Offering a heady mix of Catalan culture, history and architecture, Spain's second largest city Barcelona is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe. Marvel at the splendour of the soaring Sagrada Familia and discover the hidden alleys of Las Ramblas, or simply enjoy some of the finest restaurants and nightlife Europe has to offer. Barcelona tourism has taken off since the city hosted the 1992 Olympics and this burgeoning metropolis welcomes millions of visitors to its fabulous beach-hugging cityscape each year. So dust off your phrasebook and book your flights to Barcelona to discover what all the fuss is about.
Visible from almost every vantage point in the city, the majestic Sagrada Familia is local architect Antoni Gaudi's unfinished homage to the city. The monumental structure soars high into the Barcelona skyline and casts a distinctive silhouette synonymous with the city itself. The church dominates the Barri Gotic quarter, which also houses many of the city's remaining examples of medieval architecture. Wandering the city's labyrinthine streets is a must but another of the most popular things to do in Barcelona is soak up the sun on one of the city's famous beaches. The best known is the beach at fashionable Barceloneta – regularly voted one of Europe's best.
Catalan cuisine is making a comeback and the city boasts countless restaurants and bars. Many of the best restaurants in Barcelona are located in the Ciutat Vella or 'old city' district, although the restaurants around the tourist-oriented Placa de Catalunya are expensive and not particularly authentic. Paella is a popular local dish and many of the best exponents are located in the trendy beachside quarter of Barceloneta. Equally renowned for its nightlife, Barcelona is home to hundreds of clubs and bars. Many of the best are based outside the city centre in the nearby districts of Eixample and Gracia, where locals knock back beers and sip cocktails in the ambient surrounds of dimly-lit neighbourhood bars.
Where to Stay
As one of the most visited cities in Europe, Barcelona hotels are both high in number and quality. Most visitors choose to stay near bustling Las Ramblas and the popular Casa Camper is a favourite for its convenient location and personal service. Slightly further afield in Gracia is the 5-star Hotel Alma, renowned for its elegant decor and luxury finishing touches. If you're keen to stay near the beach then W Barcelona in Barceloneta is as good as it gets, although nearby Hotel 54 is a cheaper alternative. Another attractive budget option is the Barcelona Central Garden in Eixample – just a stone's throw from the Placa de Catalunya and many of Barcelona's top attractions.
The Passeig de Gracia is Barcelona's most famous shopping street and the first place to head if you're looking for luxury outlets and expensive brand names. The pedestrian Portal de l'Angel in the city centre offers a cheaper version of Barcelona shopping and houses an impressively large branch of El Corte Ingles department store. Don't be afraid to explore grungy El Raval for retro fashions and vintage clothes, not least because the city's famous La Boqueria produce market is located nearby. For a unique souvenir save your room in your suitcase for a porron – a curiously shaped wine pitcher unique to Catalonia.
Barcelona like a Local
Barcelona weather is not only a good reason to visit the city but also to enjoy its fabulous outdoor activities. Many locals make regular trips to to Montjuic, the small wooded mountain overlooking the city. Take the Funicular de Montjuic and a gondola to the top of the mountain to enjoy alfresco dining amid spectacular views over the city. Nearby is Barcelona's Olympic Stadium, which hosted the 1992 Games, and the striking Montjuic Communications Tower – designed to resemble an athlete holding the Olympic torch. A number of scenic gardens line Montjuic's green slopes making it a calm oasis in the middle of a bustling city.