The Mediterranean’s undisputed capital of cool, Barcelona pulls off the trick of being at once iconic and cutting-edge. Even the classic diversions—strolls in the Gaudí-designed Parc Güell; breakfast at the Pinotxo counter inside the Boquería market; the Modernist serenity of the Pavelló Mies van der Rohe—feel contemporary. But there’s always a new culinary hot spot or emerging neighborhood to explore. At Tickets, mad-scientist brothers Ferran and Albert Adrià put a new spin on the small plate: six themed bars dish up everything from fruit infused with sangria to “liquid ravioli” filled with payoyo cheese. The Mandarin Oriental, which opened last year, pairs the Hong Kong hotel group’s legendary service with Spanish designer Patricia Urquiola’s 98 bright, cream-on-white rooms. In Raval, the city’s next great neighborhood—a charged urban cocktail of hipness and seediness—the action centers on the cocktail lounge at the new Barceló Raval hotel. But the leather booths at Bar Raval have long been a favorite of denizens of the film and theater industries, and a visit to Discos Castelló, an independent music shop, is like a trip back in time.
Barcelona Affordable Tip: The Hotel Actual, a stone- and-glass town house in Gràcia, has 57 earth-toned rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows, plus two Belle Époque–era suites with frescoes. Doubles from $120.
Barcelona: World’s Best Scorecard
No. 9 city overall
No. 4 city in Europe