Barcelona: top five things to do

By Kirsty Martin

Title photography by Chaimongkon

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December 2017

Think of Barcelona and rightly, Gaudi’s iconic architecture is probably at the forefront of your mind. But there is so much more to this soulful city, gateway to stunning Catalonia.

1. Must-see sights

Barcelona is, of course, synonymous with Gaudi. The visionary Catalan architect left his unmistakable print all over the city – in the form of the Modernist masterpiece La Sagrada Familia, Casa Mila (La Pedrera), Parc Güell and, the recently opened, Casa Vicens. Of course, no visit to Barcelona is complete without taking a stroll along the buzzing Las Ramblas. Or through the labyrinthine alleyways of the Gothic Quarter. The beautiful hilltop neighbourhood of Montjuïc is well worth the climb, for its awe-inspiring views. And if you’re a football fan, a visit to the impressive FC Barcelona homestead of Camp Nou, is a must.

Where to stay: H10 Marina Barcelona – for easy access to the beaches, as well as hotspots like the Plaza Catalunya and Paseo Gracia. Drink in the city views from the rooftop bar.

When it comes to Spanish cuisine, Catalonia is in the vanguard

2. Sample the famous Catalonian cuisine

When it comes to Spanish cuisine, Catalonia is in the vanguard. The region is renowned for its superlative culinary scene, and you simply can’t visit Barcelona without trying local specialities like delicious calçots (a seasonal dish of chargrilled green onions served with nutty Romesco salsa) and mouth-watering crema Catalana (the Catalan take on crème brûlée). Experience the crème de la crème (pardon the pun) of Catalan cuisine at Carme Ruscalleda’s thrice Michelin star-awarded Restaurant Sant Pau, Sant Pol de Mar. Or for the finest fizz, take the train to the Cava capital of Sant Sadurní d’Anoia.

Where to stay: Mandarin Oriental – for yet more dining to die for, courtesy of celebrated chef Carme Ruscalleda, creator of the menu at the Michelin-starred Moments restaurant.

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  • Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, Montjuïc. Photo credit: VitalyEdush.

    Where the art is

    Explore 1000 years of art at Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya.

    Discover Barcelona

3. Marvel at the Modernists

Peruse over 3000 works by the Cubist master, at the Picasso Museum. While you won’t find any of his most famous pieces here, there are some superb examples of the artist’s earliest work. Another great Spanish experimentalist painter is celebrated at the Fundació Joan Miró – where the Josep Lluís Sert-designed building is as fascinating as the subject himself. Immerse yourself in multimedia modern art at the MACBA Museum of Contemporary Art. Or explore the Surrealist genius of Salvador Dalí, at the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres – just a 50 minute journey from Barcelona by high-speed train.

Where to stay: Hotel España – for its striking Modernist interior design by Lluís Domenech i Montaner, and prime location just five minutes’ walk from Plaza de Cataluña.

  • Michelin-starred Moments, Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Photo credit: Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group Limited.

    Precious Moments

    Experience out-of-this-world dining at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel’s Michelin-starred restaurant.

  • ‘Girl Escaping’ by Joan Miró, Fundació Joan Miró. Photo credit: JOHN KELLERMAN / Alamy Stock Photo.

    Modern masterpieces

    The Fundació Joan Miró celebrates the innovative works of the famed Spanish painter.

  • Admiring ‘Leda Atomica’, at the Dalí Theatre-Museum in Figueres. Photo credit: Andrei Filippov / Alamy Stock Photo.

    The surreal deal

    Lose yourself in the jaw-dropping artistry of Surrealist master, Salvador Dalí, at the Dalí Theatre-Museum.

4. Indulge in some retail therapy

As well as boasting Gaudi’s monumental masterpiece, Casa Batlló, the pretty tree-lined boulevard of Passeig de Gracia has an array of big-brand flagship stores including ZARA. You’ll also find a huge H&M among other top high street names, along the pedestrianized Portal de L’Angel, just off Plaza Catalunya. On the square itself, is Barcelona’s answer to Macy’s – the iconic El Corte Inglés department store. For smaller artisan boutiques, make your way to the Gothic Quarter or chic La Ribera/El Born district. Not to be missed, of course, is the world-renowned Boqueria food market – a feast for all the senses.

Where to stay: El Palace Barcelona – for its prestigious location in the heart of the city, just a stroll away from Passeig de Gracia and Rambla de Catalunya’s abundant shopping options.

  • Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA). Photo credit: Rafael Vargas, 2008.

    Awe-inspiring art

    Modern marvels by the likes of Tàpies, Fontana, Saura and Klee can be found at the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA).

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5. Beyond Barcelona

While you’ll need every minute of Barcelona city breaks to absorb everything this incredible city has to offer, it would be a mistake not to explore the rich offerings of Catalonia on longer holidays in Barcelona. High-speed trains can whizz you to any major city in the region in as little as 30 minutes. Or hire a car to discover the sweeping shores of the Costa Daurada or the hidden coves of Costa Brava. Uncover the ancient treasures of Tarragona and Montblanc. Or sample the celebrated produce of the Penedès wine region and Cava capital, Sant Sadurní d’Anoia.