Barcelona Travel Guide
With a storied history dating back to Roman times, Barcelona enchants visitors with her sultry Mediterranean beauty; from boldly distinctive architecture, world-class cuisine and trendsetting vermouth revival to a diverse culture playground bursting with museums, live performances and endless possibilities, the Queen of Catalonia delivers a bountiful adventure.
Ever the trailblazer, this lovely lady offers travellers their every whim, whenever the mood strikes. Wondering what to do in Barcelona? There is something here for everyone. Whether your sensibilities gravitate towards scouring for treasures in open-air markets, traditional tapas eateries and historic stays in the Gothic Quarter or your tastes are more in-line with upscale dining in the fashionable Eixample district, seaside clubbing in Vila Olimpica and the ultra-modern designer digs of Barça’s rapidly emerging 22@ district, this enchanting city has got you covered.
The best hotels in Barcelona
Guests who enjoy a dollop of vintage with their morning coffee will feel right at home at the recently inaugurated Cotton House. Housed in the former hub of a cotton textile company, a mere five minutes from the tony avenue Passeig de Gracia, this meticulously restored 19th-century edifice more closely resembles a discreet colonial gentleman’s club than a 5-star hotel. Guests arrive to an elegant reception made of dark woods, speckled with brown, black and gold hues, oversized lamps and pristine white furnishings over checkered marble floors. Sensational details abound; a relaxing wicker terrace positively teeming with plant life, a dramatic spiral staircase and a regal library featuring plush turquoise seating — the perfect setting for an afternoon tea break or evening nightcap.
Understated sophistication best describes the décor of The Serras, Barcelona’s newest boutique lodging by the sea. Featuring just 30 luminous rooms, the vibe is intimate and decidedly urban; hardwood floors, symmetrical-patterned wallpaper and neutral-toned furnishings are the dominant characteristics, with occasional splashes of colour for good measure. As to be expected from a 5-star, public spaces look impeccably inviting; from the tree-lined rooftop bar to the plush seating area of the Le Nine mezzanine bar and smart-yet-casual Michelin-star dining at the aptly named Informal restaurant.
Free-spirited, eco-conscious gents might prefer a stay at the whimsical Casa Camper located in the heart of the edgy, multi-cultural Raval district. What the minimalist, albeit comfy rooms, lack in pizzazz is quickly made up by an attentive staff and a 24-hour buffet service for all guests, which substitutes the standard mini-bar. But don’t be fooled by its stark appearance, this quirky space (read: bikes perched on ceilings and unexpected vertical gardens) recently introduced a play room complete with board games, billiards and jazz nights to liven up those heady moments of lounge and linger.
Where to eat in Barcelona
Creative and sinfully flavourful, Catalan cuisine consistently ranks among the best in the culinary world. Arguably, the secret is in the genius combination of fresh regional ingredients with just the right alchemy of tradition, innovation and international influences. But as if that weren’t enough, Barcelona reigns scandalously close to two reputable wine regions; Penedes and Priorat, producing award-wining cava (Catalonia’s bold answer to champagne) and full-bodied reds, respectively. And let’s not get started on lively cocktail culture overtaking various parts of the city.
Truth be told, there is no lack of global dining options in cosmo-centric Barcelona. The trick to finding exceptional gourmet experiences is to venture far from the beaten path. The adventurous are oft times rewarded with upscale joints serving the latest molecular morsels, often found next door to cosy mama y papa eateries in quaint locals-only neighbourhoods.
Notable out-of-the-wayers include, Uma, whose tiny and tidy kitchen invites unsuspecting diners on a gastronomic journey far beyond its perceivable means, leads the pack in the latest wave of “at home” style eateries. And in that same vein, Spoonik recently inaugurated their own high-end kitchen after the two Michelin-trained chefs triumphed with an elaborate 19-course sensory menu at a uniquely-decorated secret residence in bohemian Gracia. And if home is truly where the heart is, then Santa Rita is the culinary experience for you. In a setting resembling mum’s well-toiled dining nook, guests can choose between enjoying an exceptional Mediterranean meal or cooking one.
A must for wine aficionados, stylish Monvinic boasts over 3,500 international wines on offer via tablet. Dry Martini salutes the classic British martini bar (here, the namesake cocktail is served to perfection) right down to the brass and wood fixtures and dapper barmen attired in white coat and tie. The reigning spirit du jour, vermouth, has defiantly overcome its traditional Sunday afternoon routine rut and is experiencing an impressive resurgence as a headliner in contempo venues like Casa Martino.
The delightfully colourful Boqueria Market is a must for visiting foodies, but for delectable local fare ranging from chocolates to delicatessen bites and olive oils away from the masses, you’ll fare much better at the lesser known Santa Caterina Market or upmarket shops such as Andreu and Chök the Chocolate Kitchen.
Coffee lovers rejoice! Barcelona is quickly becoming a hot spot for café-connoisseurs. Old school in look and philosophy, Cafés el Magnifico sources top-quality coffee beans for their resto clients, but saves the very best blends for their own intimate space. Onna Café, by contrast, features a minimalist décor, top-notch service and premium coffee served with fresh, homemade treats. Caelum offers the perfect marriage of classic kava and delectable pastries – lovingly created by dedicated monks and nuns.
Things to do in Barcelona
If you’re looking for Barcelona points of interest, rest assured: this city is a virtual open-air museum. Hidden medieval corners, decorative street art and bizarrely beautiful buildings showcase cultural, architectural and artistic diversity at every turn.
Done Gaudi-ing? All Picasso-ed out? No worries, there’s plenty more to see. The Fundacio Joan Miro, for one, offers cutting-edge modern art in a welcoming space of open courtyard and terraces. The newly-opened Museu del Disseny features a sizable collection of graphic and decorative art pieces through the ages. Frederic Marès was a 20th-century sculptor and avid collector of peculiar art. Today, his acquisitions are generously displayed at his namesake museum, complimented by prized works of his own making.
Shopping in Barcelona
A break from the ordinary will revolutionise your shopping experience; forgo all international name brands and chain stores and opt instead for bespoke and well-made classics. Nino Alvarez offers custom-tailored fashions; the Outpost and Bow-Tie are all about accessorising distinguished gentlemen with a penchant for mischief, while Uniqbrow makes exclusive, made-to-measure eye frames. Home design shops run the full gamut, from the urban-hip gallery Amato Sole, the vintage-charm of Polaroid shop and gallery Impossible, and ultra-modern Pilma. On a time-crunch? Then venture to the posh-centric La Comercial concept store (situated in the beautiful Born district) for high-end fashions, accessories, fragrances and home design.
In Barcelona, the law of the land dictates a night time be dedicated social hobnobbing, every night of the week. Evenings usually begin with a cocktail (or three) followed by tapas or a full-on meal before the party (read: dance clubs) really begins. Fortunately for some, venues like the flamboyant Ocaña are a one-stop destination allowing patrons to experience a full night out, with the added bonus of a quick getaway for a decent night’s sleep. Swank cocktail bars can also provide low-key entertainment. Two venues of note include the Mandarin Oriental’s ritzy Banker’s Bar or James Bond inspired Solange Cocktails & Luxury Spirits. If live music is your thing, black-tie is often the norm at the opulent 19th century Liceu Opera house. For a more up-close-and-personal experience, cool cat Harlem Jazz Club or cabaret-style Milano Cocktail Bar seldom disappoint.
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Outpost | Photo: Joseph Piella
Chök | Photo: Mireia Rodríguez
Ocaña | Photo: Luca Tronci
Ocaña | Photo: Eugeni Pons
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