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Why go now?
The Catalan capital's beach-side location makes it perfect for soaking up the last of summer's rays. In September, temperatures reach 26C and in October the weather is still mild, reaching 21C on a warm day.
As autumn sets in, the city is preparing for a new season of exhibitions and events. The Fundació Joan Miró (1) (00 34 934 43 94 70; fundaciomiro-bcn.org; €10) presents Explosion! The Legacy of Jackson Pollock, from 24 October. And the Barcelona Jazz Festival (www.barcelonajazzfestival.com) kicks off on 30 October, with the Palau de la Música (2) – famed for its Art Nouveau architecture – as one of the venues.
I flew with easyJet (0843 104 5000; easyjet.com), the airline with the widest range of flights from the UK: from Belfast, Bristol, Liverpool, Gatwick, Luton, Southend, Stansted and Newcastle. Other carriers to Barcelona include Ryanair (0871 246 0000; ryanair.com), British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com), Monarch (0871 940 5040; monarch.co.uk), Jet2 (0871 226 1737; jet2.com) and Vueling (0906 754 7541; vueling.com).
Barcelona's El Prat Airport is 13km south-west of the city with good bus connections. The A1 and A2 serve Terminals 1 and 2 respectively, departing every 10 to 15 minutes between 5.30am and 1am. The journey to Plaça de Catalunya (3) takes 30 minutes, for a fare of €5.65.
Trains also depart from Aeropuerto station (a 10-minute walk from Terminal 2 to Sants station (4) and Passeig de Gràcia (5) every half-hour from 6am to 11pm. Tickets cost from €3 and the journey takes 18 minutes. Taxis cost between €30-35.
Get your bearings
Barcelona sits on a plain, lapped by the Mediterranean sea to the east and hemmed in by the Serra de Collserola mountain range to the west and Montjuïc hill to the south.
The principal tourist area fans out from the Ramblas (6), the boulevard which leads from Plaça de Catalunya (3) to the seafront, where you'll find the beaches of Barceloneta and Port Olímpic, venue for the 1992 sailing events. To the east is the Barri Gòtic (Gothic Quarter), while to the west is the once run-down port district of El Raval. North of the Plaça de Catalunya (3) is Eixample, dotted with fairy-tale buildings designed by Barcelona's artistic son, Antoni Gaudí.
The main tourist office can be found on Plaça de Catalunya (3) (00 34 93 285 3834; barcelonaturisme.com; 8.30am to 8.30pm daily).
A decade after El Raval underwent an image makeover, the five-star Barceló Raval (7) opened on Rambla del Raval 17-21 (00 34 93 320 1490; barcelo.com). A metallic, oval building, its rooms are slick, with iPod docks and Nespresso machines. Doubles start at €125, room only.
The four-star Hotel Villa Emilia (8) in Carrer de Càlabria 115‑117 (00 34 93 252 52 85; hotelvillaemilia.com) is a stylish offering in Eixample, with modern rooms and a rooftop terrace where live music is played at weekends. Doubles start at €110, without breakfast.
You don't have to sleep in a dormitory at Be hostels (00 34 93 442 3669; behostels.com). A double en-suite room at Be Ramblas (9), at Carrer Nou de la Rambla 50, costs €40, including breakfast.
Take a hike
Start in Plaça de Catalunya (3) and stroll down the central, pedestrianised boulevard of the Ramblas (6), packed with stalls selling tourist tat, flowers and even pets. (Watch your valuables.) The Continental Hotel (10) on your left at number 138 is where George Orwell stayed during the Spanish Civil War. At Plaça Boquería (11) you'll see a Joan Miró mural tiled on to the floor. Turn left, cross the road and head along Carrer del Cardenal Casañas to plunge into the Barri Gótic.
Pass the Gothic Església de Santa Maria del Pi (12) at Carrer del Cardenal Casañas 16 (00 34 93 318 4743; €3), which was damaged in a fire set by anarchists in 1936. Head across the Plaça de Sant Josep Oriol, which holds an art market at weekends. Walk down Carrer de la Palla and into Plaça Nou, where you'll see a Picasso design decorating the walls of the College of Architects and the city's 15th-century cathedral (13) (00 34 933 15 15 54; catedralbcn.org; open daily; admission €5).
Lunch on the run
Lose yourself in the hectic La Boquería market (14) on Ramblas 85-89, packed with fresh fish, fruit, vegetables and butchers' stalls. Just beyond the entrance, on the right is local favourite Pinotxo Bar (00 34 93 317 1731; pinotxobar.com) run by the dapper, bowtie-wearing Juanito. It serves up fresh, Catalan tapas, such as capipota (veal stew) and butifarra (white sausage with chickpeas).
El Born is the medieval guild district bordering the Parc de la Ciutadella. In recent years, young artists have moved in, setting up workshops, galleries and independent stores. For quirky jewellery, call into Fet Amb Love (15) at Passeig de Born 2 (00 34 93 319 6642). Men can browse the rails at Jack Born (16) at Santa Maria 6 (00 34 93 310 18 79), or head to Itinerarium (17) at Placeta de Montcada 12 (00 34 93 310 36 73), for women's fashion.
Head to the new Disseny Hub (18) at Montcada 12 (00 34 93 256 2300; dhub-bcn.cat/en), a museum dedicated entirely to design. It has a bar-café in the pretty courtyard area, just opposite the Picasso Museum (19), where a glass of cava or wine costs from €3.
Or, follow in Picasso's footsteps and head to Els Quatre Gats (20) at Carrer de Montsió 3 (00 34 93 302 4 140; 4gats.com) in the Barri Gótic. The artist held his first solo exhibition in this modernist café-restaurant. A glass of wine costs from €3.50.
Dining with the locals
Imprevist (21), at Carrer Ferlandina 34, in El Raval (00 34 93 342 5859; imprevist.cat), is run by artist Josep Bofill and sommelier Pablo Martínez. Try the octopus terrine with potatoes, paprika and olive oil (€7.60).
Romero (22) at Carrer de Bailé* 115 (00 34 93 457 0640; romerobcn.com), in Eixample, serves seasonal produce from local co-operatives. Vegetarians rave about the vegetable parmesan risotto. Dishes cost about €11.
Sunday morning: go to church
The Sagrada Familía (23) at Carrer de Mallorca 401 (00 34 932 07 30 31; sagradafamilia.cat) was Gaudí's masterpiece – 130 years in the making and still unfinished. It became the architect's obsession until he died in 1926. The towers are decorated with colourful Venetian mosaics and the building's stonework is carved with representations of the Nativity and the Passion. Inside, see the fantastical stone columns that look like soaring trees and rich stained-glass windows of geometric patterns. It opens from 9am-8pm daily until the end of September (to 6pm October-March), admission €13.
For more Gaudí, head across to the modernist Casa Batlló (24) at Passeig de Gràcia 43 (00 34 932 160 306; www.casabatllo.es/en). It is covered in tiny mosaic tiles and mask-shaped balconies and topped with a shimmering roof of lizard-like scales (9am-9pm daily; €20.35).
Out to brunch
For food with a view, try the Restaurant 1881 (25) on the fourth floor of the Museum of Catalan History on Plaça de Pau Vila 3. Fish and meat dishes are Basque influenced with vegetable pintxos (tapas) accompanied by Txakoli Basque wine. Dishes from €12.
Afterwards, make a quick visit to the museum downstairs (it shuts at 2.30pm on Sundays), which guides visitors through Catalonia's history from its formation to the Spanish Civil War and beyond (00 34 93 225 4700; mhcat.cat; closed Mondays; €4) .
Take a ride
From the end of beach-side Barceloneta, the Montjuïc cable car (00 34 93 430 4716; tmb.cat/en/teleferic-de-montjuic) crosses the port from Torre Sant Sebastià (26) to Parc de Montjuïc between 10am and 7pm, affording views across the city (€15 return).
A walk in the park
The Parc de Montjuïc – actually a flat-topped hill historically used for farming by residents of the Ciutat Vella (Old City) – is home to the 17th-century Castell de Montjuïc (27) where Catalan compatriots were shot after the civil war (00 34 932 564 445; bcn.cat; 9am-7pm daily except Saturday; free). And, more recently, the Olympic Stadium (28), built in 1929 and renovated for the 1992 Games (00 34 934 262 089; barcelonaturisme.cat; 10am-6pm; free).
Icing on the cake
Explore the city's 4.5km of coastline by bike and find a patch of sand beyond busy Barceloneta beach. Un Cotxe Menys (29), at Carrer Esparteria 3 (00 34 932 68 21 05; bicicletabarcelona.com) offers hire for €15 per day.