Autumn can be a tricky season in Barcelona. The phrase “the rains in Spain fall gently on the plain” isn’t a misnomer and sometimes “gently” is a vast understatement. The weather tends to fluctuate between heavy rains and periods of sun that make Barcelona glow like a mythical lost city of gold. Even though it’s September, thunderstorms are already starting to drift in off the Mediterranean Sea and pounding the pavement along La Rambla.
While a trip to Ciutat Comtal (the “City of Counts” in Catalan) can be a roll of the dice, weather-wise, for those making the journey after Labor Day, there are benefits for those willing to take their chances. More or less, the tourist season in Barcelona ends with its annual La Mercè festival, which typically falls on the last weekend in September. After all the Castellers head home and the final firecracker of the Correfoc pops, travellers typically head back to their homelands, leaving behind some much needed breathing space in the city’s galleries, cathedrals, bistros and markets.
So if you’re the type who prefers art and leisurely meals over lounging in the sun with your feet in the Mediterranean, pack your bags, grab an umbrella (just in case) and get ready to hit the streets of Barcelona. Here’s one possible itinerary for your first autumnal day in the city:
9 AM – Head out the doors of your hotel and over to La Rambla, Barcelona’s most iconic street. Take a quick spin through the Placa de Catalunya, a formal square with a fountain. It’s said that anyone who drinks from it will remain in Barcelona forever. Keep this in mind if you suddenly become thirsty and haven’t brought along any bottled water. Afterward, duck into the adjacent Corte Ingles, a high-end department store. If the weather’s behaving, various vendors will be lined up and down La Rambla selling everything from handcrafted goods and flowers to live chipmunks (which are still kept as pets ala hamsters in Catalonia). Swing a right once you arrive at the Mercat de la Boqueria, one of Europe’s most iconic indoor markets and a paradise for adventurous foodies. Here, you’ll find plenty of exotic items and enough culture shock to make you dizzy. If entire legs of dried lamb (which typically start at 125 Euros), gigantic ostrich eggs or dried insects aren’t your cup of tea, check out the positively bizarre seafood stands. For the faint of heart, there’s plenty of vendors offering fine cheeses and wines.
Noon – Time for lunch and tapas are tops in this town. Head over to Taller de Tapas, a sumptuous “tapas workshop” with a gorgeous location near the Church of Santa Maria del Pi. There’s a year-round outdoor terrace but, if the skies overhead are turning dark, grab a table inside. As you sip a glass of cava, look over the daily specials, which typically include dishes like rice and lobster stew or chorizos in Asturian cider. Taller de Tapas was also one of the locations featured in the Woody Allen’s lush film tribute to the city, Vicky Christina Barcelona.
Taller de Tapas
Afternoon – The Museu Nacional D’Art de Catalunya is considered one of Barcelona’s “must visits.” The museum is divided into two main sections, one devoted to Romanesque art and another to Gothic works. Its frescoes are the main attraction. If gaudy churches are more your thing, well, this is definitely the town for that. Architect Antoni Gaudi’s impossibly ambitious (and very strange) La Sagrada Familia dominates Barcelona’s skyline like a gigantic palace raised from the ruins of Atlantis. Ground broke on the project in 1882 and workers are *still* trying to complete Gaudi’s vision. The architect was killed by a tram in 1926. Barring any further complications (progress has been continually thwarted by delays and various controversies), the finishing touches should finally be in place sometime in the 2030s. If the skies are clear, and if you have any time and energy left, take a hike over to Gaudi’s other labor of love, Park Güell. Its pavilions and contorted features have been described as “hallucinatory” and are definitely one of a kind. Located on the hill of El Carmel in the city’s Gràcia district, the views up there are also extraordinary.
The Museu Nacional D’Art de Catalunya
Dinner – If the scene at the Mercat de la Boqueria has left you in the mood for further culinary craziness, give Me a go. Proprietor Javier Navarro Alemany is obsessed with the cuisines of Vietnam and New Orleans and fuses them into the dishes at his Neo-Colonial bistro. If you’re eager to check out one of the city’s Michelin-starred hotspots, locals swear by Gaig, a family-run restaurant founded in 1869. Currently operated under the guidance of fourth-generation owner Carles Gaig, its sleek digs can be found in the Hotel Cram. The menu here is laser-focused on reinterpretations of classic Catalan dishes. Just be sure to make a reservation in advance and hit an ATM on the way. The starters alone typically run 34 Euros or more.
Drinks – Located in the Gingas district, Milk (feature image) is an Irish-owned bar and bistro operated by mixologists and frequented by those who adore their creations. The interior has been compared to a “millionaire’s drawing room.” La Leche, its signature cocktail, combines Absolut and espresso with a chocolate liquor and almibar syrup. Deliciós! Milk probably isn’t the sort of establishment where you can get away with ordering a pitcher of sangria, a cool, refreshing drink that’s become synonymous with Barcelona. Then again, you might be better off saving that for a summer trip to the city.