In the northeastern corner of Spain, the Catalan city of Barcelona has a storied history and modern vibrancy that makes it one of the best loved destinations in Europe. Walkable streets, a distinctive attitude to cuisine, and a sophisticated grasp of design, architecture and art – most famously expressed by modernist master Antoni Gaudi – makes the city a perfect style antidote to wherever you’re coming from.
We figure you’re pretty familiar with the history of Barcelona and its place in Catalonia and Spain, so we thought rather than a history lesson, we’d share with you some of our favourite places in Barcelona, assembled from random trips for everything from stag weekends, weddings, business trips and the start of longer breaks on the coast. With its combination of beaches, world-class food, beautiful buildings and a great climate, Barca is hard to beat year round as a weekend break. We could also spend hours telling you about the best open-air nightclubs and where to find the freshest churros, so if we’ve missed your favourite spot, just let us know and we’ll hunt it out!
Where to eat
Barcelona is the home of tapas, small plates of exquisite food made to eat solo or share, standing up or sitting down. You can order tapas in most bars, but Barcelona is full of restaurants that make an art of the form. Try your luck with tapas cuisine in the traditional style at Quimet & Quimet (Carrer del Poeta Cabanyes, 25 in El Poble Sec) or experience the cutting edge at Tickets (Avinguda del Paral·lel, 164 in Eixample).
La Boqueria ( Rambla, 91 Mercat de la Boqueria), is the legendary food market that originates from the 13th century. To this day it offers the best of Catalan produce, fish and meat, a cooking school, and several bars and tapas counters where you can sit, sip and soak up the incredible ambiance.
Good food is everywhere in Barcelona, often in humble neighbourhood environments. But the city is also justly a centre for haute gastronomy – so plan to splash out at least once. Disfrutar (Villarroel, 163) is from the legendary El Bulli’s Mateu Casanas, Oriol Castro and Eduard Xatruch and is a new destination for foodies from around the world. The airy dining room and open kitchen in Eixample offers market fare in contemporary dishes for sharing and frequent tasting menus.
Where to stay
Casa Gràcia (Passeig de Gràcia, 116)
Located on the border between the Gracia and Eixample neighbourhoods, this carefully restored mansion has the community feel of a hostel and the amenities of a boutique hotel, including spectacular outdoor terraces and on-site gastropub, La Paisana. Rooms range from dorms to elegant multi-bedroom apartments.
Ohla (Via Laietana, 49)
For a 5-star experience in the former palace of the Duke of Barcelona, consider Ohla. Smack in the centre of the city, Ohla mixes old world proportions with modern flourishes (such as monochromatic bed linens and furnishings, or the sculptural eyeballs by artist Frederic Amat that decorate the building’s neoclassical facade). The rooftop terrace, complete with glass-edged pool, is a showstopper.
Where to Shop
Jaime Beriestain (Carrer Pau Claris, 167) in Eixample is a concept store curated by Chilean interior designer Beriestein. Shop an elegant selection of furniture pieces and one of a kind gifts, then retreat to the adjoining bar and restaurant.
Amato Sole (Carrer Perill, 39)
Designer Ramon Solé and architect Annamaria Amato are a couple with good eyes and a penchant for restoring flea market finds. Their shop of wonders in Gracia is full of rustic ceramics and cleverly refurbished home furnishings and accessories. The space also maintains a calendar of art and design related events.
La Comercial (Bonaire 4) is a cluster of boutique stores in the Born quarter. Most of them carry goods available elsewhere in Europe, but check out the Home showroom for Alessi, Fornasetti and Jonathan Adler Pottery small designer wares.
Design meets Art since 1972 at BD Barcelona Design (Ramon Turró, 126) a design and architecture studio that has been integral in building Barcelona’s reputation as a design centre. Their showroom in Poble Nou illustrates their history working with artists such as Salvador Dali, Ettore Sottsass, Cristian Zuzunaga, even interpreting the designs of Antoni Gaudi himself in wood and brass.
Galleries and Museums
Barcelona is rich with museums and galleries in almost every quarter of the city. In the Born don’t miss the Picasso Museum (Carrer Montcada, 15-23), but beware long line-ups. Fellow master Joan Miro’s Fundacion (containing his own private art collection) is located in the beautiful Parc de Montjuïc up the mountain and close by the Laribel Gardens and the Museu Arqueologia de Catalunya (Passeig de Santa Madrona, 39 – 41).
The new Barcelona Design Museu de Disseny (Plaça de les Glòries Catalanes, 37) holds court in Sant Marti. And in Raval visit the contemporary art museum MACBA (Plaça dels Àngels, 1) and the Filmoteca arthouse cinema (Plaça de Salvador Seguí, 9).
If you have time to see only one Gaudi, make it his magnum opus, the Basilica de la Sagrada Familia, (Carrer Mallorca, 401) now nearing completion after 135 years of near continuous construction. Casa Mila or La Pedrera (Passeig de Gràcia 92), Gaudi’s gem of the Catalan art noveau is also worth a visit for its sinuous facade and roof line. The apartment building also houses a cultural centre and exhibition space. Non-Gaudi-related delights might include visiting the baroque Gran Teatre del Liceu for opera or ballet (score tickets out front just before a show), or Camp Nou for a more rambunctious outing with Barca soccer fans.
How to get there
All the major airlines fly to Barcelona from the UK pretty much year round. Easyjet flies from London Luton or Gatwick daily starting at £22. Also watch for frequent cheap direct flights on Ryanair, Vueling and Monarch.