The Barcelona Travel Guide : Més Que Un City
The Catalan Capital is synonymous with hazy sunsets, modernist art and stylish football – but there’s more to Barcelona than meets the eye.
As first published in The Exchange Magazine, 2011
The beating heart of many European cities is its football team. However, in the Capital of Catalonia, the blood of the locals doesn’t so much flow red but the grenadine and blue of FC Barca, with seemingly everyone a fervent fan.
Furthermore, it’s interesting to the outsider how the socialist values and stylish ambition the football club espouses with its famous Més Que un Club (More than a Club) mantra translate themselves to the day-to-day lives of the city’s one and a half million population.
But it wasn’t always this way. Post-war Barcelona was a bleak place, with little international reputation. However, after another sporting legacy, the 1992 Olympic Games, left its indelible mark on the city, the sleeping giant awoke from its slumber to step out of the shadow of Madrid and stand proud as the chic Spanish destination for the stylish traveller.
These days, Barcelona is a unique gem in the South West corner of Europe. Just like its in-house footballing demigods residing at the magnificent Camp Nou, the city now shines with a gloriously single-minded vision of winning style. The fabulous art of Gaudi dominates the city skyline, the glorious beaches rival any in the Mediterranean, and the buzzing nightlife and exquisite food is the envy of most.
Simply put, in footballing parlance, after so many years in the doldrums, Barcelona is in a Champions League of its own, and it’s terrifically exciting to be a part of its glorious triumph.
WHERE TO STAY
When choosing where to stay, the most useful thing (or irritating, depending on your point of view) is the way the city is one of the most heavily compartmentalised in Europe. This means that if you’re there on business, you’ll head straight for the business district, which is very, well, businessy. But if you’re looking for fun you’ll need to travel across town to the entertainment strip, Las Ramblas, which is very, well, entertaining. However, cabs are plentiful and inexpensive, and once you’re in town nothing is too far away.
The discerning traveller should stay at Hotel Arts for a truly special experience. Situated right on the waterfront, the hotel’s panoramic views across the Mediterranean are stunning, and the thriving bustle of the Olympic Village district below will keep you entertained when off-duty.
The Executive Suites are neat and contemporary, but if you’re staying for more than a couple of days then book into one of the hotel’s 28 exclusive apartments. Located on the top floors of the 44 storey building, their gloriously spacious living areas and uber-modern bedrooms will guarantee your clients’ jaws drop to the floor. This is the height of Catalan cool.
For something a little more boutique, try the Grand Hotel Central in the constantly (and pleasantly) surprising Gothic district. Right in the heart of the city’s tourist attractions, the hotel is all the things the city aspires to be; cool, stylish and understated.
Book the Master Suite for the best room in the house, but you won’t spend much time in there as the open-air SkyBar has truly awe-inspiring views across the city, alongside simply one of the best rooftop pools in Europe.
WHERE TO EAT
A visit to Barcelona must take in the culinary magic of Alkimia, not far from the business district. Catalonia’s current chef of the moment Jordi Vila has created a new wave of Spanish cuisine, taking the best of the old guard, and giving it a fresh lease of life.
Featuring two tantalizing taster menus of creative creations, you’ll be squiffy over the freshly caught squid and waving the white flag after the triumphant black chocolate and eucalyptus ice cream. Truly groundbreaking food, and an absolute must-do. Don’t forget to book though.
For authentic Catalonian cuisine, head to Vinya Roel for a taste of classic Barcelona. The restaurant stands out for its outstanding gastronomic quality, but also its peculiar setting as it’s truly staggering wine collection envelopes diners in a beautiful array of colourful hues.
The seafood is, of course, remarkable and the range of wonderful tapas dishes so vast that you could come back every day for a month and still find something to surprise your taste buds.
WHERE TO PARTY
For a young, vibrant night head to Can Paixano, otherwise known as ‘The Champagne Bar’. Situated right in the heart of the bustling Las Ramblas party district, this trendy venue is the go-to destination for the young and beautiful to let their hair down. It’s often packed to the rafters, so book a VIP table in advance and enjoy the wide selection of wines they’ve got on offer.
For something a little more refined, visit Dry Martini off the Avinguda Diagonal, which splits the city. Here you’ll enjoy laid-back splendour, and an entire venue dedicated to the famous cocktail.
There’s only one drink to be seen with here, and you’ll sip it amongst some genuinely interesting paraphernalia of Martini memories. If you’re lucky you’ll have your own memories to keep the morning after the night before.
A visit to Barcelona just isn’t complete without a tour of the city’s real cathedral, the Camp Nou.
Tours run daily, and you’ll walk through the museum, into the dressing room, and up into the press box. However, the real thrill comes when you line up in the tunnel by the famous FC Barca chapel, before stepping out pitch side, and witnessing the vast stands loom up around you.
Plan your visit carefully, and you’ll be able to get along to a game easliy, where you’ll look down from the toweringly steep stands and enjoy the finest football you’ll see on the planet.
Barcelona isn’t a place renowned for its gambling nature, but down in the Olympic Port you’ll find Casino Barcelona, where you can up the stakes.
It’s quiet, as most of the city’s nightlife is until midnight, but when the businesspeople from all around the city descend upon the venue, it all heats up, with the roulette table usually the busiest. Poker and blackjack players should be prepared to stay up late, as the card tables don’t really get going until 3am, and you’ll want to stay sharp at that time of night.
Barcelona prides itself on its cultural output, and the city is bursting at the seams with interactive museums, including an excellent Picasso museum. However, it’s the influence of visionary modernist artist Antonio Gaudi that gives the most character to the entire city.
Make sure you at least pass by Gaudi’s unfinished masterpiece, the breathtaking Sagrad Familia cathedral, with its unorthodox 160 metre spires that can be seen from miles around. Don’t try on a Sunday though as the Roman Catholic population will see queues around the block, and then some.
The gorgeous Catalonian coastline is full of undiscovered bays, and beaches impossible to reach from the mainland.
To fully explore this hidden side of Barcelona, charter a luxury yacht for two days and sail up the coast. Be the master of your own destiny and stop when and where you like, taking a jet ski from the yacht to the shore. Once your private beach party has ended, head back to the moored yacht for a decadent night on the high seas.
Fly from various UK airports with a number of airlines, including British Airways.