What to do in Barcelona – a solo travel guide
I’ve been to Barcelona twice before; the first time was a city break with the man and it rained a lot but we ate our weight in cheese; the second time was a relaxing pre-wedding trip with one of my besties. This time around, the plan was that I’d meet up with a US-based blogger/influencer who was stopping over in Barcelona as part of her much larger journey around Spain. Read on to find out why this turned into a solo travel guide, and what I got up to.
As life would have it, as the day of my flight got closer, my Instagram buddy (that’s where we ‘met’) started to experience some issues that ultimately wound up with her being unable to fly out at all. I was gutted for both of us; I was so looking forward to getting to know someone new, all while exploring Barcelona and of course, taking hundreds of photographs – of the city, of each other. I’d really been looking forward to shooting some portraits.
I remember telling my mum on the day of my departure that I’d ended up spending 72 hours in Barcelona on my own. Her immediate response was, ‘but what a waste of money and time’, to which I answered, ‘why?’ I won’t lie; initially – mostly when I was lying in bed by myself at night – I was a tiny bit intimidated, but then I reminded myself that a) tons of men and women travel solo every single day, and b) a long time ago I took a flight to Dubai (solo) and ended up living and working there for two years.
I waited until two days before I wanted to fly and managed to get business class flights cheaper than economy seats, both ways. I flew with Lufthansa and the whole experience was a breeze. Things were so breezy in fact, that I started to imagine that for once, I’d get active on my first day, maybe go for a walk to the beach with a stop off for coffee… Usually, wherever I go, I’m incredibly lazy the first day I arrive. Unless I’ve got in on an early morning flight; my usual MO is shower and food in bed. But due to how comfortable my journey was, I really thought I’d walk to the beach and go swimming.
However, as the entire length of my trip coincided with a city-wide taxi strike, the journey home took a little longer than expected. Because I was still relatively chilled after my flight, I took getting the Metro in my stride. Once you get on it, it’s air-conditioned heaven and when I came out, my hotel was less than a five-minute walk away. Once I’d stashed my luggage and had a quick shower and change of clothes, I walked down the block to what I believe was a knock-off Shake Shack (unless it’s a real Shake Shack and they changed the name slightly?). Anyway, they had no veggie options left (at 6pm!) so I ended up eating a stupidly healthy first meal of rice and beans with veggies. I told myself I would make up for it the next day…
I woke up around 6am, changed into some joggers and took my camera to the beach. It’s just a straight walk down from my hotel, maybe around 15 minutes. Walking early is the best as you get to the see the streets super quiet (I think Barca is definitely a night owl town), and the sun isn’t too hot just yet. When I got to Barceloneta I just sat and watched the waves for half an hour. The beach wasn’t busy at all, but there were families taking a swim, and people smoking shisha; it was super chilled.
After walking back, I jumped in the shower and made myself presentable. I was determined to check out Espai Julio, a café/plant shop I’d spotted weeks before on Instagram. They opened at 10am but I got there around 930am to take pictures. Once they were open, the staff were so nice; all smiles, friendly and attentive. I ordered a bagel with cream cheese, basil and tomato (amazing), plus some chocolate banana cake and an oat milk latte. The cake was really nice and I was seriously surprised to discover it was gluten-free; I never touch anything that’s GF because it’s often dry and boring. But this was the total opposite.
As you can see, Espai Julio is a gorgeous cavern of plants, magazines and travel books. To me it looks like one of those super popular VSCO filters, all warm and fuzzy tones.
Once I was carbed up, I decided to walk 40 minutes to Sant Pau Recinte Modernista, a former hospital with Art Nouveau interiors that was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1997. Although I had already paid around 20 euros for a 3-day Metro card, I wanted to get as much exercise in as possible, as there was no gym at my Ibis Styles hotel. Bearing in mind that the temperature was around 37 degrees, I was in no rush.
It’s hard to describe the hospital itself; in some parts it’s so clean and sparse I had visions of it being a great location for a new American Horror Story series - with copious amounts of blood dripping down the white walls. Other parts are simply beautiful. Unlike Art Deco (my fave period) which was known for making even the most ordinary of objects beautiful; Art Nouveau was more about substance as well as style, so even though much of the details are intricate, the overall interior décor is one that definitely exercises a little restraint.
I decide to walk back to the hotel, hoping to stumble upon something solid for dinner, but, like I said, Barca is more of a night owl town, and it’s not like all of the shops and restaurants are open at exactly the same time. I decide to seek out a place I’d visited last year, El 58. My bestie and I had epic memories of the meals we’d had there, so I was hoping it lived up to the same standards.
Mostly it did, but my first grilled shrimp was undercooked and while my salad was very pretty, they’d dumped a whole load of sprouts on it – which I hate! However, the vegetable risotto was still very, very good.
Once I got back to the hotel I fancied that I’d get changed, dress up and go out for a drink at Solange; a truly beautiful, decadent-looking place. The interiors are truly to die for and the bar staff seriously know their stuff.
But I fell asleep.
It’s a Sunday, which basically means you should feel free to stay in bed for as long as you like, as, in Barcelona (most of Spain in fact) Sundays are still a rest day. Yes, many shops are open but many (I’m looking at you Sephora) are not. That makes Sunday a great day for the beach or just mooching around. I decided to head straight to the Gothic Quarter, and this time, I used my Metro card. Honestly, it makes things so much easier, and of course, you don’t sweat anywhere near as much. The Gothic Quarter is the perfect place for vintage shopping – in fact it’s where I picked up my second wedding outfit (a red tango dress). You mostly pay by weight so you can get some beautiful pieces a lot cheaper than you’d have to pay in London, for instance. From cowboy boots to eighties denim, Barca’s vintage offering is solid, but you should be prepared to do a lot of digging.
Once I’ve wandered around taking pictures of skateboarders and tourists long enough, I decide to head to Chok, a shop that’s housed in a former chocolate factory, and uses chocolate in everything, from crisps to tea to doughnuts. I sit down with a blueberry doughnut (I eat half), a mini lemon meringue one and an oat milk latte. The coffee is okay, but the doughnuts make it better.
I head back out to wander around and take in the sights. There’s a woman singing opera right there in the street and she has the most beautiful voice, it almost brings me to tears. Next up, an old man with very shaky hands asks if he can take my picture. I say yes, because I have exactly nowhere to be. Which I love!
I quickly pop onto Instagram to ask a friend who used to live in Barcelona if she has any suggestions for food and people-watching. She tells me to check out Kino Café, a grungy place that has a loose Hollywood movie theme to it – I love it. There are mugshots of Jimi Hendrix and other celebs on the walls, as well as blown-up shots of Jack Nicholson and Dennis Hopper. The staff are tatted-up and lovely and it's the perfect place to people-watch. I order a Vermouth and just chill. Then I order another one…
When I’m ready to head home, I decide I need some gelato, and only the best will do. I encountered Gocce di Latte on my first trip to Barcelona, but this time, I stumbled upon it at a different location. The lady behind the counter told me this was a newer store, selling only vegan options. I was totally taken aback; everything looked amazing, and knowing that it was dairy-free definitely made my skin happy. However, I thought ‘sod it’, and headed to the original Gocce di Latte instead. I tried the pistachio, hazelnut and lemon curd flavours in a cone (dairy). And then asked for a scoop of turmeric (also dairy). Everything was packed with flavour, and so smooth and creamy. And the lady behind the counter was kind and friendly.
I walk home through the stunning Parc de la Cuitadella – it’s like something out of an old Sinbad movie and has to be seen to be believed really.
The next morning I head back to Espai Joliu; I really wanted to shoot the portrait of one of the waitresses there; she has such an amazing smile. Unfortunately for me, she’s not working that day. So I just sit and enjoy my feta, olive and sundried tomato bagel and iced matcha. I decide to head to Sephora to get some last minute beauty buys and mentally prepare myself for the journey to the airport. The taxi strike isn’t over; in fact, it’s spread to many other Spanish cities. I try not to moan about the thought of the heat plus my luggage plus public transport, and I do pretty well, until my lack of Spanish leads me in the opposite direction to the airport.
Nevertheless, I make it – thank God I left myself a two-hour journey time! An older man takes pity on me in some random station, and tells me exactly how to get to the airport. It’s a bit of a trek to get into the airport from the Metro, but that’s because of the taxi strike – it’s heaving with holiday-makers. I remind myself that I’ve had an amazing experience, all to myself and take everything as it comes.
Have you ever travelled alone? What are your solo travel tips?