Q My daughter is thinking of going to Barcelona for a week and staying at one of the city's beaches. Is it possible to have a nice, relaxing beach holiday there and travel into the city centre from time to time, or are the city beaches too crowded and horrible to be relaxing?

Name withheld

A While the mile-long stretch of sand backing on to the Barceloneta quarter of the Catalan capital has improved markedly over the past few years, "nice" and "relaxed" are not the words I associate with it. It's more a variant on the city's parks than a beach of the sort you find at "real" Spanish resorts.

In addition, since Barcelona is Spain's No 1 crime city, there are issues with theft. The US State Department warns about a number of specific crime hotspots, and the beach is one of them - the others being the airport, Sants railway station, Metro stations, the Ramblas, the Sagrada Familia area, the Gothic Quarter, Park Güell and the Plaza Real.

However, I can offer a couple of possibilities city-plus-beach combinations that may work for your daughter. First, she could base herself at the resort of Sitges, which is a fun location (with a big gay population) about 40 minutes by train south-west from Barcelona. Calella, to the north-east, is another option. Both have good, cheap train links to the city.

Second, she could take a holiday instead to Valencia, which has far more impressive beaches and a more relaxed ambience; the beaches are about 10km from the city centre, accessible by fast and frequent trams. Valencia has much to recommend it, too, in terms of sights and excellent places to eat and drink - and is far cheaper than Barcelona.

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