My partner and I visited Barcelona for a weekend in May. We packed it all in: food, nightlife, architecture, museums, tapas - the works! Fortunately, Barcelona is compact and easy to navigate, so making our way through our checklist wasn't too difficult. And even though we stayed mostly on the well-trodden path, there were plenty of authentic details to savor, from an exquisite Gaudi streetlamp to a perfectly poured glass of cava. Next time, we'll be able to explore even further!
Hotel Arts Barcelona, Spain
Barcelona 08005, Spain
Tel: 34 93 221 1000
Located at water's edge, a 20-minute walk from the Ramblas, this hotel under the Ritz-Carlton umbrella has a lot to thank for its reputation: the best service in town, world-class restaurants, a Six Senses rooftop spa that's a shrine to pleasure with 43rd-floor views. Now, the hotel has renovated the 483 guest rooms (56 of them suites) in smart tones of rich chocolate and charcoal, adding an array of Bang & Olufsen gadgets. But the best feature is primarily a natural one: the Mediterranean light that floods in through the high-tech steel and glass facade. Our favorite rooms are the El Club Corner Suites on the 30th to 33rd floors, which at 700 square feet are nearly 50 percent larger than standard rooms and have access to a team of concierges and a lounge where champagne and canapés are served.
La Boqueria, Spain
Barcelona 08002, Spain
Tel: 34 93 318 25 84
Unlike its modern counterpart Santa Caterina, Raval's La Boqueria is loud, crowded, and boisterous. It's built on the site of an old convent, and the wrought-iron roof, stained-glass stalls, and stone columns make it a spectacular venue for some of the world's most photographed food stalls selling everything from eggs and potatoes to percebes (goose barnacles) and insects. Be sure to stop by at Lorenç Petràs's mushroom mecca and save time for lunch—either at Bar Pinotxo, Universal Kiosk, or El Quim. Each serves superlative fresh fish and seafood tapas, made all the better by a glass of local bubbly.
See + Do
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.
See + Do
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.
See + Do
La Rambla, Spain
Through all Barcelona's self-styled reinvention, the pedestrian walkway known as La Rambla has remained the city's most enduring icon. Even if some locals shy away because of the many tourists, the broad sycamore-lined path stretching a mile from Plaça Catalunya to the harbor is a required visit. It's flanked by famous buildings like the Gran Teatre del Liceu and the atmospheric Café de l'Opera, and the tile mosaics embedded near the Boqueria market are by native son Joan Miró himself. Rambla means "stream" in Arabic, and the pedestrian-only thoroughfare actually used to be a riverbed. These days, it's full of life, with wacky street performers, preening local teenagers, and fútbol fans celebrating the latest Barça victory.
Comerç 24, Spain
Barcelona 08003, Spain
Tel: 34 93 319 2102
Chef Carles Abellan's pedigree (nine years of training under Ferran Adrià) shows up in his witty food, most of it served in tapas-sized portions as part of the ten-course tasting menu. His restaurant has a moody industrial chic that echoes the hip attitude of the El Born district—steel girders expose the ribs of the building, wines are stocked on open gunmetal shelves, and stone-gray runners are the austere ornamentation on ebony-stained tables. This somber backdrop is actually perfect for the antic liveliness of the dishes, such as rice crisps with tart olive foam; macadamia nuts glazed in real gold dust; pudding-soft tuna tartare with salmon roe; black rice slashed with green parsley aïoli; and curry-scented banana soup. And Abellan's "Kinder Egg" (an eggshell filled with truffles, potatoes, and a three-minute egg) is now nearly as famous as his mentor's trademark foams. Don't show up with your heart set on any of these dishes, however, since the menu changes constantly. TapaÇ24 is Abellan's more traditional tapas joint farther uptown (269 Carre de la Diputació 269; 34-93-488-0799).
Closed Sundays and Mondays.
Can Majó, Spain
Barcelona 08003, Spain
Tel: 34 93 221 54 55
When asked where to get good paella in Barcelona, many locals answer simply: Valencia. But this Barceloneta beachfront classic with a nautical-inspired interior and picket-fenced terrace is the exceptionpaellas here come with proper socorrat (caramelized bottom crust). There are also boat-fresh fish and seafood dishes such as whole sea bream baked in a crust of salt; tender, purple-rimmed clams, and sweet, grilled navajas (razor clams). And it's one of the few places where more unusual local delicacies such as delicate espardenyes (sea cucumbers) and pink-tinged percebes (goose barnacles) can be sampled.
Closed for dinner Sundays and Mondays.
See + Do
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.
See + Do
A world of spacious boulevards in a neatly beveled grid system, ostentatious houses, fine restaurants, and the city's shopping triangle—Avinguda Diagonal, Passeig de Gràcia, and Rambla Catalunya—the Eixample is as distinctly middle-class today as it was bourgeois in fin-de-siècle Barcelona. Taking its name from the Catalan word for extension, it was built to cope with the ever-swelling population at the start of the 19th century. It is the heart modernisme, the 20th-century art and design movement that juxtaposed elements of nature with skilled craftsmanship. The Eixample contains a host of remarkable buildings: The Mançana de la Discòrdia showcases three of the great modernista architects' work on one block, Casa Amatller by Puig i Cadafalch (1898); Casa Batlló by Gaudí (1904–1906); and Casa Lleó Morera by Lluís Domènech i Montaner (1902 and 1906).
See + Do
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.
See + Do
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.