Barcelona is one of those rare cities that captures the essence of beach and urban life in equal measure, with the added temptations of great art, style, architecture, and fabulous cuisine. Regrettably, my Barcelona trips are all too often for work. Nevertheless, I have spent enough time there to be able to make some recommendations for your weekend away. It is a city I love, and, as far as I am concerned, compared to other European cities it is too often overlooked. Usually I like to stay in the center of Barcelona, often along the Passeig de Gràcia, where my favorite hotel is the Mandarin Oriental Barcelona. A converted bank that retains much of the original character, it is one of the best city hotels I have ever stayed in. The breakfast buffet is fantastic, which is crucial for a good hotel. Blending modern and quirky Catalan touches, the rooms are smart but comfortable at the same time. A room or suite with a terrace is a must. The lavish spa offers the added bonus of a Bastien Gonzalez mani-pedi studio, and the massage therapist, can do wonders for your hands and feet. Before the Mandarin opened, the other place to stay on the Passeig de Gràcia was Casa Fuster. More Gothic and Gaudí-esque in its design, it is equally comfortable, and is known for excellent service. A new contender is the recently opened Soho House Barcelona, which overlooks the Port Vell Marina in the Gothic Quarter. This would be my choice if I were in Barcelona for leisure. The hotel is very Soho House, but it manages to capture the Catalan essence very well. Their signature rooftop swimming pool and patio are first-rate, as is the in-house Cecconi’s restaurant, one of the best I have been to.
One has to be careful with Barcelona restaurants. As a major tourist destination that commands huge numbers of international visitors, Barcelona has an abundance of restaurants that are tourist traps and must be avoided. Below is a list of my go-to places.
For authentic tapas…
Bar Mut: Excellent tapas and seafood.bottom left
Cal Pep: Legendary tapas institution, which has been copied several times around the world but never to the same standard. Their tortilla with aioli is to die for.
Tapas 24: The tapas are average but their breakfast bocadillos are fabulous!
Cerveceria Catalunya: Consistent tapas and very popular with locals and tourists alike. The restaurant always has a buzzy atmosphere.
Boca Chica / Boca Grande: Great restaurant and bar with a very lively terrace, where, after a superb meal, I usually smoke my cigars. The baked gambas is an absolute must.
Botafumeiro: A Barcelona institution—it’s like the Scott’s of Barcelona. The seafood is exemplary and the choice is phenomenal, with everything caught and served fresh every day. Their percebes (goose barnacles) and espardenyas (sea cucumbers) are out of this world.
Barceloneta: A fantastic seafood restaurant in the Barceloneta area and by the beach. The party atmosphere makes for great people watching.
One Ocean Club: A very stylish restaurant and beach club on the water. Perfect for long cigar lunches on the outdoor deck when the weather is good.
I generally avoid Las Ramblas, but for more than twenty years I have ventured there to visit Gimeno’s (100 Las Ramblas), the best place to buy cigars in Barcelona. From outside, the shop looks like one of the many unassuming tourist souvenir shops you see on Las Ramblas. But once you are inside and the staff realize you are after some serious cigar action, they will take you to the Cigar Vault in the basement—a cavernous cellar lined with boxes of vintage Havanas, including regional and limited editions. A truly tantalizing experience!
Bel y Cia on Passeig de Gràcia: This menswear institution is Barcelona’s answer to Charvet in Paris or Turnbull & Asser in London.
Santa Eulalia on Passeig de Gràcia: A well-curated selection of multibrand clothing for men and women. I always find some fantastic buys there from brands very difficult to source elsewhere. They also offer MTM and bespoke services.
Carmina: The legendary Mallorcan shoe brand has a new store on Passeig de Gràcia. Always worth a visit.