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.

Alexandra Marshall
November 26, 2012

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.

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.

Getting Around

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.

Stay

Six hot classic and new hotels.

Hotel Ohla

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.

Hotel Arts

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.

Hotel El Palace

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.

Renaissance Barcelona Fira Hotel

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.

Mandarin Oriental

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.

Hotel España

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

Shop

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.

Eat

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. $$

Tapas Crawl

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. $$

After Hours

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

Local Take

Get an insider’s peek at the city from three natives.

Carles Gaig

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.

Josep Bohigas

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.

Rosa Esteva

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.

El Xampanyet

Since 1929, this El Born district bar has been serving tapas such as patatas bravas, fresh anchovies in vinegar, and butifarra, a Catalan sausage. The specialty of the house though is chipirónescon mongetes, a warm plate of baby squid and light beans. To accompany meals, there is Xampanyet, a sparkling white wine (cava in Spanish) and beer. The ceramic tiled space is small and often filled with crowds of elbow-to-elbow guests balancing small plates over marble tables. El Xampanyet is within steps of Museu Picasso, thus attracting many tourists, but locals seeking authentic Catalonian fare come here as well.

Fundació Joan Miró

With its high ceilings, arches, and airy passages, this innovative building houses the world's largest collection of Miró's work plus British art, from 1945 to 1968-that is, postwar to Pop.

Vinçon

Design aficionados will appreciate the two-storied Vinçon. It carries furniture and decorative objects for every room—except the bedroom; that's around the corner at spin-off shop Tinçon.

La Manual Alpargatera

Since opening in the early 1940's, this espadrilles emporium has sold a colorful variety of Catalonia's classic sandals - perfect for strolling city streets in style. Stripes, solids, embroidered, wedge-heeled: this 72-year-old Barri Gòtic cobbler makes all manner of espadrilles.

Quimet & Quimet

Patrons stand elbow-to-elbow at this tiny bustling tapas bar just off of Pral Lel. With walls of shelves filled with wine, this fifth generation restaurant is not much larger than a typical home dining room. Montaditos, or ingredients piled upon slices of bread, are the specialty here, second only to the house beer, a sweet, malty brew from Belgium. English menus are not prominently displayed, but available upon request, and most guests leave the menu selections up to the owner’s whims. Tapas could include shaved dried tuna, or mojama, and bacalao, dried and salted cod. 

El Palace Hotel

Built in 1919, but renovated in 2004, this Eixample neighborhood hotel is near several major attractions: Las Ramblas, Passeig de Gràcia, The Picasso Museum, and Museum of Modern Art. Beyond the wrought iron gates, guests find a grandiose property, complete with chandeliers, gilded mirrors, and ornate patterns. The hotel’s 125 rooms feature early 20th-century décor, antique furnishings, fireplaces, marble bathrooms, and heated towel racks. Dine on Catalan cuisine at Michelin-starred Caelis Restaurant or international dishes at AE Restaurant (designed like a Parisian brasserie), and then head to the hotel's Rien de Rien bar for a drink and jazz.

Alkimia

Chef and alchemist Jordi Vilà runs the kitchen at this Michelin one-starred restaurant in the Sagrada Familia district of Barcelona. At Alkimia, which is named after the Arabic word “al-kimia” (the art), Vilà creates deconstructed Catalan dishes inspired by chef Ferran Adrià, the molecular gastronomy pioneer who shuttered his flagship restaurant, El Bulli, in 2011. Dinner at Alkimia provides a look into the future of post-El Bulli cuisine. Playful preparations include red mullet with seawater (a soup of blue fish and herbs) and cuttlefish with squid ink and ginger. The formal setting includes a starkly contrasting black and white palette, billowing fabrics, and crystal chandeliers.

Hotel Arts

Stay in this tower of blue glass and steel that rises 44 stories in Port Olímpic (the Olympic Port) with stunning views of the city, water, and Frank Gehry's Fish sculpture. Some Catalonians find American architect Bruce Graham's ambitious design a bit too, well, American for their tastes, but visitors will welcome the many amenities, notably the efficient check-in, unparalleled Ritz-Carlton in this service-challenged city. The lobby affords an always-entertaining scene, as do the pool and alfresco restaurant, which have impressive views of both sea and skyline. There's also a well-equipped gym, a feature that cannot be found in other hotels (perhaps because chain-smoking remains this city's favorite form of exercise).

ABaC Hotel

Visiting gourmands have long been crazy for the brilliant revisionist Catalan cooking of chef Jordi Cruz and now, thankfully, they don't have to go home after dinner—thanks to the addition of this 15-room hotel to the renowned restaurant. After 10 years at its original El Born address, ABaC moved north to the leafy residential Sant Gervasi barrio, the perfect site for its expansion. The hotel is housed in the 19th-century mansion of a flamboyant socialite intellectual with a striking new glassy pavilion by Catalan architect Antoni de Moragas. The minimalist blond-wood guest rooms are outfitted with Treca de Paris beds, and spacious snow-white bathrooms are stocked with Hermès toiletries. After a long day on the town, you’ll be grateful for its relaxed vibe, soothing garden, and diminutive but capable spa.

Mandarin Oriental, Barcelona

Spanish designer Patricia Urquiola oversaw the conversion of this midcentury bank building (at the main intersection of Barcelona’s elegant Eixample district) to a luxurious Mandarin outpost in late 2009. Urquiola’s décor—in both the common areas and the hotel’s 98 smallish rooms—is a harmonious marriage of clean-lined modernity with Mandarin group’s signature Asian style (modular white-leather furniture accented with black-lacquer tables and ceramics; brushed steel and glass side-by-side with gauzy screens and delicate metal latticework). If design’s your bag, stroll down Passeig de Gràcia to admire two of Gaudí’s most famous Art Nouveau buildings, Casa Milà “La Pedrera” and Casa Battló.

Mercat de la Boqueria

One of Spain’s oldest and largest markets, the Mercat de la Boqueria is located just off La Rambla in a cavernous, iron-framed hall. Originating as an open-air market in 1217, the Boqueria now contains more than 200 stalls selling everything from fresh and candied fruits to artisan cheeses, grilled chorizo, handmade chocolate truffles, and freshly squeezed juices in flavors like kiwi-pineapple and blackberry-banana. Select vendors and tapas bars also sell ready-to-eat dishes like chicken empanadas and patatas bravas (fried potatoes). An on-site cooking school hosts occasional classes, which include a brief demonstration followed by a tasting.

Bar Mut

This L'Eixample tavern is known for its Gallic seafood tapas. Situated on the crossroads of Paseo de Gracia and Diagonal, the restaurant packs in crowds for small plates such as cantabrico, Bay of Biscay anchovies with crusty bread; slow-cooked pork neck with sea cucumbers; and empedrado, a salted cod salad. The design is decidedly French, with marble-toped counters and brass glass fixtures. Shelves of wine line the walls, and several Spanish selections are available by the glass. Reservations are a must at Bar Mut. Patio seating is available, but can be noisy at this well-trafficked intersection.

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