Reinventing the City Break in Barcelona and Vienna

Barcelona is one of the most popular city break destinations in the world
Barcelona is one of the most popular city break destinations in the world | Photo by Logan Armstrong on Unsplash

Editorial Manager

Returning to two cities I had already visited wasn’t high on my list of travel adventures for 2023. I love both Barcelona and Vienna for different reasons, but I had a lot of other destinations I wanted to see as a priority. An intriguing concept, however, and a chance to see both locations in a different light managed to pull me back in. Here’s how one hotel brand is bringing the best local cuisine and culture to its properties whilst mastering the art of the humble city break.

Where to Stay in Barcelona

I knew the Almanac style from a previous visit to their Prague property, so the smart design, art-forward touches and attention to detail were expected. What I might have missed when researching this trip (yes, a journalist who does some research shocker!), was the location of the property. My previous visits to Barcelona had taken me to the beach and away from the centre, so to actually be based within walking distance of the main tourist sites was a bonus. The dreamy rooftop Azimuth bar comes complete with a small pool and is an excellent hangout with the views of Sagrada Familia are incredible. The signature cocktails are perfect for warm evenings and like pretty much everything here they are made from locally sourced ingredients.

Rodrigo de la Calle preparing one of his delicious plates of local delights

This local concept is best sampled at the restaurant on the ground floor. I was lucky enough to be staying at the hotel when one of their Showcooking masterclasses were on with local superstar chef Rodrigo de la Calle and his team creating culinary delights in front of out very eyes. The mostly vegetarian dishes were exceptional and the relaxed nature of the evening meant that any tastes could be catered for. You can also opt for a Foodie Package where a the plant-forward menus at VIRENS will whet the appetite alongside a similar tour to the one I took (see below).

The rooms are quiet, something of a surprise given the location. You get everything you expect from an Almanac property, and I recommend making the most of the excellent tips from the concierge team to make the most of a short break. I only had two days, which might not seem like a lot but the hotel is close enough to the airport that journey times don’t eat in to your time on the ground. The Almanac Barcelona has 91 chic, generously proportioned rooms, an impressive 30 suites (spanning up to 210 sqm) with private penthouse terraces and multiple bedrooms and living / dining rooms.

Views of the city from one of the rooms at the Almanac Barcelona

Exploring Barcelona’s Vibrant Food and Culture Scene

As soon as I landed I was off on a local evening tapas tour with Mark Planellas Witzsch. The hotel did a spot of match-making here, knowing what I wanted to see and experience, and they could not have picked a better guide. Combining food knowledge, an informative walking tour and great company, I was able to learn a lot about what makes this city one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.

We started with one of the oldest tapas places in Barcelona. Casa Alfonso serves a variety of wines, cheeses and light snacks as is Spanish style in early evenings here. Tapas originated further south when small plates of food were placed on drinks to keep out annoying insects from getting a free sip of your beverage. The trend is now popular around the world and some of the dishes I tried included Anoxes de L’Escala (fried anchovies and tomato bread), Manchego cheese and croquettes de sepia (black ink squid croquettes).

Chef prepares dishes at your table as part of the Showcooking experience. Its a great chance to see how some of the dishes I sampled on my foodie tour are actually made by an expert.

Our walking tour took us through Barcelona’s three oldest districts, namely La Ribera-Born, La Puntual and the Gothic Quarter. These areas are full of vibrant people and beautiful old buildings and with a guide you can easily navigate yourself to some outstanding foodie spots. Make sure you visit La Chinta, an olive oil specialist store where you can sample different types of local produce. Makes a change from every travel journalists favourite activity, the ubiquitous wine tasting afternoon. There’s also Bubó which serves an award-winning chocolate cake (Xabina) that is an unmissable treat for anyone with a sweet tooth.

Having seen the Sagrada Familia from afar on many trips before, I thought I had to visit it on this occasion. Mark had told me how the building had divided opinion in the city, with some residents calling for it to be demolished. Sentiments towards it have calmed down in recent years, and even though it still remains one of the most elaborate building sites in the world, there’s no denying its breathtaking beauty.

Inside Sagrada Família

The interior is actually a surprisingly sedate affair. It is still full of splendour and elaborate arrangements, but the desired effect of making the visitor feel like they are stepping into an indoor forest is mostly achieved. Book tickets online and in advance if you want to visit as it gets busy and queues can be long if you don’t get to your allocated slot on time. The team at the hotel will be more than happy to help you with making these arrangements.

Where to Stay in Vienna

On to Vienna next, where once again I was staying at an Almanac hotel close to the centre of town yet easily accessible from the airport. I actually clocked in a drive of less than 25 minutes and got to reception in record time. To be honest, I think I was a little too quick so took the opportunity to do some exploring of the hotel. I spotted an indoor pool, sauna and gym which I promised myself I would use at some point, but got distracted by the treasures on the second floor.

A series of connected ‘Heritage Rooms’ at the Almanac Palais Vienna are a throwback to Vienna’s past and remain largely untouched. They are now used as events spaces and are also popular with locals (as I found out when the space was opened up as part of Vienna’s Open House season). Again the in-house restaurants specialise in vegetarian and vegan cuisine, and I can heartily recommend the gazpacho on a hot summer day, like the one I experienced on arrival. The Donnersmarkt Restaurant has a wonderful bar attached to it and you’ll end up spending a lot more time here than you intended without regretting a second of it.

Room interior at Almanac Palais Vienna

I actually did make it to the pool and sauna on one of my afternoons here, although it was a struggle to pull myself away from the spacious suite I was staying in.

Why Vienna is One of the Best Set Jetting Destinations in the World

‘If its good enough for the locals, then its good enough for me’, and with that positive attitude I picked a spot I wanted to visit from the Open House list and made my way to the other side of the Danube. For context, Vienna is a city that’s easy to navigate around. The trains, trams and metro all function efficiently and can easily get you from point to point. The hotel is about 5 minutes on foot from the State Opera (as seen in Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation) and I would suggest walking everywhere when the weather is as nice as it was for my visit.

My final destination was DC Tower, the tallest skyscraper in the city. After a short while queuing – it seems like quite a few of us had the same idea – I was able to take an express lift to the top of the building. This is a free event, so be sure to plan where you want to go in advance. The tower and many of the surrounding streets were featured in Extraction 2 starring Chris Hemsworth. Looks like we have another set jetting destination in the city to add to an incredibly long list.

A famous set jetting location in Vienna

As I continued to explore the city I thought I saw somewhere familiar from one of my favourite romantic films of all time. In Before Sunrise Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy play a young pair of travellers who spend a night in Vienna after a chance meeting on a train to the city. They take in classic sites like the Wiener Riesenrad, which is most famous for an appearance in The Third Man. The trials and tribulations of our couple have gone on to be featured in a trilogy of excellent film by Richard Linklater, but its the first one that has a special place in the hearts of many people. I randomly found a bridge [Zollamtssteg] that is seen in one of the opening scenes of the movie, but would love to return to find more.

Combining a double city break like this to two very different cities works well if you’re looking to do some light exploring but with the option to relax at any time. Vienna and Barcelona might be places you’ve ticked off your bucket list already, but you’ll discover a lot more if you ever plan on going back to either.

Culture Trips launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes places and communities so special.

Our immersive trips, led by Local Insiders, are once-in-a-lifetime experiences and an invitation to travel the world with like-minded explorers. Our Travel Experts are on hand to help you make perfect memories. All our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.?>

All our travel guides are curated by the Culture Trip team working in tandem with local experts. From unique experiences to essential tips on how to make the most of your future travels, we’ve got you covered.

Culture Trip Spring Sale

Save up to $1,656 on our unique small-group trips! Limited spots.

Edit article