Barcelona: A city of contrasts in 48 hours
Barcelona is the capital of the Catalan region of Spain and it certainly feels like it. A busy and cultured city, it has excellent museums and art galleries combined with medieval streets and the surreal architecture of Antoni Gaudi.
As a Mediterranean port, it also has the bonus of a mild climate, several Blue Flag beaches and a lively yet relaxed atmosphere.
There is a lot to see and picking highlights is never easy, but most of the main attractions are located in or near the city centre and are surrounded by eateries of every description, serving a selection of local fish and meat dishes and of course tapas!
An excellent way to get your bearings is to buy tickets for the open topped tourist buses. They also operate a hop on hop off system which is ideal for getting you to less accessible attractions.
Architect Antoni Gaudi has certainly left his mark on the city, with several iconic buildings in the Catalan Modernism style. Using nature as his inspiration, he created and remodelled buildings in a unique way, and if you like your architecture a little eccentric then he is your man.
An excellent example is Casa Batllo, an apartment building with a facade of wavy balconies and covered in shimmering ceramic tiles. It is possible to visit one of the apartments and the roof terrace to get a close up look at the detail of his work.
For more Gaudi magic, you must visit the Basilica of the Sagrada Familia which he started work on in 1883. This astounding cathedral is still in the process of being built as when Gaudi died in 1926, it was found the original blueprints had been lost in a fire, so the work is a vivid interpration of what he wanted to achieve.
Las Ramblas is the city’s main thoroughfare, built over a river in the 14th century, it is now a busy tree lined pedestrianised avenue. Starting at Placa Catalunya at the centre of the city, it then meanders down over 1km to the statue of Christopher Colombus at Port Vell.
Take a stroll along this vibrant street and stop for lunch at one the many restaurants or tapas bars, or pop into La Boqueria market and pick up some local delicacies for a picnic.
The Gothic Quarter is the oldest part of the city, a great area to explore with it’s medieval winding streets and squares. It is home to the Barcelona City History Museum which has exhibits tracing the origins of the city from Roman times to the present day.
A particular highlight is that beneath the museum you can visit the remains of a whole quarter of the ancient Roman city of Barcino.
Football fans will kick themselves if they miss out on the chance to visit Camp Nou, home ground to FC Barcelona and the largest stadium in Europe.
A behind the scenes visit includes a tour of the pitch, the tunnel, visitor’s changing rooms, commentary boxes, the excellent interactive museum and the obligatory photo with the European Champions Cup!
There are 4.2km of golden sandy beaches just a 10 minute walk from the city and whether you are just looking for somewhere to relax or fancy a bit of kitesurfing or windsurfing, they offer a perfect antidote to the bustle of the city.
If you are partial to a bit of Picasso, the Museu Picasso is housed in five adjoining Gothic buildings and has over 4,000 of his pieces on display, mostly highlighting his earlier pre cubist works.
Where to stay
The stylish Cotton House Hotel is housed in a 19th century building on a tree lined avenue, just minutes from the city centre. Refurbished in 2015, it combines traditional elegance with facilities including an outdoor pool, gym, library and terrace.
For a romantic stay the boutique Hotel Neri offers an intimate atmosphere, set in a medieval building in the Gothic Quarter. Sympathetically updated, it combines charm with a light airy feel.
If you are looking for family apartments in Barcelona, the ideally located Lugaris Beach is a complex of modern luxury apartments, all tastefully decorated and fully equipped for a family of up to 6 people. The complex includes 24 hour security, a pool and solarium and is only 200 metres from the Poblenou beach and a short walk from the Gothic Quarter. Find out more at Lugaris.com.
Where to eat:
A visit to Barcelona must take in the culinary magic of Alkimia, not far from the business district. Catalonia’s current chef of the moment Jordi Vila has created a new wave of Spanish cuisine, taking the best of the old guard, and giving it a fresh lease of life.
Featuring two tantalizing taster menus of creative creations, you’ll be squiffy over the freshly caught squid and waving the white flag after the triumphant black chocolate and eucalyptus ice cream. Truly groundbreaking food, and an absolute must-do. Don’t forget to book though.
For authentic Catalonian cuisine, head to Vinya Roel for a taste of classic Barcelona. The restaurant stands out for its outstanding gastronomic quality, but also its peculiar setting as it’s truly staggering wine collection envelopes diners in a beautiful array of colourful hues. The seafood is, of course, remarkable and the range of wonderful tapas dishes so vast that you could come back every day for a month and still find something to surprise your taste buds.
As Barcelona is such a popular destination it is recommended that you book online tickets to attractions in advance to avoid queuing. Likewise, advance reservations for restaurants are always advisable.