Barcelona al Fresco: Five Picnic Pairings in the Catalan Capital

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Barcelona may be renowned for its buildings, but the city truly lives outdoors. From the morning crowds frolicking on its beaches to late-night diners munching tapas at sidewalk tables, life here often feels like a city-wide block party.

The best way to join the fun? Grab some to-go treats and plunk yourself down in the heart of the action. Here are five great Barcelona picnic spots paired with nearby bakeries, restaurants and markets that will outfit you with everything you need for an al fresco feast.
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Barcelona al Fresco: Five Picnic Pairings in the Catalan Capital

The whimsical buildings of Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí are synonymous with Barcelona, and visitors seeing their first Gaudí invariably ask the same question: "How can I get on top of that thing and eat some fried squid?"


The answer, my friend, is in Parc Güell.


The hillside park was designed by Gaudí and contains a mosaic-tiled lizard fountain, fairy-tale cottages, walking trails and an elevated, curving terrace where picnickers can enjoy views of the city -- including Gaudí's perpetually in-progress Sagrada Família cathedral -- and the Mediterranean Sea.


And the squid! You can get it and other tapas favorites at the venerable Las Delicias restaurant just northeast of the park. Also recommended for your picnic platter: thin slices of jamon, pan tomate (bread rubbed with tomato and olive oil) and patatas bravas, which come with a potent aioli sauce.

Barcelona's beaches are one of its great charms, and the city is justifiably proud that visitors can be exploring medieval churches one minute and spiking volleyballs at half-naked Spaniards the next.


The Barceloneta neighborhood is the most convenient jumping-off point for a day of sun and sand. It's also the home of the Baluard bakery, where long lines are a testament to the love Barcelonans bear its bread. Grab a ham or tuna sandwich on a loaf of its wood-oven-baked bread or try one of its savory turnovers stuffed with chicken and spinach. For dessert: a slice of strawberry cake with vanilla cream or the dark chocolate "Selva Negra" pastry.


Drinks await four doors down at the Spar supermarket, or you can do like the locals: head to the beach and wait for an enterprising beermonger to wander by with a cold can of Estrella.

Located just a few blocks from the tourist craziness of La Rambla, the National Library of Catalonia sits quietly in a 600-year-old courtyard filled with orange trees and burbling stone fountains. It's a popular lunchtime hangout for university students, and its ancient vibe, plentiful benches and proximity to the famous Boquería open-air market makes it the ideal place for an al fresco meal.   


At the Boquería, follow the time-honored tapas tradition and grab some cheese, olives, bread and anything else that looks good. If you're feeling daunted by the bustle, remember that almost all of the vendors speak English and they're happy to walk you through their offerings.

The Parc de la Ciutadella was modeled after Paris' Luxembourg Gardens, and its paths are popular with Barcelonans taking their evening amble. The most scenic spot to unfurl your picnic blanket is across from the opulent Cascada fountain, or you can enjoy unparalleled people-watching on the hilly strips of grass just inside the main entrance (near the Arc de Triomf).


Any self-respecting picnic in the park includes a barbecue, and, as we're on vacation, we'll leave the grilling to Bacoa. This three-table joint a few blocks from the park is one of the most celebrated hamburguerserías in a city known for putting its own high-end spin on the lowly burger. Pro tip: Try its special spicy ketchup, but pass on the so-so fries. And remember to get lots of napkins -- these things are juicy.

Searching for Barcelona's most romantic picnic spot? Look up. The botanical gardens on the mountain of Montjuic offer expanses of soft green grass, sun-dappled flower beds and tall trees where wild parrots chatter lazily about the issues of the day. The best spot in the sprawling gardens is just uphill from the Montjuic Metro stop, in the Jardins de Mossèn Cinto Verdaguer. 

Pick up picnic supplies at La Bella Napoli, known for its thin-crust pizza (try the Quattro Stagioni with ham, olives, artichokes and mushrooms). If your body is crying out for veggies after a few days of rich Spanish food, add a colorful house salad -- featuring tuna, carrots, lettuce, beets and fava beans -- to your order.  Grab dessert across the street at the Spice Café. Its take on carrot cake is so good that you'll be tempted to stop on your way back down the mountain for seconds.    

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