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Some cities proclaim their culture or architecture to visitors; others their food or fun factor. Barcelona is that rare destination that has all of the above, plus perfect weather all year round.
Looking for beautiful beaches and buildings, imbued with that heady mix of the Mediterranean lifestyle and cuisine? Then this coastal city in north-eastern Spain will satisfy the wanderlust of travellers both young and old, budget as well as luxe. Part of the appeal lies in its Catalan heritage, with its own history, culture and language that features a vocabulary closer to French than Spanish. That can only mean sights, sounds and smells that are distinct from the rest of the Iberian peninsula.
Barcelona is a good launchpad for short trips beyond, like north to the famous coastal region of Costa Brava; Montserrat, Catalunya’s religious and cultural birthplace in the mountains; Figueres for Teatro Museo, the main Dalí museum; and south-west to Sitges, the vibrant seaside town nearby.
Some of the best things to see and do in Barcelona Spain are from Capri by Fraser, Barcelona / Spain. The design-led and high-tech property is ideal for both the business and leisure traveller. It is located in Poblenou, a trendy enclave close to the city centre that used to be an industrial centre but has since been gentrified.
As a hotel residence offering all the comforts and convenience of home, Capri by Fraser, Barcelona / Spain beckons with many art pieces and spacious rooms that have a kitchenette equipped with microwave oven. For those who prefer the cooking to be left to the professionals, satiate your hunger with the gastronomic spread at the all-day dining restaurant.
Best of all, its location is perfect for visiting the top sights in the city, from the Modernist Eixample district to the north, to the old city and sparkling sea due south.
Lose yourself in the city’s many sprawling parks. Capri by Fraser Barcelona’s convenient location means several are within easy access on foot, like Parc dels Til·lers and Parc de l’Estació del Nord.
But bigger and more impressive is Parc de la Ciutadella (above), with its huge fountain, lake, museum and zoo.
El Born is also the location of the Mercat del Born, a museum that used to be a public market. Extensively renovated, it is surrounded by old buildings that have been revitalised with cafes, bars, restaurants and little shops, one of which La Botifarreria, renowned for its botifarres or traditional Catalan sausages that nowadays can also be filled with apple, curry, whisky, orange or Parisian café sauce.
But the most famous market in Barcelona has to be Mercat de La Boqueria in La Rambla. Don’t let the juice and gelato stalls at the entrance fool you; this market is still patronised by locals for its fresh meat, seafood and vegetables.
On the other side of the Gothic Quarter is the Barcelona Cathedral. This stunning monument with its breath-taking façade actually took 122 years to build, from the end of the 13th Century to the middle of the 15th.
Still, it can’t beat the grand-daddy of Barcelona churches – Sagrada Família. A 20-minute walk from Capri by Fraser Barcelona, its construction began in 1882 and continues to this day, with its towering spires and intricate detail bearing the signature of the wildly brilliant Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi.
In El Born, there is also Santa Maria del Mar (Saint Mary of the Sea), the subject of a well-known historical novel by Ildefonso Falcones.
The best things to see and do in Barcelona Spain must include La Boqueria, mid-way down La Rambla, a wide pedestrian walkway in the Gothic Quarter. Flanked by two roads running straight down from Plaça de Catalunya towards the waterfront, La Rambla is a must-see landmark that buzzes with everything that makes it the typical tourist trap – buskers, souvenir stands, bird and pet shops.
But beyond this busy thoroughfare, in the quiet side streets of the ancient Gothic Quarter neighbourhood, there are many beautiful buildings and libraries, peaceful squares and churches, and quaint shops and surprising eateries.
With Antoni Gaudí’s fantastical creations among the best things to see and do in Barcelona Spain, his Modernist vision and genius can also be witnessed along Barcelona’s most famous shopping street, Passeig de Gràcia. Casa Milà is a former apartment building with an unusual undulating façade and clever engineering skills – the stone façade is self-supporting and the face-like chimneys enable natural ventilation.
Gaudí also designed the equally distinctive Casa Batlló building three blocks away. Unlike Casa Milà, Casa Batlló has a skeletal façade that would make any haunted house envious except it is anything but dilapidated. But it is a different story inside, with its gentle curves and elegant arches.
Want to see more of Gaudí’s work? A walking tour covering the architectural highlights of the city might be just what you’re looking for.
Cut through Parc de la Ciutadella and you’re in the trendy neighbourhood of El Born in the heart of the old town. Once gritty and rundown, El Born has since been gentrified and is now a vibrant neighbourhood that bears testimony to the region’s history; the archaeological site of the old city of Barcino, with its well-preserved ruins, is found here.
One such grand building in the Gothic Quarter is the Biblioteca de Catalunya. Formerly a 17th Century hospital and the largest in the region, it was turned into the Catalan national library in 1939.
Today, its repository of four million documents make it an important cultural centre of reference specialising in the heritage of Catalunya.
Parc Güell is not an ordinary park or for the simple reason that it was designed by the world’s first starchitect, Antoni Gaudí .
Forget the usual flora and fauna; this Unesco World Heritage Site is a kaleidoscopic collection of mosaic animals and weirdly wonderful buildings in a large, green space that is surprisingly soothing and tranquil. Conceived in 1900, it is also home to colourful serpents, salamanders and dragons, as well as wackily shaped stone structures.
Museu Picasso is one of Spain’s top contemporary art museums, displaying the 4,251 works of a young Pablo Picasso in its permanent collection. They represent the influential artist’s output during his formative years, especially during the Blue Period from 1901–1904, when his paintings were characterised mostly in shades of blue and blue-green. The museum is a 20-minute walk from Capri by Fraser, Barcelona / Spain.
Escape to Barcelona’s beautiful beaches just minutes away on foot. The wide swathes of coastline run parallel to equally expansive walkways, and you can chill out at an alfresco beach restaurant.
Or stroll all the way south to Barceloneta, the old port area where fishermen once lived but which has since been revitalised with new restaurants, shops and condos.
There are football clubs and there are football clubs. But fans of FC Barcelona and its star player Lionel Messi will tell you that Camp Nou is the club and a visit to its home stadium is a pilgrimage that must be undertaken by all loyal Barça supporters (their Catalan nickname is a bit more colourful).
Camp Nou, which means new field in Catalan, is the biggest stadium in Europe with a seating capacity of nearly 100,000. Tours are available and include entrance to the FC Barcelona Museum, which boasts football-related exhibits like Diego Maradona’s jersey and even artwork by Salvador Dali.
To see what bustling Barcelona looks like from afar, hop onto a cable car and ride up Montjuïc hill to Castell de Montjuïc for its manicured gardens and some spectacular views of the city.
Erected as a military fortress nearly 400 years ago, it was demolished about a century later before being rebuilt as a castle, where it was defended in ancient battles and later used as a prison during the Spanish civil war.
Flea markets don’t come bigger and older than Mercat dels Encants. Said to have been started seven centuries ago, it recently relocated to a new and modern site a mere 500 metres from Capri by Fraser, Barcelona / Spain.
For non-locals, Mercat de La Boqueria is also interesting for its tapas bars like El Quim and Pinotxo – even if they are packed with tourists and now have English menus. These casual eateries with counter dining will prepare your order of baby squid or tortilla a la minute while you sip some local beer or tinto fino wine.
But if you prefer table service and a nicer environment, there are proper tapas restaurants in town, like the below tried-and-tested options.
Disfrutar means enjoy in Spanish and you have to be ascetic if you don’t do so at this two Michelin-starred restaurant. From the understated street front entrance, to the surprisingly cavernous main dining room with its serene patio, the menu of more than 30 inventive, intriguing, beautiful and basically delicious bites from the main men behind the famed el Bulli will wow you. This has to be the best way to enjoy three hours in Barcelona.
The city’s gastronomy is among the best things to see and do in Barcelona Spain and modern Catalan cuisine is certainly included. It is served at this one Michelin-starred restaurant with matching avant-garde décor. Perfect for a special occasion, the focus is on locally sourced ingredients. There is also an extensive wine list to select from.
This tiny restaurant behind the Boqueria market was opened by the former head chef of Comerç24, the Michelin-starred modern tapas restaurant created by Carles Abellán. With only an eight-seater counter, it infuses Catalan fare with creative North-east Asian influences.
Stepping into Casa Leopoldo is like entering another century, and it’s not the next one – assuming you can find the entrance because it is easy to miss if you come from the wrong direction. This quintessential Catalan restaurant has been around for over 80 years and is still dishing out classic seafood, meat and vegetable recipes.
Petit Comitè is what happens when you take your grandmother’s traditional Catalan recipes and give them a refined twist with stylish plating.
Take the essence of the extraordinary but now closed el Bulli, add some bright lights, divide the restaurant into a few sections, put on a show and you have Tickets – Ferran and Albert Adrià’s glitzy new contemporary tapas bar. Playful or pretentious, only you can decide.
Just like chop suey is not really Chinese, tapas didn’t originate in Barcelona. Or Catalunya for that matter. But if you must have some because you’re in Spain or just feeling peckish, check out Ciutat Comtal (Ciudad Condal in Spanish). This modern tapas bar has everything a tourist will appreciate – good food, good service and a nice ambience.
As a top international destination, Barcelona has many more wonderful scenes and stuff to savour. If you would like a personalised list of things to see and do in Barcelona, the concierge at Capri by Fraser, Barcelona / Spain will be able to give you more local insights and recommendations.