The public beaches in Barcelona are cleaner than they used to be, but that's not saying much-there's an ashtray quality to the sand, and although locals pack the shore on weekends, they're reluctant to get their feet wet in the less-than-sparkling sea.
Fortunately, the comparatively pristine resort area of Sitges is a quick cab ride away (less than half an hour by train). Picasso once soaked up the sun in this former fishing village, where winding streets lined with charming shops and cafés lead to a waterfront that attracts a young Euro crowd.
Aside from placid water, other highlights in Sitges include the Hotel Romàntic (33 Carrer Sant Isidre; 34-93/894-8375), a restored 19th-century hacienda, and the Museu Cau Ferrat (Carrer Fonollar; 34-93/894-0364), a must-see for shade-seeking day-trippers. Once the residence of artist Santiago Rusiñol, it's now an intimate museum full of paintings by Rusiñol, El Greco, and Picasso.
Barcelona's attractions come in all shapes and volume levels, and their appeal largely depends on your age and eardrum sensitivity. • In June, the city welcomes the Sónar music festival (www.sonar.es), where top DJ's and musicians play for thousands of Catalan club kids. • Even louder is the all-ages Festival of Sant Joan on June 23—the most explosive night of the year. Locals set off handmade fireworks in the streets. • For those who prefer their culture on the calm side, there's the Museu Picasso (15-23 Carrer Montcada; 34-93/319-6310), filled with portraits by the artist as a young man; it's worth the long wait to get in. • Since last year was the 150th anniversary of Gaudí's birth, the lines have been just as long at La Sagrada Familia, his unfinished symphony of Modernista high notes. • On the hill of Montjuïc is the minimalist Fundació Joan Miró (Parc de Montjuïc; 34-93/329-1908), the design of which the artist personally oversaw. • Raval's futuristic, all-white Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona (1 Plaça dels Angels; 34-93/412-0810), created by Richard Meier, looks like something out of The Jetsons and contains a world-class collection of art created in the past 50 years. • The Grand Teatre del Liceu (51-59 La Rambla; 34-93/485-9900), the principal theater for opera, concerts, and dance, reopened in 1999 after a major fire. • A more low-brow spectacle awaits at the Font Màgica de Montjuïc (Plaça d'Espanya), a rainbow-hued dancing fountain that spritzes to the beat of cheesy pop songs. • Fans of fragrance will want to get a whiff of the Museu del Perfum (39 Passeig de Gràcia; 34-93/215-7238), which holds hundreds of antique perfume bottles, including one designed by Salvador Dalí. • To see other works by Dalí, take a train two hours from Barcelona to Teatre-Museu Dalí (Plaça Gala Salvador Dalí; 34-972/677-500) in his birthplace of Figueres. The egg-shaped monument atop Torre Galatea, his Surrealist house next door, suggests that Dalí was sniffing something stronger than perfume.
In this city, there's no shortage of clubs, and even restaurants and boutiques feel the need to multitask. Come the midnight hour, a mirror ball descends from the ceiling, a DJ starts spinning, and—faster than you can say, "Hey, it's gettin' hot in herre"—the place has been transformed into a disco inferno. • The club of the moment is Danzatoria (61 Avda. Tibidabo, Torre 1; 34-93/268-7430), a sprawling hacienda overflowing with pretty young things—and the people who buy them drinks. Like all of the señoritas in attendance, the grounds are flawlessly manicured. • Stefano Gabbana celebrated his birthday at the glass-walled bar Mirabé (Carrer Manel Arns; 34-93/418-5667), with a crowd that included Christina Aguilera and Alicia Keys, who later skipped out and danced the night away in the mountaintop "Gypsy caves" with flamenco dancer Joaquin Cortés. • At the century-old dance hall La Paloma (27 Carrer Tigre; 34-93/301-6897), you almost expect to see Nicole Kidman doing the cancan under the massive wooden chandelier (especially since lines snake around the block). • On the other end of Barcelona's nightlife spectrum, Lupino (33 Carrer Carme; 34-93/412-3697) is a one-stop fiesta: a bar-lounge (with dancing on weekends) and fusion restaurant. Lights on the wall panels, reminiscent of an airport runway, shift in skin-flattering hues, from soft white to just peachy.
"Barcelona is a city where people enjoy life," says designer Custo Dalmau. Here, he shares his
favorite places, which are as vibrant as his wildly patterned clothing line, Custo Barcelona.
SHOPS "I buy techno and house music at Discos Castelló [7 Carrer Tallers; 34-93/302-5946], which I first visited when I was sixteen. Gotham [7 Carrer Cervantes; 34-93/412-4647] carries vintage furniture from the thirties, fifties, and sixties."
HOTELS "The nicest hotel is the Arts, but I like the Majestic [68 Passeig de Gràcia; 34-93/488-1717]. The exterior is classic but the décor and service are very modern."
NIGHTLIFE "The Café Royale [3 Carrer Nou de Zurbano; 34-93/317-6124] bar doesn't get busy till two a.m., and even later on weekends. During the week, I go to La Reina [3 Carrer Sant Antoni dels Sombrerers; 34-93/319-5371], a small French-Catalan restaurant next to Santa Maria church. After dinner, it becomes a dance bar that plays house music."