48 Hours in Barcelona

The city made glorious by Gaudí, Miró and Picasso is a beguiling mix of fine architecture, public art, great food and fabulous shopping. Harriet O'Brien explores the main attractions in the Catalan capital
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The Independent Travel

WHY GO NOW?

WHY GO NOW?

The supremely stylish city of Gaudí, Miró and Picasso is getting less crowded. After the unseemly scramble of the spring and summer, you should now be able to find a hotel room fairly easily, you won't have to queue for long to get into museums and galleries, and you won't melt.

TOUCH DOWN

Iberia (0845 601 2854; www.iberia.com) flies from Heathrow, Gatwick, Birmingham and Manchester; British Airways (0870 850 9850; www.ba.com) flies from Heathrow, Gatwick and Birmingham; Bmibaby (0870 264 2229; www.bmibaby.com) flies from Manchester; easyJet (0871 750 0100; www.easyjet.com) flies from Gatwick, Newcastle, Luton, Stansted, Liverpool and Bristol; and Jet2 (0870 737 8282; www.jet2.com) flies from Leeds/Bradford.

Barcelona airport is about 12km south of the city centre. A cab will cost at least €20 (£14.30) and the train leaves every half hour and costs €2.50 (£1.79) for the 25-minute trip to Plaça Catalunya, Barcelona's central hub. The bus runs every 12 minutes, costs €3.45 (£2.50) for the 30-minute ride to the same destination, and drops you outside the main tourist office (open 9am-9pm; 00 34 932 853 834; www.barcelonaturisme.com).

GET YOUR BEARINGS

Barcelona is embraced by hills and sea. To the north, the highest peak is Tibidabo; to the west are the slopes of Montjüic, site of the 1992 Olympic stadium; to the south is the seafront where Port Vell was transformed for the Olympics and where the Barceloneta neighbourhood is fringed with decent beaches. Inland from the old port is Barcelona's superb Barri Gòtic (Gothic Quarter), which is divided from the hip Raval area by the crowded La Rambla promenade. On the other side of the old town is trendy Ribera, and to the north the stylish grid of Eixample is dotted with Modernista architecture designed by Gaudí. North again are the atmospheric streets of Gràcia, a separate town until 1897. Most signs are now in Catalan; "C" is the abbreviation for carrer (street).

CHECK IN

Set high on the wooded slopes of Tibidabo, Gran Hotel La Florida at Carretera Vallvidrera 83-93 (00 34 93 259 30 00; www.hotellaflorida.com) is a stylish haven; it reopened last year after a period of neglect. The hotel was celebrated in the 1950s for its high-society clients, including the likes of James Stewart and Ernest Hemingway. The revamp has created fabulous spa facilities, a restaurant already highly rated by locals and large, individually designed bedrooms. The downside is that you're a 30-minute, and €25 (£18), cab ride from the city centre. Doubles cost from €317 (£237) including breakfast - although special offers are available on the website. The Hotel Neri at C Sant Sever 5 (00 34 93 304 06 55; www.hotelneri.com) also opened last year. Situated in the heart of the Barri Gòtic, this former 18th-century town-house has 22 bedrooms and a small and inventive restaurant. Doubles cost from €240.75 (£172), without breakfast. At the budget end of the scale, the Hotel Jardi at Plaça Sant Josep Oriol 1 (00 34 93 301 59 00) is a clean and pretty option, pleasantly set in the Barri Gòtic overlooking a leafy square. Doubles cost from €83 (£59), room only.

TAKE A RIDE

Barcelona's transport options are varied but the lowest common denominator is the Metro, for which a single ticket costs €1.10 (80p) and a two-day travel card €8.40 (£6). Take a train to Paral-lel station, at the foot of Montjüic. A Metro ticket includes a trip on the funicular up to Parc de Montjüic, from where you can hop on the cable car known as the Teleferic de Montjüic, which runs from 11am-7.15pm daily (though only at weekends in winter). Tickets cost €3.60 (£2.60) one-way, €5 (£3.50) return, and the trip affords a superb view of Barcelona as the cable car carries you up to the ramparts of the Castell de Montjüic - once a torture centre but now a military museum.

TAKE A HIKE

... around the Gothic Quarter. Getting lost is almost inevitable among its maze of alleyways, but if you roughly follow this route you'll take in some of its finest buildings. Start at the Cathedral of La Seu, which will be under restoration for at least the next year and is covered with scaffolding that obscures much of its fine façade. But take a look inside to see the magnificent nave and wonderful cloisters. Entry to the cathedral is free between 10am-1pm and 3-5.30pm; between 1pm and 3pm an entry "donation" of €4 (£2.80) is charged for help with the redecoration costs. Proceed down Av de la Catedral and then follow the remains of an old Roman wall to Plaça de Ramon Berenguer El Gran. Here you can't fail to be impressed by the 40m bell tower of the lovely Palau Reial Major. To see the front of the palace, head for the majestic Plaça del Rei on via C Llibreteria. From here, walk down C Paradis to the broad Plaça de Sant Jaume, whose 15th-century Palau de la Generalitat sports a fine Renaissance façade. Follow C Cuitat and then C Hercules to the tiny Plaça de Sant Just, which still has a Gothic water trough in one of its walls, then return to Plaça de Sant Jaume and walk back to the cathedral via C del Bisbe.

LUNCH ON THE RUN

Grab a hot omelette sandwich for €3 (£2.20) at Can Conesa on the corner of Plaça de Sant Jaume and C Llibreteria in the Barri Gòtic. This sandwich bar has been in operation since the 1950s, and is revered by locals for its creative fillings.

CULTURAL AFTERNOON

The Museu Picasso is housed in a superb set of buildings at C Montcada 15-23 and is open Tuesday-Saturday 10am-8pm, Sunday 10am-3pm, and admission is €5 (£3.50) (00 34 93 31 96 310; www.museupicasso.bcn.es). The collection focuses on Picasso's early works, particularly those he created while living in Barcelona between 1895 and 1904.

WRITE A POSTCARD

Buy your card at the museum and write it at the glorious Art Deco Café de l'Opéra opposite the Liceu Opéra House on La Rambla, a great place to sit and watch the world go by.

WINDOW SHOPPING

Funky, up-and-coming C d'Avinyo, on the edge of the Barri Gòtic, is lined with one-off accessory shops and boutiques. Where the street meets C de la Palla you'll find Caelum, a dainty shop selling cakes and soaps made in Spanish convents and monasteries.

TAKE A VIEW

One of Barcelona's finest Modernista buildings is at 92 Passieg de Gràcia. La Casa Mila, also known as La Pedrera ("The Quarry") because of its design, was built by Gaudí in the early 1900s. It is now a museum and gallery. On permanent show is a spacious apartment with original fittings, and, on the top floor, a collection of models of Gaudí's buildings. The highlight of the property is its roof terrace, from where you can gaze across Barcelona's skyline while wandering among Guadi's fantastical bulbous chimneys and air vents. La Pedrera opens daily 10am-8pm; admission is €7 (£5) (00 34 93 484 59 00).

AN APERITIF

Of the many tapas bars in the Barri Gòtic, Ginger on Carrer del Lledo - just around the corner from Plaça de Sant Just - is strikingly chic yet cosy. Tapas costing €3.90 (£2.80), including warm camembert salad with strawberry vinaigrette, is served from 7pm.

DINING WITH THE LOCALS

In an unlikely spot overlooking a patch of derelict ground in the Raval district is one of Barcelona's best-loved Catalan restaurants. Casa Leopoldo at Sant Rafael 24 (00 34 93 441 3014; open 9-11pm, closed Sundays and Mondays) is owned and run by the Gil family, who use the freshest market produce to create such dishes as revuelto de aios tiernos y gambas (scrambled eggs with garlic and shrimp) and hearty stews. Expect to pay at least €30 (£21.50) for two courses.

SUNDAY MORNING - GO TO CHURCH

Love it or loathe it, Gaudí's unfinished Sagrada Familía is the city's most striking landmark. It opens from 9am-6pm daily (until 8pm from April-September) and admission is €8 (£5.50) or €11 (£8) with a tour (00 34 93 207 3031; www.sagradafamilia.org).

OUT TO BRUNCH

This is a slightly alien concept for the Catalans, but for brunch-style food head for Flash-Flash at C Granada del Penedes 25 (00 34 93 23 70 990) in the Gràcia area not far from the Sagrada Familía. Barcelona's chic set gathers here on Sunday mornings for omelettes, hamburgers, salads and the like.

A WALK IN THE PARK

Gaudí's Parc Güell in Gràcia (which opens 10am until dusk, admission free) was designed for the architect's friend Eusebi Güell as an exclusive housing estate, but was never finished and became a public park in 1922. Even when overwhelmed by hordes of visitors, it is a gem of a place complete with intricate mosaics, fairy-tale turrets, organic-looking viaducts, and terraces commanding great views over the city.

THE ICING ON THE CAKE

Up on the Aviguda de l'Estadi near Parc de Montjüic is an airy building containing many of the best creations of home-grown Surrealist Joan Miró (1893-1983). Among the weird and wonderful works here are bronzes, a huge and dizzyingly colourful tapestry and ethereal oil paintings from the Sixties and Seventies. The Fundació Joan Miró is open from 10am-6pm, Tuesday-Saturday (until 9.30pm on Thursdays), and on Sundays from 10am to 2.30pm. Admission costs €7.20 (£5) (00 34 93 443 9470; www.bcn.fjmiro.es).

Additional research by James Harbidge

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