Barcelona is a great place for a weekend break: whether you’re looking for history and culture, sunshine or shops, sea and sand or fantastic food. It’s all wrapped up in a city that’s just a couple of hours flight from London. Here are our tips on getting around and where to stay in Barcelona first time.
You can click here to read the post 10 Unmissable Things to Do in Barcelona about the long weekend my teens and I spent in Barcelona in August.
Here’s a round up of the places we’d recommend to eat, sleep and shop plus some transport tips too. Updated 2020.
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Eating in Barcelona
Barcelona is famous for its contemporary cuisine as well as traditional tapas and Catalan dishes. But on this trip we weren’t looking for posh restaurants or bite-sized nibbles with drinks. We needed teenager-sized meals, and Barcelona provided. These were our favourites:
For pastries and breakfasts
Brunells, Carrer de la Princesa 22 – handy for the Picasso museum. An old-school caff attached to a famous chocolatier and patisserie. Check out the chocolate and nougat next door! Update: Brunells closed permanently in 2019. What a shame, we loved its authenticity, it was a city institution.
La Colmena, Plaça de l’Àngel 12 – takeaway only, but worth a visit just to gaze at the serried ranks of sweets and pastries. Try the xuxos, a kind of huge cylindrical crema-filled doughnut, though that description doesn’t begin to do them justice. Savoury snacks for lunches too.
Cafe de la Pedrera, Passeig de Gracia 92 – I only stopped for a coffee at an outdoor table but when I went indoors I spotted….. yes! It has an original Gaudí ceiling! You need to visit this grand cafe if only for the ceiling. Click here to read some more about Gaudí’s extraordinary work at Casa Mila, otherwise known as La Pedrera. The cafe is in the same building.
Nou Candanchú, Plaça de la Vila de Gràcia 9 – very busy and with packed tables outside possibly because we were visiting during the Gràcia festival. This is famous for its tapas with a traditional menu and lots of traditional atmosphere. With reasonable prices, large portions and a good steak, everyone was happy.
Amélie, Plaça de la Vila de Gràcia 11 – a more modern and international spin on tapas also in the Gràcia district.
La Guingueta Escriba, Platja Bogatell – Perfect for an evening at the beach with tapas and beer. This is a simple beach cafe with the sort of food you crave when you’ve just got out of the sea. There’s an interesting cocktail menu too. Closed in the winter I believe.
Where to Stay in Barcelona First Time
I found the Well and Come hotel during one of those evenings of Googling and reading reviews. I wanted a reasonably priced place with free wi-fi and a pool. The Gràcia district looked interesting and the 4 star Hotel Well and Come was close by in Eixample.
And it lived up to expectations. It’s cool and contemporary. The rooms and bathrooms felt new and fresh, the shower was excellent and everything was scrupulously clean. We appreciated touches like the free bottled water and Nespresso machine in our room. The airy breakfast room is set around an internal courtyard and its rough stone feature wall gives it a chic country feel.
The pool on the rooftop terrace is tiny but in the event my boys were more interested in the gym in the basement. My only slight grumble would be the lack of shade on the rooftop – it was blisteringly hot up there – but we hadn’t come to Barcelona to sunbathe so it wasn’t really a problem. The Reception staff were always cordial and helpful. I asked about softer pillows and some appeared in our room that evening.
The Well and Come is conveniently placed for sightseeing and is in walking distance of La Sagrada Familia as well as the Gràcia district. There’s a handy metro stop down the road too.
I noticed one or two other families staying there with teens. I’d recommend it and I’d stay there again. The Well and Come Boutique Hotel, Carrer Girona 158
Best places to stay for a first time visit to Barcelona
Eixample is quite a big district but I thought this particular part of it, around Carrer Girona, was a perfect base for our first time trip to Barcelona. We were close to Passeig de Gràcia with its Modernista buildings, broad thoroughfare and up-scale shops whilst many of the iconic Gaudi buildings were in walking distance. It is quieter than the main tourist areas yet a combination of walking and metros got us to where we wanted to go very quickly. We could head down to the historic La Rambla district or up to the typically Catalan Gràcia neighbourhood.
Gràcia was actually one of my favourite areas in the whole city with its lack of chain stores, pretty squares, traffic-free streets and fun vibe. So the proximity to the Gràcia festival was a bonus for us too. You might like to check out these hotels which are all pretty close to where we stayed and come with excellent reviews:
Hotel Casa Fuster GL Monumento – a luxury 5 star hotel in an iconic Modernista building that has its own UNESCO World Heritage status. Rooftop pool and lovely terrace.
ICON BCN by Petit Palace – a 4 star boutique hotel with triple and family rooms, free bikes to borrow and MiFi too.
Anakena House Bed and Breakfast – a budget option close to Passeig de Gràcia on the first floor of a chic Modernista building. High ceilings and tasteful decor.
To browse a huge selection of hotels and apartments in Barcelona from Booking.com click here. You can set the filters you prefer then scroll through images, descriptions and reviews to find the accommodation that suits you best.
Looking for more inspiration for city breaks with teens? We loved Rome! Click here for our favourite things including world famous ancient sites, pizza and gelato!
Or New York City: check out our three posts on our top 10 sights, a useful discount card plus where to eat and getting around
Shopping in Barcelona
I didn’t have many opportunities to shop but I’ll definitely be returning to Gràcia next time I visit Barcelona. It has leafy streets with intriguing boutiques as well as lots of restaurants and bars.
I did pop in to fulanitu i menganita at Carrer Verdi, 25 (Update: now at Carrer d’Astúries, 42) an interiors store with a vintage vibe. I could easily have filled a suitcase…
For more obvious souvenirs the 3D artworks at Galeria Maxo are worth a look and so is the gallery itself. The eclectic artist’s studio is at the back and a little toy train runs around the ceiling… Carrer del Portal Nou, 29
But simply for quirky window-shopping Barcelona is hard to beat. We spotted El Rei de la Màgia close by the Picasso museum Carrer de la Princesa 11.
Getting around Barcelona
Barcelona is a very easy city to get to from London. Our easyJet flight from London Gatwick to Barcelona took just over two hours. We took a taxi from the stand at the airport, and the journey to the hotel was around 30 minutes.
We used the excellent, air-conditioned Metro to get around town. The most usual tourist option is the travel pass for one, two, three or more days. But after a tip from our walking tour guide, and some mental arithmetic, we worked out that the T-10, valid for 10 journeys, was better. It can be used by more than one person at a time, simply validating it for each person as they go through the turnstiles. And in our case only one travel pass to lose rather than three!
The other top tip we received about the Metro is the prevalence of pickpockets – so keep bags in front of you and stand in the middle rather than at the end of a platform. It’s easy for a thief to make a quick exit from the end.
Please note that all visitor information here is for guidance only. Please check the venues’ websites for the most up to date information on tickets, entrance requirements, opening times etc.
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