Where Gothic, glamorous and globular sit side by side, Gaudí’s signature city is a paradise for foodies and art lovers.
Oscar-winning actor Javier Bardem once said that visitors to the Catalan capital would “freak out over the beauty of it”. He’s right. Barcelona is home to Roman remains, winding historic streets in the Gothic Quarter, street entertainers and traders bringing hustle and bustle to Las Ramblas, elegant tree-lined shopping districts, and awe-inspiring works by the master of Modernism, Antoni Gaudí. Located on the northeast coast of Spain, Barcelona effortlessly balances classic and contemporary, and is firmly cosmopolitan. No wonder it’s one of the Mediterranean’s most popular ports.
Cruise ships dock in Barcelona’s Moll Adossat Cruise Terminal – which is a convenient shuttle bus or 5 minute taxi ride from Barcelona’s famous La Rambla.
What to see and do
Art and architecture are the big draws to Barcelona. Two of the greatest artists are paid tribute to at the Museu Picasso (museupicasso.bcn.es) and Fundació Joan Miró (fundaciomiro-bcn.org), and you could easily spend a day exploring the work of the city’s adopted son Antoni Gaudí (1852-1926). The Catalan artist left an incredible legacy here, from the shimmering mosaic mass that is Casa Batlló (casabatllo.es) to La Pedrera (lapedreraeducacio.org), with what look like Star Wars Stormtroopers gazing down from the rooftop.
Soak up some Spanish sun at Parc Güell – originally commissioned as an aristocratic city garden – where Gaudí’s lizard and mosaic pieces mingle with the lush foliage. And don’t miss his swansong, the Sagrada Família (sagradafamilia.cat), started in 1882 and still under construction (expected completion 2026). Once finished, the church will boast 18 towers, as per the artist’s original plan. In the meantime you can take the lift up one of the current eight towers for breathtaking views (but beware: those with no head for heights should steer clear).
Gothic masterpiece and a source of inspiration for Gaudí, Santa Maria del Mar is another not-to-be missed religious building in the city’s Ribera district. For worship of a different kind, head to Palau de la Música Catalana (palaumusica.org) where world-class music is put centre stage, or FC Barcelona (fcbarcelona.com) where fans from around the world come to see footballing greats such as Lionel Messi play the beautiful game. Limited on time? Book a Fat Tyre Bike Tour (fattirebiketours.com/barcelona), a four-hour tour suitable for all ages and abilities with an English-speaking guide. If you’re staying two days or more, purchase the Barcelona City Card (barcelonacard.com). For €27 you’ll receive two days unlimited free transport in the city and discounts at top attractions, shops and restaurants.
Where to eat
If you’re on a budget, head to Europe’s largest food market, La Boqueria (boqueria.info), and pick up supplies for a picnic; or fight for a table at in-house eaterie El Quim de la Boqueria (elquimdelaboqueria.cat). Meat eaters are certainly well catered for here – try Bacoa, just behind Santa Caterina market, for the best gourmet burgers; or reserve a table on the terrace overlooking the ocean at Agua (grupotragaluz.com) for some great seafood.
Locals don’t bother with dinner before 9pm, so if your stomach is grumbling, start off with some tapas. Bar Velódromo and La Botiga are particularly good. Critics and foodies alike are currently raving about Alkimia (alkimia.cat), where Michelin-starred chef Jordi Vilà puts his own spin on traditional Spanish dishes. In a similar vein, Michelin-starred Cinc Sentits (cincsentits.com) is well worth a visit – the duck magret with apple and Catalan cheeses are superb. Moo (hotelomm.es), located in the hip Hotel Omm, is frequented by the fash pack after a taste of the food overseen by the triple-Michelin-starred Roca brothers.
Finally, what is dinner without dessert? Get to Gelaaati! (gelaaati.com) for the best ice-cream you’ll find in Barcelona.
Where to drink
Choosing just one or two of Barcelona’s best bars is hard. Currently the place to be seen is the Lobby Lounge and Bar (hotelomm.es) at Hotel Omm, but cosy and colourful Ginger (ginger.cat) is equally good for cocktails. Try a glass of sparkling red La Pamelita, produced by Pam, one of the owners. Perhaps one of the most atmospheric places to stop for a drink is Boadas, opened in 1933 by Miguel Boadas (the first barman at Havana hotspot El Floridita). Past clientele includes George Orwell and Joan Miró, and today you should dress to impress.
Late-night bars are par for the course in Barcelona. Two of the best are Switch, where cheap drinks are accompanied by electronic beats, and Barcelona Pipa Club (bpipaclub.com). At the latter, ring the bell to gain admittance, and don’t be put off by the ‘old-fashioned’ interior, this is definitely home to a young crowd.
Where to stay
Barcelona has a bed for every budget. Keep costs down with chain hotel NH Numancia (nh-hotels.com, from €59) or enjoy trendy without the high price tag at the new four-star Barceló Raval (barceloraval.com, from €100) with its super-modern interior, fantastic roof terrace and cocktail lounge designed by Jordi Gali. Or you could stay in ultimate style at the legendary Hotel Arts (hotelartsbarcelona.com, from €390), which combines luxurious accommodation with unrivalled views over the Mediterranean Sea, or at hip boutique Hotel Omm (hotelomm.es, from €225) in the elegant Eixample district.
Where to shop
Each district in Barcelona brings a different shopping experience. Yes, you can head to the Eixample district (particularly along Passeig de Gràcia and Avda Diagonal) for high-end designers such as Gucci, Armani and Versace, and high-street names such as Zara and Mango on pedestrian Portal de l’Angel. However, the beauty of Barcelona is its specialist shops.
For fashion you won’t see on anyone else, hotfoot it over to the Raval (stop in at Le Swing) and the Born, famed for showcasing the work of up-and-coming designers. Born also boasts some fine food shops, and on Rambla de Catalunya you’ll find favourite foodie spot Colmado Quílez.
Generally it’s best to stay clear of shops on Las Ramblas (the main thoroughfare in Barcelona) as here, and in the Gothic Quarter, shops tend to be full of uninspiring souvenirs. If you must visit a department store, El Corte Inglés on Plaça Catalunya is the only one in the city, or you can get the metro to Poblenou where you’ll find two large shopping malls.