Spectacularly located beside the sea, with wondrous architecture, chic boutiques and bountiful gourmet experiences, this Catalan city can only delight the visitor
Glistening alongside the Spanish Mediterranean shore, Barcelona is a city that, quite literally, never sleeps. Whether you pound the pavements by day inhaling every magical, often surreal, sight or play by night amid the charming array of cobbled streets, this Catalan capital will intoxicate you with its sights.
Passeig de Gràcia is the Rodeo Drive of Barcelona. With stores such as Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent and Gucci, this wide, tree-lined avenue offers every imaginable designer thread you could desire. Rambla de Catalunya runs parallel and is a mecca for shoe shopping. The narrow road leads north from the city’s central Plaça de Catalunya and is also home to gorgeous independent boutiques, all peppered between lovely, local tapas spots. If imported labels such as Paul Smith are what you’re hankering after, head down to the port where the El Born
and Barceloneta intersect and you’ll discover a haven of retail goodies sitting not far from the sea.
For the most far-reaching view of Barcelona’s rooftop maze, head to Tibidabo mountain, which towers majestically behind the city. If heights are no problem, Barcelona’s cable car, the Transbordador Aeri del Port, cuts from the port right across to Montjuïc, a mountain where a sunny afternoon can easily be lost in the mesmerising Joan Miró Foundation. For an interior view that should not be missed, visit Palau Música Catalana
, considered to be a landmark of Spanish architectural Modernism. Its central glass dome and hypnotic blend of light and colour is breathtaking. Another must-see is Gaudí’s Parc Güell
, a testament to the artist’s obsession with all things organic. His mosaic dragons, rock pillars and ornate ceilings frame a sensational view across Barcelona.
Art and architecture
Set around a peaceful courtyard in the heart of the city, the Picasso Museum
is an essential stop. Including paintings, sculptures, pottery and personal letters, the museum documents the artist’s early childhood years and charts his work clearly in decades. A large amount of new material has been donated in recent years, so it’s worth a revisit even if you have been before. And a visit to Barcelona wouldn’t be complete without seeing Gaudí’s La Sagrada Família
, if only by default, as it looms high and proud. The iconic, spired cathedral, with its irregular, unfinished construction and endless detail, is an assault on the senses and a true tribute to the city’s surreal artistic history.Gaudí’s other distinctive project is the Casa Batlló
, a neighbour of Mandarin Oriental, Barcelona. The balconies of this bizarre apartment block are reminiscent of segments of skulls, their support pillars like bone fragments, yet the overall effect couldn’t be more beautiful. Similarly surreal, but no less impressive, is the permanent Salvador Dalí exhibition at the Real Círculo Artístico Museum of Barcelona in the heart of the Gothic district.
The beaches around Barcelona, such as those found near neighbouring Sitges
, are a welcome respite from the city’s summer heat. Around 17 coves dot the area and are easily accessible for a daytime excursion.The monastery at Montserrat
, again a brief train journey away, is a magical and moving experience. A good walk and a cable-car ride will take you straight up the side of the mountain, offering unrivalled countryside views. Golf lovers needn’t go far for a decent round as the nearby Greg Norman-designed Real Club de Golf el Prat boasts no fewer than 45 holes and perfect greens.
Barcelona has plenty of culinary sensations, as many of the city’s restaurants are run by Ferran Adrià disciples who started their days at the Catalan chef’s legendary El Bulli. Try Comerç, 24, where chef Carles Abellán’s dishes are created with artistic flare.
Moments at Mandarin Oriental, Barcelona also presents culinary greatness. Under the leadership of Carme Ruscalleda and her son, chef Raül Balam, this two-Michelin-starred space serves traditional Catalan food made using the freshest ingredients. Highlights include veal cheeks and seabass with fig leaves, fig chutney and hibiscus salt, or try the tasting menu for more extensive sampling.
On the town
Barcelona evenings start late and there’s a plethora of chic cocktail drinking holes, local bars and hedonistic hangouts to choose from, whether you are after a quiet aperitif or a late-night glass of champagne. La Vinya del Senyor is a delightful vinoteca set below the watchful gaze of the Santa Maria del Mar church, where the tranquil sound of jazz floats gently in from the surrounding Plaça Santa Maria.
For something a little more energetic, try the glamorous Patricia Urquiola-designed Banker’s Bar at Mandarin Oriental, Barcelona, or Nuba, a popular uptown hotspot, where well-heeled locals gather in a lounge-bar setting.