The second largest metropolitan area in Spain and capital of the autonomous Catalonia region, this city on the beach attracts over 32 million visitors per year, making it one of the most popular destinations in the world for an urban break.
Barcelona’s rich and colourful history spans over 2000 years and is reflected in the diverse architecture throughout the city. Remnants of the original Roman village settlement can be found within the intriguing and maze-like Gothic Quarter, where surprises await around every corner. From peaceful sun-dappled squares, past a selection of boutique chocolatiers tucked away down narrow lanes, to the imposing La Seu Cathedral, unlikely home to a family of geese.
Almost every new visitor heads straight to La Rambla Boulevard, the main artery of the city bustling with locals and tourists almost 24 hours a day. Linking stylish Plaza de Catalunya, central point of the city, with the harbour and sea front, La Rambla is 1.2 kilometres long and lined with souvenir stalls, restaurants, bars and street artists. This lively avenue is also the home of the famous La Boqueria food market. The grand iron work entrance leads the curious traveller into a veritable riot of colour, sound and aromas as dozens of stall-holders promote their wares, from freshly squeezed fruit juices, to locally caught seafood or whole legs of cured ham.
Home to some of the most unique and well-known architecture in the world, much of it the work of celebrated Modernist Antoni Gaudi, it pays to keep your head up and eyes open whilst exploring Barcelona. The most striking example is the world-famous Sagrada Familia, or ‘un-finished cathedral’. Started in 1882, the spectacular and intricate construction is due to be finished around 2026, 100 years after the tragic death of the designer.
Overflowing as it is with beautiful buildings, larger than life sculptures and attractive public spaces, Barcelona can feel like walking around one big open air art gallery, but set aside all the aesthetics for a moment and a living, breathing, highly populated city lies beneath. With 1.6 million people making the greater metropolitan area their home, the shopping and nightlife options are varied and plentiful.
Discerning shoppers head for Passeig de Gracia and Avenue Diagonal where Spanish high street favourites such as Pull & Bear, Zara and Mango sit comfortably shoulder to shoulder with luxury international names such as Dolce & Gabbana, Chanel and Rolex. For one-of-a-kind purchases the Gothic Quarter and El Raval area, left and right of La Rambla respectively, are home to exclusive boutiques, vintage shops and local designers.
After dark the city transforms into something altogether sexier. Rooftop bars like that at the Hotel 1898 serve tapas and cocktails with seductive sunset views, whilst the beach front nightclubs such as Opium, Pacha and Shoko offer world-class DJs and a beautiful crowd that spill out onto the sand until the early hours. Locals eat late, so venturing out between 9 and 10pm promises the best atmosphere, whether sitting up at the bar nibbling Pintxo (A smaller version of Tapas, originating in the Basque region and popular all over Catalonia) with a cold drink, or a more formal affair at one of Barcelona’s 24 Michelin starred restaurants.
Whatever the motivation for a short break; retail therapy, art and culture, laying back on the beach or spending a few days holed up in a romantic spa hotel, it can all be found in this most diverse and exciting of cities.