The Best of Barcelona
Madrid's quirky, cool sister has striking architecture, authentic tapas bars and a laid-back Mediterranean vibe. Emily Kolars shows us the best of the Catalonian capital.
Tour the landmarks
There’s no better way to get to know Barcelona than on foot, or better yet, by bike (you can rent one at Green Bikes Barcelona). From the touristy pedestrian boulevard La Rambla, head north to see two of architect Antoni Gaudi's Modernist landmarks: Casa Balltó a blue and green tiled masterpiece and the curvaceous Casa Milà (La Pedrera). Then make your way to Park Güell, a hilltop park also built by Gaudi in the early 20th century. JS tip: Go at sundown to see the monuments bathed in a spectacular glow. Montjuïc, home to Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya and host of the 1992 Summer Olympics, is a famous peak with views that rival Park Güell.
Hit the museums
Once you've taken in Gaudi's best works, it's time to hit the city's art museums. The recently opened Museu Picasso is home to one of the largest collections of the artist's work with exhibits stretching across five adjoining palaces. Be sure to check out the frieze ⎯ Picasso originally sketched out the mural on a napkin ⎯ on top of the Collegi d'Arquitectes building in Plaça de la Seu (across from the Barcelona Cathedral). If you're a surrealist fan, don't miss Fundació Joan Miró, one of the largest museums in the world, then stop by the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya to learn the story of Catalunya from the Romanesque period to the 20th century.
Sample authentic eats
Right off La Rambla you’ll find one of the finest food markets around: Mercat de la Boqueria. Wander through the maze of outdoor food stalls, which sell charcuterie, rows of red, yellow and green peppers, candied caramel, and every combination of fresh fruit juice imaginable (think coconut kiwi, guava and watermelon). Nearby, Quimet & Quimet serves ridiculously good tapas like foie gras topped with volcanic black salt and pig's cheek with piquillo pepper, along with a standout salmon, Greek yogurt and truffle honey montadito (open-face sandwich). For dinner, book a table at the just opened El Informal, where chef Marc Gascons whips up a barbecue-inspired menu of mouthwatering tataki steak and rosemary rack of lamb. Or, if you're into a more laid-back scene, head to the terrace at Bar Calders (named after Barcelona born writer Pere Calders) to sip beer and wine, or what it's best known for: vermouth.
Go to church
A visit to Barcelona isn't complete without spending a day at La Sagrada Familia. Although he's no longer alive to see it completed, Gaudi's most elaborate work has entered its final stage of construction. The exterior is split into three facades that depict both the life (Nativity facade) and death (Passion facade) of Jesus Christ. A stone's throw away from La Sagrada Familia, there's La Catedral (Barcelona Cathedral) and Santa Maria del Pi, a great place to catch a classical concert. If you're adventurous enough to climb the cathedral's dark, tight winding staircase, you can see engravings left from former bell ringers at the top of the tower.
Pick up Catalan wares
There's no shortage of cool one-off boutiques in Barcelona selling homegrown threads and accessories. For edgy graphic bags and backpacks, check out Pinzat. If you're in the market for gorgeous handcrafted jewelry, there's Koetania, and Ivori is the place to pick up vintage styles by local Catalan designers. Or, spend a day browsing the high-end boutiques along Carrer Avinyo in the Gothic Quarter. We recommend investing in a pair of handmade espadrilles from La Manual Alpargatera and a trendy ensemble from street-fashion store Soda, which turns into a dance bar once night falls.
See some architecture
Barcelona is a city of layers, and while most travelers know the popular modernist style of Gaudí, there are other architectural marvels worth exploring. Head to the Barri Gòtic (the Gothic Quarter) and wander the narrow cobblestone alleys, where you'll find Roman tombs and historic Middle Age monuments like the Barcelona Cathedral. The barrio is also home to hundreds of one-off boutiques and cafes. Caelum, a cozy bakery built upon medieval Jewish baths (the seating area used to be one!), serves drinks and desserts made by nuns from across the country. Order a glass of the peppered hot wine and a slice of lemon-almond cake.
Chill at the beach
Even if the water’s too cold for a swim, the city's sceney Barceloneta beach is a must. Go for lunch at the waterfront Santa Marta, which serves melt-in-your-mouth daily specials like cod mantecato, then stroll along the sand to the waterfront W Hotel. On the 26th floor, Eclipse lounge is a glam, Bond-style bar with octagonal tables, flashy gold sofas and killer views of the city and ocean.
Dance until morning
This city knows how to party. Start at Dry Martini for creative cocktails in a hip lounge done up with honey wood walls and turquoise leather booths. Then head to Sala Razzmatazz, in the El Parc i la Llacuna del Poblenou neighborhood; the club hosts a different DJ in each of its five rooms. Or get your dance on at Sala Apolo's nightly themed parties (rock n' roll Mondays, reggae Wednesdays and electronic Friday/Saturdays).
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