Months of uninterrupted sunshine, unbeatable drinking and dining, a patchwork of spectacular architecture and bountiful opportunities for a dip in the Med make the glittering Catalan capital a city like no other.
Make sure you arrive well rested and hungry: tapas is as important here as its famous football club, and you’re likely to be gorging in cosy bars throughout the day and into the early hours of the morning.
Vibrant: A map showing Barcelona’s major tourist hotspots
Where to stay
The fruit-tree-topped terrace bar overlooking Ciutadella Park is the star of this vibrant, 301-room hotel, which also features an expansive outdoor patio and trendy lobby lounge. The rooms are small (ask for one with park views), but for its excellent location, comfortable beds and exceptionally friendly staff, it’s a safe bet.
Doubles from £70, breakfast buffet £8.50 pp (motel-one.com)
Tucked down a quiet side-street, just off the buzzing Placa de Catalunya, Hotel Denit offers an oasis away from the urban hubbub. The Scandi-themed (and sound-proofed) rooms are simple, but functional, and clean. The buffet breakfast is limited, so instead, head to one of the many local bakeries just steps away.
Doubles from £68, book online for free breakfast (denit.com)
In the centre of Barcelona’s famous modernist district, with some of the most visited sites on its doorstep, this boutique hotel serves as an excellent base for a jam-packed weekend of exploring. Ask for one of its two-tone, minimalist rooms at the back for views of the intricate chimney stacks of Gaudi’s famous Casa Batllo.
Doubles from £70 (prices fluctuate), breakfast free the first morning, then £8.50 pp (hotelactual.com)
Where to eat
Bar del Pla
So popular you’ll probably have to queue, Bar del Pla is a small, traditional bar in the Gothic Quarter serving excellent tapas to hungry customers who perch on bar stools and wooden chairs.
Don’t come here to have a relaxing, romantic meal — it’s lively, perpetually crammed, informal and atmospheric with fantastic service — exactly what a tapas bar should be. Olives are served with the house wine and the dishes include squid-ink croquettes (£1.80) and crispy oxtail with foie gras (£10).
Address: Carrer de Montcada, 2, 08003 (bardelpla.cat)
Watch Catalan chefs sweating it out in the kitchen while you’re squeezed in at the bar or on one of the tables for two lining the wall. Local wine (£3) is served with delicious Iberian ham croquettes (£2), marinated mackerel salad (£7) and some of the best patatas bravas (fried potatoes with aioli and spicy tomato sauce, £4) the city has to offer. Book a table at thefork.com to avoid queuing.
Carrer de Montcada, 29, 08003 (tapeoborn.cat)
Situated in Barceloneta, the fishing district, seafood makes up the majority of dishes here. Sample the famous seafood bomba (fried potato ball, £2), battered squid curls topped with a fried egg (£6) and salted tuna carpaccio (£6.50).
Carrer de Ginebra, 9 y 13, 08003 (barjaica.com)
Ecological, local, socially conscious eating is the name of the game at GatBlau, which has a dish of the day for those interested in reducing their footprint even more (when we visit, it’s courgette stuffed with beans). Its set menu (£12.30) includes pasta with red pesto, fish soup with potatoes and hazelnut mousse.
Carrer del Comte Borrell, 122, 08015 (gatblaurestaurant.com)
Things to see and do
Go for a siesta at Ciutadella Park
Arch of Triumph in Ciutadella Park, above, is an ‘oasis in the centre of the city’
An oasis in the centre of the city, Ciutadella Park’s 44 acres include flower-lined paths, a boating lake and a fountain. Take a stroll, then relax in a shaded spot to watch couples perfecting their salsa and locals walking their dogs.
Feast at La Boqueria
You can’t leave Barcelona without a trip to La Boqueria, where bars groaning with local delicacies sit alongside market traders (some are ninth generation) hanging giant legs of salty, cured Iberian ham and persuading tourists to buy, rather than just photograph, their rainbow-coloured fruit (above).
Head straight to the back and plonk yourself on a stool at Bar Boqueria to sip on cava with locals (£3) and gorge on salty fried octopus (£6).
Gawk at Casa Batllo
One of Gaudi’s masterpieces, Casa Batllo’s balconies were made to look like masks, while the pink and teal tiled roof imitates the scales on a dragon’s back (above right).
If you want to explore the impressive interior — a vortex of curving walls and irregularly sculpted oval windows — buy your tickets online to beat the queues (casabatllo.es/en) but, be warned, entry isn’t cheap (adults, £22.30; children aged seven to 18, £19.60; includes audio guide).
Wander along Las Ramblas
Explore: Stroll along Las Ramblas, pictured above, which is the ‘beating heart of the city’
Minutes from La Boqueria, this tree-lined boulevard is the beating heart of the city. It’s an easy walk (1.2 km) from the Placa de Catalunya to the Columbus monuments.
Go early to avoid the crowds and grab a coffee and xuixo (a deep-fried pastry filled with Catalan cream) from one of the many bakeries on the pretty side streets.
How to get there
EasyJet (easyjet.com) flies from London from £92 return. More details at barcelonaturisme.com