Spain's best-loved city is a showcase of madcap architecture, wildly inventive restaurants and cava-fueled nightspots that keep the party rolling till dawn. Add scenic hillside parks, a medieval center and sun-kissed beaches, and it's easy to see why so many visitors fall for this Mediterranean beauty.
The cobblestone streets of the Ciutat Vella (Old City) provide a window to Barcelona’s glorious past, with soaring Gothic churches, Roman ruins and palm-fringed plazas where you can sip a cafè amb llet (coffee with milk) beneath 14th-century spires. Further north, the Eixample neighborhood is a showcase of stunning Modernista architecture. Here you’ll see works by the famed Antoni Gaudí, including his Sagrada Família, a jaw-dropping cathedral that's over 100 years in the making — and still far from completion.
Take a breezy stroll along Barceloneta beach, then head into the narrow lanes nearby for a seafood feast. After sundown, visit the bohemian drinking dens of El Raval, go tapas bar-hopping in El Born or watch the legendary FC Barcelona take the field at Camp Nou.
It won't take long before you run into an example of what sets Barcelona apart. The Modernist movement (Art Nouveau's Iberian manifestation) takes its most spectacular form in the city's fantastic architectural creations, most famously Antonio Gaudi's Sagrada Familia, the gothic cathedral which has been under construction since 1882. Bike it or bus it around to discover the urban tableau. Or, head to Parc Güell for an original and interesting park that offers more than just green space.
The painter Joan Miró another Barcelona native. The Miro Foundation holds the largest collection of his work anywhere. The famed Picasso Museum is also a must, as is the Dalí Museum in nearby Figueres. Take a walk down Las Ramblas, Barcelona's tree-lined thoroughfare, and spend some time with the unique human statues, a surreal form of living art.
Regional differences in Spain are pronounced and Barcelona is fiercely proud of its Catalonian roots. Manifested most obviously by language, the Catalonian identity has a long history that can be traced back to the ninth century. Banned under Franco, the Catalan language now flourishes, and has undergone an astounding resurgence in recent years.
This independent spirit infuses the city with life. From tall castellars (human towers) at festivals to fusion cuisine to rival Paris or New York, Barcelona is a creative and vibrant metropolis with one eye on the Mediterranean and the other looking toward the hills (try the funicular up to Tibidabo hill).
Late nights and into the dawn
Barcelona comes to life after the sun goes down. The Barri Gótic is Barcelona's oldest section, but it's also home to some of the trendiest bars. Mix with the locals in the La Raval neighborhood, eat tapas at sunset, and go clubbing until dawn. It's all on the agenda in a city where midnight is just the start of the evening.
Your Barcelona city tour can take you to bullfights in the Gothic Quarter, to Europe's biggest football stadium, or to a flamenco show. Come in June for the Sonar Festival and experience electronic music beyond measure.
Since hosting the 1992 Olympics, Barcelona has seen revitalization that has never slowed. It's a vibrant mix with new hip addresses and old markets with fresh produce. Its depth and complexity befit the capital of Catalonia and at the break of dawn, it may feel like the capital of the world. Hide