Your essential guide to Barcelona

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By Sally Davies

Sally Davies has lived in Barcelona since 2001. She writes about Catalan culture and food for publications including Time Out, Lonely Planet, The Telegraph and The Guardian.

Find your bearings

Mandarin Oriental, Barcelona is at the heart of the Quadrat d'Or (Golden Square), a walkable district showcasing the best work of the Modernista architects who transformed the city at the turn of the century. It is sliced in two by the Passeig de Gràcia, an elegant boulevard lined with period wrought-iron lampposts.

Feed your mind

Just across from Mandarin Oriental, Barcelona is Gaudí's colourful Casa Batlló townhouse, its shimmering scales and sinuous curves created to evoke a dragon – a Catalan symbol. A short hop away is his apartment block La Pedrera, which is now an exhibition space and is best known for its distinctive chimney stacks. Rooftop concerts are staged here on summer nights. 

A few blocks away is the iconic Sagrada Família, Gaudí's unfinished temple, and beyond that the Sant Pau Recinte Modernista, which until recently was a working hospital, each of its riotously coloured pavilions a different ward. Today, it's accessible to tourists, who can wander through its gardens.

Casa Batlló

Casa Batlló: a slice of Gaudí’s imagination made real in the centre of Barcelona. Photo: AdobeStock

Shop like a local

The Eixample is Barcelona's shopping district par excellence, and you'll find every sort of store here, from family-run ironmongers to exclusive boutiques. The bottom of Passeig de Gràcia is where the flagship stores of most major brands are found, but the further north you walk the grander the names become – Stella McCartney, Dolce & Gabbana, Jimmy Choo and a host of local designers among them. You’ll also find plenty of local names along the Passeig, from the stylish and affordable Bimba y Lola to design house Santa Eulàlia, which brings together a host of couture brands, to the ubiquitous Catalan purveyors of colourful, patchwork-like clothes, Desigual. At the top, the street hits Avinguda Diagonal, where you'll find Prada and a couple of upmarket shopping centres. Meanwhile, Gràcia, the neighbourhood above the Eixample, has a completely different flavour, and its narrow streets and leafy squares are a great place to stumble across tiny boutiques and quirky homeware stores amid more workaday grocery stores and mechanic’s workshops. For interesting, locally produced gifts, some of the best are to be found in the shops of the bigger museums, or try the showcase store for Catalan jewellery, ceramics and so on, Artesania Catalunya, in the Barri Gòtic.

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Only in Barcelona...

“One of Barcelona's most charming museums is also one of its least known. The Museu Frederic Marès has a weird and wonderful mixture of collections, from Romanesque crucifixes to antique ladies' fans.”

Mayte Rabanal, Concierge & Butler Manager, Mandarin Oriental Barcelona

See some sights

Heading down towards the sea from Mandarin Oriental, Barcelona, you'll find yourself in the Barri Gòtic, the city's atmospheric mediaeval quarter, crowned by its Gothic cathedral and flanked by Las Ramblas, the famous mile-long promenade, the attractions of which include the huge Boqueria food market. Beyond this is the Port Vell, a smart marina that runs alongside the old fishing quarter, and the beginning of Barcelona's seven kilometres of beach. As you approach the port, look out for Roy Lichtenstein's huge pop art sculpture, El Cap de Barcelona.

Toast your arrival

As a nod to the bank that was once housed here, the ceiling at Banker's Bar at Mandarin Oriental, Barcelona is lined with deposit boxes, and has some of the city's busiest and best mixologists. Try the White Cosmopolitan with Ketel One vodka, King´s Ginger liqueur, elderflower, ginger syrup and lime, or the Green Lady which comprises Hendrick's gin, ginger syrup, lemon, mint and egg white.

Make time to unwind

Make time to unwind

Spa & Wellness

The Spa at Mandarin Oriental, Barcelona is also home to famed Spanish podiatrist, Bastien Gonzalez, whose team will work wonders on your feet. So it’s the perfect place to enjoy a luxurious pedicure, or perhaps a four-handed massage or reflexology session.

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Dine in style 

Managed by chef Carme Ruscalleda and her son, Raül Balam, Moments has two Michelin stars and a worldwide reputation for excellence, Must-try dishes include coca (crispy Catalan flatbread) with lobster and arroz caldoso (‘soupy’ rice) with prawn tails. Blanc, at the heart of the hotel, is less formal and open all day, while Terrat is an alfresco rooftop restaurant offering Peruvian dishes and stunning views. In summer, the Mimosa Garden, filled with Mediterranean plants and flowers, comes into its own – it’s the perfect place for a glass of wine and tapas. Just around the corner is the lively Tapas 24, a relaxed and playful tapas bar run by renowned chef Carles Abellan.

Terrat

Terrat at Mandarin Oriental, Barcelona serves authentic Peruvian cuisine from Gastón Acurio, one of the world’s most acclaimed chefs.

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Blanc

Discover Blanc, the all-day dining restaurant in the heart of the hotel. Designed by chef Carme Ruscalleda, Blanc's décor is as striking as its menu.

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Moments

The famous Moments restaurant at Mandarin Oriental, Barcelona is helmed by chef Carme Ruscalleda – whose restaurants have seven Michelin stars between them.

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Mimosa Garden

The enticing Mimosa Garden at Mandarin Oriental, Barcelona.

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Time travel

Until the 1992 Olympic Games, Barcelona was said to have “turned its back on the sea”, with no beach to speak of. Ahead of the influx of visitors, tonnes of sand laid down to create the shoreline you can see today."

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And finally

After dark, head over to the Magic Fountain – a riotously kitsch sound and light show that takes places at the foot of Montjuïc, near the Plaça Espanya.

Gallery

La Sagrada Família Basilica

Barcelona's La Sagrada Família Basilica is a design miracle. Photo: Stefan Cioata, Getty Images

Casa Batlló

Casa Batlló is an Antoni Gaudií modernist masterpiece. Photo: Mivr, Adobe Stock

Casa Lleó Morera

Casa Lleó Morera houses a prized collection of Alcora pottery. Photo: Mivr, Adobe Stock

Casa Milà

Its design lends Casa Milà the local nickname La Pedrera, or "open quarry". Photo: Adobe Stock