To discover how you can get to creative heart of one of Europe’s most beautiful cities without months of planning, we signed up blogger Lou Archell. She didn’t know she was heading for Barcelona until she arrived at the airport, so it was down to her to put the booking.com app to the test and find the perfect place to stay. Fancy the challenge yourself? We’ve got a list of top rated hotels from Booking.com and compiled a list of Barcelona must-dos. Plus, don't forget to enter our fabulous wing-it competition to win a weekend in Amsterdam.
Introducing Lou Archell
Bristol-based Lou Archell writes the daily blog Littlegreenshed – talking about her real passions. With five years of extensive globe trotting behind her, Lou’s blog has become one of the UK’s leading lifestyle and travel sites.
Time Out London challenged me to be spontaneous for a weekend. To #wingit. Of course I leapt at the chance. Keeping the location secret (I was hoping for a European city) and only giving me a few lines of a brief – challenges had an art and design point of view. So early in the morning, whilst most people were still sleeping, I jumped on a plane to Barcelona. All very last minute, just throwing a few things into an overnight bag. Crazy! For a meticulous planner like myself, the idea of not booking a hotel at least two months before a trip is simply bonkers.
There I was, 9am (UK time) standing outside Barcelona airport, without a clue where to stay. Using the Booking.com app on my phone I found hundreds of beautiful hotels. With the site’s search filters I could select the style and type of place. It was so easy to use, the room ratings gave me an idea of what was in my budget and I could search according to my personal preferences: boutique, small, in a local neighbourhood with an arty vibe. Oh and free wifi. Booking Hotel Brummell was a risk, stepping off of the plane in an unknown city, it could easily have been a turkey. But after viewing it on the booking.com app I could tell it had the potential of being something really great, I wasn’t wrong.
Hotel Brummell was love at first sight. I was extremely hot and a little travel weary. Walking into the fan cooled foyer, with cool concrete under foot and unique art hung on the walls it felt heavenly. Designer lighting and Tom Dixon furniture gave me clues that this space was unique. If it wasn’t for the rows of tables set up for breakfast I would have thought I had stepped into a gallery space/shop. Everywhere I looked I fell more and more in love. What a find! Booking.com had surpassed itself.
Time for the first challenge... Bear-hug the unknown, find a local design/art gallery.
Roll the dice and find a lesser-known exhibition
Day two. The Box Social is situated off the courtyard in Hotel Brummel and serves delicious bistro style food. Such was the layout that it felt I was in someone’s lovely home because the kitchen area is all open to the guests. Breakfast was delicious, eating Chia pudding with cinnamon and almonds. For day two’s challenge I travelled away from the main tourist drag of Las Ramblas and that famous Gaudi house. Instead I took the Metro to Poble Nou. I only went there for the coffee, but I’m glad I made the trip.
Nomad coffee has been open a month. The roasting machine is stirring a batch of beans to cool them after the roast and the ex industrial unit is sparsely filled with a central concrete table, small steel stools and serious third wave coffee gear. The cold brew coffee was served in a fat tumbler, with ice, and easily outclasses any other drink I’d had since being in BCN. Nearby, the local gallery, La Platforma, turned out to be the solution to my second challenge. It was showing a series of lo-fi square photography, displayed ad-hoc on all the walls. It’s a mixture of street scenes, still life and the outright bizarre. Hot desk space let artists work online in the centre of the gallery.
See more of Barcelona by bike
Everyone travels by bike, either rented via Viu bicing or from the many fixie bike shops. Barcelona is predominately flat, so a bicycle makes it a great way to get around. I headed out, discovering many old courtyards and street art on my way. Passing by the Pablo Picasso museum and many, many tapas bars in the Gothic Quarter. I stopped for a while to take in this place. From my experience of Poble Nou the day before, I knew it was the perfect place to head to complete my mission – it’s filled with street art and artist studios. Artists display their names above their side street spaces alongside taxi lockups.
Final challenge: Find some street with a dark undertone
One of the most iconic images from the 1992 Barcelona Olympics was a swimmer, poised at the top of a diving board, seemingly about to jump head first off the top of a mountain above the city. Relive that moment for yourself, at the diving pool and a 25-metre outdoor swimming pool which still stand here atop Montjuïc.
The building which houses this collection of works by the great Catalan artist is a thing of great beauty in itself. Approachable, light and airy, the museum’s white walls and arches house a haul of Miró’s work: more than 225 paintings, 150 sculptures and all of his graphic work, plus some 5,000 drawings.
A ‘hot as hell’ café that even London’s most brew-weary bean-heads will love. Blends are created in-house and given names such as Blondie's Debbie Harry or Poison Ivy from The Cramps. With coffee selected from El Magnífico de Barcelona, you can sample brews from Guatemala and Sumatra.
Feeling thirsty after walking round those galleries? Come here and refresh yourselves whilst still surrounded by art. Collage Bar is a kind of artistic/alcoholic oasis where art and cocktails come together. The mixology is dazzling and there are small exhibitions held here regularly.
Few world cities can boast as many attractive beach spots as Barcelona. Two of the best are Nova Icaria and Bogatell Beach – more laidback, with good water and handy for dining, services and other leisure attractions. Mar Bella perhaps offers the widest ranging appeal, though: it has a nudist section at one end of the beach and a kids’ playground at the other!
Packed to the rafters with dusty bottles of wine, this classic but tiny bar is a perfect place to sample tapas at their best. The ‘montaditos’ (sculpted tapas served on bread) are spectacular. Try salmon sashimi with cream cheese, honey and soy, or cod, passata and black olive pâté.
Barcelona's iconic temple is stunning, unique and still being built! The architect Gaudí dedicated more than 40 years to this project, and is buried beneath the nave. Many consider the crypt and the Nativity façade, which were completed in his lifetime, as the most beautiful elements. A must-see for all overs of visual creativity.
Top-rated hotels on Booking.com
Featuring an outdoor pool and a fitness centre, Catalonia Square is located in Barcelona’s historic Eixample district – great for architecture, dining and shopping (100 yards from Plaça Catalunya). Air-conditioned rooms have wooden floors, modern décor, satellite flat-screen TV, minibar and a battery charger for iPhone/iPad.
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In central Barcelona, Free Hostels is a cut above your usual ‘hostel’, with free wifi, memory foam mattresses on the beds, air conditioning, sockets, reading lights and a safe. A shared bathroom with free toiletries is located inside the dormitory. Bed linen is included, and towels can be hired for a surcharge. The desk is 24-hours, too.
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This small hotel occupies can be found on the first floor of a modernist building, just 50 yards from central Barcelona’s famous shopping street, Passeig de Gràcia. Air-conditioned rooms at Circa 1905 include a blend of classic and modern features. Each one has Egyptian cotton sheets, a balcony and flat-screen satellite TV with English channels. The hotel serves a breakfast of local produce in the dining room.
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In the central, historic Eixample district, these luxury apartments are handy for Plaza Catalunya and offer air-conditioning, designer furniture and fully-equipped kitchens. Some apartments also have bay windows and private furnished terraces. Free Wi-Fi is available.
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A boutique guest house is set in the chic Eixample district offers air-conditioned rooms, most with a balcony, 200 yards from Urquinaona Metro Station. Set in a restored 19th century building, rooms at Violeta Boutique feature contemporary décor. There is also a hotel terrace and the guest house is close to bars, restaurants and shops.
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