City Life: Energetic and colourful
The Spanish city with its finger most firmly on the pulse, Barcelona has always embraced style, bold design and all things new.
Pockets of lively bars and restaurants around the Gothic Quarter and El Born ensure the city stays alive late into the night, as do most of her visitors: eating, drinking and partying. No wonder cava is the drink of choice - this is a place with much to celebrate.
Driving is fine once you master the one-way system, but free parking is tricky. Daily carpark rates are about €25. Taxis are cheap, so it's not worth renting a car. The train is great for day trips.
Taxis will whisk you into town in 15 mins, for €18. Buses run every 15 mins; a ticket costs about €3.
The 30-min train journey from airport to centre costs €2; trains run every half an hour. Spain also has a reasonably priced national network. Book ahead as trains get busy (www.renfe.com).
Spain: 34; Barcelona: 93.
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon; Barcelona by Robert Hughes; City of Marvels by Eduardo Mendoza.
Do go / Don't Go
Locals leave August to the tourists as the city can be too hot to handle.
Basic Catalan cuisine is a surf 'n' turf affair of seafood and meat tapas. Look out for the menú del dia (daily set menu) for a €10 lunch.
You can hail one from anywhere on the street.
In restaurants and bars it's normal to tip only if the service was good.
Swimmers - Barcelona has its own beach.
Antoni Gaudí left an incredible legacy in Barcelona, from his undulating apartment block La Pedrera to his swan song, the Sagrada Família, still under construction. The city pays tribute to other great artists with the Museu Picasso and Fundació Joan Miró. The Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona focuses on 20th-century Catalan artists. The Gran Teatro de Liceu is up there with Europe's great opera houses.
Avoid public holidays on Saturdays, as things tend to be shut. Tickets for concerts and Barça matches can be bought at ServiCaixa cash machines.
For designer labels, head for Paseo de Grácia. You'll find boutiques and more unusual shops in the El Born area. Our favourite shop for foodie souvenirs is Colmado Quílez Avinyó on Rambla de Catalunya. Salva G on Avinyo is a hairdressers, bar, music store and cosmetics shop all rolled into one. One of the best food markets is Bocadilla, just off the Ramblas.
From Montjuic, the hill next to the old town with a cable car to the top; Parc Güell, which was designed by Gaudí; Mount Tibidabo - take the blue tram to the foot of the hill, then the funicular railway to the top. Or have drinks on the strikingly surreal roof of La Pedrera with views over the city.
At the weekends, drummers play in Ciutadella Parc, where locals hang out. Las Ramblas is full of street entertainers (and pickpockets) every day. The Catalans have a tradition of building human towers, up to eight people high, during the summer months.
March Carnival is the week leading up to Lent and is big here, particularly in Sitges, where there are huge street processions (www.bcn.es/carnaval). March-June Festival de Guitarra: a guitar festival with international artists (www.the-project.net). 23 April La Diada de Sant Jordi (Saint George's Day), Barcelona's Valentine's Day. June Trobada Castellera - castellers come from all around to build their human towers in Plaça Catalunya. November Festival Internacionál de Jazz de Barcelona (www.the-project.net).