not include tax.
C/Valldonzella 46 (93 302 41 86)
Metro Universitat/bus all routes to Plaça Universitat. Lunch served 1.30-4pm, dinner served 9pm-midnight, Mon-Sat. Closed public holidays, two weeks Aug. Average 2,500-3,000ptas. Set lunch 1,200ptas. Credit AmEx, DC, MC, V.
Air conditioning. Booking essential (lunch). Disabled: wheelchair access.
One of the oldest restaurants in town, run for the last 48 years by Jordi Suñé. The food is enjoyable and carefully prepared - the langoustines, grilled asparagus and filet Café de París are particularly good - but it's worth coming here almost as much for the warm atmosphere, with striking paintings, photos of celeb diners such as Maradona and Gary Lineker and regulars who treat the place a bit like a family dining room.
Museu Marítim, Avda Drassanes (93 302 64 02)
Metro Drassanes/bus 14, 18, 36, 38, 57, 59, 64, N6, N9. Lunch served 1-3.45pm, dinner served 9pm-midnight, Tue-Sun. Average 3,000ptas. Set lunch 1,200ptas. Credit MC, V. Tables outdoors (patio).
Set inside the wonderfully-restored fourteenth-century Drassanes, amid 12m high, perfectly rounded arches, La Llotja is the recent creation of Josep Maria Blasi, a well-known gourmet and food critic. The excellent selection of Catalan food includes a medieval dish or two, such as roast chicken with saffron, in homage to the ancient stone edifice. At midday, there's a very interesting two-course lunch menu, and courtyard is always a delicious place to sit.
C/Joanot Martorell 3 (93 332 51 34)
Metro Hostafrancs/bus 52, 53, 56, 57, N2. Lunch served 2-4.30pm Sat-Sun. Dinner served 8.30pm-12.30am Tue-Fri; 8.30pm-midnight Sat. Closed public holidays, Easter, Aug (phone to check). Average 3,500ptas. Credit MC, V.
Air-conditioning. Booking advisable. Disabled: wheelchair access. Tables outdoors.
A great outlet for stout Catalan country cooking a la brasa within the city asphalt. You pass a giant wood-fired grill as you enter this 180-year-old ex-coaching inn, which has a menu offering one of the best escalivades in town and hefty portions of leg of lamb, rabbit, pork, beef steaks and spare ribs, served on wooden slabs with freshly made all i oli. Other specialities include roast duck and an unbeatable orada a la sal (gilt-head bream baked in salt), and from November to March there are also calçots, specially cultivated spring onions from the Valls area, eaten on their own, charcoal-grilled, with romesco sauce. Well-priced wines are served, and rare orujos (fierce Galician spirits), but they happily refuse to stock Coca-Cola.
Les Quinze Nits
Plaça Reial 6 (93 317 30 75)
Metro Liceu/ bus 14, 18, 38, 59, N6, N9. Lunch served 1-3.30pm, dinner served 8.30-11.30pm, daily. Closed 25 Dec. Average 2,000ptas. Set lunch 950ptas Mon-Fri. Credit AmEx, DC, MC, V.
Branches: La Fonda C/Escudellers 10 (93 301 75 15); Hostal de Rita C/Arag- 279
Air-conditioning. Disabled: wheelchair access. Tables outdoors (Quinze Nits only).
This small chain caused a minor sensation in the Barcelona restaurant world by offering a combination of sophisticated modern Catalan food in light, elegant surroundings at prices significantly lower than the norm at this level, and, in the case of two branches, in formerly down-at-heel locations in Plaça Reial and C/Escudellers where nobody thought restaurants like this could work. Defying the doubters, they've been hugely successful. Menus are all similar: try the civet de conill (rabbit stew), parillada de peix (seafood mixed grill) or the succulent arr-s negre. Their popularity is such that food quality and service can get pressured at busy times, and they have an annoying no-bookings policy, which often means lengthy queues. One consolation is that this can favour foreigners, who tend to eat earlier than locals do.
C/Codols 29 (93 301 79 42)
Metro Drassanes/bus 14, 18, 36, 38, 57, 59, 64, N6, N9. Lunch served 1.30-3.30pm Mon-Fri. Dinner served 9-11.30pm Mon-Sat. Closed Aug. Average 3,000ptas. Set lunch 1,200ptas. Credit DC, MC, V.
Air-conditioning. Booking advisable weekends.
One thing Catalan restaurateurs might learn from their French neighbours is the art of mellow lighting. Many places in Barcelona are over-lit, but this is not the case with French-run Mastroqué. On one of the narrowest streets in the city, the nevertheless-roomy restaurant, upscale without being pretentious, offers an interesting selection of fine French, Catalan and other Spanish regional dishes, such as a hot goat cheese starter with cooked peppers and tomatoes. The set lunch is generous and excellent.
And once you're full & pissed.............
C/Muntaner 244 (93 200 77 14)
Bus 6, 7, 15, 33, 34, 58, 64, N8. Open 9pm-4.30am Mon-Thur; 11pm-6am Fri, Sat, eves of public holidays; 11pm-4.30am Sun. Admission 1,500ptas (incl one drink); members free.
A relaxed, friendly, firey salsa club with a regular live programme. Its location just above Diagonal ensures a healthy mix including star dancers and uptown girls in short swirly skirts.
C/Déu i Mata 105 (93 322 08 00)
Metro Les Corts/bus 15, 43, 59. Open (three rooms) Cockteleria/Dry midnight-4.30am Tue, Wed, Sun; midnight-5am Thur; midnight-6am Fri, Sat; Rock 11.30pm-5am Tue-Thur, Sun; 11.30pm-6am Fri, Sat; Salsa same hours as Rock room, Tue-Sat; 11.30pm-4.30am Sun. Admission 1,000ptas (Tue-Thur, Sat); 1,400ptas (Fri, Sat). Credit AmEx, V.
If there were such a thing as a state disco, it would probably be like Bikini. Its institutional feel can be explained from its past: dating from the 1950s, the original Bikini called itself a `multi-space' and had rooms for concerts and activities. After being the focus of late-1980s revels it closed when a huge mall, L'Illa, was built on the site. In 1996 the new Bikini opened underground within the mall. True to its origins it still offers three distinct spaces: a club, a Latin room and a cocktail lounge.
C/Aribau 230 (93 414 27 78)
FGC Provença/ bus 6, 7, 15, 33, 34, 58, 64, N8. Open midnight-6am Thur-Sat. Admission usually 1,000ptas (incl one drink). Credit V.
Costa Breve has a long history of attracting a varied (largely uptown) clientele. Low ceilings, dim lights and curved bar help create an atmosphere for unwinding, and people really get into it on the dance floor, mainly to funk and popular dance tunes. There are also weekly live acts under the venue's other identity, La Tierra.
Plaça Reial 17 (93 301 75 64)
Metro Liceu/bus 14, 18, 38, 59, N6, N9. Open 8.30pm-4.30am Mon-Thur, Sun; 8.30pm-5am Fri, Sat. Admission gigs (incl one drink) 1,200ptas; disco free.
Live acts here end around 1am, and the club, famed for black soul and dance music, begins. This subterranean brick vault is hugely popular, and gets very cramped. Total gridlock is averted by a steady stream of people going upstairs (for free) to Tarantos, where they can chill to Latin and Spanish music.
Passatge Domingo 3 (93 211 88 97)
Metro Passeig de Gràcia/FGC Provença/bus 20, 21, 22, 24, 28, 43, 44. Open 9pm-4am Tue-Thur; 9pm-5am Fri, Sat; 8pm-midnight Sun; gigs midnight Tue-Sat; 8.30pm Sun. Admission free.
Without a doubt one of the most interesting places to have opened up in the Eixample in recent memory. Lit only by glowing orange squares encased in the bar and stage area, Jazzmatazz is a cool venue for funk, hip-hop, soul, and jazz fusion gigs, as well as a late-night club at the weekend. There's no cover, but you have to order at least one drink (beer on tap is remarkably reasonable at 400ptas a tubo). Monthly art exhibitions are also staged in a unique, glassed-off area.
L'Atelier - Art de Vivre Total
C/Cadena 49 bajos (93 441 07 16)
A huge, remarkable `life-art' space that in another era was a laundry and bath house. There are four perfectly preserved ten-metre-long stone washrooms, which now serve as performance spaces and chill-out rooms whenever there's the occasional experimental drum 'n' bass electro-music party or DJ session.
Luz de Gas
C/Muntaner 246 (93 209 77 11/93 209 73 85)
Bus 6, 7, 15, 33, 34, 58, 64, N8. Open 11pm-4.30/5.30am daily. Admission (incl one drink) approx 1,800ptas. Credit AmEx, DC, MC, V.
Elegant red velvet with a touch of kitsch sets the tone for this live venue, which doubles as a disco after 2am. Very popular with an uptown, middle-of-the-road clientele.
a.. Well - I don't wanna overdo it and confuse you with a multi-faceted plethora of choices but I reckon that this is enough to be gettin on with anyway......