Bang in the centre of the Barcelona bustle, Grand Hotel Central provides respite for many a weary traveller, shopper or culture-hound. An imposing 1920s façade masks a warm and well-lit modern retreat, where visitors can watch the city unfold from the eighth-storey roof terrace, then swing back down into the urban action, a doorway’s width away.
Noon, but can be later by arrangement. Earliest check-in, 2pm.
Double rooms from £242.21 (€284), including tax at 10 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of €6.88 per person per night on check-out.
Rates exclude breakfast, but it can be purchased for €36 a person.
The hotel will be closed for renovations between 10 November 2023 until 14 March 2024.
At the hotel
24-hour room service, library, laundry service, fitness centre, conference rooms, daily newspapers, airport transfer, WiFi in public areas. In rooms: LCD TV, minibar, Nespresso machine and tea-making facilities.
Our favourite rooms
The Superior rooms are very spacious. Bigger still are the Master and Grand Suites – the latter more than 60sq m. Both offer 40” LCD screens and come with freebie goodies: Cava, chocs, and the hotel’s own guidebook to the city. Loft Suites offer mouth-watering views of the Roman walls, while the smaller City rooms occupy the corners of the building and offer the best panoramas of the city (the clue’s in the name).
The roof-top infinity pool perches at the summit of the city, offering an unrivalled view of Barcelona from the sleek wooden sun loungers.
The hotel's Único spa is open for some R&R in the form of facials and massages from noon until 8pm.
A handful of tomes on art history and architecture for swotting up on Barcelona’s gorgeous historic buildings and sounding authoritative about Picasso; plenty of euros for splashing out on the Ramblas, the city’s most famous shopping street.
Massages can be arranged.
An extra bed can be added to Suites and Junior Suites for €100 a night; free cots are available for under-twos, in all rooms except some Standard rooms Babysitting can be arranged too.
Solar panels on the roof cut down on wasted energy; all food is locally produced.
Make sure you get a window seat to watch the world wander by.
Spanish city sleek.
The hotel is home to Bistro Helena, a sleek slate-grey and chartreuse space, where the menu is furnished with an impressive range of gourmet hamburgers (including a vegan burger) and sophisticated Mediterranean dishes. Sharing dishes are a speciality, and the soundtrack is carefully curated.
Set by the restaurant, Sky Bar has a tapas menu that's almost as impressive as its cocktail menu. The ham, cheese and truffle croquettes, and the honey-drizzled aubergine tempura caught our eye. Secure a sofa in the middle of the bar if you're there to be seen, or book a table by the side for a little more intimacy.
Dinner is served until 10.30pm and midnight at weekends. The restaurant opens its doors to the public at 11am but hotel guests are welcome for breakfast beforehand.
A full menu of tasty treats is available at any time.
Fly to Barcelona Airport, which is a 20-minute drive from the city centre. You can grab a taxi for roughly €25 or the hotel can organised transfers. It’s around €5.90 for a single Aerobus ticket to the centre of Barcelona (buses leave the airport every 15 minutes), and a train runs every 30 minutes from Terminal A.
For travelling around Barcelona itself, there’s an extensive metro and bus system. For trips further afield, take the train to Madrid, Valencia, Zaragoza or Bilbao from Barcelona’s main railway station, Estació de Sants.
You can drive to Barcelona via the AP-7 from the French border, or from Madrid via the A2. Parking is available at a reduced price near the hotel.
Worth getting out of bed for
Near Grand Hotel Central, Las Ramblas is one of the city's busiest and most famous shopping areas, packed with street entertainers every day. Set your sights for the narrow streets of El Born district if you're after designer bars and restaurants, a perfect evening's entertainment after a culture-fuelled trip to the Museu Picasso. For greenery, mosey on over to Parc de la Ciutadella (also home to Barcelona Zoo); and to dig your toes into the sand, setc ourse for Platja de la Barceloneta, making a pit stop at the Museum of the History of Catalonia and the Aquarium. Sagrada Familia is a 30-minute walk; Park Güell is a little further, a 20-minute drive from the hotel. After your wanderings, go up and up on a funicular to the top of Mount Tibidabo, and keep climbing to enjoy the views from Tibidabo Amusement Park's Skywalk. On your way back down, stop by the Laberint d'Horta Park to try your luck in the maze. Closer to your hotel, a former palace has been turned into a surprisingly regal museum dedicated to marijuana. But, don't mellow out too much – the Palacio dl Flamenco put on a breathless dance show and hosts lessons, too.
If you never had the chance to experience the mind-boggling wonders in chef Albert Adrià's world-renowned El Bulli, you can step into his strange yet utterly fascinating world at Enigma. This immersive dining experience is held in a number of rooms dressed like somwhere Narnia's White Witch might feel at home in; over four hours, you're taken on a labyrinthine tasting tour with more than 40 courses – it's not cheap, but the bragging rights are worth it. More traditional, with a more low-key look, is Pur, which excels at fine Catalan cuisine: sobrassada with honeycomb, Cantabria anchovies with candied almonds, tuna belly with sea urchins and fresh wasabi – there are no losing dishes here. Close to the hotel in the lively Eixample district is a vision in minimal design: Disfrutar's clean lines and right angles are offset by prettily patterned latticework; the dishes – all daintily plated – are equally eye-catching.
A 20-minute walk from the hotel, Monvínic has 3,000 wines to choose from – obviously, you can't try them all, but we recommend you give it a good try. Start your night there then continue your crawl to Ideal Cocktail Bar to watch the passionate barkeeps shake things up.
Sitting by the rooftop infinity pool at Grand Hotel Central, Barcelona, watching the evening light disappear, we feel serene and just a little smug. Surely no one else in this crowded city can be watching the pink sun sink into water on this particular evening? The evening in question, just a few days before Valentine’s Day, is on the chilly side for Barcelona, which explains why we have the rooftop, and seemingly the whole city, entirely to ourselves.
The Grand Hotel Central is, as its name suggests, right at the heart of Barcelona. But while the streets outside thrum with office workers, tourists idling past shops and cars dodging bikes, the hotel feels like an isolated retreat. A very high-end, minimalist retreat that is – all low-level mahogany furniture and candles flickering in glass holders. Designers Sandra Tarruella and Isabel López have incorporated original features, such as an old-fashioned lift shaft and marble staircase, from the 1920s apartment block the hotel was hewn from into their modern scheme of muted greys and browns, and sleek, dark furniture.
Stylish rather than opulent, our city suite with its bare walls and large, empty surfaces feels like an elegant backdrop for the real feature: huge windows facing directly onto the city’s fairytale cathedral, floodlit in the evening light. Reclining on the king-size bed, complimentary cava in one hand and chocolate in the other, I feel like a princess. My prince, however, is busy checking out the massaging power shower and ‘amazing lighting solutions’ in our en suite (we have just finished decorating our bathroom at home, so no detail escapes his designer’s eye), and delights in the fact he is able to operate each individual light, window blind, and the MP3 from the comfort of bed. In fact, leaving this super-convenient, soothing environment at any point during the weekend is invariably a shock to the system; and so, we resolve sagely, we should stay in the room as much as possible. This is, after all, a romantic weekend.
Eventually, though, hunger drives us down to the hotel’s restaurant, Ávalon, a secluded spot in the basement with equally soft and seductive lighting. Here, we indulge in three courses of award-winning chef Ramón Freixa’s twist on traditional Catalan food. Mr Smith is dubious about his Catalan sausage, which comes parcelled in filo pastry and tastes ‘a bit like haggis’. But this is a man who generally turns his nose up at fish, seafood and any meat that isn’t chicken, and rejects tapas on the basis that he ‘likes to have his own dinner on his own plate’. He won’t even try my heavenly sea bass.
After dinner, we feel in need of a stroll. Having only visited Barcelona in the humid, tourist-packed summer months, we discover a winter-evening vibe that is quieter, more authentically Spanish and certainly more romantic. I had been advised by friends who know the city that the Born district is the place to be seen, so we head straight for the main street, Passeig del Born, and some expertly mixed mojitos at bustling Pitin. The bar staff seem impressed by our cocktail-drinking abilities – Spanish revellers are, we note, infinitely more civilised than their English counterparts, and seem able to make one drink last an entire evening. ‘We’re just doing our bit for queen and country,’ says Mr Smith plaintively.
The next day, after breakfast in bed (you just mark your choices on the menu hanging on your door), we meander towards the seafront, taking in craft markets, an outdoor ballet performance in Plaça Real and even a full-blown saint’s day carnival. And then, with only a short detour to the shops on Las Ramblas, we head for the beach in Barceloneta. It’s easy to forget that Barcelona is a beach city, but even in February, the combination of winter sun, die-hard surfers and fresh seafood in one of Barceloneta’s outdoor cafés, immediately gets us into that two-week-beach-holiday kind of mood. Mr Smith, predictably, does not share my enthusiasm for seafood tapas, and as I tuck into wonderfully tender calamari, sardines and cuttlefish, he joyfully takes delivery of an omelette – which, at least, comes on its own plate.
Since I’ve had my choice of lunch venue, Mr Smith insists, with a glint in his eye, on taking a cable-car trip across the port to Montjuïc, a scenic hilly area rejuvenated for the 1992 Olympics. A vertigo sufferer, I start to feel faint in the queue, and the German teenagers who find it hilarious to wobble the car as we set off are silenced by my look of unadulterated terror (Mr Smith, unfortunately, has photographic evidence). But by the time I am kissing the ground at the other end, I have to agree that it has been worth facing my fear for the stunning views over the city.
After another early evening of stargazing back at the hotel, we head out for dinner at a typically British hour. However, by the time we agree on a restaurant, it is approaching the more local mealtime of 10pm. Mr Smith’s ‘anything-but-tapas’ edict is limiting to say the least, but we finally find a pizza restaurant that fits his requirements and my ‘authentic-atmosphere’ criteria. Any disagreements are soon forgotten over pizza and a carafe of wine and, by the time we head back, we are more than ready for another night in that enormous bed.
I often find that city breaks don’t give me enough time to wind down; too much marching around with guidebooks, Mr Smith trailing petulantly in my wake. But with the rooftop pool, luxurious suite and the beach just a 20-minute wander away, our weekend at the Grand Hotel Central feels like more like a mini-holiday. We may not have packed in many sights, but we’ve absorbed Barcelona’s laid-back atmosphere. We’ll just have to come back to take in the rest of the city, perhaps when it’s warm enough to make full use of that infinity pool.