A weekend in Barcelona
Everything you need to know for a city break in Catalonia’s cultured capital
Why you should visit Barcelona
Boasting beautiful architecture, great shopping and an exciting foodie scene, Barcelona combines “everything that is most charming about Mediterranean cities”, said Sally Davies in The Telegraph. It has a “relaxed pace, months of endless sunshine, unbeatable food – with the cultural and design clout of almost any city in the cold north”.
Spain’s second city and capital of Catalonia “vibrates with life”, said Rough Guides. There’s certainly not another city in the country to touch it for “sheer style, looks or energy”. Everyone starts with La Rambla, and then dives straight into the “mediaeval nucleus” of the city, the Barri Gòtic (Gothic Quarter).
An archetypal city-break destination, Barcelona has world-class culture, a great beach and is just a two-hour flight from the UK. For those who are already well acquainted with the Sagrada Familia, Parc Guell and La Rambla, the city also serves as a launchpad for the surrounding areas such as the Costa Brava, Sitges, Girona and the wine regions of Alella and Penedès.
Top attractions: things to see and do
The Sagrada Família church in the Eixample quarter is Barcelona’s “most iconic symbol” and the most visited landmark in the whole of Spain, said IntroducingBarcelona.com. Construction started in 1882 and a year later it was commissioned to Antoni Gaudí, Catalonia’s most famous architect. Still unfinished, it’s Gaudí’s best-known shrine to eccentric architecture.
In Barcelona, art is everywhere – even in the architecture. For example, take the Casa Milà, located on Passeig de Gràcia, one of Barcelona’s grandest avenues. Completed in 1912, Casa Milà, or La Pedrera (stone quarry) as it is also known, was designed by Gaudí. In 1984 it was designated a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Referred to as “God’s Architect”, you can’t visit Barcelona without seeing Gaudi’s influence everywhere you go, said the Nomadic Matt travel blog. Other Gaudi attractions include Park Güell, one of the largest green spaces in Barcelona, and Casa Vicens, considered to be his first major project.
Museums and culture
Barclona has long had the reputation of being the “avant-garde capital of Spain”, said Rough Guides. The art museums here are “world-class”, including the “celebrated” Museu Picasso and Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya. Most museums are closed on Mondays, said Sally Davies in The Telegraph. The one “notable exception” is the MACBA contemporary art museum.
The city’s opera house, La Gran Teatre del Liceu, was first built in 1847 and has seen it all: fires, wars, and recessions. Yet it still stands, magnificent and opulent. Adorned with gold leaf, rich red seats, and ornate carvings embellishing every surface, the setting might just be as grand as the performance. It is one of the world’s most spectacular classical opera houses and over the years has continued to fulfil its role as a centre for culture and the arts staging a world-class programme of operas, concerts and dance with its own orchestra and choir.
Located half an hour away from Barcelona is La Roca Shopping Village, a spot to which all serious shoppers flock. You’ll find all the best contemporary brands from Calvin Klein, G Star Raw and Diesel, to Barcelona labels Desigual and Custo Barcelona.
If you’re not looking to travel far, Passeig de Gràcia, one of the city’s main avenues, boasts impressive Modernist buildings and an abundance of international designers (think Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Prada). If you take a left at the top of Passeig de Gràcia, you’ll find many more quality shops along the Diagonal and the top section of Rambla Catalunya, where you can shop for bridal dresses designed to feel like “princess dresses” and various interior design stores.
The 1992 Summer Olympic Games “totally transformed” Barcelona, said Xavier Trias, the former mayor. The city hosts world-class sporting events throughout the year, including sailing, marathons, triathlons, MotoGP, showjumping and the annual Formula 1 Spanish Grand Prix at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya. It’s also home to two football teams that play in Spain’s La Liga – FC Barcelona and RCD Espanyol de Barcelona. Thousands of football fans visit Barça’s Camp Nou stadium for matches and tours every year.
Hotels and accommodation: where to stay
For somewhere plush, you can’t go wrong with El Palace – Barcelona’s original luxury hotel, which was built more than a century ago to complement (and rival) the Ritz in Madrid. After full renovation four years ago, El Palace now presents an elegant blend of classical architecture, cultural heritage and modern Mediterranean cool.
Formerly the 19th-century palace of Palau Vedruna, The Claris Hotel & Spa has clung on to its gorgeous neoclassical façade, despite a remodelling in 1992. The rooftop terrace is a sanctuary of tranquillity raised above the heat and bustle of the city in full summer. It is here that you can cool off in the pool, get a bite to eat at La Terraza del Claris, or simply sip a beer while looking down on the street life.
If you want to be in the heart of Barcelona then look no further than the luxurious five-star Hotel Casa Fuster G.L Monumento. It has a sauna, gym, jazz bar and rooftop chillout bar. If you prefer to be away from the hustle and bustle, Hotel Camiral is a five-star hotel on the doorstep of Barcelona in Girona – the perfect location for outdoor sports enthusiasts, golf-lovers, sun-seekers, culture vultures and foodies alike.
Restaurants, tapas and wine: where to eat and drink
Barcelona is no stranger to fantastic food and drink – it’s home to 19 restaurants which have Michelin stars. Promoting the elite cuisine of Catalonia, the city is a treat for those with a taste for fine dining. If you’re looking for modern Catalan cuisine, ABaC is a three-star Michelin restaurant and generally considered one of Barcelona’s finest. It is elegantly sophisticated and intimate, with a total capacity of just 56.
If light bites are what you need then Barcelona is perfect for a night exploring the famous tapas bars. The choice can be “a little overwhelming”, but the best tapas joints in Barcelona are “as good as you’re going to get”, said Time Out. Casa de Tapes Cañota, Betlem Miscel·lània Gastronòmica, and Xanc i Meli are three of the great tapas bars in the city.
Located on the “bustling” La Rambla, La Boqueria is Barcelona’s best-known market, Time Out added. An attraction in its own right, La Boqueria is the “perfect stop to have a bite to eat while taking in the sites”.
A little further afield the Alta Alella estate stands in the agricultural area of the Serralada de Marina Natural Park, just 20 minutes from Barcelona, and stretches along the Mediterranean coast. The wines it produces are organic and can be found in some of the world’s top restaurants.
Another fantastic vineyard to visit is Familia Torres, located in the Penedès region around 60km west from Barcelona. Here you can sample the goods, take a tour of the cellars and sit down for a wine and tapas pairing.
Transport: how to get there
Josep Tarradellas Barcelona–El Prat Airport is the main international airport and located 15km south west of the city. Two Aerobus services (A1 and A2) operate all year round connecting the airport and the city centre (Place de Catalunya). The R2 North line train departs from T2 and stops at Estació Sants and Passeig de Gràcia in the city, while the L9 Sud Metro line from the airport’s two terminals goes to Zona Universitària. You can change at Torrassa or Collblanc to go downtown.
Metro and public transport
The Metro network has 12 lines on which you can travel with a standard ticket. Costing from €16.40 to €38.20, the Hola Barcelona Travel Card provides unlimited journeys on public transport for consecutive periods of two days (48 hours), three days (72 hours), four days (96 hours) or five days (120 hours) from the time it is first validated.
Barcelona is Europe’s busiest cruise port. In 2019, roughly three million passengers disembarked in the city, said Euronews. After cruise traffic dropped in 2020 and 2021, numbers in 2022 are predicted to “surge again”. There are nine terminals in total at the Barcelona port, seven of these are cruise terminals.
What the locals say…
If you want Spanish food and prefer a “fancy spot” next to Barceloneta Beach, Pez Vela is your place, said Adam Oliveras on Trivago. “I still haven’t found the perfect paella in Barcelona (apart from my mom’s), but totally worth to try a typical paella or other Spanish traditional rice dishes at this restaurant.”
Did you know, it is said that if you drink from the Canaletes fountain on La Rambla, you will return to Barcelona, said Sally Davies in The Telegraph. “Fingers crossed.”