A dynamic seaside city bursting with noteworthy cuisine, top-notch tourist attractions and architectural masterpieces, it’s no wonder Barcelona tops many a traveller’s list as one of Europe’s favourite cities. Whether you’re strolling the narrow medieval streets of the Gothic Quarter, seeing the fantastical Modernisme buildings of Antoni Gaudí and his contemporaries, or diving into its world-class drinking and dining scene, the Catalan capital offers plenty of things to see and do. Fortunately, Barcelona’s warm, sunny, Mediterranean climate makes it that much more pleasant to explore its many treasures. Whatever you do on your break, be sure to take time out to simply relax atop one of the many rooftop terraces, soaking in panoramic views of the city, sea and surrounding mountains.
Hotel terraces are Barcelona’s best chillout spots, where you can soak up the Mediterranean sun and score bird’s-eye views of the city—all with a drink (or two!) in hand. The One Barcelona’s Mood Rooftop Bar is a terrific choice, practically overlooking the undulating roof of Gaudí’s Casa Mila and with views of Sagrada Familia’s towers in the distance. Large umbrellas keep you cool while you enjoy a casual lunchtime menu of Mediterranean grilled fish and meat. It’s also open for dinner, and things are turned up a notch with live DJs on summer weekends. The terrace is open seasonally from April to October.
There’s no shortage of places serving Spanish tapas—from plates piled high with cured Jamón Ibérico (Iberian ham) to the ubiquitous patatas bravas (fried potatoes with spicy ketchup and mayo)—but not all do them equally well. In the city’s atmospheric Gothic Quarter, newcomer La Catalista is first and foremost a wine bar, offering around 20 artisanal Catalan varietals by the glass, but its kitchen also turns out outstanding tapas with a modern twist. Here, patatas bravas come with piquant Korean gochujang sauce and flavorful Japanese kewpie mayonnaise, while the deep-fried calamari croquetas add barbecued eel for a richer flavour. There are lighter dishes, too, such as roasted mushrooms tossed with watercress and edible flowers, and seared scallops with roasted veggies. If you’re unfamiliar with Catalan wines, the knowledgeable staff can help you navigate the wine card, and the menu helpfully suggests ideal food and wine pairings.
Tucked away on a tiny street in the Gràcia district—hint: look for the lighted red globe—the speakeasy-style 14 De La Rosa is a neighbourhood secret you’ll want to keep all to yourself. The cosy, dimly lit haunt is sophisticated without being snobby and its friendly, bow-tied bartenders know their way around a classic cocktail (British owner Dean Shury was the former head mixologist at London’s swanky Chiltern Firehouse). For a late-night snack, there’s a small, seasonal menu of tapas—the panzanella (chopped bread, tomato and olive oil) and local cheese plate are particularly good, as is the selection of natural wines by the glass. Grab a seat at the long marble bar or at one of the candle-topped back tables for a more romantic vibe.
In a city known for its outstanding Catalan Modernisme architecture, the most celebrated designs are by Gaudí: Sagrada Familia, Casa Mila, Casa Batlló and Park Güell. But be prepared: They’re seriously mobbed, admission prices are steep and all require advance reservations. If you want to explore a Gaudí creation with fewer people and at a gentler price point, head to the neighbourhood of Gràcia to check out Casa Vicens, his first major commission. You can’t miss the eye-catching confection, with its fanciful turrets and domes and brightly tiled façade. The interiors are just as colourful, bursting with ornate ceramic and paper-mâché tiles and elaborate, hand-painted ceilings. Head to the rooftop for a closer look at the intricately tiled towers and domes at the corners of the building.
Overshadowed by Gaudí but nearly as important to Barcelona’s Modernisme landscape is Josep Puig i Cadafalch. The prolific architect’s best-known work is Casa Martí, a flamboyant, statue-studded building in the Gothic Quarter that’s home to the iconic restaurant (and one-time Picasso hangout) Els Quatre Gats. At his medieval castle–inspired textile factory, now home to the CaixaForum Barcelona art gallery, be sure to head up to the roof terrace to get the best views of the sprawling red-brick complex, which features crenellated roofs, turrets, arches and courtyards. Bonus: touring the building (though not the exhibitions) is free. From the roof, you can spot the glorious dome of the neighbouring National Art Museum of Catalonia, also worth a visit (it’s free on Saturdays after 3 p.m. and the first Sunday of the month).
While the crowds swarm around Sagrada Familia, head a few blocks up to the relative calm of the Sant Pau Recinto Modernista, a former hospital designed by leading Catalan architect Lluís Domènech i Montaner. This enormous complex, Europe’s largest Art Nouveau site, is made up of 27 gorgeously ornate, domed buildings and landscaped courtyards that stretch across nine city blocks. You can wander in, around, and even underneath the buildings, which are connected by a series of tunnels. The highlight is the main administration pavilion, with its sweeping marble staircase and wings lined with stained-glass windows and towering, frescoed ceilings.
Close to all the action in the buzzy El Born district, the Yurbban Trafalgar Hotel is one of the city’s most welcoming budget hotels. A tasty breakfast spread with local Catalan goodies is included in the rate, and there’s free candy at reception, free bike and longboard rentals and free self-service laundry, plus a super-friendly staff. You can relax and work in the funky lobby lounge but the sprawling roof deck—complete with a pool, pool bar, and panoramic views of the city—is where you’ll really want to spend some quality time.
Location-wise, Praktik Bakery hotel can’t be beaten—just off the bustling shopping thoroughfare of Passeig de Gracia and around the corner from Gaudí’s Casa Mila. And yes, the hotel does have a bakery—it’s the city’s best—right downstairs. There’s no lobby, and rooms at the affordable three-star property are no-frills, but what better way to wake up than to the smell of freshly baked bread and croissants?