Almost a way of life in its own right, Barcelona
remains one of Europe’s proudest, most individual cities, blending edginess with luxury and marrying the medieval with the modern. Regular visitor Ben Lerwill shares his tips on how to enjoy 24 hours in Spain’s cultural capital.
0700-0900. Start the day in the seafront Barceloneta district, grabbing a coffee at any open cafetería or bar and watching the sun rise over the Med. The promenade is deliciously quiet at this time of day, a relaxed place to ease into the morning while getting a sense of the city’s love for arty design. Cruise the beach and scope out Rebecca Horn’s wacky Homenatge a la Barceloneta tower sculpture and Frank Gehry’s shimmering 50-metre-long Peix (“fish”), commissioned for the 1992 Olympics.
0900-1100. After your beach walk, head to the nearest granja/churrería. Once just milk shops, the granjas now serve up the traditional Catalan suizo – a cup filled with hot chocolate and topped with a mountain of unsweetened whipped cream. The authentic, if tiny, Churrería Layetana (Via Laietana 46, 93 268 1263) is a long-standing local favourite and somewhere to accompany your suizo with dunkable churros. For something more substantial, nearby Milk Bar & Bistro (Carrer d'En Gignàs, 93 268 0922) serves quality brunches from 10am – specialities include pancakes, tortillas and fry-ups.
With a full stomach, journey to Barcelona’s most iconic sight, La Sagrada Família (Carrer de Mallorca 401, 93 207 3031) before crowds engulf it. Started in 1882, the basilica – designed by one of Barcelona’s most famous sons, the mesmeric architect and devout Catholic Antoni Gaudí – is funded only by private donations and ticket sales, and its rippling design represents surely the planet’s most remarkable take on Gothic architecture. Construction isn’t projected for completion until around 2026, but the work-in-progress church remains an astonishing attraction, even for repeat visitors.
1100-1300. Head southwest for a walk down Passeig de Gràcia. The expansive (and expensive) boulevard dates back to Roman times, but it wasn’t until the 19th century that it transformed into the urbane avenue you see today. You’ll come across more Gaudí buildings, most notably La Pedrera (Passeig de Gràcia 92, 93 484 5900) and Casa Batlló (Passeig de Gràcia 43, 93 216 0306), as well as high-end shops ranging from international big-name brands to Spanish staples like Tous, Loewe and Adolfo Dominguez. Not far from the southern end of the boulevard, meanwhile, you’ll find yourself in the more independent-minded surrounds of El Born. The district, once home to medieval textile guilds, is these days more notable for its young artists and quirky boutiques. Fet Amb Love (Passeig de Born 2, 93 319 6642) translates as “Made With Love”, which neatly surmises the appeal of its offbeat jewellery and accessories, while Francesc Raich (Carrer de les Basses de St Pere 24, 93 319 3151) is a snoopers’ paradise of vintage antiques.
1300-1500. For lunch, Cal Pep (Plaça de les Olles 8, 93 310 7961) is one of El Born’s neatest insider tips. The seafood restaurant is well known for its inventive tapas – think everything from baby squid with chickpeas to chard-wrapped hake – and its trifásico of fried whitebait, squid rings and shrimps has become something of a signature. It’s open for lunch from Tuesday to Saturday, and gets busy. Alternatively, wander through the Barri Gòtic for a stroll down Barcelona’s timeless promenade, La Rambla, and a trip to the city’s famous food market, La Boqueria, where you could do far worse than pull up a stool at Pinotxo Bar (Mercat de la Boqueria 466-470, 93 317 1731, no reservations). Here, you can sample made-to-order tapas from an ever-changing menu with an emphasis on seasonal ingredients. Expect anything from cockles to gazpacho.
1500-1700. Heading back up La Rambla, call in at the excellent but often overlooked Fundació Francisco Godia (Carrer de la Diputació 250, 93 272 3180), a private art collection that belonged to the now-deceased Godia, a larger-than-life businessman and once a Formula One Driver. His treasure-box hoard is a superb pick-and-mix of ceramics, medieval paintings, modern art and statues, but just as enjoyable is the restored residence it’s all housed in. When compared to Barcelona’s big tourist honeypots, this is somewhere a bit special.
1700-1900. Finish up the afternoon by granting proper time to the exploration of the Barri Gòtic’s narrow alleyways. This is a neighbourhood to get lost in – whether stumbling on a terrace café, scouting out a bar for later in the evening or simply soaking up the district’s winding, old-world charm. Take advantage of free entrance (after 5.15pm) at Barcelona Cathedral (Plaça de la Seu), where you can (literally) grab a pew and take a breather before the evening gets started. It’s quite a building – construction began way back in the 1200s.
1900-2100. Do what you can to snaffle a ticket for a 7pm performance at the glorious Palau de la Música (Carrer del Palau de la Música 4-6, 93 295 7200). Built between 1905 and 1908, the concert hall represents one of the city’s best examples of Catalan modernism. The performances, which range from chamber music and classical recitals to flamenco and guitar festivals, offer enjoyable insight into Barcelona’s high arts scene.
After 2100. As the late Spanish dinner hour approaches, set your sights on Cuines Santa Caterina (Avinguda de Francesc Cambó 16, 93 268 9918), where you can dine on a fresh selection of classic Spanish tapas in an atmospheric market setting. It stays open until at least 11.30pm all week and draws a lot of locals. For a more foodie affair, organise a booking at the restaurant often touted as the city’s best, Michelin-starred Cinc Sentits (Carrer d'Aribau 58, 93 323 9490). And to round off the evening in style? Call in at Bar Pesca Salada (Carrer Cera 32, 686 265 309), located in an old fish store and serving 24 brands of gin, or try posh cocktails at the kookily decorated Banker’s Bar in the Mandarin Oriental (Passeig de Gràcia 38-40, 93 151 8782).
Book now and make your own 24 hour adventure, with our flights from London to Barcelona.