The best expat bars in Barcelona
It was a hard job, but somebody had to do it. Here's our pick of Barcelona's favourite expat drinking spots — we guarantee there's something for everyone.
Since most Catalans don't even know what a bagel is, this place is generally filled with foreigners — expats and homesick tourists alike. A tiny, funky-feeling café, here you can get bagels in a half-dozen flavours either plain or filled with everything from turkey and a honey-mustard sauce to mozzarella and tomato. The drinks and desserts are equally international — accompany your bagel sandwich with a cold, sweet tea and finish off the meal with a big chocolate chip cookie or a fat piece of carrot cake. Open throughout the day, you can pick up the latest editions of expat publications here too.
Set on a quiet plaza behind the Cathedral, Bliss is the perfect spot for heart-to-heart chats or quiet reading. Intimate and casual, the café is made of two rooms. One is full of mismatched (but oh-so-inviting) furniture, while the other looks like a traditional coffee shop. There are magazines lying about and the menu includes everything from coffees and shakes to pastries and sandwiches to cocktails and mixed drinks.
Café de la Ópera
La Rambla 74
Tel. 93 317 7585
Constantly crowded and smoky, the Café de la Ópera has been a Barcelona institution since 1890. The chandeliers and marble steps are vestiges of the days when it was an upscale meeting place for opera-goers; though even now the odd opera fan may dash in for a pre-show coffee, these days the house specialties are humble hot chocolate and churros. Locals and tourists fill most of this two-storied café, but it's also a popular meeting point for groups of expats.
Just beside an original version movie theatre in Gràcia, the Café Salambo attracts a lot of the expats who head out to see films from home in English (or German or Japanese, or whatever the film's language may be). The café itself serves a full restaurant and dinner, and between mealtimes it's a comfortably casual place for a coffee and some conversation. The two-story café is spacious with all-wood décor and a sophisticated look.
For decades, this spot just off Plaça Catalunya has been the meeting point for Barcelonéses of all ages, professions and nationalities. At most any time of the day or night (and no matter what the weather), the outdoor tables here are full to overflowing with coffees and coke bottles. Just beyond the borders of the café an equally large number of people are milling around, probably just waiting to meet up with a friend. The food here (mostly sandwiches) is not that good, and prices are steep due to the café's prime location. Nevertheless, you can't say that you're a true Barcelona resident until you meet up with someone at Café Zurich.
The young and hip of the Barri Gótic descend on this café in the early evening, when its little square tables fill with international artists, students and the sales clerks that work in the trendy shops of the neighbourhood. During mealtimes, Venus serves light fare (the menu features a dozen different salads); coffee and hard drinks are served up the rest of the day. Grab a newspaper or magazine and while away the time watching the world go by behind Venus' big picture windows.
Most of the clientele heads outside to sit overlooking the bustling Plaça Reial, where nocturnal activity never stops and is bound to give you an eyeful. This is a charming bar that's earned the reputation as an ideal meeting point. Both locals and foreigners congregate here after sundown, drawn by the lively atmosphere and the friendly service. The bar doubles also hosts occasional art exhibits and discussion groups.
Calle Joaquín Costa 43
Tel. 93 301 1961
Books ranging from Catalan classics to random titles like "Underwater Indonesia" are scattered about this cosy café and cocktail bar. The back wall is lined with couches, and it's here foreign students come to study and writer types sit with their notes. The space doubles as an art gallery — all the paintings on the walls are for sale — and at night the lights are dimmed, the music is pumped up and the whole thing becomes a chic cocktail bar. If all that isn't enough to stimulate, head to the café's tiny bookshop next door, which has a smattering of English titles.
A pretty modernist façade welcomes you to this classic bar, where you can hear live music most nights of the week. Rich décor adds to the warmth of this friendly place, which is popular with British expats in the barrio. There are lots of regulars and a fun, if laid-back, Bohemian atmosphere.
This bar/café is set in an old furniture shop, and it seems like someone forgot to haul out the couches, tables and chairs before starting to serve beers and coffees. The spacious bar is stuffed with the flea-market style furnishings, and the numerous soft couches are perfect spots to chat with friends. Since there's plenty of space here, it's also a popular spot for discussion groups and informal club meetings. Muebles Navarro is informal and draws a mixed bag of young expats and locals from the Raval neighbourhood. You can order tapa-like snacks (the cheese plate is delicious) to accompany the drinks.
Part pub, part country bar and part social club, the Philharmonic draws all sorts with its friendly attitude and varied calendar of events and theme nights. More than one international group uses this bar in L'Eixample as an unofficial clubhouse. Other expats are drawn by the international sports shown on TV and activities like the Thursday night pub quiz. There are other special nights too — every Tuesday night line dancers take over the floor, while Mondays are dedicated to Swing dancing and weekend nights are for live jazz concerts. Yet even with all that on the plate, the Philharmonic's is most popular for its Sunday morning, English-style breakfast. You won't need to eat for the rest of the day.
Sandwich & Friends
Passeig del Born 27
Tel. 93 310 0786
In the heart of the Born neighbourhood, just in front of the old market, this trendy café and bar is a common meeting point for groups of friends (though they don't have to order sandwiches). The interior is dominated by a huge mural painted by popular illustrator Jordi Labanda, though in fine weather the crowds try to grab the chairs out on the plaza first. Spacious and never too noisy, this is a good spot for getting a group together before heading out for a night in the bars of the Born.
This bustling, friendly bar (not open until 8pm, closed Mon) follows in the footsteps of a cherished Milan tradition that's somewhat like Italian tapas; you order a drink (the red wines are great) and then get to nibble for free on the cheese, pizza bites, or other snacks laid out on the bar. The atmosphere is a bit chaotic, but great fun. Wednesday nights the American Society has an informal meeting here, and you're sure to run into lots of English-speaking expats from all over the world.
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