Things to do in Barcelona, Spain: The three-minute guide

WHY

Stylish, progressive and seemingly eternally sunlit, Barcelona is Europe's top city for short-haul visits, and for good reason. It has a beach-draped waterfront, quirky architecture, impressive museums and theatres, and two millennia of history. This is a city with an indulgent spirit too, made for eating and drinking, evening walks and romantic moments in parks, with a buzz that continues long into the night thanks to toe-tapping jazz bars and the joys of progressive tapas meals.

VISIT

Although Barcelona is a city for strolling, elbowing your way down La Rambla boulevard, cafe lingering and tapas bar-hopping, make sure to budget time for numerous significant and varied attractions, including the cathedral (catedralbcn.org), one of Europe's best food markets La Boqueria (boqueria.info), and the glorious modernist complex of Hospital Sant Pau (santpau.cat). Contemporary art gallery CaixaForum (obrasociallacaixa.org) and Fundacio Joan Miro (fmirobcn.org), devoted to the Barcelona painter and sculpture Miró, are just two of many excellent museums.

EAT 

With world-famous restaurant El Bulli closed, tapas bar Tickets (ticketsbar.es) provides a chance to taste some of its creations by chef Ferran Adria, as well as dishes from his brother Albert – providing you reserve well in advance. Contemporary reinterpretations of traditional Spanish tapas include cheese ice cream with artichokes, and bruschetta of grilled pineapple and watermelon. A wide selection of seafood and dessert tapas (sweet-potato sorbet, pistachio baklava) are also served.

LOOK 

The magical, twisted turrets of the famously unfinished cathedral La Sagrada Familia (sagradafamilia.org) are entrancing. You'll find more by Catalan architect Antoni Gaudi in Parc Guell (parkguell.cat), La Pedrera (lapedrera.com) and in the sinuous, tiled Casa Batllo building (casabatllo.es), which stands beside the striking, modernist Casa Amatller (fundacionamatller.org). These are only the highlights of a city of splendid architecture that ranges from Gothic chapels to Art Nouveau mansions. Spend plenty of time wandering the streets, and look up.

MUST

If you visit only one of Barcelona's outstanding museums, make it the Picasso Museum (museupicasso.bcn.cat). It holds more than 4000 works and is particularly interesting for the way it explores the important influences that Barcelona had on the early works of Picasso, who lived here as a youngster. His childhood sketches are wonderful, and show his amazing early artistic talent. There are also works from his Rose and Blue periods.

SLEEP 

Hotel Pullman Barcelona Skipper (pullman-barcelona-skipper.com) hovers between the best of both worlds: it's right on the waterfront in an uncrowded part of the city, yet within a walk from busy old-town attractions and tapas bars. Staff are friendly and helpful, rooms have an understated chic and cheerful red highlight walls, and there are two swimming pools, a spa and two restaurants. The breakfast buffet is exceptionally good for both quality and choice.

TIP 

In the city's northwest, Parc d'en Castell de l'Oreneta has walking trails that will make you think you're in the countryside, with splendid views over the city and Mediterranean. It's one of few city spots without tourist crowds.

Brian Johnston travelled courtesy of Viking Ocean Cruises and Accor Hotels.

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