Barcelona: city guide. The best secret tapas on Las Ramblas, plus beautiful architecture and art galleries

Why go

Being one of Europe’s most creative capitals, Barcelona is brimming with beautiful architecture, art galleries and culture – and if sightseeing gets too hectic, it has beaches too.

The dining scene is world-class, without being pretentious, with fresh, local produce the main focus – and the Spanish know a thing or two about slowing down and enjoying food, conversation and stunning wines.

What to do
barcelona Sagrada Familia flickr Vincent Moschetti 620
The interior of Gaudí’s famous Sagrada Família Church

Antoni Gaudí’s Sagrada Família church is the most famous landmark in Spain’s second city for good reason. The interior of the iconic church is intricately designed using geometric patterns – and with columns shaped like trees and the stained glass windows filtering the light in such a way – to appear as if you’re walking into a forest.

Gaudi’s last work, the modernist La Pedrera, is now a museum and cultural centre that hosts various art exhibitions and events and the incredible Park Güell has panoramic views of the city and Gaudí sculptures, buildings and tile work.

Barcelona La Pedrera flickr Heather Ramsden 620
The modernist La Pedrera

The city is also home to some fantastic art. The Picasso Museum houses pieces by the 20th-century Spanish artist, while the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art houses constantly changing exhibitions of Catalan, Spanish and international art and photography.

Wander down Las Ramblas – where you’ll see street performers dancing flamenco, eating fire or being human statues – and then head through the streets of the old city and its Barrio Gòtico (Gothic Quarter), to admire its narrow alleyways and intricate architecture.

Where to stay
Barcelona The Cotton Club Terrace 620
The Cotton Club Terrace

Barcelona has a plenty of hotels that are bursting with personality. For boutique rooms with a story, book into Cotton House Hotel – the 19th century former Cotton Textile Foundation building retains many original frescoes, dramatic fireplaces and dark wood fittings.

Hotel Arts Barcelona
The contemporary Hotel Arts on the beachfront

For modern luxury try the Hotel Arts Barcelona. Built in time for the 1992 Olympics it is positioned on the beach and has stunning views down the coast and across the city.

Or for a taste of colonial-style accommodation with an on-site cinema try Hotel 1898 on Las Ramblas. The Boutique Bed & Breakfast on Career de Pau Claris is a good homely pick as well.

Where to eat

Cheese lovers shouldn’t leave Barcelona without visiting Formatgeria La Seu, the only cheese shop in Spain dedicated to Spanish and Catalan cheese. The city’s open food market Boqueria is also a must-visit where you can stand at bustling stalls and devour freshly made tapas dishes.

Barcelona Shrimps at Carpe Diem CDLC Gastro 620
Shrimps at Carpe Diem

At the beach, Carpe Diem successfully manages to fuse Asian, Arabic, Indian and Mediterranean cuisines and is a lot of fun.

Get your traditional tapas fix with an extensive beer list at Ciudad Condal or try the innovative Colibrí.

Getting around

Barcelona is a great city to walk around and you can also hire bikes. It has an easy to use and regular metro system, as well as trains and buses, but with balmy weather almost all year round we recommend walking or cycling. Taxis are reasonably priced, but like in many big cities heavy traffic can mean they aren’t much quicker than public transport.

When to go

Barcelona enjoys mild weather in the winter, so there’s never a bad time of year to go. Late spring and autumn is a little less crowded and sticky but those travelling in summer will really get to enjoy the city’s long sweeping beach.

Three things we like
Barcelona La Boqueria dates in the market flickr Jose Gonzalvo Vivas 620
Dates in La Boqueria food market
  1. Did we mention La Boqueria? The food market has everything from slices of serrano ham for
    ‎€2 to plates of delicious padron peppers with rock salt. Rows upon rows of stands selling colourful fresh fruit, iced but still-scuttling seafood, whole rabbits and tasty fresh olives.
  2. Barcelona is one of the best city breaks to combine shopping, culture and cuisine. So easy to get around, you can really soak up the city on a long weekend. And the added bonus of a beach is just the cherry on the top
  3. Simple plates of jamon and Spanish tomato bread teamed with red wine make a simple yet wholly satisfying meal.
Something we don’t like

Barcelona is a very popular tourist destination, which means the big sights can get crowded during peak season and you have to be careful of pick pockets.

Don’t miss
Barcelona La Boqueria market flickr Claudine Co 620
Jamon Iberico in the market
  1. A boozy jamon tasting with the experts at the Jamón Experience on Las Ramblas is incredibly cheesy, but you’ll come away feeling well fed and with detailed knowledge of how the meat varies by region.
  2. Wander round the Parc de la Ciutadella, which has walking trails, a lake and historic buildings from its years as a citadel garrison fort before it became a public park 1877.
  3. History buffs can satisfy their curiosity at Castell de Montjuïc, an old military fortress overlooking the sea, which dates back to 1640.
Barcelona Canon at Parc de Montjuic flickr Paco Vega 620
A canon at Parc de Montjuic
High50 insider tips
  • Venture outside Barcelona for the day to see some of Catalonia’s picturesque medieval towns such as Besalú and villages such as Rupit.
  • Football fans will enjoy a look round Camp Nou stadium, home to FC Barcelona and the largest football stadium in Europe.
  • For a bird’s eye view of Barcelona’s architecture, parks, coast and surrounding mountains, take a helicopter tour from the downtown heliport.
Barcelona, Spain skyline at night - Harbour view Alamy
Harbour view at night. Photo by Alamy
Travelling with family?

The Spanish love to involve their kids in grown-up social activities, so it’s not uncommon to see children out and about with their parents late in the evenings. Kids will also love the aquarium in Port Vell, with its shark tunnel and 450 different species of sea creature.

Need to know
  • Timezone is GMT +1 hour.
  • Currency is the Euro
  • Flight time from London is two hours, and the airport is around a half-hour drive from the centre of the city.
  • Tipping isn’t the norm among the Spanish, and it’s rare to see anyone other than tourists (often Americans) leaving tips.
  • Plug sockets are round, European 2-pin.
  • Tap water is generally safe in Spain.
  • As in other Catholic churches across Europe, it’s respectful for visitors to cover their shoulders, midriffs and knees.
  • Pickpockets are a problem in busy tourist sites in Barcelona, so watch your phones and wallets.