T+L's Definitive Guide to Barcelona
Published: November 2012
By Alexandra Marshall
Stylish design, eye-popping architecture, a Mediterranean climate, and one of the most dynamic culinary scenes in the world are just a few of the many reasons to visit Barcelona.
Lay of the Land
From historic Barri Gòtic to edgier El Born, here’s a neighborhood guide to the city.
La Barceloneta: This area along a three-mile stretch of beach is chockablock with beachfront seafood restaurants, which are good but pricey.
Barri Gòtic: Barcelona’s old quarter is traversed by the crowded La Rambla. Skip it and make your way up tiny side streets to La Boqueria market and down to the peaceful Plaça Reial.
L’Eixample: With the birth in the 1860’s of this extension to the old town, Barcelona became one of the few European cities planned on a grid. The Passeig de Gràcia, with luxury boutiques and surreal Gaudí buildings, is the area’s main artery.
El Born: The lower section of La Ribera is a medieval maze of narrow streets winding around the imposing Gothic cathedral of Santa María del Mar. You’ll find cool indie boutiques and cafés.
Montjuïc: The misty mountain above the city proper is home to most of the city’s best museums. Take the funicular from the Paral-lel metro stop.
Video: Barcelona Port Guide
When to Go
Thanks to year-round mild temperatures, Barcelona is ideal in the fall, spring, and early summer. By August, the weather turns hot and humid. Snow is rare during winter, but be prepared for rain.
At only 38 mostly flat square miles, Barcelona is a pedestrian’s paradise. Taxis are also plentiful, cheap, and can be hailed on the street. The metro is clean and easy to navigate.
Six hot classic and new hotels.
The room design feels Scandinavian (blond wood; clean lines), as does the in-house Finnish sauna. But Xavier Franco’s Michelin-starred, modern Catalan restaurant, Sauc, is a love song to the city. $$
Best For: Boutique cool in a central location.
La Barceloneta isn’t exactly remote, but this beachfront skyscraper still manages to feel far away from it all. The ace in the hole is the Arola restaurant, run by experimental-tapas whiz Sergi Arola. $$$
Best For: Luxury seekers who favor jaw-dropping views.
A recent makeover of this grande dame added 42 suites accented with patterned wallpaper. If it’s a glass of Veterano (Spanish brandy) you’re after, don’t miss the clubby Rien de Rien bar. $$
Best For: Lovers of the classics.
Jean Nouvel continues to make his mark on the city. This newcomer is all about shimmering glass, white-on-white rooms, and a chic rooftop pool. $
Best For: Design junkies.
The first hotel by designer Patricia Urquiola, on Passeig de Gràcia, is a mix of cream-colored leather ottomans and chairs, delicate latticework, and pine. Bonus: renowned chef Carme Ruscalleda’s Moments restaurant. $$$
Best For: Sophisticated travelers in search of a little Zen.
Just off La Rambla, the renovated hotel’s sleek but spartan rooms are enhanced with faïence murals in common areas by native modernisme painter Ramon Casas. $
Best For: Budget-minded art buffs.
Hotel Pricing Key
$ Less than $200
$$ $200 to $350
$$$ $350 to $500
$$$$ $500 to $1,000
$$$$$ More than $1,000
Looking for cutting-edge designers? Traditional textiles? Funky housewares? Read on.
La Manual Alpargatera: Stripes, solids, embroidered, wedge-heeled: this 72-year-old Barri Gòtic cobbler makes all manner of espadrilles.
Cortana: Designer Rosa Esteva’s flagship is the place to find evening dresses and expertly tailored daywear.
La Clinique: This hip El Born boutique has a hodgepodge of limited-edition sneakers and vintage sunglasses and cameras.
Mutt: Barcelona’s creative crowd shops here for rare books on fashion, art, and architecture.
Openhouse Project: Inside this gallery, you’ll find a selection of modern objets d’art, Pakistani wool blankets, and ceramics. By appointment.
Teranyina Taller Escuela y Tienda Textil: Weaver Teresa Rosa Aguayo sells her earth-toned scarves and tapestries in a spacious loft in El Raval.
Vila Viniteca: Book a tasting at this 80-year-old wine store, which stocks more than 7,000 labels.
Vinçon: Check out the design emporium for established favorites (Vitra; Droog) and more outré examples like Bobo Choses’s denim director’s chairs.
T+L Tip: For an insider’s shopping tour of the city, book with antiquesandboutiques.com.
See + Do
The city of Gaudí has countless art gems. Four to get you started.
DHUB: In this design center’s new zinc-and-glass building, Les Glòries, what was formerly a disparate web of craft, textiles, ceramics, and graphic-design collections will be housed under one roof.
Parc Güell: For a concentrated dose of Antoni Gaudí, take a stroll through this whimsical garden complex built in the early 1900’s on a hill overlooking the city in Gràcia.
Fundació Joan Miró: Hidden among the trees of Montjuïc, architect Josep Lluis Sert’s gleaming white structure shows off six prolific decades of works by native surrealist Joan Miró.
MACBA: Richard Meier’s 1995 stucco building contains an impressive collection of 20th-century and contemporary art: Clemente, Fontana, Matta-Clark, Tàpies.
Barcelona is full of experimental restaurants, seafood shacks, and, of course, tapas bars.
Tickets: Ferran Adrià and his brother Alberto’s first spot since closing El Bulli is a sophisticated tapas place with serious eats: liquid olives; tissue-thin tuna belly with tartare and salmon roe; algae tempura. Don’t miss the house-made seasonal sorbets. $$$
Alkimia: Cerebral, offbeat takes on traditional Catalan dishes are the standard at chef Jordi Vilà’s sleek space. The menu includes tenderly cooked seafood (rice with langoustine and ñora peppers) and grilled-to-perfection meats (gizzard with Campari sauce and pickles), accompanied by an excellent wine selection. $$$
Abac Restaurant & Hotel: Despite the far-northwest location, this high-end restaurant serving deconstructed neo-Catalan cuisine has been a power-lunch destination ever since chef Jordi Cruz earned it a second Michelin star this year. Order raw hamachi with cherries and cucumber snow followed by violet ice cream with yogurt and flower nectar. $$$$
Sagàs Pagesos, Cuiners & Co.: The ingredients here come from chef-owner Oriol Rovira’s nearby farm, but recipes are globally inspired: bo ssäm (Korean pork buns); chicharrones; sheep-milk curd with rosemary honey. $$
Can Maño: Join the locals and line up outside this no-frills seafood canteen in La Barceloneta for fried artichokes and calamari washed down with amber-colored Moscatel wine. 12 Carr. del Baluard; 34/93-319-3082. $$
Our three-stop itinerary of the city’s best authentic bars.
Bar Celta Pulpería: Feast on marinated octopus a la gallega and razor clams at this dive in El Born. 50 Carr. de la Princesa; 34/93-315-0006. $$
Quimet & Quimet: Classic smoked dishes with a twist draw crowds every night. Try the salmon topped with honey. $$
Tapas, 24: Small plates and truffle-laced ham-and-cheese sandwiches are chased with balls of chocolate mousse at chef Carles Abellan’s popular new venue. 269 Carr. de la Diputació. $$
Four new hot spots.
Bocachica/The Apartment: You’ll find the usual Spanish cocktails at these two upscale bars, but the atmosphere—regional antiques and a touch of chinoiserie—is one of a kind. $$$
Fàbrica Moritz Barcelona: Architect Jean Nouvel just renovated this 19th-century three-level space, which includes a popular microbrewery and wine bar. $$
Dry Martini: Behind a dimly lit wood-paneled bar are row upon row of gin and vermouth bottles, which white-tuxedoed waiters mix expertly. $$$
Restaurant Pricing Key
$ Less than $25
$$ $25 to $75
$$$ $75 to $150
$$$$ More than $150
Get an insider’s peek at the city from three natives.
Chef of the Michelin-starred Restaurant Gaig
Barcelona has everything I could ever want in a city. I buy fresh produce for my restaurants at La Boqueria market, in the old quarter. Xampanyet ($$), in El Born, is my go-to spot for a glass of cava and tapas. (Try the tinned mussels and clams.) When I need inspiration, I go hiking in the Collserola Mountains. They have a wide variety of plants and are only a 30-minute drive north of the city center.
Architect behind El Born museum
Perhaps it’s because I’m an architect, but I like to see Barcelona from above. The Atalaya cabin ride above the city at Tibidabo park is magical. On weekends, I enjoy exploring the Turó de la Rovira (Carr. de Marià Labèrnia), a hilltop park and the site of a civil war antiaircraft battery. For a sky-high meal with 360-degree views, Torre de Alta Mar ($$$$), a restaurant at the top of a tower with a cable-car station to Montjuïc, has a delicious creamy risotto with prawns.
Designer of luxury women’s-wear label Cortana
My new favorite spot to eat is Bar Mut ($$), which serves excellent eggs with shrimp and pine nuts—it’s packed with locals. Another place I love: the backyard terrace of Cafè 1907 ($$$), in Sant Gervasi-la Bonanova. The food is organic, and the vibe is laid-back; it’s like being in a private house. For shopping, I’m a fan of the contemporary jewelry at Magnolia Antic. Nearby is the Pink Peony, where you can get a great massage.
Trips Out of Town
Girona: Eighty minutes away by train, this ancient city has Moorish and Romanesque buildings and one of Spain’s top tables, El Celler de Can Roca ($$$$).
Sitges: Spend a day strolling the narrow cobblestoned streets and beaches of this resort town, roughly 45 minutes southwest by train.
Cadaqués and Port Lligat: Drive two hours north to the whitewashed seaside town of Cadaqués, the stomping ground of Marcel Duchamp, Federico García Lorca, and Salvador Dalí.