Traverse across the Barcelona lands to your heart’s content!

Barcelona’s fluttering between tradition and avant-garde makes it one of the most fascinating cities in the world. With streets bathed in sunlight and echoing with chatter and melodies, it presents itself as a kaleidoscope of languages, cultures, and stories.

This week, KHAMSA touches down in Barcelona and admires its many offerings through a detailed insider’s guide by Aya Ajami (@ayaajami on Instagram), a culinary expert and content creator. With a certification from the prestigious Culinary Institution of Barcelona, Aya is associated with Wild Nut and Wild Nut Arabia, a food shop that offers wholesome gourmet foods.

Barcelona has historically been a haven of tales and narratives, one that enriches any visit. As Aya is eager to point out, its vibrant streets invite all wanderers to unveil new facets of inspiration and wonder. Through her eyes, KHAMSA explores its culinary hotspots, exquisite hotels, immersive shopping locations, and some underrated places that cannot be missed.

Top must-visit Barcelona food spots?

“First things first, you’re probably coming to Spain for some authentic non-commercial and well worked TAPAS. The classics of the Spanish tapas and dynamic atmosphere are the following: Bar Cañete, El Xampanyet, La Flauta  and Alcoba Azul. A go-to apéritif for me is starting with a glass of Vermut Rojo & some house Olives, a combo that will automatically give you local feels! You can never go wrong with croquettas, batatas bravas, and Bacalao at such places!

– Aya Ajami

١. La Papa

“Pretty inside out! The aesthetic of this brunch spot is nice and soothing to the eye, as well as the food that’s super wholesome. Not a combo you often get nowadays. My personal favourite is ‘tostada de setas y trufa’ packed with flavourful from the caramelized onion to, the sautéed oyster mushrooms and the soft poached egg.”

٢. Alapar

“One of the tastiest bites you’ll experience. Run by a young couple who both have a background in the culinary world, these two created a ‘Mediterranean Izakaya.’ I recommend sitting by the bar to see and smell everything being prepared. A must-try is the ‘Mushi pan de tartar de atún y emulsión de wasabi.'”

٣. Albé

“Joey, a young Lebanese restaurateur with a culinary background, opened his own concept of Spanish tapas with a genuine touch of Lebanese Mezzeh. I recommend the Red prawn from Palamós baklava, the smoked labneh, as well as the Kebbeh with pulled lamb simmered for 48 hours.”

٤. Joncake

“Hands down the best cheesecake you’ll ever have! Located in the heart of the gothic quarter, you’ll find small boutiques and bakeries at every little corner, but the must-try is this one! My Sunday go-to is ‘the clasica’, super creamy and rich with a real cheese flavour. Their selection of cheesecakes made from different kinds of cheese, such as goat cheese, parmigiano Reggiano or even gorgonzola, are so flavourful and rich.”

٥. DeLaCrem

“My all-time favourite ice cream shop! You might need to stand in a queue, but trust me it’s so worth it. Probably the best ‘Festuc’ ice cream you’ll have.”

Best places for sundowners/rooftop places? 

١. Bogatell Beach

“An all-classic beach towel by the Bogatell beach is a great way to watch the sunset. This beach extension is more for the locals and less crowded than the Barceloneta.”

٢. Soho House Rooftop

“Make sure to go check out the rooftop for a great view of the mountains and the sea with an invitation from a member or if you are staying there yourself. Their spicy cucumber margherita is bomb!”

٣. Sir Victor

“Sir Victor is a nice tapas and drinks rooftop located in the hotel itself.”

٤. Ayre Hotel Rooftop

“For an HD first row of the Sagrada Familia view.”

٥. Carmel Bunkers

“If you’re looking to have a calm local-style sunset, Carmel Bunkers is the place. This was an actual bunker during the Spanish Civil War. Once it was abandoned, it organically turned into a spot that gathers hundreds of people every day, overlooking the entire city.”

Best places for shopping? 

“One little binge place to shop at in Spain is obviously Zara. Being a Spain-based brand, the prices of Zara are relatively affordable for the coolness of the designs they offer. Fast shopping aside, their boutiques are in stunning buildings.”

If you are looking to get your hands on the best vintage places, then you should definitely take a stroll down the barrio de Raval. You’d maybe like sliding down a slide to enter the Sephora’s flagship store in El Triangle-Plaça de Catalunya.

A little boutique for summer dresses located in Eixample – Etxart Panno – has very nice flowy and chic pieces. Around Gotico (the gothic district), you’ll find small handmade crafts, from local jewellery to bandanas to all sorts of beachy clothing. Yumi is a nice jewellery place to check out in that area. 

Must-visit cultural spots? 

The walk to Montjuïc has several activities. The first stop is the national museum of Barcelona, then you can hop onto the teleferic that takes you up to a castle where you must do a semi-hike, with some breathtaking views over the port. 

Gaudi’s Park Guell is an outdoor architectural gem. This place has become symbolic to the city, as it was made by the world-renowned architect, Gaudi. He designed it in such a twisted and interesting way where you’ll find lizards built in mosaic who later because the symbol of Barcelona (souvenir shops are packed with this lizard piece).

Mocco Museum is for those who like pop art – Banksy, Basquiat kind of art. I really liked the Picasso Museum because thanks to the audio piece, I was able to fully understand and immerse myself in his life timeline and his importance in this region. 

Best boutique hotels to stay in? 

Casa Bonay, this very cool boutique hotel, is a one-stop shop with its super cosy speciality coffee shop downstairs, its trendy upscale tapas bodega restaurant, and rooftop chiringuito bar. The cocktail bar and lounge is the hotel’s de-facto neurological centre, and it’s a vibe. Architects and young creatives on their laptops during the day and night jazzy groovy music and perfect ambience to enjoy a vermouth.  

Yurban is where I stayed the first time I came to Barcelona during my senior trip back in 2015. We were three girls, and we had a regular room that fit us very comfortably, and we didn’t need to order an extra bed considering how huge the king-sized bed was.  They have a stunning rooftop; make sure to try their Vermouth – it’s the best Catalan aperitif drink, and theirs is particularly good.  

Cotton House is cosy with an art deco feel. This hotel’s charm is due to its library reading spots 

Underrated places? 

Ciutadella Park is a charming park with waterfalls, aerial yogis doing their thing, and different kinds of live street artists, all of whom make this walk a very pleasurable one.  

Tibidabo is a hike up to the highest point in Barcelona, with a magnificent castle looking church to visit at the top of the hill.  

If you’re here for a long period of time (more than five days) do your best to rent a car, or go by train to the coastal part of Spain towards France. More specifically, to the last village before the French border called Cadaques. Filled with charming and beautiful views, this town will take your breath away. Beach early in the day, then hike around the national park, and finish off your evening with a dinner by the sea in town.  Also consider going to visit the Salvador Dalí Museum (in Figueres) and Dali’s house (in Cadaques). 

What should you avoid? 

The charm of the little shops might compel you to spend all your money and buy everything, so make sure you don’t go broke whilst in Barcelona. Walking around with your phone up in the air or just leaving it on any table is a classic story of “my phone got stolen in Barcelona” for a reason. Especially at night in the Raval or El Born neighbourhoods.  

Must-pack items?

Sunnies! It’s such a sunny city, all year long. Even if you come in the winter, just bring two trench coats and a hoodie, and that’s more than enough! Lip oil and a mini sunscreen for your face on hand is great, as the sun tends to be strong and might dry up the face. I like using the mini Goop Glow Sunscreen.  

Carry a big tote bag to fit all your goodies as you hop around the small handmade artisanal shops! 

Any tips and tricks to tackle the city?  

A great mode of transportation that makes you feel just like a local is the YEGO electric motorbike. It’s an app where you need to snap a picture of your international driving licence, pick it up and drive off to any parts of the city that you might not be able to reach by foot. And you can just park it anywhere on the streets in their designated zones. Gracia is a beautiful neighbourhood to check out as well.  

Get a phone cover with a chain, as the city is FILLED with pickpockets. It’s also just easy to carry it that way and to snap quick shots of this cool and charming city!