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Football, Picasso & Iberian sun: Insider’s guide to Barcelona

From the throbbing street life to the fantasy of Gaudi’s masterpieces, Barcelona, Spain’s second city, is a vibrant metropolis bursting with culture.

Words by Karen Pasquali Jones 

Barcelona is a vibrant seaside city with world-class whimsical architecture, a leading culinary scene, culture by the bucket load and sun-drenched Mediterranean beaches, making it a fantastic feast for all the senses – and a fascinating place to stay. 

From its Gothic quarter, with its elegant plazas, and 14th-century cathedrals, to Antoni Gaudi’s fairy tale creations, the throbbing nightlife and one of Europe’s most successful football clubs, the Capital of Catalonia doesn’t disappoint. 

Barça’s beguiling mix of ancient and contemporary begins with a stroll along the tourist-packed Las Ramblas, where stores tempt in football fans by displaying the football club’s silverware, to tours of Gaudi’s must-see fantastic basilica, Sagrada Familia, the city’s emblem which has been 139 years in the making and still isn’t finished.

The eccentric architect’s other famous legacy to Spain’s second city is Park Güell, in the north of the city, with its tropical plants and colourful mosaics.

Work off the bocadillo or churros walking briskly uphill, past the story-book houses and mosaic dragon and you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views. But Gaudi’s not the only way to have been inspired by Barcelona to produce his greatest work – artists Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró both have museums here housing collections of their art. 

Picasso spent many years living in Barcelona and The Picasso Museum has one of the most extensive collections by the Spanish painter – a staggering 4,251 works.

Salvadore Dali also has a museum here – the Teatre Museu Dali – devoted to the 20th-century master of surrealism. A former theatre, the artist converted it in the 1960s and is now buried in a crypt under the stage.

Next, pay homage to Spain’s other art – football. Camp Nou has been home to FC Barcelona since 1957, and failing to take a guided tour of the 100,000-seater stadium would be scoring an own goal.

The richest club in the world, the club’s motto ‘mes que un club’ – more than a club – is a reference to the Catalan struggle against Madrid’s central government. The Camp Nou Experience offers peeks behind the scenes into player-only areas, a close-up look at all those trophies and a chance to buy the obligatory blue and burgundy team shirt at the end. 

Away from the stadium, shoppers can pick up local delicacies including almond nougat, called Artisan Turron, and psychedelic ceramics (inspired by Gaudi), while designer fashionistas can grab a pair of Manolo Blahnik heels at the Exiample district and the Passeig de Gràcia.

Camper, the more affordable Spanish shoe brand, has a store near the Museum of Contemporary Art while plenty of accessories, including espadrilles, which have been worn in Catalunya for centuries,  are available at the El Corte Inglés on Plaza de Catalunya as well as the tree-lined Las Ramblas which runs from the port area to Placa de Catalunya.

Feeling peckish? While cafes across the city cook huge pans of hearty paella al fresco, and numerous Basque-style tapas bars and restaurants offer mouth-watering local Catalan dishes, using local, seasonal ingredients – such as jamon and seafood – there’s a thriving international culinary landscape, too.

If it’s sunshine you’re after the Mediterranean beckons. Soak up the Iberian sun on the golden sands of Barceloneta Beach before catching a cab back into the city before dusk to sample Barcelona’s nightlife.

The old fisherman’s quarter is a real catch nowadays with tapas bars and a lively promenade. Or head into the heart of the city to the cava bars, listen to flamenco or hit the clubs to dance the night away.

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Published 02.03.22