Barcelona, Spain’s second largest city and capital of Catalonia, is one of Europe’s most popular destinations for a city break. It’s easy to be captivated by its charms the minute you set foot on its vibrant streets. And by foot is definitely the best way to explore this relatively flat, compact city, although there is an excellent public transport system to whisk you around efficiently to all the major sights.
One of Barcelona’s biggest draws is its world-famous architecture, crowned by the extraordinary buildings designed by Antoni Gaudí. The Sagrada Familia, his outstanding masterpiece, has become a worldwide symbol of the city. The fairytale towers of the basilica can be seen from all directions and offer wonderful panoramas from the top. Several of the lavish mansions he created for Barcelona’s high society are open to the public, including Palau Güell, built for his patron, who also lent his name to the weird and wonderful Park Güell, home of the famous mosaic-encrusted lizard fountain which has become one of Gaudí’s most recognisable images.
The main artery of the old town is Las Ramblas, a leafy pedestrian promenade lined with shops and restaurants which buzzes with life day and night. From here it’s easy to explore the Gothic Quarter, stopping to pay your respects to Saint Eulalia, the patron saint of Barcelona, in the atmospheric 14th-century Barcelona Cathedral.
Head to Port Vell, the old port, at the southern end of Las Ramblas and ride the cable car to Montjuïc. This airy country park offers a host of attractions, including the fascinating Poble Espanyol, a living museum of traditional Spanish architecture and cuisine.
Barcelona is a culture vulture’s dream come true. Check out priceless works of art from the Renaissance to the 20th century in the neo-Baroque Palau Nacional, or visit the Picasso Museum to view one of the world’s most comprehensive collections of paintings and sculptures by the legendary Spanish artist, who spent his childhood in the city. Book a ticket for a concert at the Palau de la Musica Catalana and enjoy world-class music-making in this fabled modernist masterpiece, then head for the clubs and bars of the old town to keep the party going into the early hours.