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Barcelona. Leisure Guides.

 

Catalonia’s coastal culture hub is one of Europe’s most popular cities, radiating a feisty free-spiritedness through everything from its daring architecture to its globe-slaying football team. The beaches are long – the nights out even longer. 

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Getting around


Barcelona is a big city, and while it’s not completely unfeasible for first-timers to see most of the main sights on foot, you’d need a pretty large sangria to aid recovery. Luckily, public transport’s good. The 11-line metro system, run by Transports Metropolitans de Barcelona (TMB), effectively covers most of the places you’re likely to want to visit. It stays open until midnight, longer at weekends. A single ticket is inexpensive, although both a T10 (a book of 10 tickets) and a T-Dia (unlimited travel within a day) represent even better value if you’re using the metro regularly.   
 
The metro network is supplemented by a wider urban and metropolitan network, known as the FGC, but for those not straying too far from the centre there are also good public bus and tram services. If you’re pushed for time, a Bus Turístic takes visitors to all the set-piece attractions, while hired bike and taxi provide two other easy means of getting about. Elsewhere, scenic thrills can be had by taking the Montjuïc Cable Car high above town. 
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Getting here

Getting here could not be any easier. We offer many frequent flights from London City Airport and plenty hotel packages. To book flights and hotels please click here.

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Hotels


Barcelona being the titanic tourist magnet that it is, there’s no shortage of visitor accommodation – some of it representing good value for money, some best avoided. Location-wise, you can take your pick of everything from inner-city glam to coastal camping, although at peak times you’re advised to get a booking in early regardless of where you’re planning to stay. 
 
In keeping with the city’s creative spirit are boldly designed properties like Barceló Raval (Rambla del Raval 17-21), its exterior all wire mesh and neon lighting, or Hotel Granados 83 (Carrer Enric Granados 83), which describes its eye-catching style as ‘remixed neoclassicism’. Elsewhere, a property that consistently draws plaudits is the colonial-style H1898 (La Rambla 109) – its roofop bar is a real perk – while there’s reliably sumptuous luxury to be had at the El Palace Hotel (Gran Via de les Corts Catalenes 668), in situ since 1919. 
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Nightlife


A proper night out in Barcelona starts late, ends late and hits hard. Things generally get going at around 11pm or midnight, when the post-dinner crowds slip on their dancing shoes and head to the bars and clubs. In short, if you want it, it’s here – be it techno, indie, flamenco or chill-out – and the venues themselves range from beach bars and holes-in-the-wall to multi-storey clubs and converted warehouses. 
 
Join clued-up locals at BeCool (Plaça Joan Llongueras 5), which puts on mainly electronic nights and has a revolving dancefloor, no less, or squeeze into tiny but well-respected Moog (Carrer de l'Arc del Teatre 3) for serious techno goings-on. At the other end of the scale, the jumbo-sized house of fun that is Sala Razzmatazz (Carrer Pamplona 88) puts on various themed nights in an industrial part of town, while a less frenetic but highly stylish night can be had at the self-explanatory Dry Martini (Carrer d'Aribau 162). 
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Restaurants


It’s not hard to eat well in Barcelona. Lunch and dinner are both excuses for sitting down and indulging at length, whether you’re grazing on tapas or tucking into a full meal. Bite-sized tapas and their larger counterparts – racions – are a great way of sampling local specialties, which range from deep-fried squid to pan con tomate (a deliciously simple dish of bread rubbed in olive oil, tomato and salt). For something more substantial, well-priced set menús del dia are widespread, though mainly at lunchtime. 
 
Serious foodies should try for a table at Dos Palillos (Carrer d’Elisabets 9), overseen by the former chef de cuisine at the legendary but now-defunct El Bulli. For authentic tapas with the atmosphere to match, make a beeline for La Cova Fumada (Carrer Baluard 56). If you’re after something completely different, book ahead at Comedor Clandestino (616 918 251 – address given once booked), a secret ‘underground restaurant’ dedicated to fresh market cuisine and Spanish wines.
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Shopping


Cheap Miró poster? Tick. FC Barcelona knock-off replica shirt? Tick. Fluffy bull? Tick. As well as the tourist staples, however, you’ll find some genuinely unique goods for sale in Barcelona, with a high number of designer-led outlets to explore and a trove of arts, crafts and fashion items to choose from. Shopping boulevards like Passeig de Gràcia and districts like El Born are well suited to upmarket retail therapy – openings since mid-2012 include a flagship Dirk Bikkembergs outlet (Passeig de Gràcia 99) and a new Apple store (Passeig de Gràcia 1), the largest in Spain. 
 
It’s not all ultra high-end, of course. Portal de l’Àngel balances international brands with affordable goods, and its large El Corte Inglés department store is a good bet for winter and summer sales. Meanwhile, the Barri Gòtic, La Rambla and their surrounds provide good potential for unearthing arty, one-off souvenirs – as well as a fair amount of tat. 
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Top 10 sights

Top 5 sights for first-timers

Parc Guell

A far-out garden complex designed by one of Barcelona’s most famous sons, architect Antoni Gaudí. More than a century has passed since it was laid in place, but its mosaic dragons, hidden grottoes and serpentine benches still give an eye-opening insight into the mind of a singular creator. It gets crowded, so seek out a quiet corner.

Gràcia quarter   

La Sagrada Familia

Gaudí’s postcard-dominating masterpiece remains Barcelona’s most celebrated sight, despite still being incomplete. It’s an enormous Gothic church, although this description does little justice to its mind-bending spires, detailed facades and towering interior. Latest estimates give a completion date of sometime after 2025, so don’t be surprised by the ongoing construction work.

Carrer de Mallorca
www.sagradafamilia.cat


Camp Nou

Now ensconced as the club that elevated 21st-century football to an art form – courtesy of Messi, Iniesta et al – FC Barcelona’s home stadium is a huge draw for visitors. If you can’t get to a match, stadium tours offer a great alternative, with a museum showcasing the club’s recent trophy haul.

Carrer d’Arístides Maillol
www.fcbarcelona.com/camp-nou 

Barri Gòtic

Barcelona’s famed Gothic Quarter is a maze of medieval buildings, narrow streets and open squares. It plays home to a good number of atmospheric cathedrals and churches, as well as a glut of restaurants and bars. It’s rightly seen as an integral part of the overall Barcelona experience, but don’t envisage having the place to yourself.

La Rambla

Barcelona’s main artery is a 1.2-kilometre street, largely tree-lined and pedestrianised. It’s indisputably the heart of city affairs, drawing all walks of life and providing, surely, one of Europe’s best spots for people-watching. It runs from Plaça de Catalunya in the north to the Christopher Columbus monument in the south.

Top 5 sights for old hands

Museu Picasso

Housed in a row of Gothic-baroque houses, this absorbing gallery-cum-museum gives good insight into the changing styles and output of the still-revered Pablo Picasso – the artist, of course, having spent much of his life in Barcelona. The collection includes a number of major works, and the museum itself reached its 50th anniversary in 2013.

Carrer Montcada 15-23
www.museupicasso.bcn.cat

Disseny Hub Museums

A hugely rewarding stop for anyone with more than a passing interest in design or fashion, this cultural centre holds permanent exhibitions of decorative arts, textiles, ceramics and graphic arts. Commonly abbreviated to DHUB, it aims to promote understanding of the design world and offers free guided tours at weekends.

Avinguda Diagonal 686
www.dhub-bcn.cat 

Fundació Joan Miró

Enjoying a magnificent Montjuïc hillside location, this space is dedicated to another of the city’s most illustrious artists, Joan Miró. Still very much a Catalan icon, he was born in Barcelona in 1893 and went on to develop a signature style of painting and sculpture, relying heavily on experimentalism and surrealism.

Parc de Montjuïc
www.fundaciomiro-bcn.org

El Born

Not as firmly off the beaten track as it once was, El Born is nevertheless one of Barcelona’s most creative, individual neighbourhoods and barely touches the radar of many tourists. Boutique shopping, hip locals, vibrant cafés and rampant nightlife – they’re all here in spades.

Part of the La Ribera district

Museu del Modernisme

Unveiled in 2010 in what was formerly a textile factory, the Museu del Modernisme enjoys a reasonably central location and is dedicated to ‘modernisme’, the art nouveau movement that took such a hold in the region. It has strong associations with the quest for Catalan national identity. 

Carrer de Balmes 48
http://mmcat.cat

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Top 5 activities


Cooking

For those visitors in thrall to their taste buds, Catalan cuisine is a major part of Barcelona’s appeal. Feast on tapas, pick out choice goodies from La Boqueria market on La Rambla or join one of Cook & Taste’s acclaimed workshops (Carrer del Paradís 3). 
 
Dancing 

Flamenco is one of those staples of Spanish life that it feels wrong to ignore. El Tablao del Carmen is an hour-long show held twice nightly from Tuesday to Sunday. It’s unabashedly tourist-centric, but great fun. 
 
Gaudí tours
 
There’s a surplus of great Gaudí creations to enjoy in Barcelona, from the supersized kookiness of La Sagrada Familia to the smaller but equally entertaining likes of Casa Batlló. Join a guided tour and find out more about the man himself.
 
Climbing

Montjuïc looms above town, granting spectacular views over the city and the Med. There’s a cable car to the top, and it’s possible to drive up too, but making the ascent on foot is ultimately the most rewarding. You’ll find the 1992 Olympic Stadium at the top. 
 
Beaches

Barcelona’s coastal location adds a huge amount to its overall character, and its lengthy beaches are the ideal setting for everything from sunbathing and siestas to watersports and beach football. Find a good spot and watch the world go by.  
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Top 5 events


Barcelona Marathon

Popular with local road runners and wide-eyed foreigners alike, Barcelona’s annual marathon is arguably the best way of seeing the city on foot. You don’t have to take part to enjoy the atmosphere, of course, but it helps. It starts and ends on Plaça d’Espanya. 
 
Date: March
Venue: Citywide
 
Carnaval

The big Pre-Lent hoopla, complete with street parades, masked balls and food fights, not to mention enough liquid refreshment and grilled meat to keep even the most insatiable party animal well fuelled. 
 
Date: Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday
Venue: Citywide 
 
Sónar 

Now a fixture on the European festival calendar, this three-day celebration is known chiefly for its adherence to electronic music. As well as DJ-based hedonism, however, you’ll also find multimedia art, exhibitions and record fairs. 
 
Date: Mid-June 
Venue: Various 
 
Festival del Grec

This is Barcelona’s biggest cultural festival, combining music, dance, circus and theatre. It’s high quality but fun-fuelled. Named after the Teatre Grec on Montjuïc, which still plays host to many of the top performances, it’s been running for over 35 years. Some performances are in English. 
 
Date: Mid-June to August
Venue: Various
 
Festes de la Mercè 

If you’re here for one event, make it La Mercè. Essentially a week of parties, concerts, fireworks and parades, it’s when Barcelona really shakes its hair down and runs wild. It’s held in honour of the city’s patron saint. 
 
Date: Week of 24 September
Venue: Citywide 

Written by World Travel Guide

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