Barcelona has so many faces, enchantment etched into dozens of suburbs and hundreds of attractions along the Mediterranean coast. It’s the city of Gaudi, the cityscape marked by La Sagrada Familia, the aristocratic lanes enhanced by the mansions he designed. It’s also a coastal getaway, with golden beaches and salty sea air and outstanding fish restaurants. In one moment you can be immersed in its Roman side, in the next you’re exploring the regal Catalonian symbol, or a creative and contemporary subculture. Then there’s a fine dining and drinking scene that rivals any in Europe, a collection of old monuments that defy the imagination, and a proud Catalonian heritage that’s been updated for the 21st century.
But most of all, Barcelona is about the atmosphere. Decadent wine bars tucked into the carcasses of Roman buildings, cobbled streets dotted with buskers and artists, cafe terraces basking in the sun, a sense that anything is possible wherever you are in the city. It’s vibrant and bustling, imbued with an energy that is quick to whisk you away. Barcelona can also be tranquil, especially when you ascend the hills to viewpoints and palaces overlooking the blue-green waters of the Med. Such a rare mix of outstanding sights and salubrious ambience makes Barcelona understandably popular, and it is the major tourist destination of Spain. From June to August it is positively heaving, with local and international visitors filling the streets. The other months are quieter and calmer, although you’ll find a lot of life in Barcelona all year around.
The classic visit to Barcelona takes two to three days and incorporates three distinctive parts of the city. The Old Town, centered on the seductive Barri Gothic, is a jigsaw puzzle of quaint lanes and towering monuments – Barcelona Cathedral is the splendid and detailed standout. Most of it is easy to walk, Las Ramblas the most famous of the streets that are lined by glamorous townhouses. Rising inland is Montjuic, grand and imposing yet also a place for some relaxing hours away from the central streets.
The stunning examples of Art Nouveau are mostly found in Eixample, a wealthy inland suburb dotted with works by Antonio Gaudi and Lluis Domenech I Montaner, his teacher. Elegant and elaborate, they became proud symbols of Catalonia, the bizarre chimneys and ceramic tiles and curved lines an unmissable part of the city. After 100 years, Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia is still under contstruction, a fitting endpoint to a tour through the Modernistas – an alternative is Park Guell, with its inspiring views over the city.
It can be tempting to try and see everything. Such an approach could mean spending more than a week, given the quantity of museums, galleries, monuments and neighborhoods. A good guide is essential, helping you navigate both the famous and lesser-known highlights of the city. Accommodation choice is also important, relevant to what you want to see. While there is a lot to see and do, the lesser celebrated appeal of Barcelona is the chance to sit back at one of the fine restaurants or cafe terraces, sample sublime food and drink, while watching the city wander by. And when you’re finished, the airport provides connections to cities all across Spain, along with international routes.
Best time to visit:
May, June, July, August, September