Image by Barcelona-based illustrator Birgit Palma

The Insider Guide

Sandwiched between Spain's western coastline and the Collserola mountains, this hip, bohemian city is a banquet of delights – all funky architecture and gritty nightlife, speckled with enough cathedrals, museums and galleries to satisfy even the most discerning culture vultures.

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The Main Attractions

Unusually for a European city, Barcelona is laid out on a grid, so although its streets sprawl across a whopping 40sqmi (100sqkm), it's easy to trot from one distinct barri, or neighbourhood, to the next without losing your bearings, soaking up plenty of Catalan and Spanish culture as you go. Ease yourself in with a morning stroll up Avinguda Diagonal, one of the city's main thoroughfares, towards La Sagrada Família in all its spindly glory, the (as yet unfinished) masterpiece basilica of Catalan's favourite son, architect Antoni Gaudí. If you're keen to get better acquainted with Gaudí's work, continue along Diagonal and have a good gawp at the hypnotic facades of Casa Batlló and Casa Milà, then put aside a day to get pleasantly lost amid the fantasy landscape of Park Güell, his undulating love letter to Catalan Modernism. Next, wend your way on to Ciutat Vella (Catalan for Old City), in the heart of which you'll find Barri Gotic (the Gothic Quarter) – a warren of cobbled passageways opening onto grand squares rimmed with Medieval architecture, a stark contrast to the wider city's neat modernism. It's here that you'll find the Palau de la Música Catalana, a grand concert hall dating from the early 1900s, and Barcelona Cathedral with its spectacular neo-gothic facade, complete with gargoyles. Stop for a spot of lunch at Mercat de la Boqueria, an enormous covered food market offering a cornucopia of fresh produce and several excellent counter bars selling sit-down and take-away snacks, then digest with a stroll down La Rambla, the city's thronging pedestrianised boulevard. Art lovers will want to make time for the Picasso Museum around the corner, and for Fundació Joan Miró (a 40-minute walk through adjacent neighbourhoods El Raval and El Poble-Sec, but worth every step), a modern art museum honouring the eponymous Barcelona-born artist. Now you've hit off all the major players, it's time to get off the beaten track. Read on for our local insider tips.

Neighborhoods in Barcelona