HI GUYS! This is the first post in our new travel series Agenda where we beg some wonderful people for great suggestions and insider tips on what to do in some of our favorite cities. For Barcelona, we asked travel writer of note, Ben Holbrook, to do the honors for the city he’s called home since 2009. – Ina

5 Must-Dos in Barcelona… 

A city by the sea, of endless sunshine and sublime gastronomy, Barcelona really is one of a kind.

#1 Discover Barcelona’s Secret Inner-City Village

Before Barcelona expanded and swallowed it up, the neighbourhood of Gracia was completely separate from the city. But today, even though it’s just a ten minute metro ride from the touristy Las Ramblas, it still feels like a little old village, complete with bustling markets, quaint squares, restaurants and independent boutiques. Go for lunch or dinner and soak up the lazy local vibes with a caña (a small beer) or a glass of vino. (First photo: “Gaudi’s home in Park Güell, just a stroll up the hill from Gracia.”)

#2 “Fer el Vermut” – Do the Vermouth

La Confiteria is the “perfect meeting spot”. Its interiors have remained untouched since 1912 and “in my humble opinion, it’s now one of the most beautiful bars in Barcelona.” Carrer de Sant Pau, 128, Raval.

If there’s one thing I love more than a long, lazy Spanish lunch, it’s the aperitivo hour that precedes it. The locals call it “fer el vermut” (do the vermouth) or “la hora del vermut” (time for vermouth), and the basic concept is to get together with friends for a few nibbles and a drink to get your appetite going for lunch. You’ll find all sorts of creative twists on foodie streets such as Carrer Parlament in Sant Antoni and Carrer Blai in Poblesec. Just follow the crowds

In El Dinamic, “The tapas are classic and simple — no gimmicks — and the occasional live performances provide the ideal setting for a couple of lazy glasses of wine.” Passatge de Pere Calders, 4, 08015, Barcelona.

“This is where I like to go on my bike when the sun’s shining.” Bar Calders, Carrer del Parlament, 25, San Antoni.

#3 Go Tapas Bar Hopping in the Old Fisherman’s Quarter

“Order a bottle of Cava and a selection of grilled razor clams and shrimp tapas before getting tucked into paella pans of gamba-stacked fideua — the Catalan version of paella — creamy truffles and foie”, at Segons Mercat, Carrer de Balboa, 16, 08003, Barceloneta.

Barceloneta is best known for being “the neighbourhood by the city beach”, but if you explore the salty backstreets, you’ll find it’s not as touristy as you might imagine. Historically it was where the fishermen lived and many of the ancient seafood restaurants and tapas bars are still going strong. Join the Barcelona Food Lovers Company tour to be guided to the best local spots and learn about the area’s fascinating history. Then it’s time for a quick siesta at the beach!

“Noisy, brash, and with service that leaves a lot to be desired…” But taste their tapas and “it all makes sense.” Jai-ca Bar, Carrer de Ginebra, 13, Barceloneta.

#4 Cruise the Beach Boardwalk

The city that just keeps giving, Barcelona’s dazzling Mediterranean coastline is simply breathtaking! Rent a bike and you can cruise the boardwalk for almost 5km! If the beaches are too crowded, which they often are during the high season, head out to sea with BCN Boat Tours and indulge in a day of luxury living on the Mediterranean before saying “Salud!” with a bottle of bubbly at sunset.

Ben (right) with buddy Michael aboard BCN Boat Tour’s “Minerva”. bcnboat.com

#5 Find Enlightenment at Antoni Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia

Yes, it’s on every postcard and travel brochure going, but Gaudi’s iconic Sagrada Familia is one of those world-famous tourist attractions that actually lives up to the hype. In fact, if you book the “skip the line” ticket — which is absolutely advisable because the line takes forever — I can pretty much guarantee you’ll fall in love with this otherworldly masterpiece.

Gracias Ben!

Ben Holbrook is a freelance travel and food writer in Barcelona. You’ll find more of his insider advice on his blog DriftwoodJournals.com.

*All photos Ben Holbrook