It’s the ideal setting for long, lazy days of sightseeing or shopping, broken up by a siesta to escape the midday heat before heading out to wine, dine and party. This is a late-night city where locals typically eat at 10pm or 11pm. If you’re keen to hit the clubs afterwards, you’ll find plenty along the waterfront, where cheesy tunes rule and a great Mediterranean party atmosphere prevails.
Emerging from the Plaça de Catalunya station, you’ll find yourself at the head of downtown Barcelona’s main drag, Las Ramblas. Notice the street signs are in two languages – Catalan first, then Spanish – as Barcelona is the capital of the autonomous region of Catalunya. If you can manage a few phrases in Spanish it’ll be appreciated, but if you tackle Catalan as well you’ll score big brownie points with the parochial natives, of whom a significant minority claim it as their first language. As well as on signs, you’ll no doubt spot Catalan influences on restaurant menus – gastronomic treats include Catalan sausage and crema de catalana, a variation on crème caramel.
If you’re strapped for cash, by all means get around by Metro or foot, but the hop-on, hop-off Bus Turistic will really give you a sense of the city’s grand, tree-lined boulevards and spacious layout. At the foot of Las Ramblas, you could disembark and head into the atmospheric Barri Gotic (Gothic Quarter) to explore by foot. The warren of streets is full of intriguing shops, bars and cafés, and the area is also home to the Picasso Museum and Gothic Cathedral.
From the soaring spires of La Sagrada Familia (his famously unfinished church) to the magical grottoes and walkways of Parc Guell, Antoni Gaudi’s architecture is an essential part of Barcelona’s visual DNA. Along with the above, don’t miss the fascinating La Pedrera, an apartment block designed by Gaudi with a great museum in the attic, and the nearby Casa Batllo (House of Bones) which resembles a mermaid’s palace. The ‘Modernista’ style (Art Nouveau to English speakers) is also evident in work by other architects in the city. Check out Palau de la Musica Catalana, a concert hall with the most elaborate interior imaginable. You can only see it on guided tours, and these tend to sell out so get in early.
In the market
Whether you’re self-catering or just enjoy the atmosphere of a busy city market, be sure to drop by Mercat de la Boqueria, just off Las Ramblas. It’s easily recognisable by the striking stained glass facade. There’s a range of succulent delights on offer, from colourful fruits and vegetables to massive fresh prawns. These go perfectly with allioli, the local garlicky mayonnaise. Buy yourself a tub for dipping and a bottle of Cava, the tasty local bubbly, and you’ve got a picnic lunch fit for a king.
Hostel Kabul has a reputation as one of Europe’s top party hostels. It combines a handy downtown location in picturesque Plaça Reial with a hedonistic atmosphere and particularly nice bathrooms – a welcome, and unusual, combination. Just don’t bank on getting much sleep.
Bonus points for: Being a top all-rounder
Loses marks for: Marauding stags and hens
Check out: www.barcelonaturisme.com
– AMY MACPHERSON