THIS ENCHANTING WATERFRONT CITY IS A DIZZYING CAULDRON OF CATALAN CULTURE, FROM CENTURIES-OLD ARCHITECTURE AND VAST SCULPTURE GARDENS TO WORLD-CLASS DINING AND ROUND-THE-CLOCK NIGHTLIFE. BE PREPARED TO FLAMENCO, FEAST, AND FALL IN LOVE
BY AMANDA McCOY
Life slows down in Barcelona, Spain’s second most populous city and the largest European metropolis sitting directly on the Mediterranean. There’s never a rush; locals embrace long, languid lunches, leisurely walks along the sun-drenched beaches, and brassy live jazz that pours from 19th century taverns until the morning sun begins to kiss the horizon. The culture is intoxicating, as is the city’s fabled history. The capital of Catalonia, an autonomous region in northeastern Spain with its own distinct cultural identity, Barcelona is teeming with 2,000 years of architectural history, from gothic cathedrals to modernist masterpieces by Antoni Gaudí. Afternoons here can simply disappear while walking down winding thoroughfares like the Passeig de Gràcia and Las Ramblas, admiring the elaborate Art Deco buildings and drinking cava on open-air patios.
KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
August is the warmest month in Barcelona, averaging 85-degree highs and 74-degree lows with only two days of rain, but the city’s seaside location affords cool ocean breezes that pour in from the Mediterranean. If you’ve been brushing up on your Spanish, be aware there are two co-official languages in Barcelona: Spanish and Catalan, and while they share the same roots, they are two distinctly different languages.
Barcelona is home to one of the continent’s most celebrated gastronomy scenes; Catalan delights like paella, bombas (stuffed mashed potato balls), and esqueixada will steal your heart, and there’s no shortage of bars and eateries to enjoy gluttonous three-hour meals. But the local dining timetable is vastly different from traditional American mealtimes, and it’s important to familiarize yourself before boarding the plane as many kitchens might be closed when hunger pangs set in. Lunch hour (la comida) is the day’s main event, but it doesn’t begin until 2:30-3 p.m. If you’re hungry at noon, most restaurants are only serving small snacks alongside adult libations like vermouth. Dinner doesn’t kick off until 9 p.m., and many restaurants will be closed until then. Locals typically nosh on snacks throughout the day, but to experience a true Catalan meal, be sure to set your watches for 3 and 9 p.m.
PASSEIG DE GRÀCIA
Considered Barcelona’s most luxurious avenue, the Grácia is the perfect place to sip, shop, and sightsee. It’s home to many of the city’s most iconic architectural treasures, including the whimsical Casa Batlló, a UNESCO World Heritage Site created by the great Modernist Gaudí. Known as the House of Bones, the neck twisting structure features a vibrant, multi-colored facade made of broken ceramic tiles, flowing sculpted stones, and irregular oval windows. It’s one of many Modernist and Art Nouveau buildings that line the avenue, joined by high-end retailers, Michelin-starred restaurants, and several museums and galleries. Stop by the Perfume Museum, home to more than 5,000 scents from throughout the centuries. barcelonapaseodegracia.com
THE BARRI GÒTIC
Barcelona’s famed Gothic Quarter is considered the cultural hub of the city, filled with narrow cobbled streets and medieval architecture that would seem frozen in the 1400s if it weren’t for the profusion of cava bars, trendy restaurants, and velvet-shrouded nightclubs. Come without an agenda and let the winding pedestrian streets lead the way. Courtyards fill with live musicians, street food vendors set up shop on practically every corner, and lively outdoor cafés offer a break from the action with views of 14th century churches, fountains, and impromptu football games. Be sure to visit the Catedral de Barcelona, an imposing 13th century cathedral constructed during the Romanesque period and the highest point in the quarter.
WHERE TO STAY
HOTEL ARTS BARCELONA
This waterfront Ritz-Carlton property epitomizes modern luxury; constructed entirely of blue glass and steel to reflect the sea, the five-star property boasts sprawling guest accommodations with stunning views, a rooftop spa, two outdoor pools, and a double-star Michelin restaurant. Spring for one of the 28 duplex penthouses, housed on the top floors of the 44-story high-rise, and enjoy private butler service, expansive terraces with panoramic vistas of the city and sea, and use of a Mini Cooper Cabrio. Both the Royal and Presidential Penthouses throw in a dedicated fitness center with personal trainer to sweat out all those tapas. Retox at one of the seven on-site restaurants, including the award-toting Enoteca Paco Pérez, a Mediterranean masterpiece by Catalonia’s most decorated chef, Paco Pérez. There are more than 700 wines on menu, ensuring you’ll find the perfect pairing for smoked Wagyu and shrimp dumplings. Rooms begin at $400 per night. ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/spain/ barcelona
MAJESTIC HOTEL & SPA
Located on the prestigious Passeig de Gràcia, this century-old resort is one of the city’s most iconic fixtures, housed in a magnificent neoclassical building circa 1918 with “Hotel Majestic” in big, illuminated letters standing watch over the fabled avenue. A display of more than 1,000 notable works from prominent painters and sculptors has earned the nickname “hotel of the arts.” There are four dining experiences on site, all curated by awarded Spanish chef Nandu Jubany, including the exquisite rooftop La Dolce Vitae with sweeping views, and one the city’s most celebrated Sunday brunches. Rooms and suites feature quintessential neoclassical style, finished with soothing neutral tones, rich floor-to-ceiling drapes, and white marble tubs. The hotel’s premier room, the Majestic Royal Penthouse, is simply massive, boasting two bedrooms, separate living and dining areas, and a deluxe outdoor terrace with Jacuzzi, daybeds, and views of the city of Gaudí. Rooms begin at $300 per night. majestichotelgroup.com
WHERE TO DINE
The setting of this Michelin-starred ne dining destination is as stunning as the dishes themselves, outfitted with ultra-modern art installations, custom made furniture, ceiling murals, and snow white paneling. It’s hidden on the main floor of the old Moritz beer factory in an industrial pocket of the city, and perhaps it’s this remote location that’s kept it under-the-radar and one of the best kept Michelin-starred secrets in the city. Chef Jordi Vila prepares masterful tasting menus filled with luxurious iterations of Catalan classics. The selections change weekly, with past dishes including red prawn suquet (seafood stew), lobster with egg romesco, and suckling lamb with potato, onions, and tupí romesco. Finish the decadent meal with desserts like cherries with sakura tea and almond with amaretto ice cream or white chocolate fondant cake with passion fruit sorbet. alkimia.cat
This is classic Catalan cuisine at its most authentic: non-fussy, tapas-style dishes made from hyper-fresh, locally grown and caught ingredients. The fish is sourced from Catalan fish markets each morning, and only in-season and locally foraged vegetables are called upon. The energy is frenetic; the restaurant is always packed, and there are no tea candles or string quartets in sight, but there’s a reason Bar Cañete continues to rack up “best of” awards like postcards. The menu spans a massive variety of traditional Spanish “snacks” to share (think Galician baby scallops with bellota ham, wild red tuna tartar, and finely cut grilled Iberian pork loin) plus a rotating list of specials. Come ready to splurge, in both calories and euros, as the motto here is “F your diet.” barcanete.com
This casual beachfront haunt remains constantly abuzz with laughter, clinking copas, and sizzling pans of paella. Rice and seafood reign supreme, but there is a vast range of innovative Spanish dishes to thrill any palate. Begin with malagueñas olives, crisp manchego, and typical Catalan bread along with a fizzy beverage we recommend the Mito Spritz, a blend of campari, vermouth, cava, and soda before dishing on sauteed La Ría clams, soupy rice with national lobster, or several options of steak, vegetable, and seafood paella. There’s also a wild daily catch on the menu that can be prepared over charcoal, in salt crust, or baked. Allot several hours, as lunches here are famed for stretching well into siesta. cansher.com