On the surface one thing is clear: Barcelona does not play by the rules. You only need to step into the famously unfinished Sagrada Família, a piece of modern architecture so captivating and controversial that Pope Benedict XVI would only consecrate it as a minor basilica. Its visionary, Antoni Gaudí, put his artistic stamp on many sections of the city. And like his iconic mosaic sculptures, Barcelona pieces together an eclectic energy that is both vibrant and unexpected.
The heart of the autonomous community of Catalonia, the Spanish metro proudly promotes its unique cultural identity and Catalan language. Follow-ing years of repression under the Franco regime, Barcelona has enjoyed a recent renaissance since hosting the 1992 Summer Olympic Games. It has also distinguished itself as an epicenter for arts and architecture, promoting the talents of some of the city’s most celebrated residents including Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró and, of course, Gaudí.
Norwegian Airlines offers a direct flight from LAX to Barcelona on one of their jet lag-friendly Dreamliners. If you’re feeling fancy, book a cushy PremiumFlex seat. It is reasonably priced for the extra amenities.
Where to Stay
Barcelona has numerous vibrant areas to explore, so it’s wise to stay somewhat central. Located steps from the fashionable Passeig de Gràcia, Almanac Barcelona offers a stylish and upscale experience from which to launch your daily adventures. The rooms are spacious and sleek, many with incredible views. From the rooftop pool you can enjoy a 360º view of the city while sipping a cool glass of albariño. The hotel also features Línia, a Mediterranean brasserie serving culinary delights, where locals and travelers intersect from morning to night.
Where to Eat
Tapas are an edible tradition in Barcelona. You’ll find plenty of these shareable plates throughout the city. But if you want to merge tapas with the ultimate culinary playground, reserve a table at Tickets. As the name implies, Chef Albert Adrià’s Michelin-star restaurant seeks to entertain.
My meal started with a tomato iced tea served in a porcelain pot, saucer and cup with a savory tea bag garnish. Light and refreshing, this liquid amuse-bouche offered the prelude to an evening filled with bite-size masterpieces, cleverly presented and incredibly tasty. As a bonus, I was handed a special invitation to the separate dessert bar—think Willy Wonka meets Alice in Wonderland—and concluded my meal with a sweet send-off. Some places live up to the hype, and Tickets is one of them.
What to Do
If you find the tree-lined pedestrian thoroughfare to be unbearably crowded, as I did, head to the Gothic Quarter—Barcelona’s old city center—for window-shopping and people-watching. On some days, antique vendors set up their wares in front of the Cathedral of Barcelona. In the evening, gather with locals as they join hands for traditional Catalan song and dance. This plaza is also a great vantage point to view Picasso’s frieze atop the modern Collegi d’Arquitectes building. His museum is a short walk away; be sure to reserve your ticket in advance.
Picasso may be one of the art world’s most recognizable artists, but in Barcelona, Gaudí is most revered. You can view his art nouveau architecture at Casa Milà—his last private residential design. Peruse the extraordinary exteriors, or visit the building’s interiors—from basement to terrace—with a ticketed tour.
On the outskirts of the city, meander through Parc Güell, a natural setting intermixed with the artist’s mosaic sculptures, serpentine shapes and colonnades hall. However, the must-visit Gaudí attraction is the one he never saw to completion. Don’t let the cranes and construction discourage you from visiting. I’d argue that the ongoing activity only adds to the experience.
The magnificent white columns and contours swim in colored lights from the stained-glass windows, and awestruck visitors try to capture that perfect photo. But take a moment to sit among the devoted at noon. That’s when a chorus of unseen nuns fills the church with their voices. A minor basilica? Hardly.
Swanky supper club, anyone?