Barcelona City Guide
Welcome to Barcelona
Barcelona is a veritable jewel in the Spanish crown. Capital of the Catalonia region and, for many, cultural capital of the Iberian Peninsula, Barcelona is a sensory spectacle of unique sights, sounds, smells and flavours that differentiate it from any other city in the world.
Things to see and do in Barcelona
Barcelona is a shrine to the renowned artist and architect, Antoni Gaudí, the master of Catalan modernism whose iconic works pepper the streets of the city, where seemingly at every turn you are greeted with colourful, organic shapes that conjure up images of twisting branches intertwined with gingerbread house details. The Park Guell is perhaps one of the best examples of the colourful Gaudí style, while the Church of the Sagrada Familia remains one of the greatest monuments in the world, still under construction some 90 years after the artist’s death.
Take a wander down the Ramblas, the arterial boulevard that cuts through the southern flanks of the city from Plaça Catalunya in the north to Port Vell in the south, separating the gothic quarter from the Raval. The Ramblas comes alive at night with cafes and restaurants lining the streets and all manner of street artists performing from top to bottom. Traditionally the Spanish have turned out in their finery to promenade late into the evening, and the street remains the perfect place for a spot of people watching punctuated by a cheeky San Miguel or two.
Once accused of having turned its back on the sea, Barcelona completely rejuvenated the beach and port area in the run-up to the 1992 Olympic Games. The area has gone from strength to strength and is now home to a wide expansive of sandy beach and a major shopping port, all flanked by modern hotels, bars and seafood restaurants. Don’t miss the chance to take the cable car over the port to admire the city from another perspective.
Parks and leisure spaces in Barcelona
The waterfront is one of the most enjoyable leisure spaces in the city, where the wide boulevard opens out to sandy beaches and the gin palaces of the rich and famous. Gaudi’s Park Guell is the place to come to admire the master’s Hansel-and-Gretel style creations and whisk yourself off to a parallel world, or you could equally do the same at the pleasure park perched high up on the hill of Tibidabo. The botanic garden is a must for nature lovers, while the Parc de la Ciutadella is one of the largest in the city and home to Barcelona Zoo.
Shopping in Barcelona
El Corte Ingles is the cornerstone of Spanish shopping and Barcelona offers up one of the largest and best stocked branches of this famous department store. Stocking everything from designer names and fitness equipment to upmarket groceries and high-end jewellery whatever you want, you are guaranteed to find it. Back out on the streets, silverware and leather goods are available in abundance, and those with a penchant for shoes are particularly well taken care of.
Barcelona was the birthplace of the Desigual brand, whose flagship store is located in the gothic quarter, surrounded by a plethora of like-minded independent boutiques offering up their own unique designs. Passeig de Gracia is the place to head for high-street names while top-end brands can be found on the Portal de L’Angel, just off the Plaça de Catalunya, and on the Avinguda Diagona where names include Versace, Gucci, Armani and Calvin Klein.
Eating and drinking in Barcelona
Begin your culinary tour of Barcelona with a tour of the tapas bars on Las Ramblas. The word ‘tapa’ literally means ‘lid’ and came into use when Spanish barmen used to pop a little savoury treat as a ‘tapa’ on top of a freshly poured brandy or beer. Nowadays tapas are a gastronomic entity in their own right and come in myriad shapes, sizes and flavours. Some of the most popular include finely sliced Iberico ham, chorizo braised in red wine, calamares, tortilla and spicy batatas bravas, though many Barcelona chefs have gone a few steps further and raised tapas to the heady heights of fine dining.
The seafront and port are the place to go to indulge a love of fish and seafood, or for a taste of the El Bulli experience (the now-closed former 3 Michelin starred restaurant in the nearby town of Roses), head to Alkimia where Jordi Vila has emulated the theatrical, deconstructed style to great effect, earning himself his first Michelin star in the process.
Non-stop fiestas is the name of the game in post-sundown Barcelona, and if you need any lessons in partying until dawn the seasoned locals will be happy to oblige. Head to the labyrinthine streets of the Gothic Quarter for stylish bars such as Milk Bar and Sugar, while backpackers congregate at famous favourites such as Jamboree, Sidecar and Tarantos in the Plaza Real. Wander through the streets of the Raval and hang out in quirky bars with the locals or head to the port for upmarket hedonism at the Opium Mar or Catwalk, taking a detour past the Ice Bar on the way for a sub-zero aperitif where even the glasses are made of ice.
When to visit Barcelona
Barcelona is delightful all year round, but spring and autumn are perhaps the perfect seasons in which to visit. The Mediterranean climate ushers in warm breezes long before many areas in northern Europe, lasting right through the summer and late into the Autumn. August is quiet in Barcelona, as much of the population heads away for a month of beach or mountain fun, but on the plus side this leaves the city free for the enjoyment of the many tourists who flock here during the summer months. In keeping with much of Spain, Barcelona shuts down during local and national holidays, so do check for dates if you are planning a short trip, especially if you are hoping to hit the shops.
The Mediterranean climate ensures the weather in Barcelona is delightful all year round, with plenty of days of bright blue skies and sunshine. Spring to autumn see warm sunny days, and although high summer can be a little stifling in the city, the 4km beach provides plenty of opportunity to enjoy the sunshine in a more relaxed way. Rainfall is at its highest in April while much of the rest of the year is dry. Temperatures drop in the winter but with brilliant blue skies on offer, as long as you wrap up warm you are guaranteed an attractive backdrop for your photos of this stunning city. Semana Santa (Easter) and Semana Blanca (Whitsun) are marked by plentiful fun, frolics and fiestas, as is Kings day (January 6) and Catalonia National Day on September 11.
There is accommodation aplenty in Barcelona, with many hotels and aparthotels clustered around the Paseo de Gracia such as the Habitat Apartments, the Apartments Sixty Four or the Sixty Two hotel. Stay in the heart of the action at the four-star Royal Ramblas or at the three-star Hostal BCN Ramblas where hostel meets design for the budget price of as little as 36 Euros per person! For something special, splash out on the luxurious Art Nouveau style El Palauet or head for the ocean and stop at the shrine to modernity, the Hotel Arts.