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Travel to Barcelona

The must-see city of Barcelona enchants visitors with the whimsical creations of Gaudí, winding streets of a Gothic old town, the occasional Roman ruin, grand turn-of-the-century boulevards and stunning beaches. Not to mention a culinary and nightlife scene that’s the envy of many a European capital.

 

Fly to Barcelona, Spain for

Most famous perhaps for Gaudí and football, Barcelona’s energy spreads to every corner of the city. Its neighbourhoods alternate between Gothic and avant-garde, grand and friendly, winding and well-planned. It’s got vast parks and sweeping beaches, bars and cafés lined with the day’s fresh tapas and pastries, frequent street fiestas and vibrant nightlife, culinary and craft havens, and inspiring museums of art and history – all in a seaside setting below stunning hills such as Montserrat.

 

Gaudí, Gothic, art and FC Barcelona

Gaudí’s still-unfinished Sagrada Família, already the largest Catholic church in the world, rises above a slightly out-of-the-way neighbourhood with its sandcastle façade dotted with colourful tiles. Book a timed tour of this, Park Güell, home to the iconic tiled salamander, or his other masterpiece, Casa Batlló, a mansion that’s been likened to a skeleton or a dragon, but with the colours of a spring garden. The villa is on Barcelona’s elegant Passeig de Gràcia shopping boulevard, which ends in the grand Plaça de Catalunya, where the renowned La Rambla promenade, packed with shops and restaurants, street musicians and strolling crowds, will take you all the way down to the harbour. At the harbour, nod to Columbus who looks out over the sea atop an obelisk, view the yachts or stroll out along the modern piers, or head to the old fishing village of Barceloneta and the sandy beaches beyond. Back in town, explore the narrow streets of the Barri Gòtic with its massive cathedral, or at the Museu d'Història de la Ciutat, literally descend into the Roman city. Emerge onto the Plaça Reial for coffee, tapas or a glass of wine under the arcades and palm trees. The dramatic Gothic shipyards of the Museu Marítim make Barcelona’s history as an exploration and shipping capital come alive, or take in works by Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró at dedicated museums. The vast national art museum at the grand and staid Palau Nacional is also worth a visit, on your way to the parks of Montjuïc, or to see the stars at Camp Nou, the 98,000-seat stadium home to FC Barcelona.

 

Tapas, cava and seafood

On La Rambla you’ll be tempted by restaurateurs luring you in, but the best place to try fresh local food is the bustling La Boqueria market, where vendors selling fish, olives in dozens of marinades, fresh tomatoes and almonds stand alongside counters offering fresh-cooked dishes, wine, beer, or coffee and pastries. Try Catalan cuisine at its best with a tasting menu at Suculent. For tapas, go upscale at Tapas 24 or standing-room-only Quimet i Quimet, or try La Pepita for the classic tortilla omelette, fried calamari, and patatas bravas (chips with spicy sauce) done right. Foodie fanatics can book (well in advance, with a 100-euro deposit) at Lasarte, the city’s first restaurant to receive three Michelin stars, headed by chef Martín Berasategui. Choose from seasonally changing, incredibly imaginative à la carte options and once-in-a-lifetime tasting menus in a sophisticated setting. For seafood, Barceloneta is the place to be, for example, at the glass-and-gloss La Barra de Carles Abellán. Or you can always hang out at a chiringuito, a beach bar serving up shrimp in garlic, fried cod bites, local sparkling cava wines and Estrella Damm beers beside the sea. Chiringuito Las Sardinitas is a good choice, just beyond Barceloneta in the Port Olimpic neighbourhood revamped for the 1992 Olympics.

 

Shopping haven and nighttime heaven

Barcelona’s broad and elegant shopping boulevard, on par with Fifth Avenue and the Champs d’Elysées, is the Passeig de Gràcia, lined with the top designer shops and international chain stores housed in aristocratic palaces – two of Gaudí’s masterpieces are here. Near Plaça d'Espanya, a circular red brick bullfighting arena has been converted into Las Arenas shopping centre (Catalonia banned bullfighting in 2010), and the seaside Maremagnum has outdoor dining to pair with your shopping excursion. For local, hip and vintage clothing and crafts, check out the chic-or-grunge boutiques of the El Born or Gràcia neighbourhoods. Since dinner in Barcelona starts at 9 p.m. at the earliest, you can move on to clubs straight from a restaurant or tapas bar. In the Barri Gòtic, stylish Milk Bar offers classy cocktails, or opt for Flaherty’s, a classic Irish pub. At Plaça Reial, hit clubs like Jamboree, Sidecar and Tarantos. For an all-in-one experience, head to the two-floor, three-room Clubhaus, where you can drink, play ping pong, sing karaoke or dance. Other nightclub options include La Terrrazza, Moog and Sala Apolo.

 

Dramatic seaside and mountain views

Though the sights of Barcelona are plentiful, a day-or-more trip exploring the breathtaking Costa Brava or the Catalonian hills will be a welcome addition. A short train ride to the southwest, Sitges has been popular with artists and revellers since the 1960s, with nearly constant fiestas to enjoy along its four kilometres of seaside promenade and sandy beaches. Further down the coast, find the Roman imperial outpost of Tarragona, to stroll 19th-century streets dotted with 2nd-century ruins where Augustus’ winter mansion once stood. The Costa Brava, or Wild Coast, northeast of Barcelona has some of the most stunning Mediterranean beaches and views – Tossa de Mar is home to a medieval castle guarding the cove, and the ancient Greek port of Empuries offers history and holidaymaking in one. Above Barcelona, make your pilgrimage to Montserrat, whose jagged peaks are the dramatic backdrop to the Benedictine monastery of Santa Maria. Hike all the way up or start from the monastery on foot or by cable car to various parts of the peak, Sant Jeroni, 1,236 metres above sea level. For more mountainous adventures, take a train toward Andorra to the grand medieval city of Vic, a popular starting point for hiking or mountain biking.

 

Barcelona airport

Be sure to choose a window seat when flying into Barcelona Airport, for views of the Mediterranean on one side and the city on the other. Josep Tarradellas Barcelona-El Prat Airport is 12 kilometres from the centre by train line R2 or city bus, taxi or rental car. This busy but comfortable airport has Spanish clothing brands such as Desigual, electronics, gifts, souvenirs and travel items, bakeries, healthy takeaway options, tapas bars, coffee shops and restaurants.

 

Barcelona weather

Barcelona has mild winters and hot, sunny summers. May through August are the sunniest, and the sea is warm enough for swimming from July to September, with a peak in August of 25°C! Whenever you visit, pack a jacket next to your swimsuit, for excursions to Montserrat or Tibidabo or for the evening breezes off the Mediterranean.

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