Nestled between the Mediterranean and the Serra de Collserola Hills lies Barcelona, Spain’s ‘second capital’ and Catalonia’s biggest city. Beautiful mountains, beaches and a abundance of museums, galleries, monuments and parks surround Barcelona. From its medieval lanes to Gaudi’s masterpieces, Barcelona is packed full of cultural treasures. By night time the city is a whirl of buzzing restaurants and tapas bars. Steeped in history and culture, nature and entertainment, this vibrant and dynamic city is the ideal city break destination.
Barcelona is an all year round destination: a winter city break or a sunny beach break in the summer. Avoid Barcelona in August if possible, it’s unbearably hot and muggy and there are swarms of tourists. April, October and November can have a high rainfall and thunderstorms. Cold snaps aren’t uncommon as Barcelona is downwind from the Pyrenees. May has the most pleasant weather of the year as its clear and fresh.
The weather in Barcelona is pleasant for most of the year. From April until the end of September the weather in Barcelona is warm and sunny. During July and August the city can get very hot and humid with temperatures soring to around 34°C. October and November is sill pleasant but cooler with some days overcast and rainy. From November to February the temperatures are around 12°C and the days often sunny.
Sant Joan: The summer kicks off every year on the June 23rd with the Sant Joan festival, which marks the feast of Saint John. To celebrate the city goes crazy with beach parties until dawn and other debauch fiestas taking place throughout in the city. It’s a one evening event not to be missed and embodies Barcelona in all its glory.
Festival del Grec: From the end of June to early August one of Barcelona’s main cultural events takes place, in the Teatre Grec, where a collection of international shows including dance, music, theatre and circus are performed. The performances are in English and Catalan.
Música als Parcs: This music festival runs from June to August and the concerts take place in Barcelona’s most beautiful parks throughout the city. The festival has two cycles: from June to August, on Wednesdays and Fridays, from 10pm, in Ciutadella Park where there’re live jazz performances. In July on Thursdays and Saturdays there are classical concerts from a collection of young musicians.
Montjuïc de Nit: Inspired by other similar events in Europe, such as the ‘Nuit Blanche’, this cultural weekend festival in Montjuïc takes place every July, comprises of art, cinema, dance, music and theatre and the museums stay open until 3am.
Festa Major de Gràcia: This annual street art festival extravaganza is one of the most popular events in the city amongst locals and tourists alike and takes place in the third week of August. The festival’s main concept is it’s a street art competition in which artists are given a street each to transform into a theme of their choice, such as the jungle or space. One of the other main attractions is the festival’s opening ceremony with giants and castles in Plaça Rius i Taulet. In addition to this there are around 600 activities to enjoy from bouncy castles to fireworks and concerts.
Festes de la Mercè: In honour of Our Lady of Mercy Barcelona has an annual, free music festival for one week at the end of September. The event comprises of concerts all over the city at the same time and it’s possible to catch some great bands. In addition to the music there are fireworks, carrefocs (fireruns), sporting events that include a swim race across the port and there’s also a wide variety activities for children.
Mount Montjuïc: Montjuïc was the main location for the 1992 Olympics and its possible to visit the landmarks from the event. The mountain is very large and has many different attractions besides the Olympic Stadium, such as the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Fundació Joan Miró, Palau Sant Jordi and the Casetll de Montjuïc. There are also a collection of beautiful gardens and breath-taking views of the city. A great way to see everything is to take the cable car, which goes from the Olympic Swimming Pool to the Castle, as it enables passengers to get a fantastic birds eye view of the mountain. You can access the mountain via one of its many entrances, which are located at the southeast corner of the city.
At nightfall, the enchanting Font Màgica de Montjuïc takes place near the main entrance of Monjuic by Plaza Espana. This chorographic water display goes from the top of the stairs outside the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya to the main fountain at the bottom, near the entrance. The display is seasonal and takes place at certain times, so be sure to check the timetable beforehand.
Avinguda de Rius i Taulet, 08038 Barcelona
Camp Nou: For the football fans Camp Nou, FC Barcelona’s homeground since 1957, is a must see. It’s the biggest stadium in Europe and eleventh biggest in the world, seating 98,772 people. It’s possible to see a home game between September and June and it’s also possible to get a rundown of the stadium’s and team’s history at the on site FCB museum.
Carrer d’Arístides Maillol 12-18, 08028 Barcelona.
Casa Milà: Become encountered with Gaudi’s surreal architecture exhibited in Casa Milà, also known as La Pedrera, which is one of the buildings he was commissioned to design on Passeig de Gracia. The house is typical of Gaudi’s Art Nouveau style and has an amazing roof terrace with spectacular views.
Carrer de Provença 261-265, 08008 Barcelona.
La Sagrada Família: Another one of Guadi’s wonders, and arguably his most famous creation, La Sagrada Família is a must see when in Barcelona. The church is still being built with the hope it will be completed by 2030. However its still possible to go and visit as a huge amount of the church has been completed. Gaudi’s masterpiece is admired by flocks of tourist everyday that are left utterly amazed by his unique design and innovative imagination.
Carrer de Mallorca 401, 08013 Barcelona.
Mercat de la Boqueria: For fresh food and local produce stop off at Mercat de la Boqueria, the city’s oldest, largest and most famous market, which is buzzing full of atmosphere and Catalan delicacies. The building was erected in 1840 and the open-air markets have existed since the Middle Ages. The 265 stalls offer a wide range of high-quality produce including vegetables, fruit, fish, meat, cheese, herbs and preserves.
Plaça de la Boqueria, Las Ramblas 100, 08002 Barcelona.
Santa Maria del Mar: In the Borne neighbourhood resides one of Barcelona’s most exquisite and graceful churches Santa Maria del Mar, which was built from 1329 to 1384. The 14th century Catalan Gothic basilica feels vast, which is enhanced by its simplicity. The church is renowned for being built ‘quickly’ as it took just 55 years to complete.
Plaça de Santa Maria, Carrer dels Sombrerers, 6, 08003 Barcelona.
PICNIC: Situated in Borne, Picnic is the ideal spot for a delicious Brunch on Saturdays and Sundays, between 12pm and 5pm. The restaurant opened in 2010 and it’s proved a great success. The rest of the week the menu is influenced by America’s Deep South, with offerings such as corn chowder, fried green tomatoes and some tasty little crab cakes with fennel salad and crème fraîche. The restaurant stays open till 2am so if you’re there later you can order dinner when the mouth-watering homemade hamburgers and a great selection of cocktails are amongst the offerings.
Carrer Comerç 1, 08003 Barcelona. (+34) 93 511 66 61. www.picnic-restaurant.com
CORNELIA AND CO.: Cornelia and Co. is ideal for breakfast and daytime dinning. The café is an all in one restaurant, bakery, café and shop and feels like a trendy American deli. The café has a wide variety of delicious delicacies that include fresh pastas, cold meats, sushi, cheeses, pastries and wines. It’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and is located in Eixample.
Carrer Valencia 225, 08007 Barcelona. (+34) 93 272 39 56 www.corneliaandco.com
FRAGMENTS CAFÉ: An eatery frequented by the locals and offering very good homemade food is Fragments Café, which is situated in the beautiful and peaceful Les Corts Square. The restaurant, which is in an old house, has a terrace where you can enjoy the delicious Tapas and Mediterranean cuisine. They also serve great coffee and desserts.
Plaça de la Concòrdia, 12, 08014 Barcelona. (+34) 934 19 96 13. www.fragmentscafe.com
LA POLPA: This elegant fusion restaurant offers delicious Mediterranean food with an Oriental twist, which can be enjoyed in the shabby-chic decorated interior with wooden floors, tables and chairs, white walls and an outdoor terrace, which is ideal in the summer.
Carrer Enric Granados, 69, 08008 Barcelona
FLAMANT: For a formal and traditional Catalan eatery head to Flamant, which is a Mediterranean art nouveau and modernism restaurant. Barcelona’s art nouveau and modernism movements have had a strong influence on the culture of the city so this restaurant gives a very conventional representation of Catalonia. The food is excellent Mediterranean and International cuisine. Flamant’s décor is smart with dark wooden walls and surfaces, brass lighting fixtures, white linen table clothes and a beautiful garden. It’s a great spot to really feel the old-fashioned ambiance of Catalonia.
Carrer Enric Granados, 23, 08007 Barcelona. (+34) 933 231 635 www.grupandilana.com/es/restaurantes/flamant
SESAMO: For a vegetarian option Sésamo is an excellent choice. Their imaginative menu offers organic dishes based on Italian cuisine such as lasagne with ricotta, spinach and pine nuts. They also have an impressive selection of Tapas.
Carrer de Sant Antoni Abat, 52, 08001 Barcelona. +34 934 41 64 11. www.sesamo-bcn.com
EMBAT: This petit bistronomic Catalan restaurant oozes minimalism and classic cuisine. The menu offers fresh and thoughtful combinations such as casserole of artichokes and poached egg with pork dewlap and wood pigeon with cacao biscuit and onion confit. The restaurant is a small and intimate space, which is well lit and minimally decorated with white tiles and wooden tables.
Mallorca 304, Barcelona, Catalonia, 08037. (+34) 93-458–0885. www.restaurantembat.es
EL BULLY: Ferran Adrià, who is one of the most famous people in Spain and has been celebrated as the best chef in the world, runs this highly controversial and experimental restaurant. El Bulli is situated just outside of Roses, on the Costa Brava and overlooks Cala Montjoi. The restaurant receives up to 1,000,000 reservation requests a year and only 8,000 of them get a table.
Avinguda de Rhode, 101, 17480 Roses, Girona, Spain. +34 972 15 07 17. www.elbulli.info. firstname.lastname@example.org
Girona: Within one hour and a half on the train from Plaza Catalonia station in Barcelona you’ll reach Girona, the gorgeous medieval city. The centre of Girona is the old quarter where the old Benedictine monastery Sant Pere de Galligants, the Sant Feliu church and the Arab baths can be found. Nearby at Rambla de la Libertat there are lots of shops. However the most spectacular landmark in Girona is the ancient, medieval city wall that meanders around the higher part of the city. Parts of the wall date back to the 9th century A.D. On the other side of the wall there are beautiful gardens and a walking path, which is great for a wander and the perfect spot to get great views of the city and its gorgeous surroundings.
Figueres: Figueres can be reached in two hours on the train from Plaza Catalonia station. The artist Salvador Dali was born in Figueres and hence where the Salvador Dali Museum is situated. The museum, which Dali designed, is the main attraction in Figueres. Girona is half way between Barcelona and Figueres so it’s possible to see both places in one day, which breaks up the travel time well.
Cadaqués: East of Figueres on the Mediterranean sea is the magical former fishing village Cadaqués. This beautiful spot is just by the Cap de Peninsula, which is where the Pyrenees Mountains meet the sea. Cadaqués is situated in the North-Eastern corner of Catalonia, which is very close to the French border. Salvador Dali’s former house, which has been turned into a museum, is just minutes from the village centre and can be reached by foot. The village is one of the most magnificent places in Catalonia and is a great daytrip as there is so much to enjoy such as the delicious restaurants, visiting Dali’s house and wandering through the surreal surroundings. To reach Cadaqués from Barcelona you can drive in one and a half hours from Barcelona or get a bus from the North Bus Station in Barcelona, which will take you right in to the heart of Cadaqués in two and a half hours.
Montserrat: About an hour or so just outside Barcelona lies Montserrat, an enormous mountain that's 1236 metres high and where the Santa Maria de Montserrat, Benedictine Abbey, is located. The mountain is vast and it's therefore possible to keep walking and climbing for hours. The monastery, Santa Maria de Montserrat, is Catalonia’s most significant sanctuary, which houses the Virgin de Montserrat and one of the world’s oldest publishing houses Publicacions de l’Abadia de Montserrat that published its first book in 1499. Montserrat is easily accessible from Barcelona by train from Plaça de Espanya station to Monsterrat Aeri. Tours on Montserrat are also available and a recommendable way to see the mountain.
Tarragona: An hour and a half south of Barcelona on the train from Passeig de Gracia station lies Tarragona, a medieval city on the Costa Dorada. The beautiful beaches back on to Roman ruins, most notably the Roman Amphitheater just off Rambla Nova. Other interesting attractions include the 12th century cathedral and inside resides the Museu Diocesa, which houses a selection of Catalan art. Tarragona is renowned for its seafood and wine, which can be enjoyed in the selection of eateries around the Rambla Nova.
Language: Spanish is spoken and understood everywhere however if you know Catalan the locals will appreciate your efforts to try and speak it.
Tipping: In Barcelona tipping is not a custom; if you want to its your own choice. A general rule of thumb is to round the bill up to the nearest Euro. In certain situations however a tip is appropriate, for example in a smart restaurant.
Eating: The Barcelona eating clock is typically Mediterranean. Lunch is usually from 2pm and dinner is from 10pm. If you’re eating in restaurants, its better to try and fit in with the local clock as the atmosphere will be much more buzzing.
Time: The days in Barcelona are very long mainly because there is a three-hour break in the middle of it. The average working person will work from 9am till 8pm with a lunch break from 2-5pm. The timeout in the afternoon from 2-5pm can be well spent having lunch and a siesta. The latter is needed as the evenings can be a late affair with the restaurants not opening before 9:30pm and most people not heading out to the bars till at least 11pm and nightclubs till 2:30am.The shops in Barcelona are usually open Monday to Saturday from 10am-9:30pm. The big, chain shops will be open for the duration of that time and the smaller ones will be shut between 2-5pm. On Sunday nearly everything is shut however the local convenience shops are open everyday.
Greetings: When meeting people on a social basis the local custom is to greet the person with two kisses, one on each cheek, even if it’s the first time you’ve met the person. Handshaking is not used socially.
Nationality matters: Barcelona is a very international city so not every person that looks and speaks Spanish is Catalan. Catalans are particularly sensitive about their origin mainly because they’re fiercely proud of their region’s culture and history. Therefore it’s better not to assume someone’s origin.
Local people: The local people can be a little misunderstood by tourists as being impolite. The Catalans aren’t as warm and easy going as the Spanish however this shouldn’t be misconstrued as rudeness. The best way to talk to Catalan’s is to be clear and quick as they’re generally not ones for embellishing a point or making a joke.
Safety: Barcelona is rife for pickpocketing. The serious crime rate is low but the petty theft scale is unfortunately very common. The way they operate is extremely subtle, for example you could be a in park with no one around you with your bag next to you and then it will be gone seconds later without you evening noticing. The beach and popular tourist spots are more prevalent for pickpocketing however it’s recommended to always be careful and aware of your belongings. Some tips to avoid being robbed include not carrying around anything that you do not need with you that day or night, keeping your bag and pockets closed at all times and to wear your bag around your body where you can see it always, especially in bars, restaurants and parks. They are so quick that given the opportunity they will take advantage. On a more positive note serious crimes are a rare occurrence.
Planes: Flights go from all of London’s major airports to Barcelona’s El Prat airport every day. The journey takes just over 2 hours. To get from El Prat Airport to Barcelona’s city centre, grab a cab outside or take the Aero Bus or Metro, which all take between 30 minutes and an hour. Alternatively if you want to rent a car there are plenty of car hire companies at the airport.
Trains: Trains run from London to Barcelona via Paris. Take the Eurostar from London to Paris and then the TGV from Paris to Barcelona. The journey takes around 10 hours.
Car: Driving time from London to Barcelona takes 16 hours.
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