I think I freaked my sister out when I replied to her offhand "so what do you wanna do in Barcelona?" with a colour-coded Google Map pricked with no less than 57 green, red and yellow pins.
"We don't have to hit all of them," I disclaimer-ed, after three minutes of Messenger silence.
Lies. There is just so damn much to see, do and stuff your sunburnt face with in Barcelona. The city is parenthesized by the sea and the mountains, and everything in between is an expansive walking tour of architecture, tapas and parks that make Trinity Bellwoods look like an unfinished backyard (where are the three-tiered waterfalls?!). Literally everything is adorable. Soccer (excuse me, fútbol) is religion and if you speak ill of the FCB you will probably be crucified on a goalpost. We left with hearts light, suitcases heavy, and skin a couple Pantones darker (as in I went from being the NARS shade "Alaska" to "Greenland", if that says anything about the pastiness I was working with). There were a few things we didn't have time for—a climb up Montserrat, Montjuïc, Sitges, and about thirty brunch spots—but we did manage to cram a month's worth of both sightseeing and calories into five days.
A quick (and probably grossly stereotypical) tourist's description of the city: everything is divided into districts, the ones highlighted in every map being El Born, Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter) and El Raval. They each bleed into each others' stone alleyways and gelato counters, so we never really knew which one we were in unless we were paying close attention to our map (read: never), but our favourite of the three had to be El Born, with its closet-sized boutiques, corridors draped with rainbow buntings, and bustling bars. We also spent a good chunk of time in Gracia, a much less-touristy neighbourhood full of food, shops and sun-drenched squares on which to sip Cava sangria, at the beach, and trekking up to the unmissable (unless you miss your entry time slot, which we did) Park Güell.
Two highlights were our hours spent lazily exploring Parc de la Ciutadella (and renting paddle boats, because infancy) with lemonade slushies in hand, and our last day, when we signed up for a paddle board yoga class at The Surf House. There's nothing quite like staring at an upside-down Barceloneta Beach through the arms of your misshapen bridge pose. If you ever find yourself in Barcelona, do it. Ask for Ingrid.
DO: Learn a couple words of Catalan (not Spanish!). The best way I can describe this language is a hybrid of French and Spanish with a few lispy letters thrown in there. I.e. C's are pronounced "th". On our last day we learned to our delight we were not in fact staying in Gracia, but in "Grathia", meaning every cab driver/bartender/friendly stranger with chubby bulldog had been too polite to correct the dumbass Canadians.
DON'T: Get pick-pocketed. It seemed like everyone we met had had an iPhone slipped out of their purse or a camera snatched out of their hands, mainly on the metro or on streets clogged by tourists fanning themselves with Lonely Planet guidebooks (read: for the love of Gaudì put the DSLR down, stop asking for directions to the Sagrada Familia and try not to be a sitting duck). We were pretty vigilant and never had an issue, but still. Leave the passport at home.
We literally ate our way through the city, so I'll just sum it up with a few must-tries: Brunch & Cake for brunch and cake (get the ricotta hot cake with smoked salmon and avocado-feta whip.) Sol Soler for straight-up, aioli-smothered €2 tapas. La Pepita and Santa Gula for drank-too-much-sangria-and-now-I-feel-like-a-baller tapas. Surf House for cold-pressed juice and avocado toast (or better yet, a plate of the best nachos I've ever had and a Surfer's Burrito). El Faborit for daily coffee breaks in a hidden patio with swings as seats. Fresh popsicles because you're on vacation and they're everywhere—including our hotel lobby. Follow any of the above up with a trip to Chök for the most insanely indulgent pistachio cronut with maximum Instagram potential. We were so in love with this place, we bought six chocolate bars. Six.
DO: Check hours for everything. Not only is the 4pm-8pm siesta struggle real for those of us used to our golden-hour dinners, but some places will be (surprise!) closed on Tuesdays, or you'll trek forty minutes using a questionably scaled, gelato-stained map only to find a closed garage door instead of the restaurant's facade (true stories).
DON'T: Eat on La Rambla. We were warned (touristy, jacked prices, pick-pocketers, etc.) but in a haze of sleep deprivation and shoddy wifi, we found ourselves at Restaurante Cachitos on our last night and Creps Barcelona the morning before we left. Both not awful, but neither came close to the food we had in Gracia or El Born. Instead, head down one of the side streets and see what you stumble upon (like this, this or this).
This was my sister's first real trip sans-parents, so we went the hostel route so she could have the real Eurotrip experience, co-ed showers and all. We chose the Generator Hostel almost exclusively because of its paper lantern ceiling (we are very logical people). It was by far the nicest, most hygienic hostel I've ever stayed in, and the bar jammed with friendly tourists and cheap sangria made for a few blurry nights. But fast-forward four days of waking everyone up with our space shuttle of a hairdryer—it didn't jive well with the European adapter—and apologetic hand gesturing to roommates who no-habla-inglés and we decided to forgo our last night in favour of a room at the Praktik Rambla.
Best. Idea. Ever.
The hotel is Jenga-pieced into a thin slot in a historic building on La Rambla. Attempt to haul your suitcase the size of a dishwasher through the entry and you're greeted with fresh fruit popsicles pulled from some kind of Mary Poppins freezer under the front desk. From there, the hotel zig-zags upward five floors, each looking as though it were plucked from a Pinterest board. Highlights were the emerald-tiled shower, secluded rooftop terrace and adorable concierge who upgraded us to a suite, just because one was available. Anyways, five stars. We were obsessed.
DO: Check Hotel Tonight for last-minute deals. We scored our room for almost half-price ($188 CAD). Yes, this is still a very exorbitant thing to do on the last day of a trip.
DON'T: Forget to hotel-hop. There are a bunch of rooftop concerts, brunches and events at hotels around the city that are open to the public. The Pulitzer Hotel has live music and DJ sets almost every night of the week, and Terrace la Isabela has great reviews.
TL;DR? Barcelona is amazing with a capital expletive. Just don't bring your kids because you will lose them and/or they will be stolen.