Wednesday 21 February 2018

Breathtaking Barcelona

How to get the most out of one of Europe's greatest cities when the sun's shining

Summer in the city: How to enjoy Barcelona in june and July.
Summer in the city: How to enjoy Barcelona in june and July.

Sally Davies

While there's never a bad time to visit Barcelona, summer is when the city really comes into its own. Added to the perennial pleasures of the city – its spectacular architecture, kaleidoscopic cultural scene and its embrace of all things gastronomic – are dips in the Med and the chance to eat dinner under the stars.

The steady climb of the mercury requires that the cultural offerings become more sedate; there's unlikely to be a mosh pit at the new Festival Jardins de Pedralbes (festivalpedralbes.com), which starts on June 20 (for three weeks) featuring Julio Iglesias, José Carreras and Crosby, Stills & Nash, while the Grec Festival (grec.bcn.cat) fills the month of July with theatre, dance, music and circus.

Modernisme is the local take on art nouveau, and the Passeig de Gràcia is its showcase. Starting at the top and walking downhill, you'll pass Gaudí's undulating apartment block, La Pedrera (Carrer Provença 261-265, 0034 93 484 59 00; lapedrera.com; admission €11), which now contains an exhibition centre, and then a little further along you'll come to his fantastical Casa Batlló (Passeig de Gràcia 43, 00 34 216 03 06; casabatllo.cat, admission €20.30), a glittering, polychromatic affair, also open to the public.

A short stroll seawards from here will take you to Tapaç24 (Carrer Diputació 269; 0034 93 488 09 77; carlesabellan.com), one of the city's best tapas bars, but get here well before 2pm for any chance of a seat.

Gaudi's unfinished Sagrada Familia.
Gaudi's unfinished Sagrada Familia.

From here, it's an easy metro ride to Gaudí's other masterpiece, the unfinished Sagrada Família (Carrer Mallorca 401, 0034 93 207 30 31; sagradafamilia.cat, admission €13.50). A great molten wedding cake of a church, it's as breathtaking within as it is otherworldly without. The queues can be long, but you can bypass them by buying a ticket online beforehand.

The area around the Sagrada Família is not wildly interesting and lacks decent eating and drinking options, so it's time to head for the beach and its xiringuitos (bars on the sand).

The crowds start to dissipate about now, and while there is nowhere in Barcelona to watch the sunset (the hill of Montjuïc is in the way), its reflection in the W Hotel at the southern tip can be a close second.

No self-respecting Spaniard would eat paella for dinner (there is an almost superstitious belief that rice is difficult to digest at night), but there are plenty of places that serve it to visitors. Salamanca (Carrer Almirall Cervera 34; 0034 93 221 50; gruposilvestre.com) is a boisterous, sprawling classic, with a seafront terrace and prices that are better than most (mains starting from around €12).

Any trip to Barcelona should take in the Museu Picasso (Carrer Montcada 15-23, 0034 93 256 30 00; museupicasso.bcn.cat) for a look at the artist's early work from his years in Barcelona. Tip for avoiding the very long queue – buy an annual pass (€13), which is only slightly more expensive than a day pass.

A couple of blocks south of here is Cal Pep (Plaça de les Olles 8; 0034 93 310 79 61; calpep.com), known for its super-fresh seafood tapas. It pays to book ahead. Bear in mind that everything starts late here and try and adjust your inner timetable. In general, lunch is not before 2pm and dinner not before 9pm or so.

Barcelona's street crime problem is no secret, but it can be avoided with a few precautions – leave valuables in the hotel safe, wear your bag across your body and try not to flaunt your camera, phone and so on.

Before you leave, head for the great Gothic cathedral and the tangle of medieval streets around it – you'll get lost, everybody does, but that's the charm of the Barri Gòtic.

If you're lucky, you'll find yourself outside the lively El Portalón (Carrer Bany Nous 20, 0034 93 302 11 87), where you can order terracotta jugs of house red and choose from a long list of tapas.

Need to know

GETTING THERE

Aer Lingus (0818 365 000; aerlingus.com) flies direct to Barcelona from Dublin.

STAYING THERE

Special treat

Hotel Claris is a luxury hotel with a difference, a minute's walk from Gaudí's buildings and some high-end shopping on Passeig de Gràcia. The owner is a well known Egyptologist, who has an impressive collection of fine art and antiquities on display. Doubles from €150.

Mid-range

The Banys Orientals is in Born, Barcelona's loveliest neighbourhood, and is a real winner with its elegant rooms and friendly service. Its excellent prices make it quite hard to get into, so book well in advance. Doubles from €100.

Budget

Market Hotel is a chic and sophisticated cheap hotel, on the edge of the Raval and a short walk to the Plaça de Catalunya. Doubles from €70.

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