Ben Holbrook is a freelance travel writer and blogger from the UK. His blog www.DriftwoodJournals.com covers food, culture and good living in Barcelona and beyond.
I’ve just had a book published! It’s a very unique and personal guide to my favourite spots in Barcelona and includes everything from backstreet bars to Greek bakeries and vintage jewellery ateliers. Check it out on Amazon.
Most people know me as a writer/blogger, but my first love was actually music. Between us, my girlfriend and I have 12 guitars!
I am planning to cycle from Barcelona to Cádiz in the south of Spain so that I can learn more about my adoptive home country and write a book about it.
How long have you been living in Barcelona?
I originally moved here in 2009 but left after 2 years because I moved to London. The whole time I was in London I was just heartbroken and missing Barcelona, so I moved back. All in all I guess you could say I’ve lived here for about 3.5 years.
Which is your favourite neighbourhood of the city and why?
Gràcia was the first neighbourhood I lived in, so it will always have a special place in my heart. But I now live in Sants and love that it feels so authentic. Everything here is done for the locals. It’s as if tourism doesn’t exist here.
If there is one festival in Barcelona that people (visitors and/or residents) absolutely can’t miss, which would it be?
I think it would have to be La Mercè. It has the giants parade, the pyromaniacal carrefoc “fire run” where people dress up as devils and shoot fireworks around the city, and the castellers (human castles), all of which offer spectacular insight into the Catalan cultural identity.
What’s your favourite place to grab a bite in the city?
Couldn’t possibly pick just one, but I’d say La Cova Fumada in Barceloneta for old-school tapas, Lateral in Eixample for something a little bit more chic or Malamén in Poblesec for something creative.
How should a visitor ‘experience’ the city, rather than just see it?
Normally I would say to just allow yourself to go with the flow, to “let things happen” and not plan too much, but I tried a new tourism concept recently and it really opened my eyes. There’s a company called WithLocals that connects travellers “with locals” so that they can experience the city from an insider’s perspective. It could be a local chef, for example, who might meet you at one of the local markets before cooking for you on their terrace. Or it could be a local history buff showing you around their favourite spots. I think it’s a very unique and intimate way of experiencing the city.
I think most of Barcelona’s tracks have been beaten to death by now, but I definitely recommend heading up to Carretera de les Aigües. It’s a dusty dirt-track that hugs the Collserola mountains — the views over the city are extraordinary and it’s a great place to go to get some perspective on the city. I also recommend Plaça d’Osca in Sants for tapas and craft beer. It’s an incredibly vibrant square, but hardly any tourists know about it.
What’s something that visitors definitely should not do when in the city?
I think everyone should follow their own path. If you want to eat McDonald’s on Las Ramblas, go for it. Whatever makes you happy. But definitely don’t visit Las Ramblas and Sagrada Familia and then think you’ve “done Barcelona”. It’s an incredibly dynamic and culturally rich city and there’s a lot more to it than that.
What’s the most interesting piece you’ve written for your blog Driftwood Journals?
I think my “Glutton’s guide to Barcelona” is quite special. I basically listed all of the things that I recommend eating and drinking whilst in Barcelona, but more importantly I also offer recommendations on where to try each dish. I’m also very proud of the features I’ve written for other blogs; mainly because I’ve interviewed lots of locals to get their inside perspective on various things.
It’s my first time in the city. What’s your no.1 tip?
Do what I did on my first day in Barcelona! It was a hot, humid August day and I walked from my flat in Gràcia all the way down Passeig de Gràcia, which is packed with many of Gaudí’s Modernist masterpieces, to Plaça Catalunya. From here you can follow weave through the Gothic quarter down to the port and then over to Barceloneta for a cold one at the beach. It’s a good hour and a half of walking, but I think it’s a good immersion into the city. Oh, and I suppose I’d recommend checking out my blog for my inside side guide to living the good life in Barcelona!