18th Sep 2008
Arrivals is fine, but the car rental locations are in the departures terminal, so depending on when you arrive, you may find yourself in for a confusing trek to reach your car. Bag it and take a taxi - its about €30 into the city and you can be there in as little as 15 minutes. Its easy to get around once in the centre, especially if you don't mind hoofing it over the incredible Art Nouveau styled tiled sidewalks. If you want a private Mercedes with driver, dial +34 93 307 0707 to get a radio pickup, especially good for those nightspots in the hills overlooking the glam city.
One thing you'll notice immediately about Barcelona is that its all about art. With huge modern sculptures from beach to a monumental Lichtenstein centre of the street and the exceptional fantastical buildings designed by Antoni Gaudí, Lluís Domenèch and Josep Puig, you can't help but feel like the whole city is a museum waiting for you to walk its ways - literally. Passeig de Gracia's wide sidewalks are laid with beautiful Art Nouveau tiles, each block different, as are the street's elaborate lamposts.
The cities of Bruxelles, Budapest, and Barcelona are three of Europe's best examples of Art Nouveau's quintessential romantic architecture. While walking in Barcelona, look low and high to see incredible doorways, columns, facades and logias of the houses of Milà and Bratlló and some 22 other Art Neauveau structures. For a true and trippy experience go inside and climb up the floors to see some wild furniture and witness some even wilder roof terraces.
Sculptures from Frank Gehry's Peix, a giant mesh fish, to Rebecca Horn's crooked tower dot the Barceloneta beach. The Barri Gótic area houses dozens of galleries and museums, and a short drive into the hills above the city is Park Gruell, where you can enjoy lush gardens and more of Gaudí's art. South and overlooking the city is the unforgettable Joan Miro Museum. Worth it for the views alone, spend an afternoon here and relish in the verdant sculpture garden looking out over Med and down onto the port where Christopher Columbus left for the new world.
Barcelona hits its stride in the summer, so you and everyone else will be vying for the best hotels. Consider the Hotel Pulitzer, the B Hotel and the Hotel Majestic, all perfectly located and supremely interesting. The Pulitzer located at the top of La Rambla and conveniently near Barri Gótic features both the best lobby scene and the best roof terrace bar in the city and rolls with a contemporary art vibe. When you book, ask for Jose María Sanchez-Harguindey, the hotel's general manager, to see about an upgrade, as the normal rooms are small. If unsuccessful, fret not as you'll be spending all your time either checking out la ciudad or sipping a pomegranite martini in the swank lobby.
If you're a little short on the pesos, may we suggest the lovely Barri Gótic area, the gothic quarter of the city with a maze of winding alleys, chic cafés and cheap rent. It's a cool place to get lost in, especially if you like feeling arty. The quality of the establishments varies, so the operative words here are "locally authentic experience." Just wander, you'll find something. Or check the Barcelona bible out, which lists more than you could ever want to know about the city
Across town, Santa Maria takes the tapas concept upscale and is always packed. The chefs here are trained by famed Spanish food guru Adrian Ferra, which means that the cuisine will surprise and delight. "That's tapas?" is often heard at some point during the evening, so just make sure you're in on the joke , but don’t leave without trying the delicious jamón. Traditional old tapas spots can also be found in the area around El Colón and Las Ramblas. Los Toreros on Calle Xuclà just off Las Ramblas is decorated in old world charm with bullfighting memorabilia and is known equally well for its tapas and for the best Paella in town.
Paella is a sure bet in Barcelona and even a must while sojourning there. The fish market attracts some of the sexiest gambas in the Med and no tastier are they than in your seafood Paella. Squid ink paella is a Catalán favourite. Locals and swingers alike dine on the terraces of the Port Vell on Passeig Joan de Borbi watching the yachts and the posers and the occasional fake handbag merchant in a police chase. If you are looking for another good food experience, check out Slokai, which features a Catalán kitchen and great music.
After all that action, it helps to remember this is also one of the world's great beach cities, ranking with Sydney, Capetown, Miami, and Rio de Janeiro. That means the beaches are packed in summer, and the water leaves something to be desired. But where else in Europe can you work all day, eat all night, then walk out from a nightclub at 11am straight onto the beach for your tan...and have art? Try the Barceloneta beach for atmosphere and food options and San Sebastian beach for a more rowdy and traditional experience. If you have a car, the drive up the coast to the north might land you some idyllic secluded coves nestled amongst the red rock cliffs.