I went to Spain for my 37th birthday in November of 2018 and due to procrastination, I’m only writing about it now. I was able to get a couple of friends and my cousin to join me at different points of the trip but I started in Barcelona, then flew to Seville, and then took a train up to Madrid for my birthday weekend. I had never been to Spain before so I was very excited to see these three cities and to eat up all the delicious Spanish food. My biggest tip for Spain is if you plan to go to any of the popular museums or cathedrals (and there are many!), I highly suggest purchasing tickets online ahead of time to avoid the risk of tickets selling out and to avoid waiting in crazy, long lines. Ubers are also everywhere and fairly affordable from what I remember.
Barcelona was a city celebrated by the famed Catalon architect, Antoni Gaudi. He was an architect very much ahead of his time known for his modernist style. His work is displayed at many popular tourist sites all over the city with his main attraction being Sagrada Familia. Sagrada Familia is an unfinished Roman Catholic church that was passed to Gaudi in 1893 and is expected to complete in 2026, a century after Gaudi’s death in 1926. We also visited a few other attractions where Gaudi’s unique work could be found - Casa Batllo, Casa Mila, and Park Guell. We also visited the Picasso Museum, which houses much of Picasso’s early work that are not as well known as his cubism work he developed later in his life. Picasso is from Barcelona but spent most of his life in France. I actually enjoyed this museum more than the Picasso museum in Paris because of the focus on his earlier paintings and the insight you get in his creative evolution over time.
Palo Alto Market is a MUST visit when in Barcelona. It was one of my favorite places there and is only open during the weekends. It is a flea market meets food truck festival meets concert venue meets art festival. There are tons of vendors selling goods (my friend and I got some affordable, beautifully handcrafted jewelry) and amazing food. There is a large warehouse-type room where multiple guest DJs spun and bands played. The entire space was pretty large and it gets very crowded, but it is loads of fun and well worth the visit. It also seems like this is the place where all the hip locals flock to.
Barcelona also has tons of amazing fine dining restaurants, which I didn’t get to experience due to my limited time there. But I did visit Mercado de La Boqueria, a large public market in the Ciudad Vieja district of Barcelona. You can find tons of fresh seafood and stalls with fresh fruit and produce. There are also stalls that were restaurants where you can sit around the counter and be served amazing seafood and a glass of wine. I frequented the healthy and delicious Kale & Flax - it has a few locations. Vaso de Oro was also a great experience if you’re looking for a classic bar that serves tapas. It’s small and mostly standing room only around the counter. The waiters were so nice and all male so I guess that combined with the heavy, fried food and pub atmosphere, it felt very masculine there. You’ll definitely leave this place FULL.
Our next destination, which we flew to from Barcelona, was Seville. Seville is one of those beautiful, quaint places where the history of the city is well and alive. It has a much more medieval vibe to it than the big metropolitan cities of Barcelona and Madrid - so it was easily my favorite of the three. The most famous attraction here is Alcazar. This palace rivals the Alhambra in Granada, not too far away. Another magnificent place is the Seville Cathedral, a World Heritage Site along with Alcazar. It is also where the controversial Christopher Columbus is buried. His tomb is prominently placed and ornately decorated. While you are at this massive gothic cathedral, don’t miss out on Giralda Bell Tower which you can climb up. Other places worth visiting in Seville, if you have the time:
Palacio de las Dueñas - This palace is much smaller than Alcazar but very beautiful. It just opened up for the public and is the residence of the Duke of Alba. It was built in the 15th century with Gothic and Moorish Renaissance influences.
Casa de Pilatos - Beautiful palace with very well manicured gardens and the permanent residence of Duke of Medinaceli.
Museo de Bellas Artes - One of the most important art museums in Spain.
Plaza de España - Love it or hate it, it is known as “the most beautiful plaza in Spain”. It is grandiose and perhaps overblown and is extremely touristy. This massive building is a semi-circle brick building and was built for the Ibero-American Exhibition of 1929 (Expo 29). Visitors are not allowed inside.
It is said that Seville birthed Flamenco so you must see a flamenco show while here. Los Gallos (Plaza de Santa Cruz, 11) is probably the most popular place but there are many places that offer shows, including random free street shows!
Metropol Parasol is an Instagram-friendly wooden structure located at La Encarnación square, in the old quarter of Seville. It was designed by German architect Jürgen Mayer and completed in April 2011. There is a museum underneath that often has a long queue to get inside while right underneath the structure, you’ll find many skateboarders skating about the open area. Just around the corner to Metropol Parasol is one of the best churro spots I’ve ever encountered called La Centuria. It’s where the locals go and the guys who work there know just enough English. It’s super cheap - you get a plate of churros and dip it in your cup(s) of coffee or chocolate, which is thick and amazing with the churro.
The main shopping streets are Calle Tetuan and Calle Sierpes where you will find tons of delicious restaurants. It’s also just fun to wander around the small, narrow streets and discovering interesting places there. Mercado de la Feria is an indoor market we found where you can find fresh seafood, different kinds of paella, and more! And my absolute favorite restaurants in Seville were La Azotea and Seis - these spots were amazing.
We traveled from Seville to Madrid via a scenic train ride. Madrid was the most modern of the three cities and thriving with nightlife. Here, I did some of the best eating of my life - perfect for my birthday weekend. By this point, I was pretty much museum’d and church’d out but we did visit the Prado Museum, the main Spanish national art museum. It houses some of the world’s finest collections of European art, especially Spanish art, dating from the 12th to the 20th century. Paintings and sculptures were the prominent art forms found here. We also walked through Plaza Mayor a plaza in the heart of Madrid, which is in the center of the city. All around Madrid is tons of shopping, from mass retailers to luxury brands. The various jardins around the city were also beatifully manicured and often located right next to a museum. Palacio De Cristal was closed when we tried to visit but photos I’ve seen of it were spectacular. But we did get to see the gardens nearby. Here’s a comprehensive list of some of the lovely parks and gardens of Madrid.
Now, I can’t wait to talk about the food here. It was nothing short of amazing. Mercado San Miguel is a very necessary experience, despite the fact that it gets very, VERY crowded and hard to maneuver through. But you can find some of the best seafood and Spanish tapas in this covered market. It’s a fun to hop from vendor to vendor as well but, again, when it’s busy (which is all the time), it can be frustrating. Mercado San Anton is another market that recommended to us but we simply didn’t have time to get there.
It didn’t feel as local as La Centuria but it still hit the spot. Platea Madrid was an excellent evening dining experience. It is located in Salamanca, which is known to be the wealthier neighborhood or Madrid. It was like fine dining in an indoor market that spanned a few floors and the middle of the market was open so that the acrobats that performed could do their thing. And on the highest level were the musicians (singers mostly) and they were all really great! The food there is amazing and again, you can order a few tapas from different vendors there and share with your group. At the top level though, if you are looking for a restaurant experience, there is a Michelin star restaurant there. Overall, this was a fun place and we came back two nights in a row!
My favorite food experience in all of Spain was right in Madrid at Street XO. Also in Salamanca, this is where I had my birthday dinner. The wait for this place is insane and we were one of the crazy ones who waited two hours to eat there and it was SO worth it. The vibe of the restaurant is a lot of fun - David Muñoz, the chef, tries to mimic a street food vendor vibe of Asia and the actual food is a Spanish/Asian fusion that is so creative and one of my favorite meals in my life. We have the best seats, sitting right up at the counter, so we got to see all of the action (the kitchen is in the middle of the restaurant). My friends and I totally overdid it and ordered 8 different dishes for our group of 4 to share. Every single dish, except for maybe 1, was brilliant. At one point, there were plans to open this restaurant in New York but for reasons unknown, the plan was scrapped. However, there is a sister restaurant in London but I hear it is a little more fine dining and less of the hectic Asian street food ambiance of Madrid, which I love. If you ever find yourself in Madrid, this needs to be at the top of your list.
Other foodie places I went to were San Gines, a popular destination for churros and chocolate, and Federal, a delicious brunch spot near Chinatown. Sobrino de Botin, the world's oldest restaurant known for suckling pig, was also recommended to us but we did not have enough time to check this place out. If you have the chance to try any of the places I didn’t get to try, I’d love to hear about them! Feel free to comment below!