"...It's the most wonderful time of the year..."
Here at RUN&FELL, being based in Manchester, the Rainy City, we pretty much live for any precious moments of summer sun. It's our fuel. Can't get enough. We're basically like woodland creatures, getting our fill before hibernating over a long, cold winter. So any opportunity to travel somewhere warmer and sunnier is eagerly snaffled up.
We recently visited the glorious Barcelona, and among the usual tourist spots we were impressed to stumble across a variety of sustainable options for the conscious traveller. So, rather than compiling a list of the most obvious, we've wandered round, explored the back streets, and headed off the beaten track to round up the best ethical, unconventional or creatively inspirational places; our own personal recommendations. Here are 10 of our favourite things to see and do in the Catalan Capital.
Barcelona Marina, and the famous Christopher Columbus Statue
1. Start the day right with an ethical Breakfast at The Juice House
Offering more than just juice, this little place is situated in the trendy, burgeoning area around Sant Antoni. Rustic decor, with hand-drawn art on the walls, and the sun pouring in through the windows, The Juice House has a laid-back, hip vibe. Their "clean eating" menu caters to vegetarians, vegans, people with a gluten free, lactose free, and raw diets. Meat lovers, fear not, they haven't forgotten you. They carefully select their produce from local suppliers, based on proximity and quality, and any eggs and dairy is chosen for its free range credentials. We had the vegan chia seed pancakes with blueberries and maple syrup, and they were spot on. We also thoroughly enjoyed their choice of music. There are some independent boutiques and bars on Carrer del Parlament and neighbouring streets which are well worth checking out after breakfast.
Online: | http://thejuicehouse.es | Location: | Carrer del Parlament, 12, 08015 Barcelona, Spain |
The Juice House
2. Rock The Boat
It's about a ten or fifteen minute walk from The Juice House down to the Port of Barcelona, where immense cruise liners pull in one one side, and private yachts hang out in the marina to the other side. Just in front of the Christopher Columbus statue, you'll find some small boats and catamarans lined up, and kiosks selling tickets to tourists. It might be super touristy but what the heck, who doesn't love a good boat trip? Our favourite (so nice, we went twice!) is the "Jazz & Chill" Catamaran Cruise. Lounge on the nets at the front of the boat whilst a guy in a hat serenades you with his sweet, sweet sax. Out at sea you'll enjoy a different view of the city, and it's fun to play "Spot the Landmark", with a background soundtrack of chill-out house music, sipping on some (locally sourced) Cava. Live that life.
Online | http://barcelona-orsom.com | Location: | Moll de Drassanes, Portal de la Pau, s/n, 08039 Barcelona, Spain |
Setting sail on a Jazz Catamaran
3. A walk in the Park
On a sunny day, Parc de la Ciutadella is an absolute vibe. We walked through the park on a Sunday afternoon, and although it was quite busy with families strolling, children playing, and couples lying cosily on the grass, we heard some distinct rhythmic sounds luring us from the main sandy path over to some trees. Amongst the vegetation was a large drum circle, beating complex patterns, expressive dancers, and onlookers enjoying the bohemian ambience. The park is also home to Barcelona Zoo, the Catalan Parliament, a spectacular fountain "Gran Cascada", and the beautifully constructed "Umbracle", a greenhouse home to a variety of tropical plants.
Online: | http://www.barcelonaturisme.com | Location: | Passeig de Picasso, 21, 08003 Barcelona, Spain |
4. Time for a little Paella?
No, not the rice dish (though we do highly recommend sitting down with a beach view and enjoying a plateful with a nice glass of something cold). Part fashion boutique, part art gallery, Paella Showroom, is a truly unique place. Rummage through quirky vintage fashion, discover new pieces by local Barcelona designers, or browse their unusual knickknacks, curiosities and gifts. Towards the back of the shop is where the art happens. There's a studio space, the walls lined with paintings, prints and illustrations. If you're craving a little creative inspiration, this place should spark off some freshness. There's a sense that this is quite a hub for local artists and makers, and we love that proud "Made In Barcelona" vibe.
5. La Sagrada Familia
It's an obvious choice but we couldn't leave it off the list. This city has Gaudí's handprints all over it, and whilst we fully appreciate each one of his works, this is surely his masterpiece. You basically can't go to Barcelona and not see it. If you want to venture inside, you will need a ticket and we recommend booking online in advance. But it is oh so worth it. The man was a genius. Yes it's a Cathedral, and there are exquisitely thought through details of his personal beliefs about God incorporated into every inch. There is meaning behind his every decision here. From the colours he has chosen for the stained glass, to the shapes of the pillars, he devoted each element to represent and convey something significant (you know what they say, God is in the details). Whilst other cathedrals can feel archaic and sometimes lifeless, this is fresh, vibrant, incredibly modern (it's hard to believe that construction started in 1882), and awe-inspiring. Even the most unreligious spectator can appreciate the majesty of the building and its design. It is as complex and intricate as it is huge. We recommend venturing up into the turrets of the building, and surveying the city from up on high.
Online: | http://www.sagradafamilia.org | Location: | Carrer de Mallorca, 401, 08013 Barcelona, Spain |
Inside La Sagrada Familia
6. Getting Around
There's so much to see in Barcelona. Each street you go down offers a new vista. Stunning architecture, unique street art, and quirky shop window displays compete for your attention. We thoroughly enjoy walking the streets for this very reason. By the end of each day, yes, you've done a good 20k steps, but you've immersed yourself in the heart of the city, and explored and discovered new things. There are great public transport links here, but why would you want to go underground on the Metro when it's sunny overground? If your legs are aching from the walking, or if you have a need for speed, there's a better solution. And it's environmentally friendly too! Yugo is an electric scooter with zero emissions. First you'll need to download the app. This uses your location to show you on a map where the nearest scooters to you are. Use the app to pay for the amount of time you'll want to hire it for, and off you go. Super convenient, and sustainable. Plus you'll look really cool.
Online: | https://www.getyugo.com | Location: | Wherever you are |
Collect and drop off your Yugo scooter anywhere in Barcelona
7. Park Güell
It's a bit like stepping into a fairytale book or a film set. As you walk up the hill to the main park gates, you'll spot gingerbread house style buildings. White mosaic "icing" tiles contrast the sandy stone "biscuit" walls. Inside the park, it's a playground of quirky colourful structures, with a brightly coloured mosaic salamander fountain "slithering" down the steps. It's an exceptional space and Gaudí clearly let his imagination free. The park is situated on a hillier part of the city with panoramic views stretching out to sea. You can visit much of the expanse of the park for free, but the main Gaudí structures are in the middle section which requires a ticket to enter.
Online: | https://www.parkguell.cat | Location: | Carrer Olot 5, 08024 Barcelona, Spain |
The View From Park Güell
8. Street Art
This city has an insatiable appetite for creativity. Its creative heritage has definitely birthed generations of artists here. And you can't help but notice the amount of street art, pretty much on every single street. As Barcelona Street Style Tours puts it, "It is easy to see that this Mediterranean city is one big contemporary Art Gallery". If you want to delve deeper, and take a look at the best works, Barcelona Street Style Tours offers both cycling tours and walking tours, weaving through the city streets. As well as showing you the best works you'll also be able to check out hard to find contemporary/underground galleries and boutiques. Amazingly the walking tours are FREE and the bicycle tours cost 18 euros.
Online: | http://barcelonastreetstyletour.com | Location: | Choose from various routes through the city |Mind-blowing street art covering an entire building
9. Dinner and drinks in El Born
The Spanish can teach us a thing or two about night life. Maybe the secret is in their siestas. Shops open in the evenings, dining and drinking is leisurely and late, and clubs are open 'til dawn. Barcelona is magical in the evening. And we can recommend, perhaps after a stroll through the Gothic Quarter listening to some of the (really talented) street performers singing opera or playing their instruments down dimly lit narrow streets, heading across to El Born. Like the Gothic Quarter, buildings in Born have that beautiful old charm, and the meandering streets are made for exploring. There are plenty of places here to have dinner, and many restaurants spill their seating out into the squares and pavements with awnings and umbrellas. We opted for some pre-dinner "craft cocktails" at Creps al Born, a small, fun little bar (which serves crêpes, hence the name). They were playing decent music, the staff were fun and chatty, and we liked their decor. Rustic, cluttered, with Hawaiian shirts hanging from the ceiling, the place feels friendly and festive and ready to fiesta!
Online: | http://www.crepsalbornbcn.com | Location: | Paseo de Born, 12, 08003. Barcelona, Spain |
Creps al Born
10 . Bar Marsella
Allegedly frequented by the likes of Picasso, Dalí, Gaudí, and Hemingway, this bar must have some stories to tell. The oldest bar in Barcelona, Bar Marsella dates from 1820, and remains seemingly unchanged. The walls and ceiling were probably once a different colour, but have clearly acquired a caramel tinge from decades of nicotine and dirt. Shelves around the room hold ancient, forgotten bottles, cobwebbed and dusty. Old signs and adverts, and flickering chandeliers add to the antique charm. It has a mysterious, fascinating, theatrical appeal. It's not hard for your imagination to wander, especially after a couple of drinks, to picturing scenes of people meeting here through the decades, discussing art, philosophy, and life. Famously this bar serves absinthe, but it offers decent cocktails too. Not quite brave enough for the absinthe, we opted for a classic; can't go wrong with gin & tonic, right?
Location | Carrer de Sant Pau, 65, 08001 Barcelona, Spain |
The beautifully decadent Bar Marsella
If you'd like to visit more ethical and sustainable shops and cafes in Barcelona, we can recommend picking up one of these Barcelona Sustainable Maps by Good Goal. It contains information on a number of vegan, organic, and zero-waste places to eat, as well as independent boutiques selling slow, organic, or upcycled fair fashion.
If you follow us on Facebook, you may have spotted this video we filmed on the way home. Turns out, we were sitting surrounded by members of Barcelona Ukulele Club (yep, that's a thing.) who were on their way to a Ukulele convention (I know!) in the UK. As the plane started to begin its descent, the tray tables were locked in their upright positions, the seatbelt signs were on, the cabin crew were seated for landing, and the cabin lights had been dimmed, this happened: