Barcelona’s port is a great destination for biking. // © 2012 Regina Winkle-Bryan
Brunch is all the rage in Barcelona and Federal, a cafe in the Eixample district, serves one of the city’s best meals. // © 2012 Regina Winkle-Bryan
Barcelona’s beaches are worth a stop. // © 2012 Mindy Poder
Can you see Barcelona in a day? The answer is no but, if 24 hours are all you’ve got, take it slow and enjoy the simple pleasures of this Mediterranean metropolis.
Start your morning by experiencing the latest craze in Barcelona: brunch. The Catalan capital is, all of the sudden, wild for breakfast dishes, opting for eggs Benedict instead of a cafe con leche and a croissant. Many excellent breakfast spots have opened in Barcelona, embracing stylish pancakes and Bloody Marys. Federal cafe in Barcelona’s Eixample district is one of the best, with sun-drenched terrace seating. Marmalade, in the ultra-cool Raval neighborhood, also serves a tasty mimosa as does the deluxe brunch buffet at Hotel Arts.
If the sun is shining, rent a bike in Barcelona’s fishermen’s quarter, La Barceloneta, where narrow streets conceal the neighborhood’s flapping laundry on mini balconies. From here, it’s an easy pedal along Barcelona’s paved boardwalk to the city’s many beaches. The bike lane on the boardwalk hugs the Mediterranean and provides blissful views of the sea, sand and sailboats. Ambitious riders can zip all the way down, taking in the entire stretch of Barcelona beaches. Or, stop at Bogatell, Mar Bella or Llevante beaches along the way. Barcelona Rent a Bike and Barcelona By Bike both offer city tours by cycle if you’d prefer a little history while you ride.
If the clouds have covered the Spanish sun, and the weather forces you indoors, not to worry. Barcelona has an overwhelming number of museums worth visiting — dreary weather or not. Certainly, Gaudi’s many museums are some of the most popular. I recommend Casa Mila on Passeig de Gracia because it’s easy to get to (which is not the case with Parc Guell), within walking distance from Casa Batllo and has a free art exhibition on the ground floor. La Sagrada Familia is also worthwhile and, if you see no other church in the city, see this one.
Apart from Gaudi, many other significant artists hailed from Catalonia. See the colorful Miro Museum followed by my favorite Barcelona museum — MNAC, which features Catalan artwork from the Romanesque period to the mid-20th century. From the MNAC, expect spectacular views of the city and photo opportunities galore. Skip the Picasso Museum, which is crowded and not that impressive. Same with the CCCB and MACBA unless there is an exhibition that especially grabs you. For museum buffs in the city for a couple of days, the Articket — a $40 pass that grants access to seven of Barcelona’s art centers — will be your friend.
No other meal is more revered in Spain than lunch (la comida). Lunch is the time to eat mighty portions with a bottle of Priorat red wine or a nice bubbly cava from Penedes, followed by lava-like espresso. While most think tapas, ham and paella for lunch in Spain, I suggest a meal of fish and fideua — a dish that resembles paella but uses noodles instead of rice — for a true Barcelona dining experience. Some of the city’s ultimate seafood restaurants are found in La Barceloneta by the Sea and, on the weekend, it’s best to go early. Restaurant Salamanca serves a par excellence fideua as well as typical fish dishes. Suquet de l’Almirall, located by the port, features an inviting terrace and a toothsome menu of Mediterranean meals.
The main shopping thoroughfares in Barcelona are Passeig de Gracia for high-end goodies and Portal d’Angel for your everyday fashions such as Zara and Mango. For boutique buys and specialty shops, there are two main areas: El Born/La Ribera and Gracia. El Born is between the Gothic Quarter and the Sea and is fetching enough to merit a visit even if your client is not a shopper. The Cathedral del Mar is here, as is Chocolate Museum. Survey the shoe scene on Passeig del Born and the compact streets branching off from it. Ladies will want to pay a visit to Vialis on Carrer Rec, no. 42, for handmade Spanish leather shoes. Beatriz Furest is the place for bags, Olive Barcelona (C/ Pl de les Olles, no 2) for olive oil offerings and Gispert for artisanal foods.
Mostly it’s a matter of wandering the side-streets in El Born and discovering great deals in its many studio spaces. The same is true in Gracia, which is known for its many artistic shops and young designers. In Gracia, begin on Carrer Verdi with Carrer de l’Or and start strolling.
Spain has a well-deserved reputation for its nonstop nightlife. People eat at 10 p.m., or later, and then hit the bars and clubs. It’s exhausting and a blast. Start your night with a dinner of tapas at Tickets, a Ferran Adria restaurant. You’ll need reservations way in advance to get into this hot spot, but it’s worth the extra effort. Also book a couple of seats at Jamboree, Barcelona’s central jazz club. With music every night of the week, Jamboree brings in the big dogs in jazz and blues as well as local talent.