As you may have seen, Steph and I recently made a very quick trip to Barcelona, one of our favorite places in the world. A trip of just a few days—we flew there on a Saturday and returned home the following Tuesday afternoon—is inherently risky because of possible travel delays. But we felt it was worth it for a variety of reasons: I was there for work, we’d already visited Barcelona several times, and Steph’s flight was incredibly inexpensive.
That said, we would have booked a few extra days if we could have. But Norwegian, the low-cost carrier we used to get to Barcelona, didn’t offer a Friday flight, and I needed to be home before Wednesday because of a separate work commitment. Booking additional hotel nights that week would have been prohibitively expensive because of the huge tech conference that was happening in the city at the time. Put simply, we had the schedule we had, did the math, and decided to go for it.
And it worked out wonderfully.
We’ve had a few problems with Norwegian in the past: The carrier offers low-cost flights between the US and Europe, but it’s had mechanical issues with its 787 Dreamliner planes. Our previous Norwegian experience, 2018’s three-week home swap trip to Stockholm, Sweden, was problematic because Norwegian switched us to a much lower quality airline, and the experience was terrible.
Not so for the Barcelona trip: We flew both ways on what seemed like brand new Dreamliners. We even had exit row seats on the way home.
To expedite things, we upgraded to priority boarding at very little cost, and we always carry-on all of our luggage. (Which I wrote about previously.) There were no lines at customs—a luxury, and somewhat uncommon coming into Europe—so we sailed quickly from the plane to the outside of the airport, where we found numerous taxis with no lines and no waiting. We were quickly off to the hotel, which had already texted me to tell me that our room was ready. It was sometime between noon and 1 pm. And the weather was perfect—high 50s—as it would be for the whole trip.
We stayed at the Hotel Ibis Barcelona Centre, which is just a block away from La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona’s top site, and just a few blocks away from the apartment we had lived in for three weeks for our 2014 home swap. So we knew the neighborhood well already. After checking in, we walked a few blocks to Placa de Tetuan, which is where that home swap apartment is located, and then down the beautiful Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes to the fountain at Passeig de Gracia, just a block away from the famous Placa de Catalunya. Our old haunts.
Our goal: A quick round of “pintxos” (tapas) at what is admittedly a touristy place called Txapela. But we’d been there many times with the kids, and we only had a short time before my first work requirement, an industry event that started at around 5 pm. Plus, the food there is surprisingly good.
After eating far too many pintxos—Txapela offers curiously larger portions than we remembered—I headed off for work, and Steph wandered around the Ramblas and Barrio Gothic. I finished up around 7 pm and made my way back to the hotel by taxi, where Steph was waiting. So we headed out around 8 pm, which is ideal for Barcelona, a city of late dinners and even later nights out. The goal: a mini tapas crawl.
We started at Jamon y Vino, which is right around the corner from the hotel and almost right next to La Sagrada Familia. In keeping with its name, we had Jamon Iberico and cava (Spanish sparkling wine).
Then we walked to Placa de Catalunya, following our path from earlier in the day, and set out to find some other places we had previously visited, including Taller de Tapas in the Placa de Sant Josep Oriol behind the Basilica de Santa Maria del Pi. We had Galician octopus, one of our favorites.
And then we ended the night at Stoke Bar, one of our favorite local joints, where we made some new friends.
Monday was pretty much wide open because my work meetings were both scheduled for Tuesday morning. So, I worked for most of the morning—I write about personal technology at Thurrott.com—and then we headed out for the afternoon. After a nice walk by the Arc de Triomf, our first stop was another favorite, Cuines Santa Caterina (“kitchens of Saint Catherine”) at the Mercat de Santa Caterina (Santa Caterina Market) near the Cathedral of Barcelona.
I had the Botifara sausage, as usual.
After that we walked more, visiting the Cathedral of Barcelona, Placa Reial, and the waterfront area by the famous Christopher Columbus monument, Mirador de Colom.
Then we headed back to the hotel for a few hours of napping and some quick work.
By the time the sun was setting, we were back outside, walking again, and heading to another mini tapas crawl. Our goal this time was to check out a few places we had missed out on during previous trips, but were highly recommended and on our to-do list.
Our first stop was Cerveceria Vendimia Bar, another locals-only joint that would likely turn off most tourists. It’s not the prettiest place, but the prices are cheap, the service is fantastic, and you can get by with simply pointing at the food items you want. We had some amazing mussels—in fact, we had seconds—and cava.
Down the street from there, we finally experienced Tasca El Corral, which serves a variety of meats and cheeses and drinks. Aside from the Jamon Iberico, which is always welcome, this place is perhaps most notable for serving a beef version of that dish. So that was a first for us, and was an excellent option.
After that, we visited Bar El Tropezon specifically for its ungodly-good Galician octopus and cava sangria. And perhaps had our only snag of the trip: It’s cash-only, and we didn’t have enough cash. Which we discovered after eating.
So I headed out into the night and the alleys of the area in search of an ATM machine, the closest of which was under repair. I finally made it back about 30 minutes later, cash in hand. (Steph just wrote about the issue of cash vs. credit, but for the most part, Barcelona is heavily credit card-centric. This was unexpected.)
With that mini-defeat behind us, we made our way back to Stoke Bar to see our new friends again. It was a late night.
I had meetings at WMC Barcelona in the morning, so I headed out at 8 am and made my way the distant convention center. Once that was done, I took a taxi ride back to the hotel, where I arrived just in time to pack and check out just before noon. We checked our bags at the hotel and had just enough time for a decent lunch, which we ate at El Nacional, one block up from the fountain at the corner of Gran Via de les Corts Catalanes and Passeig de Gracia.
This is a unique location, with separate restaurants within the restaurant, and we ate at the seafood restaurant, where I finally had razor clams, a goal for this trip. (You can’t really get razor clams in the US, and they’re only seasonally available in Europe.)
After that, we headed back to the hotel, arranged for a taxi, and headed back to the airport. Here, again, everything went smoothly, with a quick check-in. The only issues that day were the length of the flight—a bruising 8 hours—and that we had to drive home from Newark airport at night after such a long day. We arrived home around 11 pm, exhausted. (And if you do the math, I was up 22 hours that day, minus perhaps 30 minutes of sleeping on the flight home.)
Would a day or two extra have made a difference? Of course. But both of us were somewhat amazed to discover that it felt like a longer trip than it really was. And we had experienced more new places than we had anticipated, and had made some new friends. So that was both nice and unexpected. Given some luck, some great weather, and a fully-realized scheduled, it all worked out great.
And we can’t wait to go back. This trip reinforced our love of Barcelona and left us wanting more.