From the extravagance of Gaudi’s creations and exuberance of Las Ramblas to the subtle delight of a tapas meal in the Barri Gòtic, Barcelona offers it all.
It may be Spain’s second city, but the vibrant Catalan capital is second to none when it comes to hospitality and entertainment.
The best way to explore Barcelona’s oldest quarter, the Barri Gòtic (gothic quarter), is to ditch the map and guidebook and simply follow your nose. The twisting maze of streets is sprinkled with architectural gems, quirky shops and cafés. The quarter, which dates back to the 13th century, lies between Las Ramblas and Via Laietana and consists of narrow medieval streets and hidden squares. The impressive Catedral de la Seu is a must-see, as is the Bridge of Sighs, which is a gothic revival copy of its famous Venetian namesake.
At some point, as you wind your way through the Barri Gòtic, you will inevitably stumble out on to Las Ramblas, Barcelona’s main boulevard. It’s hard to believe that the 1km-long avenue, which writer Somerset Maughan once described as the most beautiful street in the world”, was an open air sewer in the Middle Ages. Today it buzzes with street vendors and entertainers and is the perfect place to simply stop and watch people go by.
Spain is the country that brought us Zara, Mango and Camper to name a few of the better-known brands, so it’s only right that you spend at least some time checking out Barcelona’s shops.
The Barri Gòtic is a good place to head if you are after interesting trinkets or authentic wares such as handmade espadrilles. For high street shops, L’Eixample, La Ribera and La Diagonal are the places to go.
Barcelona is also a foodie’s heaven and La Boqueria in the middle of Las Ramblas is the best-known food market, and crammed full of fresh produce.
Don’t leave any planned shopping for a Sunday – the Spanish take their day of rest seriously and few shops open.
Barcelona is a city packed with sights, but if there is one that visitors simply must see it is Antoni Gaudi’s magnificent Sagrada Familia. The church is perhaps the world’s most visited building site. More than 120 years after construction began, it is still a long way off being completed.
There are many other Gaudi treasures dotted around Barcelona. Overlooking the city is the fantastical Park Guell. It’s well worth the effort required to get yourself to the park (on the outskirts of the city) to simply marvel at the view of the city and Gaudi’s wonderful creations.
The Casa Mila – considered to be one of the best examples of Gaudi’s genius – is a must for fans of the architect. One of the apartments in the building is open to the public and provides a fascinating insight into what life must have been like for wealthy Catalonians in the early 1900s. The roof terrace – with its undulating paths and strange sculptures – feels more like walking on another planet rather than the roof of an apartment building.
The building also contains a museum dedicated to Gaudi and his designs. It provides information about the man, who died in 1926 after being run over by a tram. The legend goes that Gaudi, who spent his final years living as a virtual hermit inside the Sagrada Familia, was so shabbily dressed that doctors didn’t realise it was the famous architect.
Worth a look
Relive the glory of the 1992 Olympics with a trip to the Olympic Port and Village. The area has one of the city’s best beaches and is a pleasant spot to enjoy Barcelona’s sunny climate.
There are tapa bars galore in Barcelona. Tapas can be simply a handful of olives or more elaborate meat and vegetable dishes. The idea is to pick a variety and have tapas as a meal rather than a snack.
• Ainsley Thomson travelled to Barcelona with Opodo (0871-277 0090; www.opodo.co.uk). Return flights with Iberia and two nights at the three-star NH Hotel Duc de la Victoria cost from £253pp.