Random ice-cream-in-Spain suggestion: If you have access to a freezer, load up on delicioso Magnum ice cream bars that you will find in supermarket/Chinese shop freezers throughout Spain, and indeed throughout Europe. How Magnums are not available in the U.S., I’ve no idea. It’s criminal. [Note in 2018: Magnum abounds in the U.S., thank you baby Jesus.]
Note on the Spanish language: It took me awhile, but I finally figured out that Salon de Juegos was not House of Juice or Hall of Jews – it’s Hall of Games, as in video. Just so you know.
Go to the beach. It’s an easy walk from ‘downtown,’ or you can take the metro to the Barceloneta stop and walk the rest of the way.
A general note on ice cream. There are ice cream shops everywhere in Barcelona, so don’t be afraid to be a bit picky. Wherever you can, choose the artesanal (look out for various spellings) ice cream or gelato shops. It is indeed a bit more expensive, but well worth the extra euro or so. Oh. My. Goodness. So worth it.
The most orgasmic gelato on the planet at Amorino Gelato e Cioccolato, Gran de Gràcia, 53 (Gràcia neighborhood). www.amorino.es.
A-freakin’-mazing Thai food at Thai Gardens, Diputación, 273 (right off the Paseo de Gràcia and not far from Plaça Catalunya).
Delicious pastries and bread at Forn Sant Jordi Flequeria, C/ Llibreteria, 8 (not far from the Catedral Barri Gòtic, just off C/ de Ferran). Founded in 1798 and still going strong.
Bubo won the Best Chocolate Cake in the World at Lyon in 2005. Visit two locations in Barcelona – Bruc, 150 and Caputxes, 6. Mmmmmm. www.bubo.ws.
Order iced tea to go – té frio para llevar! – at Tea Shop of East West Company, many locations in Barcelona and Madrid. www.teashop.es. (Not all shops offer iced tea to go – a shame.)
Eat the best falafel ev-ah at Maoz, two locations in Barcelona – Carrer de Ferran, 13 and La Rambla, 95.
Museu d’Història de Barcelona (Conjunt Monumental de la Plaça del Rei), Plaça del Rei, s/n. Walk over and among the ruins of the old Roman colony, Barcino. Your imagination will be fired. 6 €. http://w3.bcn.es/V64/Home/V64XMLHomeLinkPl/0,4468,335907851_335943991_1,00.html.
Barcelona Walks by Barcelona Turisme, the Gòtic tour (walk of the Gothic barrio), 12 €. Other routes offered. www.barcelonaturisme.cat.
The architectural wonders of Gaudí, in this order of impressiveness:
Sagrada Família, 11 € entrance, 2.50 € to take the lift to the top of one of the towers (pay on elevator).
Casa Batlló, 16.50 €.
Parc Güell, Free.
Wander around the Gràcia district (not the street, but the barrio). Fabulous boutiques and restaurants, mellow atmosphere.
Revérsika, C/ Torrijos, 37, fantastic reversible clothes and bags, imported from Colombia. (In the Gràcia barrio) www.reversikaeuropa.com.
Happy Pills, C/ Argenteria, 70, fantastic kitchy gifts o’ candy pills. www.happypills.es. They said they’ll be selling online soon.
Funky clothes at Desigual, C/ Bruc, 49, and other locations. There’s one shop in the U.S., in Soho in NYC. www.desigual.com.
English bookstore, Hibernian Books, Carrer de Montseny, 17 (Gràcia barrio). Http://hibernian2.cpvsolutions.com.
Barcelona Bed & Breakfast, wonderful location and hosts. For more information, www.barcelonabb.com.
Check out the old beach, within the old city limits, and the new beaches, just outside the city gate. It’s all good.
Teatro Romano, C/ Campo del Sur, s/n. The entrance to this ancient Roman theater is easy to pass by and they have wonky opening times, but it’s worth heading back until you get in. It’s basically around the corner from the Catedral. Wonderful ruins from 60 A.D. Free.
Catedral de Cádiz, Plaza de la Catedral, 5 €.
Hotel Argantonio, C/ Argantonio, 3. Charming, nice location. www.hotelargantonio.com.
Great tapas at affordable prices with lots of locals at Mesón de las Flores, on the corner of C/ Velázquez Bosco and Calleja de las Flores.
Mezquita, or Great Mosque, Córdoba’s main attraction. A treasure, a joy, and a photographer’s paradise – bring your tripod. Also, enjoy the ludicrous interpretation of history as offered in the official pamphlet called “The Cathedral, Córdoba.” 8 €.
The Castle of the Christian Monarchs, Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos, the past home of King Fernando and Queen Isabel. 4 €.
Madinat Al-Zahra, Ctra. Palma del Río, Km 8. Archaeological site of Moorish city from 940 A.D. www.junta-andalucia.es/cultura/museos/CAMA. Reserve a spot on the bus at a tourist kiosk, 6.50 € roundtrip. Madinat admission is 1.50 € for non-EU citizens.
Hostal Lineros 38, C/Lineros, 38. Fantastic small hotel in a terrific location. www.hostallineros38.com.
Nemrut Kebap, Plaza Nueva, 2 and C/Acera de Casino, 11, as well as eight locations in Madrid. Great Turkish food. www.nemrutkebap.com.
La Alhambra, can’t miss it. A spine-tingling experience. Read Washington Irving’s “Tales of the Alhambra” before you go, or better yet, bring it with you. 13 €. Reserve in advance. More information on tickets at www.alhambradegranada.org/guias/alhambraEntradas_en.asp.
El barrio Albaycín, the old Moorish neighborhood alongside the Alhambra. Excellent views of the Alhambra from Plaza San Nicolás. I didn’t have any problems there, but heard again and again to be careful at night. Leave your valuables in your hotel room, travel light.
Hostal Lima, Lauren de las Tablas, 17. Great location, nice accommodation. www.hostallimagranada.com.
To Toledo, to get lost walking the medieval streets, shopping, eating, and visiting the impressive Cathedral, Santa Iglesia Catedral Primada, C/ Cardenal Cisneros, 1. 7 €. www.catedralprimada.es. Construction began in 1227 and finished (more or less) three hundred years later. It’s a beautiful Gothic Cathedral, containing a mini art gallery in its Sacristy. There you can view many dark El Gregos, a Goya, and a Caravaggio with spellbinding shadows. Also plan on standing on the very spot that Mary Mother of God visited in 666 A.D. to thank Bishop Saint Ildephonsus for sticking up for her virginity. Toledo is a one-half hour train ride on RENFE from Atocha Renfe Station, costing approximately 15 € round-trip.
To the Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, to see the famous monastery and lovely basilica. You could easily spend a full day there. The building tour showcases paintings, the burial vault for kings and their moms, an extended underground cemetery for other relatives, the fantastic library (spend some time with the ceiling murals), and the basilica with its stunning high chapel. www.sanlorenzoturismo.org/ingles/default2.htm. 8 € for an unguided tour; 10 € guided.
Hear some fantastic music in a cabaret setting at Galileo Galelei, www.salagalileogalilei.com.
Visit Cock Bar, just so you can say you did. www.barcock.com. Chueca neighborhood. The blinds are lowered around midnight and you can’t see in. Knock on the door and see if they’ll let you in.
Yummy tapas at La Botillería de Maxi, C/ Cava Alta, 4, La Latina. www.labotilleriademaxi.com.
Forego the more fast-foody Turkish kebap places in favor of somewhere that offers full platters. I can vouch for Nemrut Kebap on the corner of Gran Via and C/ de Fuencarral; there are other locations, too. There’s usually not much seating space. www.nemrutkebap.com.
Note on Sol:
Go for a stroll from Sol and enjoy the old Spanish men in suits, carrying canes and wearing top hats. Start out with some falafel at Maoz (C/ Mayor, 4 – another location at C/ Hortaleza, 7), grab a 1 € chocolate napolitano at La Mallorquina (Puerta del Sol, 8 y C/ Mayor, 2), shop for some funky clothes at Desigual (C/ Mayor, 11) and then enjoy the sights and smells of Mercado de San Miguel (at Plaza de San Miguel).
El Prado, the world-famous museum of paintings (and some sculpture), Paseo del Prado, s/n. It’s immense, so plan multiple trips. Don’t miss Velázquez, Goya, Ribera, El Greco and the beautiful absurdity of Bosch. www.museodelprado.es/en. 8€. Tip: Purchase the set of six (small) gallery guides at the information desk near the main museum shop and cafe to get a nice understanding of many of the prized artworks at El Prado.
Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida’s (1863-1923) delicious paintings in his old home and studio, Museo Sorolla, Pso. General Martinez Campos, 37. www.museosorolla.mcu.es. Only 3 € entrance fee; a steal!
The turtles at Atocha Renfe, the main train station in Madrid. Adults seem to love watching the turtles – puttering around in their pond, swimming drunkenly under the lilies, and lumbering on top of each other (smallest guy on top) – even more than the kids do. It’s a built-in meditation station, perfect for when your train is running late. Breathe in, breathe out, smile at the baby turtles. Repeat.
Look for Desigual shops throughout Madrid (and the rest of Spain). The clothes are expensive, but it’s hard to pass up this quintessentially Spanish shop. You’ll see Desigual knock-offs all over Spain, but this is the original. www.desigual.com.
For funky t-shirts and jackets, stop by Blue Velvet, several locations in Madrid, Valencia, Barcelona, www.mystress.es.
The whole length of Calle de Fuencarral is a pretty great shopping street, with all of the usual suspects mixed in with funky boutiques. It ends/starts at Gran Via/Bilbao metro stops.
The streets off Sol offer a wide variety of shopping; check out Calle de Arenal, between Sol and Opera. There are funky boots and shoes to be bought at Vas (C/ de Arenal, 5) and at Iris (C/ de Arenal, 3). Art and El Naturalista are two unique and eye-catching Spanish brands.
Also look out for the only cheap clothes you’re bound to find in Madrid, at Lefties, (yes, the comma is included), usually found alongside a Zara store.
Enjoy coffee, tea and chocolate at Chocolat, C/ Sevilla, 16. “Un placer para los sentidos.” www.serraniaderonda.com/choc.
Baños Arabes, C/ San Miguel, s/n, incredibly well-preserved Arab baths from the 13th – 14th centuries. 3 €. Photographers, bring tripods.
One of the coolest churches anywhere, Colegiata Santa María la Mayor, Plaza Duquesa de Parcent, 4 €.
Plaza de Toros/Museu Taurino, C/ Virgen de la Paz, 15. Bullring built in 1785; stand in the middle of the ring and let the sand blow in your eyes. Nice small museums included. 6 €.
Hotel Don Miguel, Plaza de España, 4 y 5, right next to the gorgeous Puente Nuevo. www.dmiguel.com.
Ruins of the ancient Roman colony, Itálica, birthplace of Trajan and Hadrian, is only 9 km from Sevilla, and in my opinion, a must-see. Avda. De Extremadura, 2, Santiponce. Founded 206 B.C. and flourished until the mid-3rd century. Take the bus from Plaza de Armas, Bus M172, Bay 34, 1.25 € each way, pay on board, 20-25 minutes each way. Cheap or no entrance fee depending on the mood of the guy in the kiosk. www.juntadeandalucia.es/cultura/italica.
Go to the Arab Baths at Aire de Sevilla, C/ Aire, 15. 20 € for a one and a half hour ‘appointment.’ Can request ‘extras,’ such as massage. RSVP. www.airedesevilla.com.
Taberna Coloniales, C/ Fernandez y Gonzalez (very close to the Cathedral). Have the tapa or media of pechuga de pollo con salsa de almendras – chicken with almond sauce over friend potatoes. You won’t be disappointed.
Bar Eslava, C/ Eslava, 5 (close to Alameda de Hercules), excellent tapas.
Restaurante San Marco, C/ Meson del Moro, 6-10 (Barrio de Santa Cruz). Atmospheric Italian restaurant in the ruins of old Arab Baths. Don’t pass up the tea and dessert at the end of the meal. And look out for the Moroccan waiter who looks just as dreamy as, and could be a brother of, A-Rod.
Confiteria La Campana, C/ Sierpes 1 & 3 y Alphonso XII (at the top of one of the main shopping streets). Buy some fantastic chocolate artesano, which can be bought regular (milk chocolate), blanco (white chocolate) or puro/negro (dark chocolate) at 30 €/kg.
Bypass Flaherty’s Pub if you want to watch sports and head further up the wee hill to Tex Mex, Calle Asunción, 67, a stone’s throw from the Catedral and Giralda.
Flamenco at Casa de la Memoria, C/ Ximenez de Enciso, 28 (Barrio de Santa Cruz), www.casadelamemoria.es. Excellent place to see flamenco for 15 €.
Flamenco at Tablao los Gallos, C/ Plaza de Santa Cruz, 11. 30 € for two hours of flamenco dancing and music, includes one drink. Twelve artists each show. A bit touristy but they put on a good show. Casa de la Memoria edges them out, in my opinion. www.tablaolosgallos.com.
La Catedral de Sevilla and Real Alcázar, located side-by-side in the heart of Seville. Cathedral entrance will also allow you to climb the Giralda tower, a holdover from Moorish domination.
Casa de Pilatos, Plaza de Pilatos, 1. An old mansion in Sevilla with Roman, Mudéjar and Gothic themes. Entrance not well marked but you’ll see people coming and going. 8 €. www.fundacionmedinaceli.org.
A corrida, bullfight, at La Plaza de Toros de Sevilla, if you are there during the season and if you have a strong stomach for that kind of thing. Go to the bullring itself to buy the tickets and don’t buy from the hawkers – go to the sales agents within. It’s ideal to get a seat in the shade; otherwise, bring a hat, sunscreen and a strong constitution. You can also get tours of the bullring and bullfighting museum most days.
Piaf Ropa & Plata, Conde de Barajas, 8 (near the Alameda de Hercules). Small boutique with interesting dresses and jewelry.
Las Moradas, Rodrigo Caro, 20 (near the Plaza Doña Elvira in the Santa Cruz district). Nice shop with ceramics and jewelry.
Generally, I wasn’t thrilled by shopping in Sevilla. The shops seemed to have the same clothes and shoes over and over. Antonio Ortiz shoe stores seemed to have a more interesting variety – I particularly enjoyed the rather pricey Vialis brand.
Books are expensive in Spain, but if you need something to read in English, head over to Casa del Libro, which had the best variety of English books I found in the shopping district. www.casadellibro.com.
Get your little butt out there!