Barcelona might just be the perfect holiday destination, boasting beaches, high culture and almost constant sunshine. The Catalan city is the ideal mini-break choice if you love art – there’s a museum dedicated to Picasso, who spent his formative years here, the Joan Miró Foundation and more recent addition, MOCO: home to a stellar array of modern and contemporary works. It’s also a haven for Gaudí disciples. The architect of the most famous unfinished building in the world (La Sagrada Familia, in the heart of the city) has a host of other sites to explore in Barcelona, from Casa Batlló to Park Güell.
If you're more inclined towards a relaxing trip than a culture fix, we advise you spend your days wandering the streets of hip neighbourhood El Born or the narrow medieval lanes of the Gothic Quarter, stopping for tapas, cava and sangria along the way (we told you it was city-break heaven).
Where to stay
There are lots of modern boutique hotels in the city, but for a timeless experience, it has to be El Palace, formerly the Ritz, which opened in 1919. It’s common on a weekend afternoon to see people enjoying afternoon tea in the opulent, high-ceilinged salon with a pianist tinkling away and it's no surprise that the lounge has been used as the setting for many fashion shows over the years. Up on the roof, there’s a small pool with skyline views; this is the place to be for an evening sundowner. Breakfast is served in El Jardin, the hotel’s covered courtyard. There’s also a spa and a speakeasy-style cocktail bar, with live music on certain nights (which kicks off at 11pm – this is Barcelona and not a destination for people who like to go to bed early).
The hotel is perfectly located in the centre of the city, within walking distance of the Passeig de Gràcia and La Sagrada Familia. There are suites named after famous former guests, which include Josephine Baker, Cary Grant and Ronnie Wood (who designed his own). As is to be expected in such a historic hotel, the rooms are classic in their design, with antique bureaus, gilded mirrors, corniced ceilings and fireplaces. Another charming touch at El Palace is the old-fashioned room keys, with tassels and actual keys instead of plastic cards, which the concierge will hang up for you when you head out.
Where to eat
There’s an excellent restaurant at El Palace in the shape of Michelin-starred Amar – just ask Bruce Springsteen, who dined here with Barack Obama and Steven Spielberg when he was in town for a concert last spring. The Michelin-star menu specialises in fine-dining favourites (oysters, caviar), with delicate courses leading up to a main dish of grilled fish and a mountain of French fries. It also serves refined takes on Catalan classics, such as crab cannelloni with chicken broth and crispy chicken skin, and cuttlefish casserole with rabbit confit and tripe. Be sure to save room for the churros.
Otherwise, you’re never far from a lively tapas joint – it’s perfectly acceptable to eat a plate of patatas bravas at every mealtime when in Barcelona. Old-school, hole-in-the-wall-style places include El Xampanyet and Bar del Pla; and Bar Cañete is as loved by locals as it is by tourists. Tapeo and Vinitus are both excellent, too.
What to do
As with most cities around the world, Barcelona loves a good rooftop bar. There’s one at El Palace, which changes with the seasons: in summer, it has an outdoor cinema, but it’s about to be turned into a winter wonderland in time for Christmas. Just down the road from El Palace, Almanac hotel’s rooftop Azimuth is a great spot for cocktails with a view of the city skyline, including a glimpse of the spires of La Sagrada Familia. Classic tapas dishes are available as bar snacks to accompany the cocktails.
If you love spending city breaks simply strolling around, El Born and the Gothic Quarter are the place to do it in Barcelona, with winding medieval streets to easily get lost in. And the beach at Barceloneta is the perfect place to recover after overdoing it on the sightseeing.
For many, a trip to Barcelona is in essence a Gaudí pilgrimage, and ticking off the architect’s many surreal spots one by one can easily fill a weekend itinerary. Within the city – in addition to La Sagrada Familia, of course (which is finally due to be completed in 2026, 144 years later) – Gaudí sites of note include Casa Batlló and Casa Milà. High above the city, Park Güell has more gingerbread houses, masterpiece mosaics and modernist architecture to complete your Gaudí journey.
Around the corner from the Picasso museum, MOCO is one of the most exciting new galleries in Barcelona. Its impressive collection of modern and contemporary artworks spans pieces by Banksy, Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, David LaChapelle and Damien Hirst. It’s a fun place to while away an afternoon, with immersive digital artworks, reflective illuminated installations and a giant sculpture in the courtyard.
Where to shop
Zara fans will find sanctuary in the flagship store on Passeig de Gràcia. If you’re more in the market for some chorizo or jamón Ibérico, La Boqueria is the market for you – it’s located just off La Rambla, the best-known street in central Barcelona.
Lovers of cult perfumes (and indeed, the bespoke scent pumped through El Palace) should stop by the Carner Barcelona boutique, a local brand created by the namesake family, with evocative scents called things like Ibiza Nights and Ambar del Sur. The colourful square candles are hard to resist, too.
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