Barcelona is an incredible city but it’s completely underrated as a winter destination. I first visited Barcelona in Summer about five years ago and my main memory is that it was beautiful but hot. After making the same mistake with Rome, then visiting in Spring this year and enjoying the city much more, I have always wanted to return to Barcelona in cooler weather. This year, I took the plunge with my first solo trip to the Spanish capital city in Winter. It was incredible and I’m now armed with lots of tips for your city break to Barcelona:
Save Your Pennies With A Cheap Winter Break
First of all, why winter? Well the most obvious reason is the first one; winter is off-season in Barcelona, meaning that flights and hotels are cheaper, the city is quieter, and the tourist destinations are less busy. I won some flights from Jet2 (they’re worth following on social media as they frequently run competitions!) and bagged a bargain room at Hotel Midmost thanks to Hotels.com, so my trip was a cheap one. Hotel Midmost is perfect for a luxurious central stay. The hotel is just off Las Ramblas, opposite the Universitat metro stop and close to plenty of tapas bars and shops. The rooms are spacious, packed with extra touches like a dressing gown and slippers and a Nespresso coffee machine and the rooftop bar and miniature pool has great views of Barcelona.
Visit the Christmas Markets
Barcelona’s Christmas Markets aren’t a huge tourist destination like Prague’s or Moscow’s, but they are worth a visit if you are planning a winter trip. The biggest market lies outside the Cathedral with almost 100 stalls packed full of local produce, mistletoe and Christmas trees. There is also another Christmas market in the park of the Sagrada Familia; an incredible location with an amazing view. The stalls mainly sell beautiful handcrafted nativity sets with tiny figurines, Tio de Nadal and the Caganer (the famous “pooping man”). It’s definitely different to the same old German markets which seem to be in most cities at Christmas!
Head to the Park Guell at Sunrise
The Park Guell at sunrise was a stunning experience and even better because I got to see it almost to myself, thanks to the quieter time of year. It’s a little known fact that you can visit the Park Guell outside of their official opening hours, meaning it is quieter and you also don’t have to pay for a ticket. I decided to head to the park for sunrise and it was the most magical experience. Also in winter, you have the bonus that sunrise is later meaning more sleep!
Listen to the Choirs
Music is everywhere in Barcelona. I was lucky to hear lots of street music, purely by chance, over my visit. My favourite was the choir performing carols and hymns from the balcony of the Casa Amatller, next to Casa Batllo. The atmosphere was incredible as everyone stopped in the street to listen to the choir perform, accompanied by the changing colours of the Casa Batllo façade. There’s nothing like carols at Christmas!
Take A Trip To The Hospital
I’d never heard of the Sant Pau Recinte Modernista before I stumbled across it on Instagram – this is why Instagram hashtags are one of my favourite ways to research my travels! It's an old hospital and a Modernist masterpiece. You can learn more about the history of medicine in Spain, explore the interiors of the hospital buildings and walk through the underground tunnels with cover the huge hospital grounds. It’s the most beautiful hospital I’ve ever visited!
Climb the Nativity Tower at the Sagrada Familia
Although I had visited the Sagrada Familia before, I hadn’t realised you could climb the towers for an extra five Euros. I love getting high and checking out the views of a city so I knew I had to try it. I chose the Nativity Tower (it was almost Christmas, after all!) which seemed to be slightly more popular. The views offer a unique perspective on the Sagrada Familia and allow you to get close to the towers.
Tickets are expensive but if you’re under 30, don’t forget to ask for a discount! Most places offer a discount for younger tourists to help you save some pennies, including the Sagrada Familia which knocks 2 Euros off all tickets for under 30s. Also, make sure you book online to avoid the giant queues!
Explore the Hidden Roman Ruins
Another new Barcelona discovery was the MUHBA (Museu d'Historia de Barcelona), which has one of the largest sets of Roman ruins I have seen outside Italy. I love anything related to Roman history and although the museum looks small from the outside, the roman ruins hidden in the basement feel like they go on for miles. It's a fascinating insight into the city of Barcelona. If you want to save your Euros, most museums are free after 3pm on Sundays and all day on the first Sunday of the month, so I’d recommend visiting on a Sunday if you can.
Finally, don’t forget the food!
Tapas is the most well-known food of Spain and for a good reason; it’s so tasty! I ate at three tapas restaurants and I would happily recommend them all; firstly Tapas24, a tiny underground tapas restaurant near Casa Batllo. The Iberian ham croquettes were delicious and the Patatas Bravas, although resembling chips more than the traditional cubed potato, were crispy and tasty.
Next, La Llibretaria is worth a visit just for the liberty themed artwork on the walls. The bar is heaving with locals but there is an English menu if you need it. Order at the bar rather than wait to be served and choose the empanadas and chorizo if you want a treat. They also have a great selection of craft beer, if you’re a beer fan like me!
Finally, Centric Canalla sits just opposite La Llibretaria and has a similar vibe. Service is quick but friendly, the menu offers a big variety of dishes, including plenty of veggie options which can be hard to find in tapas bars. I would recommend the Andalucian fried squid; tasty, tender and perfectly cooked. The patatas bravas weren’t as good here but the fried aubergine was delicious.
For brunch, head to Firebug, a trendy restaurant in Eixample, for an incredible brunch menu. I demolished a huge plate of chorizo hash; potatoes, topped with a poached egg, but I could have chosen anything on the menu. Coffee is super cheap at just 1.50 Euros a cup and you can treat yourself to a glass of cava for just 3 Euros (I did!)
Finally, for a sweet treat, head to Lukumas a tiny donut shop near Las Ramblas. It offers a huge variety of tasty donuts, far better than any Krispy Kreme, and excellent coffee. I chose a mango flavoured donut and a chocolate filled donut topped with Oreo. They’re unique, sticky and messy!
Some Final Top Tips
- Catch the Aerobus from the airport for 10.20 Euros return. It’s quick, easy to understand and runs every 5 minutes so there’s no need to worry about that journey to and from the airport.
- A free walking tour is a great way to get your bearings in Barcelona. Unfortunately I missed mine due to a delayed flight, but Feel Free Tours has great reviews and runs daily.
- Buy a 10 trip ticket for an effective way to use the Metro. This costs just under 10 Euros and allows you ten trips around the city (not including to the airport). I found it invaluable as I didn’t need to worry about buying a ticket every time and it was the perfect amount for three days in the city.
- Try the “bombe de la Barcelonnette”, a traditional tapas dish native to Barcelona. It’s minced meat, deep fried like a croquette, topped with the same sauce as patatas bravas
So that’s it; my huge guide to Barcelona! If you haven’t visited the Spanish capital in Winter, I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s still an underrated Christmas destination but one that I’m already planning to head back to. It’s a magical time of year to explore the tourist haven and, as you’ve read, there is plenty to do! Have you visited Barcelona in Winter?
The Lowdown: Stay, Eat, Visit
Stay at Hotel Midmost. Great location, luxury treats and a rooftop bar. What’s not to like?
Eat at La Llibertaria. My favourite tapas bar of the trip thanks to its French Revolution themed artwork and tasty menu, especially the empedos. An authentic tapas bar packed full of locals but welcoming to tourists. Expect to pay around 12 Euros for a glass of wine and two tapas dishes.
Visit the Sant Pau Hospital. Of course I loved the Sagrada Familia, the Park Guell and Casa Batllo – but you already knew to visit those. For something less well-known, head to the Sant Pau Hospital to explore the most beautiful hospital you can imagine, its fascinating history and stunning Modernist architecture. It boasts great views of the Sagrada Familia too.