Budget, mid-price & luxe guide to Barcelona featuring chef Albert Adria
Where the sea air wafts through the streets along with a spirit of creativity
Home to the fantastical architecture of Antoni Gaudí, Barcelona is Spain’s second-largest city, with its own language (Catalan) and of course, its own culinary specialties: anchovies (try them pickled), esqueixada (a salt cod and tomato salad), cured meats and sausages, and a hearty stew called escudella. To drink, try the local vermouth, cava (sparkling wine) or a beer from the burgeoning craft beer scene.
The central Gothic Quarter is Barcelona’s oldest neighborhood and the city’s cultural heart. Wander the labyrinthine streets to find cultural sites, boutique shops and of course, mouthwatering food. Hotel Cantón ( hotelcanton-bcn.com, doubles from $110) is ideally located, minutes from Las Ramblas, close to Plaça Reial, a four-minute walk from a metro station, and less than 15 minutes’ walk from the beach. Rooms are simple, but stylish and clean.
The must-see for all visitors to Barcelona is Gaudí’s famed cathedral, Sagrada Familia ( sagradafamilia.org, tickets start at €15), with its soaring towers and kaleidoscope stained-glass windows. Book your ticket online to save time on lines. For more Gaudí for free, stop by Park Güell.
EAT & DRINK
Can Culleretes (Carrer d'en Quintana, 5, Gothic Quarter) is one of Barcelona’s oldest restaurants, offering up all the classics: gambas al ajillo (garlicky shrimp), croquetas, local ham and wine and suckling pig with crunchy skin and velvety meat. Starters are under €10 and mains mostly under €20. Not far from Las Ramblas is Bar Cañete (Carrer de la Unió, 17, Raval), where jacketed waiters guide eager foodies through the array of upgraded Catalan classic tapas (croquetas with lobster, tuna tartare with caviar), but the real deal is the lunch special for around €20. For a bargain beverage, snag a street beer in Plaça Reial for just €1.50, and sit at the fountain to sip it.
Life in the adjacent neighborhoods of Sant Antoni and Poblesec is young, trendy and seems to revolve around eating and drinking. The perfect place to make as base on a food-focused vacation. At Hotel Brummell ( hotelbrummell.com, doubles from $185), a façade dating from 1870 hides a decidedly hip hotel within. Each of the 20 rooms features furniture and artwork by young European designers and artists, and the kitchen offers artisanal coffee, organic and local wines and bites such as Spanish cheeses, Iberian hams and grilled octopus.
If you have a bit more cash on hand, be sure to upgrade your ticket for the Sagrada Familia to include a climb up the towers for breathtaking views of the city. Head next to the Museu
Picasso ( museupicasso.bcn.ca, €11, buy these tickets online in advance as well), which houses one of the most extensive collections of art by the legendary artist Pablo Picasso.
EAT & DRINK
Fer el vermut—to sip vermouth and nibble on tapas—is the distinctly Catalan way of approaching a meal. Tradition dictates that it be a pre-lunch aperitif, but the reality is that locals happily consume vermouth and tapas all day long. Always order ‘vermut de la casa’ (house vermouth), but if they don’t have a specialty, try Vermut Yzaguirre, made near Barcelona. Morro Fi (Carrer del Consell de Cent, 171, Sant Antoni) has just a few stools, and a small selection of tapas—just enough for a quick aperitif in the afternoon. Anchovies with olives is a classic tapa here. Kids and dogs sometimes join in at Bar
Seco (Pg. de Montjuïc, 74, Poblesec), where sustainable, organic food accompanies craft beers and local vermouth. Try to snag a table at their outdoor terrace. Head next to the bohemian Gran Bodega Saltó (Carrer Blesa 36, Poblesec). Located just off Carrer Blai, from here you’ll be poised to explore one of the city’s best tapas-hopping streets. If you prefer beer to vermouth, check out any of the 40 microbrews on tap at Cervecería
Abirradero (Carrer de Vila i Vilà, 77, Poblesec), accompanied by one of the beer-infused dishes (beermisu anyone?)
Where else to stay but Barcelona’s Eixample neighborhood? Nicknamed the “Quadrat d’or” (Golden Square) for its concentration of wealth, its flagship stores and some of the city’s best restaurants will keep any refined traveler satisfied. At the chic Monument
Hotel ( monument-hotel.com, doubles from $360), the neo-gothic exterior gives way to modern interiors. The sleek lines in guest rooms are warmed by oak wood floors and brick walls, and twice-daily maid service is an unexpected bonus. For a more palatial feel, reserve a room at the Hotel Palace ( hotelpalacebarcelona.com, doubles from $400), where baroque furniture and ornate chandeliers lend an aristocratic feel to every room, and amenities include a rooftop pool. The hotel is a mere 10-minute walk from the famed pedestrian boulevard Las Ramblas.
The posh opera house Gran Teatre del Liceu ( liceubarcelona.cat) dates from 1847. Guided tours can be booked through the theater’s website, but the best way to experience it is by attending one of the many operas and concerts scheduled throughout the year.
EAT & DRINK
For tapas, Paco Meralgo (Carrer de Muntaner, 171, Example) offers some of Barcelona’s best. In addition to Catalan specialties, there are dishes that draw their inspiration from across Spain (txangurro—galician crab, or prawns from the Costa Brava), served in a modern atmosphere. Those staying at the Monument Hotel don’t even have to leave the premises for a premiere meal. At the hotel restaurant,
Lasarte ( restaurantlasarte.com), Chef Martin Berasategui has earned three Micehlin stars for his creative international cuisine (scallop with quail egg; Iberian ham with foie gras, oyster, and mustard ice cream; grilled pigeon with galangal), each dish as extraordinary to behold as it is to taste. You can order a la carte, but the €210 tasting menu, comprising five amusebouches followed by 11 courses, comes highly recommended, as do the impeccably matched wines pairings.
La Sagrada Familia