From the cool Gothic Quarter to the splendour of Gaudi’s masterpieces and its vibrant beaches, Barcelona is a never-ending feast for the senses, says Liz Jarvis
Barcelona is the kind of city where you can wander aimlessly and always stumble across something quite extraordinary, from historical squares to modern art sculptures, colourful graffiti and churches. While a stroll along Las Ramblas is a must, take a detour from the main thoroughfare and you’ll quickly find yourself in a maze of narrow streets strung with washing and shady squares lined with tapas bars. The beauty of Barcelona is that everything is within an easy shuttle bus or taxi ride from Moll Adossat Cruise Terminal – or if you’re feeling energetic, you can stroll along to the harbour and the Christopher Columbus monument, where at weekends you’ll find a charming flea market.
Antoni Gaudí’s unfinished basilica, La Sagrada Família, is arguably one of the greatest buildings in the world; while you can get a lasting impression from the outside, it’s definitely worth taking a look at the intricate detailing inside, too, including the columns designed to look like trees and branches. Construction began in 1882 and it’s anticipated that it will be finished in 2026. Gaudí’s other legacy to his beloved city is the fabulous Park Güell, a glorious park of colourful mosaics, tropical plants and breathtaking vistas – on a clear day you can see right across the city. With its location on the north-east coast of Spain, Barcelona’s beaches are a major attraction, of course. Barcelonata is by far the most popular, although be prepared – an umbrella and sunbed will set you back around 10 euros. It does have the advantage of some fabulous tapas bars where you can eat lunch al fresco. For a different view of the city, take the cable car. Football fans will probably want to see Camp Nou, the home of FC Barcelona and some of the world’s best players. Slightly on the outskirts but still worth a visit is the Design Museum, where you can see fashion creations from Spanish legends, including Balenciaga.
What to eat
A new trend in Barcelona is the rise in pintxos or pincho bars – a bit like tapas, but they’re moreish bite-sized snacks on sticks. Try Telerific on Plaça del Dr Letamendi for extremely good ones. Llamber (llamberbarcelona.com) celebrates seasonal ingredients from the Catalunyan mountains to the sea, as well as national produce, and offers tapas with a contemporary twist, including carpaccio of salmon with citrus and ginger ice cream to succulent meats and cheeses. There are lots of tapas bars to choose from along the beachfront, particularly in Barcelonata; Barraca (on Passeig Maritim) serves up fresh fish, shellfish and paella, washed down with a glass of organic wine or Cava.
The shops in the Las Ramblas area tend to be quite touristy, but it’s still worth exploring – particularly on a Sunday morning when it’s not so crowded and the market is setting up. If you want to visit a department store, then El Corte Inglés on Plaza de Catalunya is the only one in the city, or you can get the metro to Poblenou where you’ll find two large shopping malls. Hip shoe brand Camper is actually Spanish – you can find their shop near the Museum of Contemporary Art; or if you fancy window-shopping for a pair of heels by Spanish designer Manolo Blahnik, head for the Exiample district and the Passeig de Gràcia.
The hop-on-hop-off Barcelona ‘bus turistic’ will cost you 27 euros for the day or 38 euros for a two-day pass, available from barcelonaturisme.com. It’s open top, which means you can soak up the sun while exploring the main attractions. There are three different routes that are interconnected, it is super easy to navigate and comes with an audio narrative. The pass also offers you discounts into most of the tourist attractions. Alternatively, the metro is a quicker way to get to places off the beaten track and bike hire costs from six euros for the day.
Where to stay
With its cool, contemporary interiors and relaxed ambience, the Hotel Pulitzer, located just off Las Ramblas and Plaça de Catalunya, is perfectly situated for strolling to the bars and restaurants of the city centre. Superior rooms, designed by Lázaro Rosa-Violán, are spacious and light, with traditional balconies that make the ideal spot for people-watching, super-comfy beds with Egyptian cotton sheets, free wifi, flatscreen TVs, bathrobes and slippers and elegant grey and black marble bathrooms. The lobby bar offers a stunning space for afternoon tea or a glass of Cava, and has an excellent cocktail menu; there’s also a delightful sunny spot for breakfast. In the evening, take the elevator up to the beautiful Balinese-inspired roof terrace for an al fresco pre-dinner cocktail surrounded by tropical plants and a superb view of the city (we recommend the Cocktail Pulitzer, a Cosmo with a twist). Rooms cost from 140 euros per room per night, based on two people sharing on a B&B basis. To book go to chiccollection.com or call 0203 735 5033.