Dave's top tips

Some truly useful information for your trip to Barcelona!

Menu del dia

Not many of us can afford to splash out on something special every day, even when we're on holiday. That's when the menu del dia comes to the rescue of the poor cash-strapped tourist.

In fact, the menu del dia has its origins in the menu turistico. Introduced decades ago with the express intention of encouraging tourism, the idea was so popular among locals that it spread throughout Spain, and was re-christened the menu del dia. It is simply a fixed price menu, offered at lunchtime, and virtually every restaurant and bar in the land does it. Look for the blackboards outside each establishment. You'll get 3 courses (primero or 1°, larger than a typical starter), segundo or 2° (smaller and with fewer accompaniments than a typical main course), and dessert (postre), often very simple, like a pot of yogurt or a piece of fruit, but almost everywhere offers crema Catalana, the local version of creme brulee.

Also included is a drink. It's not unusual for the 'drink' to be a whole bottle of wine! Bread is always incuded, and coffee may be included, or you can have coffee in place of the dessert.

If you're paying more than about 10 Euros for your menu del dia, you'll expect something special.

You can find the menu del dia everywhere, but if you book a morning trip on Gemini, you'll return to the marina in perfect time to enjoy the menu del dia in La Barca Salamanca, one of the best restaurants in the marina. At 12 Euros it's amazing value.

By the way, if you ask for the "menu", this is what you'll get. If you actually want the price list (what we'd call the menu in English), ask for the "carta".

Getting around

Barcelona is blessed with a truly excellent public transport system.

The metro is clean, easy to understand, cheap, services run very frequently, and it covers almost the entire city. In the entrance of every station are ticket machines. The best deal is the T10. It's a ticket that gives you 10 trips, for 9.95 Euros. Multiple people can use the same ticket, just pass it through the machine for each person.

The bus system is integrated with the T10 so you can use the same ticket on the buses. In fact, you can come out of the metro and get on the bus and it still counts as a single journey. Remember you still need to punch your ticket in the machine on the bus, but it won't deduct a trip. Very fair!

While the metro is easy enough to figure out, buses are always a bit more complicated. That's where you need an app to help. Moovit is, no hyperbole, life changing. OK, slight hyperbole. But not much. You'll be travelling round the city - any city - like a native. Tell the app where you want to go, and it offers you various routes on public transport to get you there. It draws them on a map, and gives real-time arrival times for buses, metros and trains.

Further afield, the trains to nearby towns are excellent value. There are routes running up and down the coast, as well as inland. Local trains are called "cercanias". You can use your T10 within zone 1. Further out, just buy a ticket from the machines in the stations. They're very cheap. Remember to hold on to your ticket until the end of the trip - you'll need it to be able to exit the station.

Popular destinations for a day trip include Sitges and Tarragona (south of the city), and any of the coastal resorts on the coast north of the city. If you love the beach but hate the crowd, make like a local and jump a train north. The entire coast is one long beach.

Finally, taxis are cheap, reliable and plentiful. Except for trips to/from the airport, where they're expensive, reliable and plentiful. Check out the Airbus, metro, and train as alternatives.

Eating out - tapes!

Tapes is Catalan for tapas. You pronounce tapes as... tapas! Easy.

There are at least three main styles of tapes. Pintxos are very popular in Barcelona. They're very artistic little snacks presented on a small piece of bread and pierced (pinchado) with a cocktail stick. Take what you fancy, save the cocktail sticks, and when you're all done, the waiter will count your sticks and charge you accordingly. Yes, really.

In some parts of Spain, and in a small number of bars in Barcelona, a tapa is a small, free snack served with every drink. Many bars will give you some chips or nuts with your drink, but true tapas will be something a bit more interesting. But as I say, it's not very common in Barcelona.

The main style of tapes you'll come across is a carta (menu - but more on this word below) listing many individual dishes. These are not "courses" but are individual items. Generally, a dish will be more than you'd want to eat by yourself. You'll want to share, and that's the point. A group of 4 might order say, 6 or 7 different tapes to share. It's a lot of fun, and you get to try a variety of dishes. Some things to look out for include:

  • Pimientos al padron (tiny green peppers). Roasted on a hot plate (a la plancha) and sprinkled with salt. Once in a while there'll be a random spicy one!
  • Pan con tomate (bread with tomato). Most places will just bring you this ready prepared. Toasted bread, with garlic and tomato smeared over, then drizzled with olive oil. In some places they bring you the makings and you do it yourself.
  • Chipirones - tiny baby octopi, fried until crispy in batter.
  • Patatas bravas - chips with allioli and spicy sauce. In my opinion, pleasant enough but wildly overrated, but a lot of people love them.