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Paco Meralgo, Spain
Barcelona 08036, Spain
Tel: 34 93 430 9027
This upscale tapas barphonetically the name becomes "pa' comer algo," loosely translated as "to grab a bite"serves up hearty dishes such as lentil stew with chorizo, pot roast with mushrooms, and fried artichoke slivers. The decor is chic, with slate-gray walls and leather bar stools, and the obligatory small chalkboard announcing the daily specials. The atmosphere is as laid-back as a neighborhood watering hole, with bantering waiters and friendly regulars. Come early (one-ish for lunch, eight-ish for dinner) to avoid a wait in line.
Barcelona 08021, Spain
Tel: 34 93 241 3233
An outsider on the city's circuit of avant-garde eateries, Hisop received its first Michelin star in 2011, putting it in the same rank as top dining destinations Comerç 24 and Gaig. The good news is, it's decidedly lower-key, and same-day bookings can be made (even for the lunch menu, which is much better value, too). Hisop is small (only 12 tables), with white walls, minimalist table settings, and a service area tucked behind a modular claret-colored wall. The black-uniformed, all-female waitstaff is personable and relaxed, and the short menu easy to navigate. Chef Oriol Ivern creates new Catalan cuisine with notable flair, with dishes such as grilled cod on parsnip and vanilla mash, and foie with "After Eight" sauce (as in chocolate and mint). Coffee is served with a handful of chocolate-coated black olives—surprisingly addictive.—Suzanne Wales
Open Mondays through Fridays 1:30 to 3:30 pm and 9 to 11 pm, Saturdays 9 to 11 pm.
Oriol Balaguer, Spain
Barcelona 08021 , Spain
Tel: 34 93 201 1846
Barcelona is awash in specialist chocolate shops, bijou establishments where presentation and unexpected flavors are as important as the purity of the cacao. But for something unique in the world of haute chocolate, make your way to Oriol Balaguer in a well-heeled barri above the Avinguda Diagonal. Balaguer is the son of a pastry maker and worked for seven years in the kitchen of Ferran Adrià, infusing flavors such as star anise and saffron into labored, multilayered bonbons wrapped in stylish, minimalist packaging. Like his mentor, Balaguer has elevated his culinary craft to an art form. His tiny matte-black-and-white corner establishment has the feel of a fine jewelry shop, with cakes and sweets displayed in linear glass cabinets that are backlit in dramatic violet and surrounded by a cloud of dry ice. Be sure to ask about Balaguer's "Concept Cake"—he creates a different one every month.
Open Mondays through Saturdays 10 am to 2:30 pm and 5 to 9 pm, Sundays 10 am to 2:30 pm.
Mercat de Santa Caterina, Spain
Barcelona 08003, Spain
Tel: 34 93 319 5740
Barcelona's most famous market, the Boqueria, now has some competition from the Mercat de Santa Caterina in El Born. Enric Miralles' multicolored, wave-roofed creation opened for business in 2005. Lit by shafts of light that flood through the pine rafters, it seems uncommonly spacious for a market, with tapas bars arranged around the outside. Be sure to stop by the city's first specialty oil shop, Olisoliva, which offers more than 100 different types of Spanish extra-virgin olive oils along with gourmet vinegars and salts (34-93-268-14-72; www.olisoliva.com). Visitors are encouraged to try before they buy.
Barcelona 08028, Spain
Tel: 34 93 363 4445
The mother of all wine shops in Spainif not all of Europestocks a heady 4,000 or so labels in its 8,600-square-foot Eixample Esquerra shop. The decor is on a par with any of the flagship emporiums on the Passeig de Gràcia, and it's staffed by expert oenologists and sommeliers. Professional buyers come here to explore and learn, and there are formal courses and tastings for more casual enthusiasts. Lavinia can also help make arrangements to ship your haul home.
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Museu Marítim, Spain
Barcelona 08001, Spain
Tel: 34 93 342 9920
In the 13th century, Catalonia was a powerhouse at sea, and many of the kingdom's ships were built in the mammoth Drassanes (Royal Shipyards) in Barcelona. The city's greatest medieval civic structure, the long-lined, elegant Drassanes now houses the Maritime Museum, a fascinating, kid-friendly place that explores Catalonia's seafaring history through reconstructions of ships and fishing boats and interactive exhibits. The museum also has a seaside annex out by the port, which includes a three-masted schooner from 1918; you're free to roam. Currently these are the only parts of the museum that can be visited, until a renovation of the main building is completed by the end of 2012.—Updated by Suzanne Wales
Opening times vary until renovation work is completed; call ahead.
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Museu del Modernisme Català, Spain
Barcelona 08007, Spain
Tel: 34 93 272 2896
Without doubt, Barcelona's Modernista heritage is its greatest cultural asset. While the shapes and fluid forms of Gaudí, one of the movement's most recognized exponents, are well known, the Modernista manifesto in the decorative arts is less so. The Museu del Modernisme Català, which opened in a typical Eixample town house in March 2010, has a superb collection of furniture, sculpture, and painting. The ground floor holds the most interest, with many pieces from Joan Busquets and Gaspar Homar, both master cabinetmakers who excelled in marquetry techniques, rendering the dainty maidens, idealized scenery, and floral iconography of the period in wood. Gaudí's heavy-handed chairs and plinths from the Casa Calvet are also on display, as is an OTT buffet from the architect Puig i Cadafalch, which, like his famous Casa Amatller, is dotted with instrument-playing beasts. The below-ground floor is dedicated to painting and sculpture, with Josep Llimona's melancholy, marble figurines taking prime place.—Suzanne Wales
Open Mondays through Saturdays 10 am to 8 pm, Sundays 10 am to 2 pm.
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Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA), Spain
Barcelona 08001, Spain
Tel: 34 93 412 0810
When Richard Meier's cool, white, futuristic "ship" sailed into the heart of El Raval, it regenerated an area best known as the underbelly of Barcelona. Inspired by Le Corbusier, the real art here is the building itself—straight lines and curves juxtaposed against a sapphire sky. A skylight-dotted roof floods the interior with natural light. The permanent collection, made up mainly of works from the second half of the 20th century, gives a good overview of the fundamental principles of contemporary art.
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Fundació Joan Miró, Spain
Barcelona 08038, Spain
Tel: 34 93 443 94 70
After an illustrious career in Le Corbusier's Paris studio and then as Harvard's dean of architecture, Josep Lluís Sert designed the Joan Miró museum in memory of his lifelong friend. It won the prestigious AIA Twenty-Five-Year Award in 2002 in recognition of a "design of enduring significance." And rightly so. An exceptional homage to light and space, the building's airy passages, high ceilings, soaring archways, and accompanying sculpture gardens compose a futuristic Nasrid palace in Parc de Montjuïc. It also holds the world's largest collection of Miró's work, some 11,000 pieces in all. There are sculptures and paintings (including Flame in Space and Nude Woman, and Woman and Bird), a few textiles and ceramics, an almost-complete set of his graphic works, and 8,000 drawings. Most were donated by Miró himself.
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El Raval, Spain
In 1925, journalist Àngel Marsà described fetid El Raval (the slum) as a warren of thieves, prostitutes, and lowlifes; the (mostly deserved) reputation stuck until recently, when a flurry of private and public initiatives—spiffed-up parks, museums, restaurants, and fashionable boutiques—infused El Raval, which borders the Ramblas close to the waterfront, with new life. The lower swath, nearest the port, still attracts some fairly unsavory characters, although regular crackdowns by police and mushrooming gentrification help. First up, visit MACBA a modern art museum surrounded by the best of the barri's new streets and plazas (1 Plaça dels Angels; 34-93-412-0810). Then head south along the palm-filled boulevard of Rambla del Raval, where the ethnic Monraval market thrives on Saturdays. About halfway down, the cylinder-shaped Barceló Raval hotel stands loud and proud, while next door a new film theater is taking shape.
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Ribera, more commonly known as El Born in reference to its main axis, Passeig del Born, is a medieval-turned-trendy neighborhood near the city center. After the obligatory visits to the soaring, columned Santa Maria del Mar, the Museu Picasso, and the Passeig del Born (the site of public floggings and burnings during the Spanish Inquisition), you'll probably want to seek out the neighborhood's quieter spots—this area can be overwhelmed with tourists at times. The tranquil Plaça de les Olles is great for an alfresco lunch, while Carrer de L'Esparteria and Carrer Vidriera are lined with quirky boutiques. Also check out the adjacent neighborhood of Sant Pere, which is a bit edgier than trendy El Born. Like New York's Lower East Side or Hoxton in London's East End, San Pere retains its eclectic atmosphere while casually embracing a slower-paced gentrification.
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As the name suggests, most of the architecture in this neighborhood, in the heart of Barcelona, is Gothic. Cathedral of Santa Eulàlia, where the martyred Santa Eulàlia was laid to rest after being rolled down the Baixada de Santa Eulàlia in a barrel of glass, was begun in 1298, although its facade is actually neo-Gothic and was tacked on in the 18th century. The magnificent Esglèsia del Pi, is also the real deal, as is the Royal Palace in the Plaça del Rei and parts of the two civic buildings—the Ajuntament and Generalitat—facing off in the Plaça Sant Jordi. Less well preserved though just as authentic and interesting is the recently excavated Synagogue, in use until 1391 and considered the oldest in Spain. There are also some Roman traces in the vicinity, such as pieces of the defense wall and three lone columns that once formed part of a temple at what is now Plaça San Jaume. You can find the full story of Barcelona's birth beneath her shaded medieval streets at the Museu d'Història de la Ciutat, where excavated Roman foundations remain.
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Bordered on one side by the glitzy yachts of the Port Vell and on the other by the bronzed bodies basking on the city beaches, this triangle-shaped grid of streets offers a rare chance to catch a last fleeting glimpse of gritty Barcelona. La Barceloneta was a poor fishermen's quarter for generations, and though time has brought greater prosperity, it's still as eclectic as ever. Few haul in the nets these days, but the mariners' legacies live on in the many off-the-beaten-track seafood restaurants. Locals' dives hold their own against a handful of contemporary bars—try La Cova Fumada—as the neighborhood faces an inevitable makeover. A face-lift has already come to the brazenly rebuilt El Mercat de la Barceloneta, where you can shop for fresh produce or dine at the Michelin-starred Lluçanes restaurant. Down on the waterfront, a new sail-shaped W Hotel by Barcelonese architect Ricardo Bofill has not proved quite as popular with the locals but acts as a sign that the secret's out on this waterside neighborhood.
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Gardens of Montjuïc, Spain
This headland park to the southwest of the city welcomes more than 15 million visitors a year to its museums, concert arenas, sports centers, and gardens (only New York City's Central Park gets more foot traffic). Mossén Costa i Llobera is the best collection of its kind in Europe—a secret garden with a sea view, planted with more than 800 exotic species of cacti (Carretera de Miramar 1; 34-93-424-3809; www.bcn.es/parcsijardins/pa_llobera.htm). The Jardí Botànic, with its futuristic steel banks and hardwood walkways, was inaugurated in 1999. The planting pulls together vegetation from Mediterranean-like climates around the world, such as rapistrum rugosum—Texan bastard cabbage (34-93-289-0611; www.bcn.es/parcsijardins/pa_botanic.htm). Full maturation is still a ways off, but for keen gardeners and botanists, it's a fascinating amble.
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Sagrada Familia, Spain
Barcelona 08013, Spain
Tel: 34 93 207 3031
Never mind that it's a cliché: If you see only one sight in Barcelona, head to the Eixample and see Gaudí's resplendent Sagrada Familia. An architectural "beauty and the beast," it is at once monstrous and breathtakingly beautiful—Modernisme in its ideal state. The church completely embraces the movement's idea of marrying nature with the handicraft of man: An organic quality, earthy tones, and steeples that seem to drip rather than stand make it look as though it has actually grown out of the ground rather than been constructed on top of it. Cavelike windows are inhabited by gargoyles and monsters, and religious scenes from the Last Supper to the Crucifixion are depicted on the facade. Gaudí is buried beneath the nave—he dedicated 40 years to the building, the last 14 of those living there—and in some sense he's still watching over the progress of his life's greatest work from the grave. The church was consecrated by Pope Benedict XVI in late 2010, meaning that services can now be held here, well before the expected completion date of 2026.—Updated by Suzanne Wales
Open daily 9 am to 6 pm, October through March; 9 am to 8 pm, April through September.
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Parc Güell, Spain
Barcelona 08024, Spain
Tel: 34 93 413 24 00
Gaudí's iconic mosaic lizard and two fairy-tale gatehouses are harbingers of the fantastical landscape that lies beyond this park's entrance. Originally conceived as high-class housing for the city's elite, the project never came to pass and the land became the city's domain in 1922. Today, this hilly escape from the heat of downtown on the edge of the city is one of the Barcelona's most beloved outdoor attractions—a world embellished with staircases and benches encrusted with trencadís (shattered colored tiles), the Hall of 100 Columns, and Mount Carmel, which hovers like an island above the city's rooftops.