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Whether it’s jaw-dropping architecture, mouth-watering tapas or that cool, Mediterranean atmosphere – here are 11 reasons why Barcelona is truly unmissable.
The most spectacular – and controversial – of Antoni Gaudí’s modernist masterpieces, the Sagrada Família has been under construction for over 100 years and is not expected to be completed until about 2026. Rich in religious symbolism intertwined with themes of nature and unusual geometric forms, this is one of the most visually arresting monuments you’ll find in Europe.
The historic city centre was almost entirely remodelled in the 18th and 19th centuries, when it received its Neoclassical and Neo-Gothic appearance. While there are must-see monuments, such as the Gothic cathedral, on any route through the neighbourhood, it’s the often-overlooked quirks that give the area its real charm. A cursed skull and bones, a controversial letter-box and the mysterious 13 geese of the cathedral cloister are some of the hidden nuggets to look out for.
The presence of artists such as Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dalí helped give Barcelona its reputation as a noteworthy artistic city, but the city’s contemporary art scene has very much consolidated its status. The MACBA is Barcelona’s cutting-edge contemporary art museum and one of the most well-regarded institutions of its kind in Europe. On the other hand, there are a plethora of respectable art galleries representing emerging and mid-career artists from Spain and abroad. Last but not least, the street art in Barcelona attracts artists – and admirers – from across the world.
Deemed one of the most forward-thinking chefs of our time, Ferran Adrià led the elBulli restaurant on the Costa Brava, voted the best restaurant in the world a record five times. While that restaurant is no longer open, the legacy of Ferran Adrià and his disciples lives on in Barcelona’s contemporary dining scene, with restaurants such as Dos Palillos, Alkimia and Tickets continuing the tradition of culinary innovation.
Joan Miró was a leading Surrealist artist who was born and raised in Barcelona before later moving to France and Majorca. He is famous for his bold artwork conceived using vivid primary colours to create scenes – often described as nearly childlike. He was involved in the creation of the Joan Miró Foundation, which sits atop Montjuïc and is home to the largest collection of his work open to the public.
In recent years, Barcelona has successfully established itself as a rival to the likes of Berlin for its live-music scene. Two of the world’s most well-regarded music festivals – Sónar and Primavera Sound – take place here each spring, while the rest of the year sees the hottest DJs of the moment regularly perform at clubs such as Razzmatazz and Sala Apolo.
There are few food markets in the world quite like the Boqueria Market, which stands on Las Ramblas. This 19th-century building was conceived by local town planners and was initially designed to contain mainly meat and fish stalls. While today’s shoppers can find everything from exotic fruit to rare spices under its covers, the fish carousel at the centre of the building remains one of the highlights of this spectacular edifice.
Sometimes described as the Champs-Élysées of Barcelona, the Passeig de Gràcia is the city’s designer-shopping hotspot. Stretching from the Plaça de Catalunya up to the trendy Gràcia neighbourhood, the boulevard is home to some of the most fashionable and well-regarded designer labels in the world, including Chanel, Stella McCartney and Gucci.
Not only is it the home of one of the world’s most famous football teams, Camp Nou is also the largest stadium in Europe with a capacity of just under 100,000. The stadium is open to the public for the Camp Nou Experience, which includes a tour of the stadium and a visit to the FC Barcelona Museum, which contains trophies, memorabilia and original football shirts.
One of the most vibrant and multicultural neighbourhoods in Barcelona, El Raval was once considered a no-go area in the city. Today, it’s home to a thriving arts community and some of the best nightlife in the city, thanks to its mixture of hipster hang-outs and underground bars. Start on the Carrer Joaquin Costa and then let the night guide you.
There are few cities in Europe where you can enjoy the culture and vibrancy of a city break with the fun and relaxation of a beach holiday, yet Barcelona offers the best of both worlds, thanks to its location right on the Mediterranean coastline. Hire a boat for the day and discover the beauty of the Costa Brava and be back in time for dinner at a Michelin-star restaurant and late-night cocktails afterwards.