24 hours in Barcelona
Barcelona is Spain’s wild card. One of Europe’s most captivating cities, it has a reputation for daring to be different and refusing to conform to any kind of cultural cliché. A whistle-stop tour of Barna will doubtless leave you wanting more and the food, it has to be said, is particularly moreish. You’ll find exceptional paella at Arrosseria Xàtiva and good tapas on every corner; fuel is never far off in a city where walking is the best way around. For a little indulgence, don’t miss Michelin Star restaurant Xerta, whose gastronomy draws on recipes and ingredients from the Delta d’Ebre, a Catalan region rarely – if ever – referenced before.
Barcelona's Michelin starred Xerta restaurant
At the other end of the spectrum, the fresh, bite-sized empañadas at La Boqueria market are perhaps the only thing that should tempt you towards the sprawling tourist trap of La Rambla. For something more substantial, the sizeable Muslim community in Raval has produced a plethora of exotic, authentic Moroccan flavours, and Arepamundi is the place to head for the best arepas outside of Venezuela. Get a side of tequeños to go and lose yourself in the labyrinth of medieval architecture, cobbled streets and towering arches in the Gothic Quarter. Its shadowy plaças are the perfect place to pause for refreshment; gin and tonics come in huge bubble glasses with plenty of ice. Tipping is not customary in Barcelona, so save your change for a wish at the Magic Fountain of Montjüic.
Whilst Gaudi’s iconic basilica Sagrada Familia will always be a must-see, the queues are long and the cranes will ruin your Instagram aesthetic, so you’re better off booking tickets at the Palau de la Música for a three-dimensional experience of music, art and architecture all in one beautiful modernisme building. Performances include orchestras, operas and dance, but avoid seeing Flamenco; the Catalan rumba is the local version and just as powerful.
The Boqueria Market
Montjuïc Park, complete with its resplendent fountains
A glimpse of the Gracia festival
A few metro stops out of the centre is Palo Alto market, a must for boutique brands, vintage clothing and delicious street food, and the Gràcia Festival in late summer is an extraordinary display of vibrant handmade street decorations and pop-ups. Pulled off by a huge community effort, it carries on late into the night with live music and an electric atmosphere.
Barceloneta beach is a throbbing hub of house music and toned bodies, but if you need to unwind after a night at one of the city’s famous festivals, sink into the sand at quieter Platja Nova Icaria, a short walk further north. Very good €5 mojitos are served at giunguetas dotted along the jetty and you’ll have more space to stretch your legs in the Iberian sunshine away from the crowds.
Herve's Chez Papa B&B.
If respite from the rat race is what you’re after, Chez Papa is a rustic B&B run by Frenchman Hervé, whose hospitality is second to none. He offers organic breakfasts and balcony views, whilst former Royal Navy fleet tender Yacht St Katharine is in prime people-watching position in the port. Wish your crew bona nit as the sun goes down over the city and the sea laps gently against the hull.