When to go
Locals leave August to the tourists, as the city can be too hot to handle – even some museums are closed. Avoid public holidays if you can: they trigger a city exodus that means things tend to be shut.
From the blog
Tales from our travels
PlanesFrom Barcelona Airport (www.barcelona-airport.com), taxis will whisk you into town in 15 minutes, for about €20. The Aerobus runs every 15 minutes (€3.50).
TrainsThe 25-minute train journey from airport to centre costs just a couple of euros; trains run every half an hour. Spain also has a reasonably priced national network. Book ahead, as trains can get busy (www.renfe.com). Barcelona’s Metro system is efficient – and air-conditioned (www.tmb.net).
AutomobilesDriving is fine once you master the one-way system, but finding a parking space (especially a free one) is a nightmare. Taxis are cheap, so it’s not worth renting a car anyway; and the train is perfect for day trips.
TaxisYou can hail a metered, wasp-coloured cab from anywhere on the street, as long as its green light is on.
Born in Orviedo, Patricia Urquiola is one of the most versatile and prolific designers in Europe today, with a roster of clients that many of her contemporaries would kill for: Dior, Louis Vuitton, B&B Italia, Salvatore Ferragamo, BMW and dozens more. Over her career, her unconventional eye and warm aesthetic approach has turned from furniture to interiors to architecture, and have won her so many ‘Designer of the Year’ awards, it’s very possible she has had to design a cabinet to keep them in. Smith hotel aficionados will spot her hand in the innovative and colourful look of Das Stue in Berlin, and Urquiola’s credentials as an architectural designer are on resplendent display in the lacework- and origami-inspired interiors of the Mandarin Oriental Barcelona.
Ex-El Bulli pastry chef Oriol Balaguer’s Easter eggs resemble Dali-esque fetishes, with laser-cut cubist choc sculptures, trompe-l'œil fruits and some that look like incubating Giger beasties. He’s also famed for explode-in-your-mouth sherbert and popping-candy chocolates and surrealist gateaux. His 40-hour, €2,200 gastronomy course (for English and Spanish speakers) tops many a pâtissier’s bucket list. You’ll learn to craft gallery-worthy cakes, chocolates, pastries, pies and even sweet cocktails; it’s hardly a cakewalk in the park, but well worth the effort if you want to end every meal with a bang – perhaps literally…
Stay Hotel Omm (nom nom) has a holy trinity of Michelin-approved fraternal chefs: pleasingly alliterative Joan, Josep and Jordi Roca. Restaurant Roca Moo’s menu has two excellent tasting menus highlighting haute Catalan fare.
Barcelona is one of the modern world’s great design hubs and, for a crash course in Catalan creativity, its new Museu del Dessny is your first port of call. Having opened its doors for the first time in December 2014, it brings together the collections of four of the city’s former museums. It now provides a home for more than 70,000 significant objects from the history of Spanish space design, product design, information design and fashion, stretching from the fourth century to the present day. The museum’s ambitious headline exhibitions trace the evolution of the ‘decorative arts’ of the past to what we think of as design today, moving from mediaeval fabric and Renaissance glasswork to contemporary catwalk fashion and modern graphic design. Impossible to miss, the huge metallic hammerhead of a building lords it over the Plaça de les Glòries; the glossy, glassy and glamorous Smith hotel Meliá Barcelona Sky is just down the road.
These apartments in the happening heart of Barcelona are a designer's dream: housed in an elegant 1906 art nouveau building, with dazzling original features – frescoes, architraves, stained-glass windows and high ceilings – as well as fabulous furniture courtesy of top talent, including steel wire Platner chairs, Saarinen dining tables, Jacobsen egg armchairs and Mies van der Rohe pieces. Mezzanine Suites are graced with opulent frescoes and soaring ceilings, and you can watch the world wander by on the streets below through stained-glass windows. The suite also includes a personal assistant who can arrange seemingly everything. Private chef? Personal shopper? In-room couples’ massage? Done…
After-dark holiday entertainment needn’t mean sangria-crawls down the Magaluf mile, especially when you’ve got the cocktail-clinking of Palma’s Old Town a few miles up the Mallorcan coast: book a place among the beautiful people at Puro Hotel’s buzzy, DJ-soundtracked beach club. Sunsets at San Giorgio in Mykonos are crowd-pullingly spectacular, but that’s not the end of the entertainment, rather an invitation to dance the night away under the stars. Glamourpusses: dress up in your designer best for martinis in Miami or champagne in St Tropez.
Pioneers of the all-dessert tasting menu, and masters of El Bulli-inspired deconstructed tapas – by way of meaty Catalonian fare – Barcelona’s gastro scene is bold and boundary nudging.
What’s cooking? Surf ’n’ turf, bulging bocadillos and custard-filled xuixos doughnuts, washed down with a judicious slug of vermouth.
• Blow off tremendous but touristy La Boqueria market for Mercat de San Antoni, to summon a generous aperitivo at Milano Cocktail Bar and gourmet sandwiches at Bar Mariana; chase with vermouth at little-known Tarannà nearby.
• Van Van Market reflects the city’s growing hunger for excellent street food, where a convoy of delicacy-proffering trucks descend on Parc de la Ciutadella. Find bite-size bliss at Reina Croquette and the Jamoneta.
• Much like attendees after its first two outings, Eat Street food festival has grown in size. Come October scour this (potentially) moveable feast for Eureka Street Food’s fresh and zingy ceviche.
Stay at Stock up on the abundant fruit and veg, and decently sized slabs of carne, at the Mercat de San Antoni, to cook up in DestinationBCN’s designer kitchens.
Sooner or later, everyone serious about style who comes to Barcelona heads to Passeig de Gracia with space in their suitcase and a credit card that can take a beating. The smartest shoppers minimise their bag-lugging distance by checking into the Catalan capital’s most elegant address – the designer apartments of El Palauet. The art nouveau exterior gives way to a collection of modern, minimalist suites – each equipped with furniture straight out of a primer of 20th-century design classics and staffed by a personal PA, to book your restaurants, bag you tickets and, if need be, help carry your shopping...
At 24, Jordi Cruz became the youngest Spanish chef to earn a Michelin star for his imaginative and avant-garde cooking style. In the 12 years since, he has bagged another three – two of them for the hotel restaurant he’s been helming since 2010, ABaC Restaurant & Hotel in Barcelona’s Zona Alta – written a book on molecular cooking techniques, and been anointed as a judge on Masterchef Espana. In other words, he’s hot stuff (and let’s just say a certain proportion of his Masterchef audience haven’t tuned in for the cookery). Via ABaC’s startlingly inventive 15-course tasting menus (mole ice cream, tuna-skin curry, chocolate ‘earth’, plankton bread and oh-so-much more) Cruz demonstrates exactly how he lives up to the hype.
It has been over 130 years in the making – and it still hasn’t been made yet. The vision of revered modernist architect Antoni Gaudí (1852–1926), Barcelona’s imposing basilica – an attention-grabbing mash-up of Art Nouveau and Neo-Gothic – is Spain’s greatest work of unfinished architecture, and very possibly the world’s. By the time Gaudí died, only a quarter of the building was finished, and successive generations have been painstakingly labouring through the decades to bring it to fruition. When it reaches completion (slated for 2026), La Sagrada Familia will be the tallest church building on Earth, but it’s not just its scale that makes it so captivating; the sheer, visionary audacity and mathematically complex engineering of Gaudí’s architecture make it a marvel to look at even in its incomplete state. It has its detractors, of course – George Orwell called it ‘hideous’ – but there’s no denying its impact on the eyeballs, whether you regard it as the 560-foot folly of a lunatic or an otherworldly masterpiece. Stay at Meliá Barcelona Sky and you’ll be in easy reach.