An expert guide to Barcelona
With its bustling streets, fabulous eateries and jaw-dropping architecture, Catalonia’s capital is one of the world’s great port stops.
Unlike many European cruise ports, Barcelona’s seven-terminal Port Vell is a total joy. From this brilliant modern facility it’s only a 10-minute walk to La Rambla, the famous pedestrian thoroughfare that slices across the middle of the city.
Alternatively you can easily catch a local bus to see some of Barcelona’s great landmarks, including the incredible Sagrada Familia church and the spectacular Parc Güell.
If you’ve ticked off the sights on a previous visit, now’s your chance to explore those enticing back streets in search of the finest Catalan cuisine. Here, simple, flavourful ingredients– seafood, cured ham and market-fresh veggies – are transformed into sensational tapas and fabulous paella, always chased down with a sip of chilled fino sherry or the famous local Estrella beer.
La Sagrada Familia
If you see nothing else while you’re here, make it the incredible church that symbolises Barcelona to the world. Designed by visionary Catalan architect,Antoni Gaudi, in 1883 and looking like nothing else on earth, it remains unfinished, though completion is expected by about 2032. A UNESCO World Heritage site since 2005, it has long been the city’s greatest tourist attraction. sagradafamilia.org
Broad, long and shaded by elegant plane trees, Barcelona’s famous pedestrian boulevard stretches from Port Vell to Plaça de Catalunya in the city centre. Strolling La Rambla (orramblejar, in the local parlance) is something every visitor should experience – just make sure you allow enough time to take in the architectural treasures, highly decorated flower stalls and countless tapas bars along the way. barcelona-life.com
After the Sagrada Familia, the next stop on your Gaudi pilgrimage should be this amazing green space in the Gracia district. Here the great architect’s tree-like columns and undulating forms seem to merge together before your eyes. And cameras at the ready for the waving balcony with its colourful broken-tile mosaics against a background of the bright blue Mediterranean. parkguell-tickets.com
Though born in Malaga, Pablo Picasso moved to Barcelona with his family aged 14, forming an emotional connection with the city that would last a lifetime. Occupying a grand terrace of medieval townhouses, Museu Picasso is a beautiful setting for more than 4,000 works, including many early pieces that provide a fascinating insight into the development of the 20th century’s greatest painter.
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BEST RESTAURANTS AND BARS
Subtly different from tapas, pintxos (pronounced ‘pinchos’) are the toothpick-spiked bar snacks of northern Spain. But they’re popular in Barcelona, too, and Maitea Taberna is the place to try them. The cold, self-serve pintxos are a must-have, but also treat yourself to something hot from the menu (morcilla de Burgos – black pudding with apple purée –comes highly recommended). maitea.es
For a true taste of Catalan cuisine, head to the newly opened Camping Mar – already celebrated for one of the best paellas in town (top tip: paella for two comfortably serves four). With speedy service and plenty of outdoor seating, this modern waterfront eaterie also offers great seafood, including squid-ink rice with scallops, Nordic-style grilled salmon, and steamed mussels with ginger and lime. grupotragaluz.com
If you prefer the grain to the grape, get yourself to BierCaB, where an ever-changing selection of draught beer flows from 30 taps, backed up by an extensive international bottle list. There’s also a full-menu on offer, including tapas, sandwiches, burgers, lighter plates and main courses including the popular grilled Wagyu steak with a house-made, hop-spiked chimichurri. biercab.com
Barcelona loves an aperitivo, and this tiny vermouth bar is the place to go for an authentic vermut negre – bittersweet and served on ice, garnished with an olive and a slice of orange. Naturally you can accompany your drink with a whole range of delicious small bites, including cured and pickled anchovies, hard cheeses, marinated mussels and thick-cut, house-made potato chips. morrofi.ca
These delightful pieces are a miniature homage to Antoni Gaudi’s famous El Drac (dragon) mosaic at Parc Güell. Take one home as a colourful reminder of the beautiful artwork that graces Barcelona’s streets.
Made from almonds and honey, this delicious nougat-style confection was traditionally served in Spain during the Christmas holidays. But it’s so irresistible that nowadays you can find it for sale all year round.
Who said toilet humour was a British obsession? Sold one very corner, these curious figurines – their name untranslatable on a family website – are available in a wide range of personalities but only one posture.
What to expect
Catalonia’s capital is one of Europe’s best loved and most visited cities, offering first-timers plenty to see and old hands the chance to wander at leisure, soaking up the limitless charms of this delightful port side metropolis.
When to go
Barcelona enjoys a mild climate, with plenty of sunny days even in January and February, when it can be a pleasure to eat al fresco. Peak holiday season is July and August, but the combination of heat, humidity and crowds means these are best avoided. Instead, visit in the spring and autumn if you can.
The city is easy to explore on foot, with plenty of pedestrianised streets. Public transport is excellent and cheap, and for first-timers the metro is the easiest option, though the buses are more direct. You can pick up easy-to-use bus and metro maps from tourist offices.
Where to stay
Port Vell offers a wide range of hotels, most with enticing rooftop restaurants. The four-star Duquesa de Cardona (hduquesadecardona.com) has a classic feel because it’s part of a former palace, while the five-star Serras (serrashotel.com) has a more youthful edge.
BEST LOCAL TIPS
"Rent a bike and ride along Barcelona’s beachfront boardwalk, stopping to join the locals for lunch at one of the fantastic seaside cafes along the way."
Jesper Vayo, student
"Relax – nothing happens before 10am and we have lunch between 2 and 4pm, with dinner around 10pm. After that is when life really starts.’‘
Isobel Bello, blogger
"Grab a picnic and sit in the sun at Parc de la Ciutadella – it’s less noisy and crowded than the city centre, and a beautiful place to be on a Sunday."
Ignasi Miro, tour guide
Celebrity Cruises' 10-night ‘Greece, Italy & France’ cruise aboard Celebrity Apex, from Athens to Barcelona via Santorini, Rome, Florence, Nice and Marseille, departs October 26, 2023, from £1,634.
Royal Caribbean's five-night ‘France & Italy’ cruise aboard Vision of the Seas, round trip from Barcelona via Nice, Rome, Florence and Toulon, departs October 1, 2022, from £613.