Barcelona - tour guides? - and trip summary

My family will travel to Barcelona this summer and we are looking for recommendations for private tours. Any recommendations would be amazing. Thanks!

Get a guide for the Sagrada Familia. We did not because “I’ve been to 1,000 churches”

That was a mistake. It’s mind boggling what’s going on under the covers.

The Gaudi tours of his buildings… Meh

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Thanks! I am hoping for recommendations not only for what to see, but for the tour guides themselves. Do you have anyone that you have used ?

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I went to Barcelona last April for six days total, split up by a cycling trip on Mallorca/Minorca. I was solo most of the time in Barcelona, so I can only guess what it would be like to travel with my family. Here are a few tips:

  • Booked a tour with with withlocals.com. A disaster as the guide I chose flaked on me at the last minute, leaving me waiting at the appointed tour time. This guide service is setup for “independent contractors” and my guess is that the guide didn’t get enough people on the tour to make it worthwhile to her and tried to renege. I’m happy to provide the name of the guide (who has excellent reviews btw) to avoid if you choose this service.
  • Switched to https://culinarybackstreets.com. They don’t have you select the guide, just the tour, so they provide who is available. My guide was named Paula, who is their bureau chief, and she was excellent. The tour was food centric, focused on off-the-beaten path experiences, including a very interesting warehouse district taken over by community cooperatives including a 100% volunteer microbrewery.
  • I guess the point of my tour anecdotes is that you might want to find a reputable tour outfit and not a particular guide, as the independent contractor/gig economy model can have some drawbacks.
  • I went solo to many Gaudi sites. Other than La Sagrada, I would recommend the audio tours, unless you have kids with poor attention spans. One of the buildings Casa Batllo has a fun rooftop concert series that is a lot of fun and worth getting tickets in advance.
  • The Picasso Museum was too crowded even in April, and even with timed entrance tickets. Go early or late.
  • Pickpockets are alive and well. My friend got robbed within 5 minutes of stepping off the bus from the airport, in the Placa de Catalunya, a busy square. One guy splashed liquid on my friend and his luggage, the accomplice came up pretending to help, saying the liquid was feces and to go over to the fountain to get water. After turning his head and seconds later, he ran off with his backpack. Two years prior, my son was in Barcelona, and a friendly guy pretended to be drunk, and ended up pickpocketing my son’s iPhone. Note that I was totally fine, although I am pretty cognizant of my surroundings. I used a travel pouch that was under my clothes.

These are the most salient things I can pass on, and can also relay my restaurant and hotel experiences if interested.

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Thanks for all of this Denis! Bummer about the guide.

I was last in Barcelona in 1996 but remember all the Gaudi sites well (I also studied him in college). The rooftop concert series sounds cool so I will look into that.

We have Airbnb accommodations so no need for hotel recommendations, but if you have the time I would be grateful for your restaurant experiences.

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We found the tours we wanted on Tours By Locals. Tour guides ratings are available both on that site and on TripAdvisor. https://www.toursbylocals.com/.

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Here are a few restaurants that come to mind.

Direkte Boqueria - If you can swing it, this 8 seat restaurant is worth setting a calendar item to grab a reservation. It’s a prix-fixe Catalan/Asian influenced place that features a 7 or 10 course meal, for only $60-$80. Maybe not terribly family friendly but it could be entertaining for younger folks as you get to watch the chef up close. Plus it’s so affordable that fussy eaters can simply skip food they don’t like. Located on the outskirts of La Boqueria

Kiosko Universal - One of the places I read that is worth eating at inside La Boqueria. Again, counter seating but much larger in comparison to Direkte Boqueria. Excellent seafood, simply prepared. You can see the fresh (and sometimes animated) seafood in the case in front of you.

Paco MĂ©ralgo (Eixample) - A tapas standout that has a dining room that can accommodate a families, and they take reservations. The tapas are slightly less traditional and elevated.

Casa Lolea - Two locations, this is run by the people who make a line of bottled sangrias, but don’t let that turn you off. Traditional tapas in a clean, modern setting that would be suitable for a family dinner.

Finally, I thought I should mention a trip highlight: the guitar and flamenco show at the stunning Palau De La Musica. Worth going just to see the interior performance hall, the trio of guitarists was fantastic, and the flamenco dancers were riveting. This group plays regularly at the Palau, and you can easily grab tickets very close to the stage. Barcelona Guitar Trio & Dance | Palau de la MĂşsica Catalana

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Thank you!

And you @Michael_O_Brien as well.

Just seeing this. Did 4 days in Barcelona last summer including a GREAT day excursion to Priorat with an American wine writer living in Spain. Message me if you want his details or any of our other guides/restaurants from last year.

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We have used Context tours on every trip we have made to Europe over the last decade plus. Guides are subject experts and extremely personable, have not had a dud yet.

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OK, late to the thread, and we were there in 2012, but the two places we have never forgotten, is a place call Bar del Pla, and their restuarant Pla. We went to Bar del Pla, loved it so much, we went to the restaurant Pla, and went back to Bar del Pa a few times after we loved it so much.

Bar del Pla - https://www.bardelpla.cat/ing_bardelpla.html
Pla Restaurant - Pla B - Barcelona Restaurant - Creative cooking, modern, intimate and romantic

We had a fantastic time - so enjoy!

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Seconding John’s recommendation of Pla B. Wonderful food and experience and will be going back when I’m there in September.

Quimet i Quimet is probably my favorite spot for tapas in the city (standing room only and unsure about if they are kid friendly). Depending on time of day there may be a wait but everything we ate was delicious and the father/son team were amazing hosts to your group.

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Just got back from two weeks in Catalunya with my wife and 15-year-old daughter, most of it in Barcelona. Great trip! We ate very well and benefitted from recommendations here.

We stayed for five nights in the Dreta de l’Eixample on Passeig de Sant Joan, then took the train to Girona for one night, then drove to Roses in the Costa Brava for four nights, and finally drove back to Barcelona for three more nights, this time staying at the foot of La Rambla.

I had been to Barcelona once before but it was many years ago - 1996! Since then, much progress has been made in restoring and opening the city’s architectural heritage. Gaudi of course - we visited the Palau Güell, Park Güell, Casa Milà, Casa Vicens, and the Sagrada Familia, and took in Casa Batlló from the street. In 1996 only the Palau Güell, Park Güell, and Sagrada Familia were visitable, and the Sagrada is so much larger and frankly jaw-droppingly beautiful than it was back then. One is much more able to appreciate Gaudi’s genius today.

We also took in a thrilling flamenco guitar and dance concert at the Palau de la Musica Catalana, which is freaking incredible in its own right. Designed by Gaudi’s rival, Lluis Domenech i Montaner, the Palau is unquestionably Domenech’s masterpiece and is an absolute must-see experience. Also amazing is the Recinte Modernista Sant Pau Barcelona, also designed by Domenech, which was formerly the largest hospital complex in the city and is now an architectural heritage site. It’s four blocks up from the Sagrada Familia and according to lore one day Gaudi and Domenech passed each other in the street while both projects were under development. Gaudi is supposed to have said to Domenech, “you are taking care of the people’s bodies, I am taking care of their souls.”

We had two guided tours. The first was a Barcelona food tour, which was fun but not essential. We met in the morning and tried a special pastry from Colmena, a legendary bakery; Iberico hams, chorizo, and cheeses from the Mercat in El Born; some tapas at a well reputed place (the name escapes me); and top-notch paella from one of the restaurants at the Mercat in Barceloneta.

The second tour was a private guide for Gaudi’s works. This was quite good and fun and added considerable depth to our understanding of his work. Runner Bean tours was the company and Gemma was our guide, thick Catalan accent and all. Recommended.

Barcelona restaurant highlights:

El Viti Taberna - excellent tapas, classics with nice modern touches. Lots of precise, clean flavors.

Parking Pizza / Parking Pita - we made fun of this place when we saw it but the food is outstanding, Parking Pita especially so. These co-located restaurants feel like they were directly downloaded from Brooklyn. We liked Pita so well we went twice (dinner, then lunch). While it is clear that cuisine in Barcelona is evolving and taking on more influences from other traditions, it is still nice to take a break from local fare and have a largely vegetable-driven menu a la Pita. Also their date cake is mindblowing.

Bar del Pla - outstanding tapas. We tried to return for a second go but mixed up our timing on the evening we went to the Palau de la Musica Catalana. The best all-around tapas bar we went to.

Pla B - sister restaurant to Bar del Pla. Really good, and super cute and funky interior. Well worth going. We enjoyed Bar del Pla a bit more but the food here is excellent.

Bar Mut - this place is amazing. Classic old-school modern bar design with a super sharp and short menu, specializing in ultra-fresh seafood and an extensive wine list. Probably my favorite place we went to, and we went twice. Their cheesecake is incredible, pillowy and light and with an aged savoriness almost like blue cheese.

Girona is a jewel of a medieval city and absolutely worth visiting for one day. We enjoyed walking through the city and along the top of its walls, and the Jewish museum there is quite extraordinary. Girona has one of the best preserved Jewish quarters of any city in Europe and the museum is located in a building that was the city’s last synagogue before the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492.

Food-wise, Girona is famous for the three-star El Celler de Can Roca and the Roca brothers’ imprint is felt all over the city. We stayed in their Casa Cacao hotel, which was awesome. The room included breakfast, served on the hotel roof - and this breakfast was a four-course service! The Rocas also have other restaurants, a chocolate factory, and a frozen novelties place called Rocambolesc that is quite good. Beyond the Rocas there are quite a large number of highly regarded restaurants in Girona - it’s a real gastronomy center for sure.

We went to Massana for our big event dinner of the trip. Massana is a one-star Michelin restaurant rooted in Catalan classic cuisine. We did the tasting menu plus wine pairings and it was a long and very enjoyable meal, maybe a bit too long because I felt rather full and buzzed by the end of it. Still the food was excellent and deserving of the star. The wine pairings for the most part were inventive and well chosen, and ran from cava to sherry to beer, as well as white and red wines. Everything was either very good or great except for the final two red wines, which were international-style Spanish oak bombs, which I hate. If I were to return I would maybe speak up earlier to make my preferences known.

In the Costa Brava we stayed in a super great Airbnb apartment in Roses right on the water on the southern coast of the town. Roses is a very touristy and over-developed beach town that is about 90% populated by French tourists during the summer. From what I understand Roses was developed mostly in the 1970s and has very little charm of its own. It’s not really my cuppa but our apartment was amazing. Roses’s beaches are nice and large, and from Roses one can make easy car trips to other older and more charming places like Cadaqués. There are also readily available hikes and beach/cliff walks that we quite enjoyed. We also chartered a sailboat ride for one evening that was lovely.

Cadaqués is super charming with great shopping by locally owned shops. It is delightful to stroll up and down its hilly streets and along the waterfront. Cadaqués is a coastal gem and is absurdly popular and one must get there early to secure a spot in the massive parking lot just outside the town.

We also stopped by Calella de Palafrugell on our way back to Barcelona and this is another charming and touristy old beach town full of French people.

Quick food recommendations:

Harry’s Bar - in Roses. Our Airbnb host is friends with Diego, who runs Harry’s, and recommended it to us. The food situation in Roses is basically average to poor, and Harry’s is a welcome retreat from the greasy fare everywhere else. The food is simple but well prepared and I would recommend it to anyone staying in Roses.

Pago Pago - in Roses. This is a funny rotisserie chicken joint styled as a Hawaiian bar. While the menu has a few other things besides the roast chicken, don’t bother with anything else. The chicken is great, even better with some aioli smeared on it and the French fries that come with it. Recommended - but do NOT drive as parking is impossible.

El Barroco - in Cadaqués. This is a beautiful and quite excellent Lebanese restaurant that a French guy we met at Harry’s recommended, and we were delighted to have lunch here. All the preparations were classic and excellently done.

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Glad bar mut delivered so much for you and your crew. I think we had dinner next to Carolina Herrera when we last went. We prefer bar canete for similar food but mut has a nicer more intimate environment. Hopefully you went to club mutis after?

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Bar Mut was great! I’ll have to check Bar Canete next time. And no, we did not go to Club Mutis - after 20,000 steps each day and lovely dinners with wine, we were not primed for cocktails and were more ready to head back to our apartment.

The Warden wanted a cocktail here. Quite the production. Cool place.

@Zachary_Ross - thanks for this post and so glad Bar del Pla and Pla B are still around!! We felt exactly the same during our trip (Pla B was fun and good, but we liked Bar del Pla better). Back in 2012, we were lucky enough to be able eat at Bar Del Pla three times - it was awesome!

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We really did hope to return to Bar del Pla. Who knows when we’ll be back but I hope it’s still going when we do!

I doubt it if Bar del Pla is going to go away anytime soon. Great pintxos and good wines btg. We’ve been patronizing this place since 12+ years ago and every time we’re in town and there’s always a wait line to get in during lunch and dinner hours. The only negative thing - no reservations policy.

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Actually we made a reservation - two of them in fact (though we canceled one). We called, no problem. Oh, and I drank vermut with our dinner. :slight_smile: