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Aerial view across the Sagrada Familia amid the Barcelona cityscape

The Original Guide to Barcelona

A veritable surf ’n’ turf in city form, Barcelona pairs beachside living with cutting-edge urbanity: top-ranked gastronomy, Unesco-accredited architecture, a slew of progressive music festivals (Sónar, Primavera Sound) and some of the planet’s finest football – male and female. With so much on offer, allow us to pepper your itinerary with failsafe recommendations, from big hitters to under-the-radar gems



READ: The Passenger: Barcelona combines coffee-table photography from Catalan cinematographer Marc Gómez del Moral, who’s made music videos for the Rolling Stones and Elton John, with astutely observed essays by local writers. Topics profile independence politics, the female rollerskaters reclaiming Barcelona’s seafront promenades, and how to stop tech districts emptying out at night. 

LISTEN: Two-time Grammy winner Rosalía was born in Sant Cugat del Vallès, ten miles northwest of Barcelona, and the global megastar still proudly peppers her multi-genre hits (rap meets pop meets flamenco meets hip-hop) with lyrics in Catalan. A lesser-known playlist pick is Oques Grasses – a catchy, summery-anthemed Catalan pop group who are touring the region throughout 2024.

WATCH: Instagram creator Yamil Doval (@yamildoval) is actually Galician, not Catalan, but his mesmerising videos of Barcelona (where he lives) garner millions of views. His imagery is atmospheric and authentic, featuring golden-hued snapshots of daily life that whisk you down alleyways and inside buildings, and Doval is generous with his geotags – providing a great source of secret, aesthetic addresses.

Visitors walking along the waterfront in Barceloneta

Locals enjoying the waterfront in Barceloneta


“Barcelona is a little bit of everything in a small city. The blend of architecture, design, good weather and gastronomy makes it an excellent place for living, working remotely in front of a sea view, or coming for a holiday. Every neighbourhood is a curious mix of the old and the new, and I recommend sampling both worlds. So, instead of going straight to the beach in Barceloneta, explore the traditional streets of this old fisherman’s area and stop at La Mar Salada for Catalan fideuà – a form of paella made from short pasta noodles instead of rice. A walk in Gràcia is also a must. The characterful neighbourhood is full of charming little houses and classic institutions, such as the old-school Botafumeiro (renowned for doing seafood extremely well) alongside a new wave of fashionable bars such as tiny 14 De la Rosa, whose vermouth and aperitivos are amazing.”

Astounding views from the Mirador torre Glòries


Jean Nouvel’s metallic, gherkin-shaped tower has been a skyline staple since the early noughties, but today its 30th floor is the place from which to do the viewing. Open to the public since 2022 (lower floors remain a business centre), Mirador Torre Glòries wows not only for its 360° views, but for how you view them: by hauling yourself up the cable-suspended platforms in Tomás Saraceno’s Cloud Cities Barcelona art installation-turned-adult climbing frame. Once aerial, lie back to admire the panorama from Montjuïc to the Pyrenees to the Mediterranean – particularly magical at sunset. (Admission is subject to age and health restrictions.)  


It’s Catalonia’s lack of rain that’s a dampener these days, but, should a downpour strike, dash towards a museum double-act where two cultural centres are neighbours. In the Gothic Quarter, the Picasso Museum (booking essential) sits next to the hot-pink Moco Museum, housing works by Banksy, Yayoi Kusama and Jean-Michel Basquiat. On Montjuïc, pair MNAC (Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya) – known for its Romanesque frescoes and spectacular halls – with coffee at the fashionably quirky Fundació Joan Miró. Modern art fans should stick to El Raval, where MACBA (Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art) and CCCB (Centre of Contemporary Culture) are the cool kids on the block.   

A stylish table setting at El 4 Gats

Exquisite 4 Gats (Òscar Ferré)


Catalan Art Nouveau – the artistic movement most viscerally pictured through curvy walled buildings with lashings of decoration, floral motifs and colour – hit the big time when Barcelona hosted the International Exhibition in 1888 and brought global eyes to its regional talent. Architecturally, there were three key players: Lluís Domènech i Montaner (of the majestic Unesco-credited concert hall, Palau de la Música Catalana), Josep Puig i Cadafalch (Casa Amatller) and, of course, the limelight-stealing Gaudí (Casa Batlló, La Pedrera, Casa Vicens, Park Güell). With Picasso’s arrival in 1895, Els 4 Gats became the watering hole for the movement’s idea-thrashing and was regularly propped up by artists Santiago Rusiñol and Ramon Casas. Still open today, the atmospheric café feels like a living time capsule.

Aerial view across the city of Barcelona


All plane window seats peer over the spiky, often snowy, tips of the Pyrenees, but sit on the right for a city perspective, too. As the plane swoops south just before landing, look out to spot the three chimneys of Sant Adrià de Besòs (the heritage-preserved remnants of a controversial 1970s thermal power plant), Torre Glòries, the formulaic street grid of the Eixample neighbourhood with La Sagrada Família, the mirrored sail-shape of the Ricardo Bofill-designed W hotel, Montjuïc hill and the port.

Scarlett Johansson in Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Scarlett Johansson in Vicky Cristina Barcelona 


That Woody Allen names Barcelona alongside his two female protagonists in Vicky Cristina Barcelona shows the importance of the city as the catalyst for Rebecca Hall and Scarlett Johansson’s exciting summer of seduction. But if this Javier Bardem film is the glossy, tourist office-approved version of Barcelona (and do look for some under-the-radar addresses, such as Fundació Antoni Tàpies, where Cristina spots Juan Antonio, and Vicky studies), then Bardem’s grittier Barcelona-based movie, Biutiful, is a reality check. Fleeting glimpses of La Sagrada Família and Plaça Reial are the only architectural softeners in a film that’s otherwise foreboding – from unfiltered street shots to the turmoil of trying to claw out from the city’s criminal underbelly. 

Visitors swimming and relaxing on Nova Icària beach

Swimmers at Nova Icària beach


The tourist board’s comprehensive accessibility focused website flags up everything from sign-language tours to museums adapted for the partially sighted. Nova Icària is the best beach, with wooden jetties over the sand and, in summer, beach wheelchairs, assistance, and a hoist for bathing. Gaudí’s Casa Batlló employs a neurodivergent team and is wheelchair-accessible throughout, including the audio-visual rooms and roof terrace, with a €6 ticket discount and free companion ticket. La Sagrada Família is free for disabled visitors and a companion, but tickets must be pre-booked online and official disability accreditation shown on arrival (the towers are not wheelchair-accessible).


The iconic promenade heading towards W Hotel in Barcelona

The sail-like W hotel


Do go inside La Sagrada Família. Most visitors stare up from the outside, speculating how close to being finished it really is (the latest official estimate for the remaining tower is 2026, which ties in neatly with the centenary of Gaudí’s death, though a vast sweeping stairway isn’t expected to be completed until 2034). However, it’s the church’s interior, a kaleidoscope of stained-glass reflections, that truly lodges in your throat.  

The ultimate dining experience is at Disfrutar – the three-Michelin-starred restaurant, currently regarded as the second best in the world (2023 50 Best list), which dazzles on multiple levels: culinary skill, slickness of execution, faultless staff attention. Best of all, it’s outrageous fun. (If you can’t get blag, beg or sell your soul to get in, Berbena is an exceptional plan B).

Finally: walk, run, cycle or skate the raised promenade that was recently extended around the W hotel. Called Escaleras y Mirador Vela, it offers the unique perspective of a view on to the city from the sea, as well as arty photo ops taken in the W’s reflective sides.

The idyllic Porto cityscape at sunset

Tranquil Porto at dusk


From Spain’s second-largest city to Portugal’s. Like Barcelona, Porto is a waterside city that blends beach life (albeit more surf-minded thanks to the breezy Atlantic) with imprint-your-eyes architecture. Gaudí’s mosaics meet their match in Porto’s azulejos – patterned tiles, often blue and white, that have adorned façades since the 12th century – while the colourfully painted walls along the River Douro are best admired early or late to beat the camera-wielding throngs. Porto has its own devoutly worshipped football club (a long-serving Champions League rival of Barcelona’s, no less) and a Primavera Sound festival: smaller and grassier than the Catalan original, but with hold-its-own names, such as 2024 headliners Lana del Rey, Pulp, and The Last Dinner Party, which won BBC Radio 1’s Sound of 2024 award. Serralves would even be Porto’s equivalent of Ciutadella Park, bragging a contemporary art museum and buildings designed by the Portuguese great, Álvaro Siza Vieira. To crash, majestic luxury hotels such as The Yeatman and Pestana Porto: A Brasileira rub shoulders with design-forward whippersnappers like The Rebello, where a former kitchen-utensil factory has metamorphosed into a sleek riverside spa hangout. Hungry? Porto’s foodie notoriety has gone far beyond its humble tripe-based roots: the clifftop and maritime-themed Casa de Chá da Boa Nova is one of seven Michelin-starred restaurants, while Gharb takes inspiration from Porto’s Muslim heritage and bases its Middle Eastern dishes on Portuguese raw materials, such as switching lamb for sardines.