Barcelona, Spain’s second-largest city, is characterized by a vibrant sense of civic pride – and Catalans have much to be proud of.
From chatting with the city’s movers and shakers in late-night cocktail bars to discovering the entrepreneurial spirit that attracts young, hungry upstarts from across Europe, there’s plenty to admire.
We set out to find the modern and authentic Barcelona experience.
WHY SHOULD I GO?
Don’t want to choose between a city tour and a beach vacation?
Barcelona, which enjoys 2,500 hours of sunshine every year, offers both.
Excellent beaches are just a short walk from the main street, Las Ramblas.
Start with a swim, then explore the sleepy Barceloneta district.
This atmospheric countryside neighborhood, which separates the beach from the harbor, was founded by local fishermen in the 15th century.
Sample the day’s catch at a rustic cafe, then tour the rest of the city’s best sights, from Gaudí architecture to the striking waterfront W Hotel.
ARE THESE STREETS SUITABLE FOR WALKING?
Sniffing around the city on foot is the way to go.
Note the subtle differences in each neighborhood, from the cobbled historic centers of El Born and Barri Gotic to the modern grid system of Eixample and fashionable, upscale Gracia.
If you want variety, there are 124 miles of bike paths and an efficient subway and bus network, the latter running late into the night.
Anything for the bucket list?
Perhaps the city’s most famous resident was the late, great architect Antoni Gaudi, whose incredible Sagrada Familia church is the main attraction.
It is essential to reserve a ticket in advance. Upgrade to a tower visit and enjoy incredible views of the city.
But its lesser-known buildings such as Casa Mila, Casa Vicens and Casa Battlo are arguably even more remarkable. Gaudí, who died in 1926, certainly did not lack ambition, as the remarkable Park Güell proves.
His vision of building a residential complex for Barcelona’s rich and famous may have ultimately failed.
But his hard work was not in vain.
The area was later opened as a public park and is now recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Where should I stay?
The Gallery Hotel at Calle Rosselló 249 is a good mid-range option in the upscale Eixample district.
The stylish 4H Hotel features spacious rooms with modern amenities.
If you book Deluxe there is a separate living area with a sofa bed, ideal for families.
The service is friendly and efficient.
All of Gaudí’s must-see buildings are just a short walk away, as are the Passeig de Gracia shopping district and the lively Las Ramblas.
In summer, you’ll love the impressive rooftop terrace with swimming pool and chic cocktail bar.
Where should I eat?
WHILE there are excellent options on almost every corner, Sintonia – the signature restaurant at the Gallery Hotel – is worth a visit.
Chef Pablo Tomás’ specialty is a steak tartare – aged ribeye beef that is ground and blended in front of you, with a selection of delicious herbs and spices.
Another highlight are the chicken and veal cannelloni.
But save room for dessert – the smoked croissant is a must.
The whole thing is rounded off with a few glasses of refreshing cava sangria.
The seven-course tasting menu starts from £40.
I fancy a drink
YOU have never experienced the real Barcelona without visiting a vermoutheria and tasting this perfect aperitif.
Puigmarti (Carrer de Puigmarti, 12) is an atmospheric jazz bar that serves a sophisticated selection of local wines.
The house-made special brew goes well with a few pintxos and plates with anchovies, olives and peppers on the side.
Another must-see is Paradiso, near Franca train station.
This chic spot was named the best bar in the world by the World’s 50 Best Bars list.
And it’s not hard to see why, with excellently crafted cocktails that look more like a work of art than a drink.
Try the On Fire!, shared between two people and made with a blend of bourbon, tahini, sweet potatoes and smoked milk.