January 20, 2023

A Winter Escape to Barcelona


My original trip to Barcelona had been scheduled for November, but due to fracturing my arm and also some issues with rescheduled flights, I’d moved it to January. Barcelona doesn’t really dip to any really cold temperatures, and the sun is usually shining, so there’s never really a bad time to visit. In rescheduling, I was lucky to be able to invite along Ems to join me on the trip.

I wish I could say the start of the journey went smoothly, but with every single train from Southampton Central cancelled at 6am due to flooding. I ended up having to book a taxi instead all the way to Gatwick, but thankfully it arrived at the time I had hoped to get there, and I’ll be able to claim it back. Ems and I met in the airport and set off. The Vueling Airlines plane was perfectly on time and it was a pleasant trip over to sunny Barcelona, complete with a cuddly Winnie the Pooh, as it was going to be National Winnie the Pooh day while we were on the holiday. I took a 24-105mm F4 lens with me for this trip, along with my Canon R5.

The airport transfer bus is nice and easy from the airport, especially since it travels right down the central road through the city, which so happened to be where our hotel was, Casa Luz, in the University district. It was a very clean and vibrant area, which is pretty typical of most of Barcelona, and the hotel itself was really nice. It’s run by Sonder, who have places all over the World. We couldn’t check in right away as we were there early, but they happily let us store our bags, and then we set off for a little walk around the area. It was fairly quiet on most of the streets, as even though it was about 14 degrees, this was freezing for people in Barcelona, and definitely not tourist season.

If we turned left out of the hotel, we found ourselves in the equivalent of Oxford or Regent Street, with so many recognisable chain stores, but as we looped around, shops became more independent and streets became narrower. There were a surprising number of independent washing machine and refrigerator shops, still not entirely sure why there were so many. I popped into SandwiChez on our way back towards the hotel to grab a wrap, and then we properly checked in.

Roads were largely quiet, as it was off-season

Our hotel, Casa Luz, in the University District

The decor was very nice, reception and customer service was really friendly and the room (although small) was very pretty, with a beautiful bathroom and a comfy bed. After getting settled in, we decided it was time for a bit of a nap, as we’d woken up pretty early and wanted some energy for the evening.

I’d done my research in terms of restaurants to check out in Barcelona, as personally I hate choosing somewhere that seems promising and then ends up disappointing, which so many restaurants can be in tourist-led cities. You obviously see the clear tourist traps on the main strips, with their desperate greeters and over the top pictures in the menus outside, but I think it’s also important to find out which places get recommended over and over again. For our evening meal we headed to Cachaca, a highly rated Italian restaurant nearer the harbour (yes, I know it’s a little silly getting Italian when visiting Barcelona, but it came recommended). The food was great, I had gnocchi, and Ems had lasagna. I got a taste of both and they were delicious.

I then scoured Google Maps for a good cocktail bar and saw one rated 4.8 called Collage Cocktail Bar, so we popped over to it and instantly were happy with the choice, it was a dark but stylish two-tiered room with comfy seats upstairs and a nice general vibe. I can’t honestly remember what the cocktail was that I went for, but it had a bit of spice to it as well as fruitiness, Ems went for a Pornstar Martini, her go-to cocktail. We just had one, and walked back to the hotel. Ems’ back had been hurting throughout the day, so she decided she was going to get an early night, but encouraged me to go and explore a little more, so I kissed her goodnight and set off.

When I’m in any country, I seek out the rock bars. They’re always interesting and quirky, with friendly service. I actually found two on my wander around the area. The first was called Nevermind (after the Nirvana album name), which was an unexpected gem. The walls were covered in gig posters and stickers, impressively so, and there was even a mini skate park in the bar. The tunes playing were skater rock anthems, which was something different as most European rock bars tend to stick to heavier rock/metal. I grabbed a drink and looked around, taking a few pics and looking like such a tourist in amongst the local alt crowd.

Nevermind Skater Bar

I set off and wandered some more, taking a few night time photos and then stumbling across a second rock bar called La Cobra. This one was smaller, with more of an old school rock vibe to it. It was still very quirky inside with all sorts of random wall decor and friendly service again, so I grabbed myself a gin, lime and soda and just soaked it in, before setting off back to the hotel, minus my hat, which I accidentally left at the bar. It was time for sleep after a very long day.


We’d planned in some of the tourist attractions for our first full day in Barcelona, so had a little bit of a schedule. First up was the famous Sagrada Familia at midday, Antoni Gaudi’s masterpiece of design, towering over the Barcelona landscape. We had a bit of time before going in, so just grabbed some fruit nearby for breakfast, and wandered around the exterior. Barcelona is incredibly clean and tidy, has very wide pavements, good crossings, and is generally focused towards being friendly to pedestrians. None of the buildings and architecture are particularly old. In a way you could say that much of Barcelona is ‘faking it’, with much of the architecture borrowing from older styles, but often not being much more than 100 years old.

The crown on this 100 year old architecture around the city, is the creations of Gaudi. The city is littered with villas, parks and attractions built by the famous architect, and they really are something to behold. He took influence from shapes created in nature, and you can see it right away. Entering the Sagrada Familia, you can’t help but think “wow”. The pillars alone are unique, and look like trees reaching up and grabbing for the sunlight. The stained glass is created to perfection and fills the textures of the ceiling with a gradient of colours, usually only seen when created by LED lighting. It’s really a hard form of architecture to describe to anyone who can’t see it for themselves.

It’s quite strange being in a European church that’s such a tourist attraction, but knowing that it still isn’t even finished. They are nowhere near completing the tallest spire yet, and so there are cranes above the building and people working outside to perfect it. Even the bells in the tower are something special, comprised of 88 tubular bells of every note, just like a piano. Forget the basic tunes usually heard from a church spire. This thing could play a symphony.

Sagrada Familia

We ventured back outside, into the wind. We were told that Barcelona is hardly ever windy, but somehow we managed to be there on a day with 40-50mph winds, so all the restaurants with their signs and tents out front were struggling to keep everything on the ground, and Ems was struggling to keep her hat on. It was still sunny though and warm enough to comfortably walk everywhere.

I had marked some restaurants to try in the area for lunch, but upon turning up to them, I discovered I’d done my research too well. The quality of them had clearly become known, and they had queues out the door. It’s nice to know though that good quality food is being appreciated, while the tourist traps were empty. In the end we had to just settle for a burger at Timesburg, which was actually pretty nice for the fact it was just a burger chain. I was still craving some proper Barcelona cuisine though.

It wasn’t too much of a walk over to our next destination, Casa Mila / La Pedrera. This was another Gaudi creation, this time an apartment building curving around the end of a standard block of buildings on the grid formation that covers most of the city. From the outside you can tell it’s going to be quirky, with more influences from nature clearly visible. I didn’t know what to expect inside at all. We entered into an impressive inner courtyard, and then made our way up 6 flights of stairs (there was a lift, we decided against it). Upon reaching the top, we looked around an apartment laid out as it would have been in the early 1900s. It was clearly the home of a well-off family, with a beautiful kitchen and dining area especially, tall architecturally beautiful ceilings and winding corridors.

Casa Mila

Moving up one floor, you enter the loft space. I’m pretty sure it’s the most beautiful loft space I’ll ever see. I’m not sure what it is in nature that inspired the shape, but it reminded me of what it must be like inside the rib cage of a huge whale, but with elegant polished wood throughout as it circled the top of the building. The roof was the final area of the visit, which was very interesting, with various sculptures depicting things like fire and air, and also some chimneys designed to look like ‘guardians of the rooftop’. The views from the top were quite beautiful, although it was still very windy, so we had to be a little careful when looking over the edges.

We weren’t sure what was next in our plan. We decided to head over to the other side of the city on the metro, which seems to run very efficiently and is much easier to get on and off of than in London, as it’s not far below street level. We ended up at the area with the impressive-looking Catalonian Art Museum and Magic Fountain. The Magic Fountain only takes place around 8pm, so we didn’t get to see it, but the whole area is impressive regardless. One of the strangest things we discovered at this point was the obsession with escalators in Barcelona. They led all the way up to the art museum, and even up what would be a normal footbridge in any other city.

The Catalonian Art Museum and Magic Fountain

We didn’t head into the art museum, instead we took a walk around the park and hillside behind it, the Olympic Park from 1992. It was a lovely evening with the sun sweeping over the area, and we visited the Olympic Stadium, which was wide open to visitors. It’s strange to see it just sitting there unused though. I had hoped we might get to head into the Botanic Gardens nearby, but they closed at 5pm, so we took a walk further up and over the hill, finding ourselves a great viewpoint of the entire city. I had hoped that maybe we might be able to visit Tibidabo on the other side of the city, a mountain-top attraction with a theme park, castle and vast views across the city, but we couldn’t establish how much of it was open, so these views made up for that to some extent.

On our way down the hill, we managed to get trapped in a park. No idea how. We entered from the top, made our way down through it (thinking it was incredibly quiet), only to be met with locked gates at the bottom. A bit of climbing later though and we were out and continued to wind our way down towards the city. The birds in the trees in this area were green parakeets and made very fun sounds, it was a nice change from the birds in the UK and pigeons on the streets everywhere else. Once down into the city, it was back to the hotel.

Ems making her way through the park we probably shouldn't have been in

We decided to check out the rooftop bar and restaurant at our hotel that evening. It was beautifully decorated like the rest of the hotel, but I must admit I found the welcome and service quite cold. Because we just wanted drinks, giving us a table was a reluctant move, but the fact the outdoor area of the roof was closed because of the wind obviously didn’t help. I had picked out a couple of highly rated local eateries nearby and we set off towards them. One of them had a queue, but thankfully the other one across the road, Micu Maku, could accommodate us. I finally got to have some local food. Their paella was highly rated in all the reviews, so I opted for that, while Ems had the albondigas and croquettes. All were delicious (Ems rarely finishes her meals, so I get to taste a bit of everything, not complaining!). The decor in the place wasn’t much to write home about, but sometimes it can end up a positive - they care more about the taste of their food.

We both fancied drinks together that night. I showed Ems the skate bar I had seen the previous night, just as I thought it had looked very unique, and then we went to a cocktail bar called El Museo. It was small but very inviting, with beautiful decor and welcoming staff. I tend to prefer to give cocktail bartenders the chance to get creative with the drinks they make, rather than sticking to a set menu, which they often prefer. I just make sure to let them know what kinds of flavours and spirits I enjoy, and each one I had that night was delicious, while still all being very different. The bar staff were very chatty, and the guy in particular took a lot of interest in my photography, and asked for advice as to how to capture their cocktails better. I’m pretty sure if I’d brought the right lenses, I could have booked in a shoot with them. It was then time to head back and get a good night’s sleep, I needed it that night.

day 3

We hadn’t really planned properly for our third day. Largely it was a case of “what haven’t we done yet?”. We tried to book into Park Guell, another popular Gaudi attraction overlooking the city, but it had been marked as sold out all day. Being that it was mid-January, I was surprised by this. Perhaps the wind the day before had meant they needed to close that day.

Instead, we walked down through the Gothic Quarter of the city, amongst the smaller independent shops, towards the beach. To get there you have to walk around La Barceloneta. The buildings facing the harbour are littered with tourist trap restaurants, with annoying greeters trying to tempt you in every few steps. Quite how any of these restaurants think this makes their place look appealing, I’m not sure. They were all empty. We reached the beach and had a little walk around. Despite it being winter, there were still people trying to sell things on the beach, but they end up leaving you alone if you say no a few times. Obviously we didn’t get the full beach experience seeing as it was about 11 degrees, but it was nice to see it at least.

It was lunch time, so I looked at my map of restaurants I’d created before the trip. There were a few options in the area. The first one we tried was another case of a queue out the door (clearly I was choosing the right places though), but I then found another called La Fresca. This place was cute, and the woman who ran it was really welcoming. I probably had my favourite food of the trip here, opting for fried calamari, potatas bravas, and octopus on a bed of some really nicely seasoned mashed potato. I coupled it up with some house wine and really enjoyed it all. We couldn’t believe how fast the food came out here!

Gelato at this point was on my mind, it often is, but there were no decent places nearby so we gave it a miss. Instead we walked along the seafront towards the W Hotel that dominates the skyline in the area. We were waiting for the sun to reappear so that we could go on the cable car that goes across the harbour, and it seems we timed it perfectly, the sun came out just as we finished our walk up and down the seafront. To go on the cable car from this end, you take an elevator up the tower and board from there. I was snapping away with my camera right away.  Five of us got in one cable car and set off towards the hill the other side. I was really glad the windows of the cable car opened, which allowed me to get some clear photos from various angles, and we both agreed it was worth the money for the nice views of the harbour and across the city with the afternoon blue sky reflecting off of the Mediterranean.

The Cable Car

The cable car ended fairly close to where we had been on the hill the day before. We took some pics, including some cute selfies together, and obviously some pics of Ems posing in front of the city view too (I mean, she’s a girl in her 20s, it has to be done). We again wandered down into the city, and to my delight, found a good gelato place, where I got a strange but delicious mix of dark chocolate gelato and mango sorbet. I was happy though.

I don’t know whether it was looking across the city that sold me on where we could head next, but I suggested to Ems that we head over to the hill that Park Guell is on. Despite not being able to get tickets, maybe we’d be able to get in, but if not, there would probably be some views regardless. We jumped on the metro, as we were chasing the sunset to some extent, and got off at one of the stations nearest the Gracia area. There were a lot of hills to climb, but we gradually made our way up towards Park Guell. This area of the city felt more like it was populated with locals, with kids coming out of school, and less touristy shops, which was nice to see.

We made it to the top of the hill, but once we got there, the park had probably stopped even admitting if it had been open that day at all. It wasn’t a problem though, we had enjoyed seeing the neighbourhood, and then we also found a great viewpoint, where a bunch of tourists had congregated to look out over the city. The sun was setting at this point, which always makes it look more beautiful. We started to make our way down in a different direction only to discover… escalators. Yet again, Barcelona’s obsession with outdoor escalators rears its head. I’m quite glad we didn’t take them up though, as it was good to get the workout.

Barcelona and its weird obsession with outdoor escalators, is this a thing in many other countries?

The trip back down towards the metro wasn’t all that exciting, the sun had started to disappear and so we jumped back on to head over to our area of the city. Ems wanted to pop into the giant Primark to grab something, which becomes more of a mission when it’s a 5 floor store, and after that I was ready to head back to the hotel. My feet were aching, as I suffer from gout. Thankfully though it didn’t kick in on the trip, but I like to be careful. It was me who decided to take a nap this time, while Ems went out and grabbed some bits she needed to get for friends and family. I needed that nap badly though, and woke up feeling much more refreshed and ready for our last night in the city.

I had marked a restaurant called Tosca Del Carme on my map just the day before, so we headed there for our evening meal. It was about 10.30pm by this point, but that’s a pretty normal time to eat in Spain. I opted for some cava to drink, along with a spicy sausage tapas dish and a vegetable lasagne, both delicious, especially the lasagne. Ems opted for the salmon, which for once I didn’t get to try, as she finished it all. It must have been good! The service at this place was quite slow, I think they had some new staff on, or something along those lines, that was the only negative really, but the place looked nice and the food tasted good, so we were happy. I had another glass of cava, and then we went back to the hotel to rest up ahead of leaving the next day. Zzzzz.

Ems walking under the Pont Del Bisbe


It was sadly our last day of this short trip. Our check-out time was 11am, so we woke up just before 10 and I packed (because I love leaving everything to the last minute). The hotel offered to look after our bags, but it really wasn’t that long that we’d have to be with them before heading to the airport.

We grabbed some breakfast food in Pans & Company, which seems like maybe the closest thing Barcelona has to Greggs in the UK, as there are quite a lot of them. My sandwich was pretty tasty, and we were just killing time really. We then popped up the road to Mistral where I got myself a chocolate croissant, something I had been meaning to try all trip. It was very tasty, and I wish I had at least taken a phone pic of it so I had something to use in a picture for this day in my blog, oh well.

Not my image. Catalan independence protests

We then popped into a book and souvenir shop called La Llama before waiting for our bus to the airport. We noticed while walking to the bus stop that on the adjacent road, there was a large protest going on, with dark black smoke billowing from it. I looked it up and discovered it was a protest against the fact that the Spanish government had ruled the idea of Catalan independence, closed. I should have headed over to get some journalistic shots of it all, but we had a bus to catch - or so we thought. It seems that the protests had blocked the route of the bus, and it never arrived. We ended up having to book in an Uber instead.

We arrived at the airport and security all went smoothly, they never discovered my guns and batch of heroin, so that’s all good. The flight left on time, and we were a little sad to know that we were returning to the freezing cold of the UK. We finished watching Guillermo Del Toro’s Pinocchio on the plane, which was very good, and started watching the new Puss in Boots film, which seemed pretty fun, but didn’t have time to finish it. We landed on time and said our goodbyes as we got on our separate trains home.

All in all it was a great trip. I loved how clean and pedestrian-friendly Barcelona was, but I do think that a few more days there would have been beneficial. I would have liked to actually see Park Guell, maybe take a trip up to the fairground on the mountain at Tibidabo, head out to the mountain monastery of Montserrat and seen a few more of the other attractions around the city, such as Camp Nou, and some of the other Gaudi villas. Perhaps I’ll pop back in spring or autumn sometime. I would probably avoid summer, though, I imagine the city is tourist hell in the summer months!

Thanks for reading, if you did. I feel like it’s a lot of text, but hopefully the pictures helped along the way. My next trip is to Lisbon in March, so I’m looking forward to that. Adios.